Posts Tagged ‘financial advisors’

All bets are off in the race for financial services AUM in about five weeks, when hedge funds and private equity companies formally gain the right to market directly to potential clients. That’s when the provisions of the JOBS Act that lift the ban on hedge fund and private equity advertising become effective. These rules were formally approved about a month ago by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.

There’s been a lot of speculation about exactly what hedge funds and private equity companies will do when they can advertise and market, which could be anything and everything including:

  • Celebrity endorsements
  • Billboards
  • National advertising campaigns
  • Direct mail and email solicitation
  • Fancy dinners, conferences and seminars

It’s all likely, but what hasn’t been discussed as much is the impact of the entrance of extremely well funded entities who are set up to compete with financial advisors, financial services companies and asset managers for a limited pool of high net worth, ultra high net worth and institutional assets. There’s a limited pool of these assets, and competition is already fierce among companies that have the right to directly market and advertise today.

Imagine what it’s going to be like in a few years when extremely well funded hedge funds really get their arms around what they can do and hire the brightest and the best Mad Men to formulate and execute a marketing strategy for them. While all healthy financial services firms have money to burn to a degree, hedge funds charge fees far in excess of what other asset managers can charge and they also have the ability to lock up AUM so that it can’t flow out in the same way that it does with mutual funds and financial advisors.

If you are currently seeking to gather AUM, you better watch out. These guys are coming and they have the ability to suck all the air out of the room so that there is even less space for other messages. In an already noisy atmosphere, it will be even harder for potential clients to distinguish your message from all the others out there.

That means if you don’t have a clearly defined ideal client type and a plan to attract those clients to you, you better get moving. Time’s a wasting…..

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If advisors aren’t being chastised for being too old, they are being dissed for being too young. It’s confusing, but apparently all that is needed to solve the problem is image consulting, according to this Wall Street Journal article.

While I agree that advisors need to present themselves in a manner that is in tune with their client base, odds are that an advisor who is knowledgable, empathetic and truly understands the needs and concerns of that client base will connect with that client base. Lacking those characteristics, no amount of “dressing up” will make up for serious shortcomings.

Most people know when their trusted advisors are genuinely authentic in terms of their interest in them as people — not just as a source of revenue — and know their stuff. If that isn’t the case, those gaps in knowledge or phoniness will be apparent in time, in many cases sooner, rather than later.

The best way to present yourself in an authentic manner is to have deep knowledge of your niche, be confident in your skills and stick to processes that will help your clients be as comfortable as possible. An attitude of respect for clients and your team members, an ongoing openness and search for new knowledge and skills and some humility go far in helping you connect in an ongoing way with clients and potential clients.

After all, they are trusting you with their life savings, placing faith in you that you can help them reach their financial goals. The best financial advisors that I have the privilege to know all exude these characteristics.

Forget about the image consulting — for those advisors who aren’t fiduciaries in the truest sense of the word (if not in fact by industry and regulatory standards) — no amount of lipstick will dress up that pig.

stopsignYesterday I explored how a fundamental aspect of content marketing — storytelling — can benefit your financial advisory business. Alas, regardless of how compelling your story is, your efforts to reach your target audience will be stopped dead in their tracks if you can’t get it in front of them.

That’s where distribution comes in. And that’s why, even if you don’t have content ready to distribute, you need to get your distribution channels up and running. Here’s an overview of the major types of distribution channels and why they’re important:

  • Social media: Now that the compliance barriers are falling and more clients and potential clients than ever are on social media channels, there is really no excuse not to be there. That being said, not every channel is for every financial advisor. Some are more friendly to specific audiences and types of marketing than others. Facebook, for example, is a great way to connect with clients on a personal level and find out what their day-to-day concerns are. LinkedIn is the top professional network where you can find out about promotions and job changes. Twitter is the leading issues-oriented platform. There’s nothing wrong with picking one of these and focusing your efforts there for a while before broadening your approach. The one tool you must use, in my opinion, is blogging. More on that next week.
  • Website: To distribute content effectively, your website has to engage visitors and have the infrastructure to support that content. This includes the ability to create landing pages for specific types of content and gather information about visitors who want to read your content. You need someone — whether that is in your office or a contractor outside — who can create landing pages and help you gather the information you collect so that it resides in your client relationship management system (CRM)
  • Search Engine Optimization: Closely related to your website, you need to make it easy for potential clients, influencers and the media to find you. By using keywords and optimizing your site, content and social media, you can make it as painless as possible for people to find you and learn more about what you offer.
  • Email Marketing: Even if you aren’t engaged in content marketing yet, you likely have hundreds of email addresses, if not more, of clients and potential clients. E-mail marketing campaigns using the content you’re going to create are an extremely effective method for engaging with prospects and converting them into clients.

To get ready to engage with prospects via content marketing, do whatever you need to do to get your website upgraded and looking good, even if it’s just updating the copy to make sure it reflects what you do today. Keep tabs on Google analytics to see who is visiting your site when and check various search engine terms to see where you rank. Beef up your social media profiles or at least pick a platform and establish a presence if you aren’t there.

Tomorrow, I’ll continue this series on content marketing with a look at helpful resources.

When the federal Securities and Exchange Commission gave permission for corporations to disclose market-moving material on social media platforms, it finally fully legitimized a mode of communication that’s become routine for millions of business and casual users. So if you’re a financial advisor who isn’t using social media or who is just dabbling, realize that when the SEC arrives at a party and you’re not there yet, the party may be nearly over.

Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating…a bit. My point is that when glacially-slow moving federal regulators are moved to bless a method of communications, it means that pretty much everyone else is already there.

All too many financial advisors have freely used the fig leaf of compliance (read the SEC and FINRA) to explain their absence from social media. And really, there hasn’t been much excuse in the past few years as FINRA and the SEC have issued more guidance about social media. Now there is none. 

There are a lot of reasons why financial advisors need to be on social media, I won’t go into all of them today. What I will offer is that there is an opportunity cost to NOT being there. Today’s savvy high net worth individual — very likely your potential client — isn’t going to meekly show up in your office in response to a referral from a friend and turn over all their assets to you. 

No, that individual — in possession of a referral to you — will seek to do some due diligence before contacting you. That due diligence will likely include a simple Google search, which is usually informative and revealing. If that Google search shows links to an attractive, focused website, presence on major social media platforms and thought leadership on topics of interest to that individual, a phone call or an e-mail to you may very well follow, which could lead to a client relationship.

If instead it leads to an outdated, clunky website, no social media or sketchy social media (an abandoned egg profile on Twitter, perhaps) and outdated links, that call or e-mail may not come.

Look, I’m not saying social media is the sole reason that clients will sign on with you. I’m saying that by not engaging with potential clients in the arenas where they are gathering information and poised to gather more (re the SEC’s announcement), you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to the competition and giving potential clients an excuse NOT to engage with you.

In this day and age of increasing competition in the financial advisory space and commoditization of financial advisory services, it behooves you not to give them one. 

For decades, the backbone of the financial advisory industry has been small Main Street type practices, where a solo advisor assisted by an employee or two picked investments and handled financial planning for his neighbors and businesses in the community. Many of those advisors were brokers employed by a major wirehouse firm, and there was a lot of pride and strength in that association.

But as Financial Planning Magazine reports this morning, an almost paradoxical trend of getting smaller to get bigger is playing out and will accelerate in the industry during the next five years. This involves more break-away brokers, those who previously were at large wirehouses, going independent and forming their own firms. The most successful of those firms are successfully scaling and growing larger and are poised to continue to do so, gobbling up some smaller players in the process.

These larger firms have the capacity to not only offer the products and services that wealth, savvy clients expect, but also to handle the increased regulatory demands being placed on advisors. The smallest practices, those with $40 or $50 million in assets under management, will be under more pressure as fee pressures, regulatory demands and the appetite for wealth management rises.

Here’s what I see as the implications of these trends:

  1. The smallest firms will need to either scale up and add staff and capacity, be in a better position to be acquired by a large firm needing their expertise or location or risk eventually going out of business — the “Darwinism” the article refers to.
  2. Break-away brokers will have more choices than ever before among service providers who can truly understand their business model and offer the services to help them launch and scale rapidly. Players in this space include High Tower, Dynasty and Securities America, notes the article.
  3. Middle-sized RIAs who aren’t scaling need to embrace this trend or risk getting left in the dust and shrinking rather than growing.
  4. Wirehouses continue to suffer a brain drain that could damage their capacity to attract discerning high net worth clients, as it is getting more and more attractive for the best talent to leave at a time when wirehouse brands inspire less and less trust and struggle with profit margins and staffing.

When the SEC issues it’s yearly National Examination Guidelines detailing what its examiners will look for in audits of the more than 11,000 federally registered investment advisors and 800 investment companies, prudent advisors pay attention. While it’s unlikely that you’ll get examined if you fall into this category given the SEC’s limited resources, the guidelines are very informative in terms fo what issues regulators are paying attention to in any given year and how perceptions of risk are evolving in the financial advisory space.

As reported by Financial Planning magazine this morning, risk around conflict of interest is an ongoing priority for the Commission because conflicts of interest tend to arise constantly and change in nature. Examiners will be looking for specific conflicts of interest, what advisors are doing to mitigate and disclose those those conflicts, which can be particularly challenging for larger advisory firms. During examinations, staff will be analyzing financial and other records to identify compensation arrangements that aren’t being disclosed to clients, which may include:

  • Undisclosed fee or solicitation arrangements
  • Referral arrangements with affiliated entities
  • Receipt of payment for services allegedly provided to third parties

In terms of marketing, the SEC is looking at how advisors market, specifically around performance numbers. The SEC wants to ensure that all advertising of performance numbers is accurate, including that of hypothetical and back-tested performance and will look at assumptions and methodology, disclosures and compliance with record-keeping requirements.

The SEC’s other priorities in examinations include fraud detection and prevention, technology and corporate governance and enterprise risk management.

The take away for alert advisors? Analyze your practices and processes in these areas to make sure you meet or exceed the SEC’s standards. Talk to your team about potential conflicts of interest and make sure anything that even remotely might look like a conflict is disclosed to clients, whether it would draw a second look in an examination or not.

Whether you are likely to be audited or not, adopting best practices and evolving your practice to meet the highest standards possible is the best route to gain trust with your clients, potential clients, referral sources, employees and other stakeholders.