For the last five years I have spent the bulk of my time helping financial professionals monetize their “brand.” I’ve literally spoken to hundreds, maybe thousands, of traders, investors, RIA’s, money managers, and newsletter publishers trying to get them to think about what they do, and how they do it, in a completely different way.
At times it’s been an uphill struggle because those in finance are often constrained in their thinking by outdated and obsolete ideas. Nor do most understand that in today’s content rich world their product is no longer just performance driven, but access driven as well.
There was a time when if “A” made a 20% annual return and “B” made only a 15% return it was a no-brainer whom the client would pick. However in a post Madoff, post financial crisis world, clients are not just satisfied with raw numbers; they want context for those numbers. Methodology context and personality context, and this is where most financial professionals fail.
Clients no longer just want to know where their money has been allocated, but why it has been allocated there — not the “because my research department said so” why — and who the person is that allocated it there.
A “brand” in financial terms has traditionally been associated with the firm a financial professional worked for. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year by those firms to paint a broad picture of honestly, integrity, and competence, but as technology and information flow became more democratized, individuals began to set up their own shops and could no longer rely on macro branding. And even for those who stayed with their firms, the public has started to view them as separate entities from their firm.
These breakaway advisers have evolved in their thinking about their industry, but not about their brand, because they have never had to think in those terms before. Today, as always, a financial brand has to be about trust, but a modern version of trust which can only be achieved by access, familiarity, and relatability.
Clients want to know not just what your performance is but what your methodology is. What you like to do with your free time. How your tastes run in books, music, and movies. Are you single or a family man? They want to know who you are — the person and the professional.
Time and time again I have seen clients put their money with an individual who provides them better access and visibility, though not necessarily better performance, because they are a known quantity. A great, but opaque, track record is of no comfort to the public today because without visibility there is no way to tell when a star performer does a “Madoff.”
Financial professionals who understand, and more importantly, accept this concept will have a greater advantage over their peers in the years ahead.
The key is to use technology to provide access that is inherently personal but administered in a general way which helps keep them on the right side of the regulatory fence.
Imagine how a client feels when they are in a position initiated on a Tuesday morning and Tuesday evening have access to a live webinar where the methodology that led to that position was explained? Client attrition rates drop tremendously when they understand the context of their positions and allocations, because that context creates an ongoing narrative — personal yet general — that engages them and creates a stickier customer.
I have even found customers to be more forgiving with their financial professional, at least in the short-term, when they underperform as long as they understand the reasons for the underperformance.
Social media in all it’s forms then rounds out and provides the color for who the financial professional is as a person; completing their brand.
These day you no longer have to work in a high-rise in downtown Manhattan in order to a part of the world of finance, but the public is changing the way it views financial professionals and a trusted brand is something they are beginning to expect for those whom they choose to put their money with.