Build or Buy? To Truly Modernize Your RIA Practice’s Technology, Choose the Latter

Build or Buy? To Truly Modernize Your RIA Practice’s Technology, Choose the Latter

Written by: By John Kirkpatrick | Stanford Investment Group

The question in the headline is one that entrepreneurs across all industries ask themselves as their businesses grow and compete.


Obsolete software applications and operating systems are a threat to survival in today’s digital age, especially for independent RIAs, which are under increasing pressure to be more efficient, precise and responsive. The pace of change and level of sophistication in technology are increasing at what seems to be an exponential rate. It is simply no longer possible for an RIA with a few good technology skills to keep up.

At Stanford Investment Group, we have tangible experience with both building and buying technology to modernize our RIA firm. Experience is the best teacher, and we possess the wisdom to know for sure that partnering with a technology vendor that emphasizes integration and automation is now the ideal long-term solution for independent RIAs.

Growing up with Silicon Valley


Our wealth management firm was established in 1982 in Mountain View, Calif.—the heart of Silicon Valley—as a broker-dealer. As the tech world grew and prospered, so did we—by working with entrepreneurs and their families, and high-net-worth individuals and families, to manage wealth through sophisticated financial planning and investment management.

In the late 1980s, we began building up the RIA side of our business, and it soon became our predominant area of service. We were one of the first RIAs on the Charles Schwab & Co. platform, and they remain our primary custodian today. Working with technology entrepreneurs and developers rubbed off on us, and we created a suite of in-house software to power our financial planning and portfolio management, filling a need that was not served by commercially-available solutions at the time.

But our areas of expertise are in wealth management, not technology development, and we found ourselves struggling to keep up with the ongoing support and enhancement needs for the software.

For example, we developed a Microsoft Excel-based program to rebalance accounts. Our advisors used spreadsheets to calculate allocations and define trades, and would then generate paper trading tickets and hand those tickets to a trader who would manually enter each one into Schwab’s trade blotter.

Our rebalancing solution was creative, but its rebalancing and trading workflows were still quite labor-intensive and did not enable us to scale for growth. The solution also was not conducive to executing nimble responses to market conditions. These limitations became clear in 2007, when the market began experiencing gyrations that would culminate in the worldwide financial crisis the following year. We found it challenging to keep up with the huge surge in rebalancing activity necessitated by the market fluctuations. This prompted our decision to find a commercial rebalancing solution that offered flexibility and automation, and would allow us to spend more time focusing on our clients and less time on software and trading.

Going from building to buying—and just in time


In 2007, we conducted a search for a commercial rebalancing software application. Our due diligence led us to choose Tamarac Advisor Rebalancing (now Envestnet | Tamarac). Our decision was based equally on the capabilities of the solution and our belief that the company would be an ongoing technology partner that would be there for us long after installation was complete. Indeed, Tamarac assigned us our own dedicated implementation team to handle system and data conversions, as well as train our staff. After we were up and running on our new rebalancing solution, Tamarac continued to monitor our progress and roll out regular product enhancements and updates.

Knowing we had an engaged and enthusiastic partner was especially comforting for us—because the financial crisis was unfolding just as we were acclimating to our new software. We adopted our automated rebalancing solution just in time, going “live” in mid-2008. By automating our rebalancing and trading workflows, we could make portfolio changes across hundreds of accounts and households, and customize rebalancing settings for each account according to their goals and objectives. We estimate that we saved, and continue to save, about three to four days of labor per month alone on trade execution and compliance trade review. In addition, the application removes a potential error point by eliminating the re-entry of trades from paper trade sheets.  

Imagine how much more time we would have spent on rebalancing in an unusually hectic period like 2008-2009 if we had to continue manually going through every account to make changes!

We also improved the consistency of client portfolios by standardizing risk-based allocation models, and benefited from a significant increase in the speed and efficiency of implementing changes to our target models. Furthermore, the rebalancing solution allowed us to easily perform tax-loss harvesting to help maximize the tax efficiency of our clients’ portfolios.

All of these operational efficiencies gave our small team of advisors the freedom to spend more time working with clients—enabling us to strengthen our client relationships as well as efficiently grow our practice during an extremely uncertain period.

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Capturing the Attention of Millennials: Be Relevant and Digital

Capturing the Attention of Millennials: Be Relevant and Digital

I know Gen Y are stereotyped as being transient, digital natives who are impossible to capture, but that is just the world we live in today. Technology has caused a proliferation of advancements and the financial services industry is (or should be) feeling the pressure. We have seen the rise of the robos, fee compression, virtual advisors, and various regulatory changes, all culminating to challenge financial advisors to find ways to cut through the noise to demonstrate their value.

Developing an effective marketing and lead generation process that’s tailored to millennials is vital for two key reasons:
 

  • It’s the only way you’re ever going to capture their attention
  • It’s the only way your business can remain profitable serving this demographic
     

Let’s be honest; there is a bit of an over-hype and obsession with millennials right now (don’t get me wrong, I’m obviously a fan). Nearly every business is starting to ask itself, “How do we capture this next generation?” And they’re spending tons of time and resources devoted to this one demographic. So think about all the different emails, social media and digital advertising you’re competing with, even beyond just the financial services industry. Whatever you put out there will have to be niche to their needs in order to capture their attention – and will have to feel authentic if you want to build enough trust to get them to engage.

As you begin to assess your ability (or desire) to serve younger investors, the question about profitability will inevitably come up. The traditional marketing advisors do today for their HNW investors is just not an effective or profitable way to target millennials. No COIs, business networking, client events, newsletters – that takes up way too much of your time. Instead, you should take a more scalable approach using digital marketing and messaging that actually resonates with your intended target market. Serving millennials should not be a loss leader; that’s exactly why segmenting and tailoring your marketing will be vital with this demographic.

Bringing it back to our friends Marg, Chip and Drew
 

In order to assess what type of marketing will effectively capture the attention of our three millennial personas, we need to answer these questions:

  1. What are their aspirations?
  2. What are their problems?
  3. When is the best time (in their lives) to capture their attention?

millennial

Marg seems to be more reactive and short-sighted, only seeking advice when there’s a triggering event causing her stress. Chip and Drew tend to have relatively similar characteristics, which you’ll notice quite a bit throughout our research. Aside from income, assets and debt levels, Chip and Drew tend to have the same needs and preferences. This means that you can take a relatively similar marketing approach in terms of messaging, but you’ll need a slightly different approach for each party later on, when we get into fees and service models.

Chip and Drew tend to be a little more financially mature than Marg; they look at longer-term goals and aspirations. The only exception would be that, when it comes to how these three define financial success, they all answered, “Having enough savings to retire when I want” as their top choice.

With the goal of tailoring your marketing messaging and approach to effectively engage these different segments, here are our recommended approaches.

Marketing to Marg
 

Topical blog posts and social media are the way to go. Even though Marg might not be ready for or in need of your professional advice quite yet, you can still find scalable, automated ways to prospect her (with the long-term goal of eventually capturing her once she becomes more like Chip and Drew). The key is to identify those triggers that cause Marg to seek help and find a way to insert yourself into the picture through digital marketing.

Writing a blog with topical posts that address key questions or issues that Marg might Google or research in her time of need is a great starting point. Think of blog titles like: A 5-Step Guide to Building a Budget, What to Do When You Have Credit Card Debt, and How to Improve Your Credit Score. Even though blogging might feel like it takes a lot of initial effort putting together the content, once it’s written, it can be leveraged in so many ways that you can actually realize a return on that investment of your time.

One blog post can be broken down into 10-20 different social media posts, posted on many different social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.), and can be used for months after the blog goes live. And, over time, that content will accumulate and improve your website’s visibility in search engines (that’s search engine optimization) to increase visitors and visits from people like Marg.

Marketing to Chip and Drew
 

Build a targeted marketing campaign focused on life event planning. Retirement is still a very important issue when it comes to emerging wealth prospects like Chip and Drew. Not only do they define financial success as the ability to retire when they want, they also cite retirement planning as the top financial issue they want more help with. However, big life events are the key trigger for Chip and Drew to take action on their finances. And so the key to capturing these millennials is by striking at the peak of their interest – when these life events happen.

But before you can market messaging and content specifically focused on life events like marriage, first-home purchase, first child, and change of career, you have to first address any potential branding issues. If you’re serious about wanting to engage this group, your brand and website cannot be hyper-focused on traditional financial advisor themes like retirement, investing and wealth management. Expand your current brand or create a separate brand geared to this demographic that focuses on financial planning for life events (which can still include retirement as one key component). Then build topical messaging and content that plays to each life event, like “3 Financial Musts After Having Your First Child.”

If you’re fully committed, you could even take it a step further by implementing marketing that specifically targets millennials going through specific life events. For example, you could pay to promote social media posts or ads that only target millennials between the ages of 28-30, the average age most millennials are getting married . Maybe you purchase ads on blogs or other websites like The Knot for newlyweds or The Bump for new parents. You could also identify social influencers who blog or speak about life events and other topics affecting your target market and look for cross-promotional opportunities. The more targeted your marketing and content, the more likely you are to cut through the noise and capture millennial attention.

This brings me to a key point
 

Marg, Chip and Drew are not niches; they are merely personas representing 3 key segments within the millennial cohort. However, niche marketing is a very powerful tool that should not be overlooked when discussing effective ways to market to Gen Y. The more niche your content and targeted your advertising approach, the more effective your marketing will become in grabbing their attention. Case in point: A 33-year-old dentist is much more likely to click on something titled “Dos and Don’ts of Tackling Debt from Dentistry School” than a generic title like “Dos and Don’ts of Tackling Student Loans.” You want millennials to feel your content to is talking specifically to them – and that you’re a resource who understands the needs and issues of people just like them.

To those advisors who still aren’t really interested in serving millennials, but are using this series as an opportunity to review industry trends – this niche thing is not just for millennials; it can be an effective marketing tactic to use with all generations of all ages. There are so many changes going on right now in financial services that can confusion among investors and muddle your value proposition as a financial advisor. Recent technical innovation has caused a proliferation of many different business models in our industry. You’ve always competed with DIY platforms, but now (whether you like it or not), you’re being compared to robo and virtual advisors who likely spend a lot more on digital marketing and targeting than your traditional advisor. That’s why niche marketing can play a key role in helping you to cut through this noise and grab the attention of potential prospects (no matter what age they might be).

To learn more about outsourced services that help you grow - saving you time, increasing profitability, and differentiating you from your competition visit the SEI Advisr Network here.

Missy Pohlig
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Missy Pohlig is the millennial contributor for SEI's Practically Speaking and also serves as Program Manager for the Solutions Team in the SEI Advisor Network, helpi ... Click for full bio