By PAUL KAISER
Public confidence in the people running banks and financial institutions remains low a decade after the Great Recession. According to a Survey Monkey survey of Fortune 500 companies, among the 75 largest U.S. corporations, businesses in financial services saw the most negative change in public sentiment between 2017 and 2018. Only 14 percent reported “a great deal” of confidence and nearly one-third reported “hardly any.”
While this shouldn’t be surprising given news about predatory and fraudulent business practices and security breaches at several major brands, it nonetheless begs the question, “How does a reputable financial advisor combat the current perception and differentiate themselves?” and “What are the most important messages for these types of businesses to communicate now?”
Foundational Messages Every Firm Needs to Share
Marketing Directors and Chief Marketing Officers in every business must continually evaluate and reevaluate what to communicate – and when. However, some industries face a contentious audience than others. Successful messaging has become even more important in financial services as competition heats up from major national and international providers, technology solutions (so called “robo advisors”), and agile, low-cost start-up firms.
To combat the current industry impression and outperform competitors, three messages are key, with one potentially rising above the others:
Integrity and trust – Principled businesses need to communicate exactly what they value and believe – and how they will ensure honesty and integrity guide their decision-making and actions. This message component is table stakes and must be delivered first, foremost, and frequently.
Personal service – When the availability of financial information and advice is as easy to access as opening an app on your phone, personalized recommendations, responsiveness, and access and availability is key to a positive customer experience (CX). Even younger, digitally savvy financial services customers have repeatedly expressed the importance of “a person” and “the relationship” when asked.
Relevant expertise – Beyond communicating foundational information on a firm’s ethics and client service approach, the next most important message may be where the greatest impact to sales can be found differentiating from your communication on the specific knowledge and ability to serve your unique target audience.
Communicating Applicable Knowledge And Capabilities
Below are five primary methods for conveying expertise. While these may seem obvious to the seasoned financial services marketer, and most financial advisors are already broadly doing some, few organizations are comprehensively leveraging all of them, and even fewer are thinking about them in a targeted and niche manner.
- Credentials and involvement – Beyond the common industry credentials, there are many certifications, trainings, or organizations client service professionals can gain or participate in that apply specifically to your targeted audience. Examples of these include the Chartered Financial Consultant, which offers expertise on client families with special needs, LGBT clients, divorced clients, and more), the Certified Private Wealth Advisor (for those working with higher-net-worth clients), or involvement in the CFP Board’s Women’s Initiative (WIN) Council, which can communicate a particular commitment to female client education and understanding.
- Rankings – In addition to general firm rankings based on size or growth rate (AUM, revenue, number of advisors, etc.), publications and websites are frequently developing new, niche lists for specific audiences. Consider the Working Mother magazine, “Top Wealth Advisor Moms list,” or Money Under 30’s, “Top Financial Advisors for Millennials”.
- Satisfaction – Better than broad or generic statistics, consider promoting scores from specific client segments or on metrics of particular interest to your audience (availability during non-traditional hours or “satisfaction of international clients”, for example).While the SEC’s enforcement of the Advertising and Testimonials rules put financial advisors at a significant disadvantage to other related industries, there is still room to report segmented client satisfaction and specific service experience results.
- Publications and presentations – Writing and speaking is far from a new strategy for conveying expertise, but firm leadership should consider whether they are simply “preaching to the choir” or getting their professionals and name in front of the right, new audience. Moving beyond the worn-out co-hosted breakfast pitches and golf event sponsorships, and instead presenting to a local social or affinity group or getting thought leadership into their publication may actually provide better return.
- Rejecting clients – While it sounds counter-intuitive to an organization trying to grow its book of business to turn down clients, this too, can be a powerful communication strategy. There may be no more persuasive action to prove credibility and commitment to a niche than turning down an opportunity that doesn’t fit with your target and expertise. The initial surprise felt by prospects or referral sources may very well lead to invaluable “word of mouth” marketing – and will likely result in them talking to other prospects who are better aligned.
Beyond ethical values, unparalleled service and support, and knowledge tailored for a targeted audience, there are countless other messages financial advisor marketers need to communicate to their clients and prospects. However, when considering these very traditional message components to your key selling proposition, especially in the challenging environment the industry faces today, a more innovative and niche approach to communicating differentiation is needed.
Paul Kaiser has nearly 10 years of experience marketing for leading financial services firms and is the founder of Trailhead Marketing Communications. Based in Denver, CO, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via LinkedIn.