We got a chance to sit down with Joe Anthony, who is the President of Financial Services and a Partner at Gregory FCA, a full service strategically integrated public relations firm in Ardmore, PA. Joe has some interesting and thoughtful observations on our industry.
How did your career start?
My career started when I took an internship during my senior year at Villanova University working in the investor relations department at Gregory FCA. The opportunity combined my interest in the financial world with my passion for the news and my interest in helping businesses tell their story. It was less than a year after my college graduation when I was given the opportunity to help launch our agency’s specialized services for the financial services industry. Thirteen years later, we’ve built a business unit that ranks as the 11th largest financial PR firm in the country with close to 300 industry campaigns under out belt.
Why did you choose Financial Services?
I was a Finance major and got my degree from the Villanova School of Business (then known as the School of Commerce & Finance). I loved the financial world and was fascinated with Wall Street since my grandfather shared tales of working in the industry going back to the 1940’s. He impressed upon me that financial services was one of four major industries that he thought had long-term sustainability.
How has the industry evolved in last decade?
The industry has become more approachable for the consumer audience it serves. Technology has expedited the innovation and evolution of the business. Financial service companies can reach anyone with a mobile device or personal computer. At the same time, how the consumers get information and how much information they have at their fingertips has changed, so companies need to be more communicative, more transparent and aware that competition can pop up anywhere, anytime. It’s a more level playing field for upstarts than what we saw as we broke into the 2000’s.
What’s been good about those changes?
Businesses are learning to be more thoughtful in how they serve – and how they market to – their customers. Customers have more choice in providers and how they work with those providers. More people are equipped to be actively engaged in their financial lives. Close to 2 decades after the big shift to 401ks (and the “you’re on your own” retirement landscape), the changes have given consumers a fighting chance of actually succeeding in that.
What makes you pause and get nervous about what’s happening right now?
There has been a massive push to deliver products and services at a lower price point. At a certain level, some quality will slip or the margins will shrink to the point of forcing out competent players in the industry.
How does Gregory work with clients within the industry?
Gregory FCA provides integrated marketing communications services to RIAs, asset managers, ETF issuers, mutual funds, CPA firms, insurance companies, broker-dealers and others. Our clients hire us to generate media coverage, develop and refine their messaging, support product launches, manage their blog presence, develop social media strategies and deliver their narrative in written, visual and multimedia forms.
How can you effect change within the boundaries of what you do to better either what they do, or how they’re perceived?
We have aligned ourselves with many of the upstarts in the ETF and RIA industries. Much of the innovation in the industry has been galvanized by firms that have challenged the status quo. The first hedge fund position replication ETF wasn’t launched by Blackrock or Vanguard. The first cyber security ETF came from an issuer with less than $10 million in AUM at the time. United Capital has done more to positively change the financial advice business than Merrill Lynch over the last five years. These are the firms we get to work with to tell their stories and amplify their messages – that’s how we support positive change.
Who out there do you think is positioned to be the next breakthrough and be a major name?
It’s hard to play favorites with a roster of clients that I think are each doing powerful things to make a difference in the business and in the lives of their clients. That being said, it’s hard to ignore the work that Eileen McDonnell has done in reaching out to women and younger professionals to get them engaged in the business of financial services. She has put the weight of her firm, Penn Mutual, behind the effort in a meaningful way. In Houston, there is a father-son team that run Tanglewood Wealth Management that has accepted the challenge of digitally-enabled advisors like WealthFront and used technology to help run their business more efficiently, cut fees for their clients and maintain profitability. Firms like that will survive while those that refuse to change their business model will suffer.
What firms need some major help in redefining who they are, or need to pivot to keep up with where the industry is going?
Tricky question. You can see the old guard firms are trying hard to repackage their offerings and change the language they are using to describe their services. Northwestern Mutual Life and Fidelity are two firms that made splashy acquisitions to help them stay relevant – and in some ways play catch up to shifts in consumer behavior and technology.
Let’s touch on Robo—do millennials really want to only work on their devices and never want to talk to someone about their finances?
Millenials have grown up where they can manage their life via the mobile devices. Bank accounts. Dinner reservations. Concert tickets. Organize parties. Whatever they want to do, most of it can be facilitated online, via apps, etc. At the same time, the experience matters. The financial customer experience happens both in terms of the delivery of the services online and in person. Financial advisers will be more likely to host client appreciation events at a craft brewery than at a golf course. Millenials will want the flexibility to call, text, log-in or drop-in on their financial advisor. It’s not just an in-person service delivery or digital only, it’s “all of the above.”
Many of your articles are about what’s currently happening—what gets you to the point where you have to let what your thinking out to share with all of us?
Often, I see certain news items or developments get overhyped where the real implications are small compared to the headlines. At the same time, I see the focus needing to be reoriented to a different view of the news. For example, with Northwestern Mutual Life’s acquisition of LearnVest, I felt compelled to point out the fact that the old guard no longer has a choice in terms of adapting to the changing consumer. They are acquiring relevance where they failed to maintain it. That should be an alarm bell for other firms that are not moving quickly enough to adapt. I try to hit on those messages because it very often isn’t necessarily a fundamental change in the business itself but how the business delivers its services and products that is changing – and that’s an area where we can add value to firms who are trying to reimagine how they reach their audiences.
What are your predictions for the industry for the next three years?
A few things: more consolidation in the RIA landscape. I can see an RIA acquirer or two going public – or, at the very least, acquiring another consolidator. I think on the ETF front, we’ll see a strong “middle class” of ETF issuers. They won’t have the assets of a Blackrock, State Street or Vanguard, but there will be clear separation of about a dozen firms outside the top 10 issuers from the pack of sponsors that might have 2 or 3 products.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Getting to talk with a lot of bright people who are excited by what they do every day and hear their various points of view on some of the same issues. I find it fascinating that intelligent, well-educated, well-informed people can have so many different ideas about how the business works, where the opportunities are, etc. At the same time, it is our job to capture our clients’ stories and ideas and help them relate it in a way that supports their business. You hear some incredibly interesting things when you hear how they aim to impact the world with what they are doing.
What would you like to leave us with?
There has never been a better time to be in the financial services industry. Change is everywhere and that change begets opportunity. The ETF business has shown that a manager that might’ve taken 3 to 5 years to raise $500 million in a mutual fund can now do so in six months if they’ll change the wrapper they use to distribute their product. The growth of large RIA firms like United Capital and Exencial Wealth Advisors show us that nimble firms who aren’t afraid to think differently can attract the best talent from inside – and outside – the industry. Robo-advisors have forced traditional advisory firms to reapproach how they serve clients. Change can be tough, but being forced to be better is a good thing for individuals, companies and the industry as a whole.
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