Tag Archive for: wealth management

Financial services: An industry at odds with its clients

Toward transparency and sustainability: Building a new financial order,” a newly released study by the IBM Institute for Business Value raises some provocative questions about the relationship between financial services firms and their clients. 

Two big questions
1. Do financial services firms really put their clients’ best interests first?
2.  Do financial services firms understand what their clients want?

Clients’ best interests lose to financial services providers’ 
“…providers offer products that serve their own best interests, rather than those of their clients,” according to more than 60% of the institutional and retail investors and intermediaries surveyed by IBM.  

Almost half of the American industry executives surveyed–and about 40% of executives worldwide–agreed that providers’ best interests get top priority. You can view graphs of the survey results on p. 10.

What do clients want? Financial services firms don’t get it. 
Financial services firms think they know what clients want. Clients’ top priorities are “best-in-class offerings” and “one-stop-shop,” according to their survey results. They reckon that most clients would pay a 5%-15% premium for these characteristics.

But neither of these items cracks the top two in client survey results. In fact, in the IBM survey, clients rate “Unbiased quality advice/client service excellence” and “convenience” as their top priorities. Best-in-class offerings rank third and one-stop shopping comes in eighth. I do wonder if some survey participants may confuse “convenience” and “one-stop shop.” I’m also curious about the make-up of the clients whom IBM surveyed.

You can view the providers’ and clients’ top 10 answers at the top of page 10. 

The survey results also lead IBM to suggest that financial services providers must segment their products accordng to how clients behave. “The ability to serve specific client clusters represents a major–and largely ignored–opportunity for the industry to make money,” says the report.

“We have lost sight of the client in our own striving for outsized returns. We must get back to basics and focus to a far greater extent on our clients.”–Global Head of Prime Brokerage, large U.S. bank

Related post: Research study: How financial services firms will make money in the future

Research study: How financial services firms will make money in the future

The financial services industry can’t continue to make money the way it used to. So the IBM Institute for Business Value tackled the challenge of answering the following questions:
*  Which forces are disrupting the industry? 
*  What will clients be willing to pay for?
*  How will the basis for competition change? 
*  And what steps should financial services firms take to prosper over the next three years?

Recommendations for a “new financial order”

You can read the researchers’ answers in “Toward transparency and sustainability: Building a new financial order.” As I see it, their answers boil down to a need for financial services firms to

1. Work with regulators to develop a system that hits the right balance between protecting investors and fostering financial creativity

2. Deliver on their promises to clients, including their promise “to focus on the interests of their clients”

3. Become more specialized, with a division between “beta transactors” and “alpha seekers”

On #1, the need for the right regulation, the executives surveyed by IBM anticipate “greater transparency and higher capital requirements,”IBM’s analysis suggests seven elements for an appropriate solution (see p. 7).

As for #2 “… firms will need to become more cost-effective, manage risk more competently and move closer to their clients,” says the report (p. 9). 

The specialization called for in #3 may result from unbundling. Although the industry executives surveyed by IBM favor the universal banking model,”the vast majority (89 percent) anticipate that overcapacity will ultimately result in some sort of unbundling” (p. 12).

Provocative ideas

“Most providers do not even realize what their clients actually want,” says the report. So they’ll struggle to meet their clients’ needs.

Managing risk will require cutting costs because “the amount of risk [financial institutions] can underwrite relative to the capital they employ will be much lower…. Slashing headcount and closing business lines–the levers traditionally employed when the industry wants to save money–will not be enough” (p. 9). Companies must slash 20% beyond the savings they realize from divestitures and eliminating redundancies, according to IBM’s analysis. It sounds as if firms have a lot more cutting to do.

Focus on benefits, not features, in your marketing

Focusing on the benefits your clients will receive from your financial services is much more effective than touting your firm’s features. In other words, focus on you, the client–not us, the firm.

I found a great example of this when I looked for gyms near me.

Gym 1 said, “Gym 1 is a premiere fitness, athletics, and rehabilitation facility that features the highest caliber trainers, equipment…”

Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? But does it get you excited about joining a gym?

Now read the beginning of Gym 2’s ad. 
     We’ve helped our members: 
     -fit into their clothes 
     -make their exes jealous
     -look amazing at their wedding

Sure, some people would opt for Gym 1 over Gym 2. But clearly Gym 2 makes more of an emotional connection with the reader.

You can find similar contrasts in wealth management.

For example, one firm says, “Our company has been in business for 60 years.” Prospective clients may read that statement and ask “So what? Why should I care?”

They might re-word that as “Your money will be managed by a firm that has weathered up-markets and down-markets for 60 years.”

A reader of this blog post suggested a nice alternative: “If you’re like most of our clients, you’ve spent a long time building your success. We’ve been assisting people like you make informed decisions to protect that success for more than 40 years.”

Note: I updated and fixed the spacing on this post in Jan. 2017.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

How can I come up with ideas for a weekly newspaper column on personal finance?

That’s the question a newly independent advisor asked me.

Before I offer some ideas, I’m going to challenge the idea that a newspaper column must be weekly. As newspapers decline, this advisor would be lucky to get into print once a month. But let’s assume the paper DOES need a weekly column. How about offering to rotate authorship with three advisors who have different niches?  You’ll reduce your burden and increase the range of topics covered by the column. That sounds like a win-win situation to me. If you know of anyone who’s tried column-sharing, please leave a comment below. 

Once you’ve landed your column, here are some sources for ideas.
1. Questions your clients ask you
2. LinkedIn and other social networking sites–See what questions appear on relevant LinkedIn’s groups. Pose a question in a social networking forum. For example, “What’s your most pressing personal finance question?” or “What questions do you have about managing your 401(k)?”
3. Professional publications–Have you read an interesting article in Financial Planning, Advisor Perspectives. Financial Analysts Journal or some other trade publication? Talk about the topic in plain terms that regular folks can understand.
4. Newspapers, TV, and other media–It’s especially good to pick a controversial topic.
5. Personal finance blogs–There are lots of good blogs out there. For a list of financial and economic blogs read by financial advisors, check out the list on page 3 of my article, “Investment Strategy Blogs Slow to Influence Financial Advisors.” For a more recent list, see “RIA blogs recommended by my Twitter friends.”

Can you suggest more sources? Please leave a comment.

Note: This post was updated on May 18, 2015 to remove a broken link and to add more recent information.

Madoff whistleblower Harry Markopolos speaks

You can see Harry Markopolos speak in the video excerpts that make up part of “One-On-One With Harry Markopolos: Validated, But Not Satisfied” on WBUR’s website.

According to an editor’s note, “More interview excerpts will be posted March 30 in conjunction with a special profile of Markopolos slated to air on Morning Edition.”

Also, you can view the “60 Minutes” interview with Harry, including some clips from the BSAS Market Outlook dinner.

Funds using alternative investment strategies gain steam

Alternative investments that are less correlated to major market indexes are gathering momentum in the advisor community. Two trends are fueling the movement. First, the sharp market declines since September 2008 have boosted the attraction of strategies that don’t dive along with stock market. “This year, people are looking to dial down risk in their portfolios,” says Bill Harding, director of research at Morningstar Investment Services in Chicago. Second, these strategies are increasingly available to those who don’t qualify as accredited investors (with investable assets of $1 million or more).

Continue reading “Against the Grain,” my article in the March 2009 issue of Financial Planning magazine (free registration may be required for access).

Also, here’s some information that didn’t make it into the article. It’s the list of funds used by the advisors whom I interviewed.

Absolute Opportunities
Absolute Strategies
Diamond Hill Long-Short
Direxion Commodity Trends
Highbridge Statistical Market Neutral
Hussman Strategic Growth
Nakoma Absolute Return
PIMCO CommodityRealReturn Strategy
Robeco Boston Partners Long/Short Equity
Rydex Managed Futures Strategy

Pick young, small hedge funds for better returns?

If you face a choice between two hedge funds with equally attractive performance records, you should pick the younger, smaller fund.

At least, that’s what I took away from “Hedge Fund Performance Persistence: A New Approach,” an article by Nicole M. Boyson, an assistant professor of finance at Northeastern University, in the Nov./Dec. 2008 issue of the Financial Analysts Journal (CFA Institute membership or other payment required for online access).

Here’s how Boyson put it: “by selecting funds on the basis of fund age and fund size in addition to past performance, investors can substantially improve the likelihood of superior performance over a selection process based on past performance alone.”

Funds with good track records may eventually underperform, she wrote, because “At some point, these funds will grow so large that the fund manager’s skills will be spread too thin and/or the fund’s trades will have a larger price impact and higher transaction costs than previously–both of which compromise the fund’s performance.”

Boyson found that “A portfolio of young, small, good past performers outperformed a portfolio of old, large, poor past performers by nearly 10 percentage points per year.”

I wish she’d shared how the performance of the young, small, good performers compared to the good performers among the old, large funds.

"LinkedIn’s Little Secret: It’s a Great Lead-Gen Tool"

You can use LinkedIn to help build your investment or wealth management business. Adapt the techniques suggested in “LinkedIn’s Little Secret: It’s a Great Lead-Gen Tool” on HubSpot’s Inbound Internet Marketing Blog.

But, first, pay attention to this warning from HubSpot: 

“Trying to directly message or reach out to your LinkedIn network or contacts could be considered spam. Please be sure that: 1) people you try to contact want to hear from you and 2) your message is relevant.”

Suggestion #1: “Create a LinkedIn Group” on a theme related to your industry. As I see it, as long as you offer something of value to group members, you can use a LinkedIn Group to position yourself as an expert in a niche and/or to expand your network. A LinkedIn Group can  keep you in front of clients, prospects, and people who can send you referrals.

Suggestion #2: “Use LinkedIn’s DirectAds” for targeted advertising. I’m not an ad expert, but it seems to me that you’d probably pursue other advertising options first. This might be a nice add-on.

Suggestion #3: “Answer Questions on LinkedIn.” This displays your expertise, plus you get an emotional boost from helping others. So far, I’ve gotten more benefit from asking questions on LinkedIn, another HubSpot suggestion. My questions have yielded valuable information and quotes for blog posts.

Suggestion #4: “Integrate LinkedIn into Your Marketing.” For example, suggests HubSpot, whenever you speak, invite your audience to join your group. It’s an easy way to build on the connection that you form during your time with your audience. 

Have you tried any of these techniques? I’d like to learn about your experiences. 

Meanwhile, reading HubSpot’s blog post got me wondering if I should create a LinkedIn Group for readers of my Investment Writing e-newsletter or for participants in the writing workshops I teach.  If you’re a newsletter reader or graduate of one of my writing workshops, what would you want from a LinkedIn group?

Related posts: 
How to publicize your white paper using LinkedIn” 
How financial advisors use LinkedIn to boost their visibility” 

Encourage good communication or lose your multi-generational clients

You are failing your financial family clients–and sabotaging your multi-generational client retention–if you’re not encouraging good communication. That’s one of the big picture lessons I learned from “Five Solutions for Mixing Finance, Families and Fiduciaries,” presented to the Boston Estate Planning Council on Nov. 6 by Bonnie Brown Hartley, president of Transition Dynamics Inc., Richard Narva, partner, The Roseview Group, and Mike Hartley, chairman and CEO, DKE Inc.

A case of poor communication easily resolved
Advisors to financial families often avoid bringing up sensitive issues. This is a big mistake. 

Take the case of the family with an unsigned buy-sell agreement for their main asset, a large corporation. Their beloved daughter-in-law was the only holdout. But nobody knew why. Not the family patriarch. Not the family attorney. Not even the husband. They were too scared to ask, as Bonnie Hartley found out through gentle probing.

Imagine the family members’ surprise–and relief–when Bonnie learned the daughter-in-law’s objection could be easily removed. With permission from the patriarch and the husband, Bonnie asked the daughter-in-law why she wouldn’t sign. The answer: “I won’t sign an agreement that doesn’t make me a trustee if my husband dies before my children reach their majority.” As a mother, she didn’t want to leave her children’s future in the hands of strangers. This objection was easily addressed, so the agreement was signed.

The family wasn’t the only beneficiary of this good communication. A stronger relationship resulted between the family and the advisors who brought in Bonnie as a consultant. 

More hints for good communication 

Try running “fire drills” to test “what if” scenarios” such as the death of a key family member of the sale of the family business.  

Deepen your relationship with the younger generations.

  1. Train them in how to be good trustees and beneficiaries. 
  2. Communicate with them using the methods they prefer. That could mean foregoing meetings in favor of e-mail, texting, or communication through a family-advisor intranet. Family-advisor intranets, available through DKE Digital, are particularly well-suited to multi-generational families whose members and advisors are geographically dispersed.
  3. Assign members of your firm to mentor younger family members–and go outside your firm to find mentors if necessary.
  4. Include younger members of your firm in meetings with multi-generational clients.
  5. Use genograms to get a better understanding of your client families’ dynamics.

For more insights from the Hartleys 

If you’re interested in more insights from Bonnie Hartley, you can sign up for a quarterly e-newsletter at the bottom of The Hartley Group’s website.

On a personal note, it was a great pleasure to attend this presentation because Bonnie and Mike have been valued clients.

"Client Communications in Volatile Markets" by Harold Evensky

“The most important thing to communicate is that you are well aware of how scary the markets are and that you understand your clients are worried. However, it is imperative that you also convey a sense of calmness and optimism,” says Harold Evensky of Evensky & Katz in “Client Communications in Volatile Markets.” His article appeared in a special edition of the CFA Institute’s wealth management e-newsletter.

Are you using this strategy? Is it working for you?