FCS Chicago Examines “Marketing to Financial Advisors”

Our thanks to Scott Wentworth for allowing us to post his July 27th blog entry.  Scott, the founder of Wentworth Financial Communications, was our opening presenter at FCS Chicago's March luncheon on "The State of Custom Content."

Chicago’s historic Printers Row neighborhood has undergone massive changes over the past several decades. Many of the buildings that once housed print shops have now been converted to loft condos, and the printing companies that remain have dramatically adapted their facilities and business models to account for new digital technologies.

Thus, the setting was an appropriate one for the Financial Communications Society’s first-ever “Cocktails With Content” event in Chicago, which looked at another business that has undergone massive changes recently: marketing to financial advisors.

The July 25 event, hosted at an art gallery in Palmer Printing, explored the challenges facing asset management, technology, and communications firms that are trying to market to financial advisors. Moderated by Frank Tirado, vice president at The Options Clearing Corporation, the panel comprised investment and marketing professionals from across the financial services industry:

Tirado said that reaching financial advisors has become increasingly difficult as the marketing communications landscape has become more cluttered with content. “How do we reach them when we know they are being hit over and over again? How do we bring value to an advisor group that is looking to grow its practice?” Tirado asked the panel.

To answer these questions, the panel discussed topics related to how financial advisors can differentiate themselves, the types of thought leadership and content marketing that advisors find most valuable, and the biggest challenges advisors face in growing their practices.

Read below for 10 of the most thought-provoking quotes from the discussion.

“Do people really know what the value of financial advice is?” Pinkerton answered his own question by citing Morningstar’s research that shows a disconnect between the value that advisors think they provide and the value that clients expect to receive. “If it’s not clear what the value proposition is, it’s hard to differentiate,” he said. This creates an opportunity for financial marketers to create content that helps advisors articulate the value of their services in a way that resonates with how clients think.

“Client service is always going to be the best differentiator.” The panel discussed how financial advisors can differentiate themselves in a crowded field that includes an estimated 350,000 practicing advisors. SpiderRock’s Metz said that an advisor’s ability to provide high-quality service will ultimately be what sets a firm apart. Thus, advisors are looking for content from their partners that helps the advisor improve his or her service by educating clients. In addition to investment solutions, advisors need content that helps them explain the solution to clients in a relevant and scalable way.

“In financial services, thought leadership is difficult because the data is ubiquitous.” Framework’s Kobayashi-Solomon said that financial marketers need to fight the temptation to think that simply providing data to clients will be effective in showcasing the firm’s expertise. “There is plenty of data, so there isn’t much advantage in publishing more data,” said Kobayashi-Solomon, whose firm provides training to help investors identify and exploit asymmetric value investment opportunities. “But there is advantage in structuring that data in a way that people can use.” (Coincidentally, at Wentworth Financial Communications, we recently discussed this same topic as a guest on Salesforce.com’s B2B marketing podcast.)

“We don’t just expect people to solve our problems. We expect people to know our problems before they even begin marketing to us.” Morningstar’s Pinkerton said this is true whether it is a consumer packaged goods company marketing to shoppers, a financial advisor marketing to clients, or a mutual fund company marketing to advisors. He said financial marketers need to be savvy in how they use data analytics to provide messages that are tailored to the audience’s specific needs.

“Robos are good for advisors.” Not surprisingly, the topic of robo advisors came up repeatedly during the conversation. And, building off Pinkerton’s comment, the panel agreed that robo advisors represent more of an opportunity than a threat to financial advisors. Technology that automates aspects of wealth management frees up advisors to focus on the areas where they add the most value, namely solving problems for clients. “A robo advisor is not going to help a client get a mortgage. A robo advisor is not going to help the client’s son get a line of credit,” said SpiderRock’s Metz.

“The No. 1 problem advisors face isn’t client retention; it’s generational retention.” SpiderRock’s Metz said that the average age of a financial advisor is 56, and the dollar-weighted average age of clients is 65. With so many clients approaching, or already in, retirement, the wealth management industry is facing a massive demographic shift, one that will result in tremendous amounts of assets being passed to younger generations. Metz said advisors need content that can help them start engaging with those younger generations well before the wealth transfer occurs.

“Advisors are coaches now.” As the advisor’s role expands beyond simply building portfolios, Pinkerton said that Morningstar is doing a lot of research into the behavioral science aspects of investing. They are creating content designed to help advisors take a quantitative and pragmatic approach to engaging with clients about their finances. For the first time in the 29-year history of the Morningstar Investment Conference, Morningstar held a session on behavioral science this year. Pinkerton said it was one of the most well-attended and highest-rated sessions.

“You see a lot of swim-lane crossing.” Companies that have always marketed to financial advisors are communicating with them about a broader range of topics today. Pinkerton noted that Schwab, at its most recent IMPACT conference, featured presentations on how advisors can use social media and video to market their practices. Companies that traditionally haven’t been heavy marketers in wealth management are entering the space en force. Pinkerton said companies, such as Salesforce.com, base their marketing messages around the idea that wealth management is more about managing relationships than it is about managing portfolios.

“Our collateral is created with a two-pronged approach.” Metz, whose firm, SpiderRock, helps institutions and advisors implement options strategies in portfolios, said that before the advisor community will begin using a product or solution, they need to feel that it has been vetted and approved by the institutional community. As a result, SpiderRock creates two versions of its marketing content: one that is designed for institutional investors and consultants, and one that is designed for advisors. “We know that without the institutional version, the retail version can’t get adoption,” Metz said.

“This isn’t a female-investor vs. male-investor thing.” The panel said that there has been a recent surge in content focused on helping advisors work with female clients and Millennial clients—a trend driven by demographic forces. While the panel agreed that advisors do benefit from training in how to engage with different types of investors, Framework’s Kobayashi-Solomon said that the bigger problem from a communications perspective is the complexity and amount of jargon that most content contains. He said this is an issue regardless of the audience’s gender or age.

Scott Wentworth is the founder and head financial writer at Wentworth Financial Communications. Scott and the team of writers and editors at WFC help professionals across the financial services industry build their brands by creating investment-grade white papers, bylined articles, newsletters, blogs, social media posts, and other forms of content marketing. Follow Scott on Twitter @WFC_Writing.