No doubt, financial advisor marketing is one of the toughest games around. Unfortunately with the pressures of running your practice, the brand is something most financial advisors put last. The reality is that 99% of financial advisors (RIA firms, insurance agents, wealth managers, financial planners) are saying the same exact thing. If you want to make it in this business, the only choice, the only way to go, is to lay a solid foundation with a nice, big brand. This article is going to discuss why relying on your referral sources (as most financial advisors do) for leads is not viable, what exactly a big brand is, examples of good and bad branding, and how to go about creating a nice, big brand.
Before you read this blog, please understand that I am not a typical marketing consultant who bases things on what they believe to be true from things that they’ve read on the Internet or conferences they’ve attended. I used to be a financial advisor and what I’m about to say is based upon what I know, not think but know, from over a decade of experience in finance. And I’m not a newcomer to the academics of this field either; I have held the Series 7 and Series 66 licenses twice in my career, have an MBA from NYU Stern, and am a CFA® charterholder.
Cold vs. Warm Market
Time and time again, financial advisors struggle to find a solid sustainable source of leads for their practice. And that’s perfectly understandable; marketing by any means other than referrals is hard to do in this business. The industry is notorious for its high turnover and the heinous crimes that some financial professionals have committed against their innocent clients, so you’ve got a reputational strike against you before you even open your mouth. The result? Most financial advisors do not even attempt to actively market themselves into “cold markets.”
The unfortunate reality is that you’re going to have some skinny kids if the only leads you get come from client referrals or introductions from people in your network such as accountants and attorneys. Here’s why.
- It’s the most market sensitive, cyclical source of leads. In a down market, very few clients are going to refer anyone to a financial advisor who they resent because they have to pay your fee while you’re losing their money. Sometimes losing the client’s money is unavoidable, but in the eyes of the client you are still to blame. Every client has that one friend who loves shooting their mouth off every cocktail party about how they’re getting 35% a month while the market is in a down spiral. You’d be better off marketing to someone who knows nothing about you than a current client in a down market.
- Referrals are a myth anyways. They can never be relied upon. They should be considered a bonus for hard work. Would you rely on your annual bonus to pay your daily bills? No. They are a way of saying “thank you.” Would you ever try to force someone to say thank you? No. You can ask all you want, but at the end of the day there is no way to guarantee referrals.
- Attorney, prop/cas insurance, and accountant leads are the most competitive market you could possibly participate in. They’re also intrinsically not aligned with growing your practice for the following reasons.
- Many accountants already provide wealth management services as an ancillary offering. They also tend to be very risk averse and every dollar counts! Every single one! They love counting dollars which is why they are accountants. They are hesitant to trust any financial advisor who is going to potentially sour their relationship with their client by losing a dollar of their money.
- Property/casualty agents. Just as in the case of accountants, most prop cas agents are already licensed to sell life and disability insurance.
- Attorneys are the worst referral sources you could possibly have. Expect zero reciprocity.They get all their business from financial advisors and other attorneys. It never goes your way. They may have one financial advisor that they refer business to once in a blue moon but if you’re not that person then you can probably forget it. They’d love to take your estate planning leads, though!
The Cold Market Isn’t That Bad If You Are Branded
So the warm market isn’t reliable. The only market you can really control is the cold market. Financial advisors hate the cold market, though.
Now, when most financial advisors hear the word “cold market”, they think of cold calling. But there are many strategies to use, including:
- LinkedIn or Facebook advertising
Since the cold market gives most of us the shivers, you can’t cold market all the time. Don’t get me wrong; it’s demoralizing, embittering, and humbling all the time, even for the best of us. That is why I recommend no more than 60% of time spent on cold marketing. The other 40% can be divided between soliciting referrals and actively trying to develop relationship with spheres of influence.
Here’s my golden rule of cold marketing based upon over a decade of financial experience. Don’t go there unless you have a big brand. The next section will discuss what a big brand is and how to get one.
What is a Financial Advisor Big Brand?
A big brand is a big bold line. If you want to be seen as different from all the other financial advisors out there, you have to draw the line somewhere. Many financial advisors hesitate to do this because they don’t want to leave money on the table by going into a niche and excluding prospects.
In reality you are too busy to serve all prospects. Remember, everyone has a brother in law who works at Morgan Stanley. Better to go deep than wide because they are so many advisors out there with ties to the people you want to reach. Unless you really hit them over the head with a reason to work with you instead of their uncle or sister in law who just so happens to work at Merrill Lynch, you’ll end up with excuses like, “I’m really busy at work which is why I can’t roll over my IRA right now” but the reality is their uncle got to them at last week’s family Fourth of July party.
You have to draw the line somewhere to separate yourself. The most common branding mistakes I see financial advisors making is 1) not drawing a bold enough line that really differentiates you 2) presenting a brand with too many ideas which subconsciously distracts and confuses the audience or 3) inconsistently presenting the brand. For example, referring to yourself as “Chairman of XY Company” in some places rather than “CEO of XY Company.” Consistency matters because the audience doesn’t have time to sit there and figure you out. Make it so easy a three year old could understand it.
Moreover, a brand isn’t just about the logo and tagline looking good. It should clearly and quickly speak to the fundamental purpose of what you’re doing and why somebody should work with you rather than the next one.
Examples of Bad Financial Advisor Branding
The following examples typify financial advisor branding and are considered weak brands. These do not represent any one brand in particular but rather a compilation. Does this sound like your marketing copy at all?
We are independent fee-based advisors who fall under the fiduciary standard and always put our clients’ needs before our own. We do not accept commissions.
First of all, every single financial advisor who is a registered investment advisor representative under FINRA uses this line. It’s the most tired pick up line in the history of the industry. People say it because it was beat into their head when they took the Series 7 when in reality it has little value. And with DOL changes even the brokers are going to be fiduciaries soon anyways.
Second of all, it’s a negative marketing pitch to throw every commission based broker dealer under the bus. Do you realize that most financial advisors nowadays aren’t just broker dealers anymore? Seeking to avoid this scrutiny, most of them became “hybrid” RIA and broker dealer; they are both a “financial representative” under the Series 7 and an “investment advisor representative” under the Series 66. There are some RIA firms that are ripping people off just as much as broker-dealers supposedly do.
Third of all, the problem isn’t the commission it’s the churning. Do you think the client really cares that much as long as you do a good job? I mean, at the end of the day the client wants more money. They want to be treated right, but at the end of the day if you are doing right by them, does it really matter how you are getting paid? People don’t want their portfolios churned or to suffer wrongdoing. But paying a commission once in a while instead of a regular fee could be very attractive for a passive investor, for example.
We are dedicated to maximizing return while minimizing risk and have a 99% retention rate over our tenure. We do this by focusing on your unique needs, and our advice is customized to your goals and preferences.
This is so generic. It’s not a unique aspect of your brand, it’s the definition of what an investment advisor does and the clients are tired of hearing about it. Even the ones who don’t customize say that they customize. There’s no empirical evidence that customized portfolios or actively managed portfolios outperform the index, by the way. The customized portfolios go down in bad market just like the cookie cutter ones do.
We empower our clients with financial education and knowledge and help them make the right decisions to maximize wealth, reduce taxes, and improve savings for their families.
I’m so sweet. See my halo?
Finance is known for being the most ethically flawed and arrogant industry on the planet. You realize that that’s how people see you, right? It is seen as the least altruistic business in the world. That is always in the back of every client’s mind when they think of you. This warm and fuzzy approach can’t help but come off as disingenuous, yet every single financial advisor uses it as their motto.
The truth is that no financial advisor is in the game to educate the people who truly need the financial education. That would mean serving the broke people who don’t have a penny and need debt counseling, giving them the rigorous attention and care to help them save $100. Those are the people with real financial problems. It’s so pandering to say that we care so much about people’s financial education when in reality we only care about educating them so that they do what we want them to do with their $500k of investable assets or more.
Let’s be real. You’re really not there to improve their knowledge of how the markets work, because if you had that as your life goal you would have been a college professor earning $25k per year. Most of the time the financial advisor’s definition of “educating the client” means telling the client what strategy you recommend and helping them understand it well enough to agree to it. You’re there to make them believe that it’s okay to invest their large sums of money for a fee in the vehicles that financially reward you, so you can pay your own mortgage.
The other thing is that I’m not sure people want to be educated. Finance is the only industry that does this. When I go to the dentist, he doesn’t whip out a dental school book and try to teach me about how he’s going to x-ray my teeth. I’ve found that anyone who doesn’t have his or her head in the sand is just looking for you to validate the hair-brained ideas they got from their friends or from CNBC. Most people with $500k or more know a thing or two about stocks, and if they don’t they are surrounded by wealthy people who do. Plus if they’re that wealthy they probably earned it somehow by being really successful at their jobs and don’t have time to sit around and learn about finance as a hobby. They’re not chomping at the bit to become students anytime soon.
Here’s one for a financial advisor who is in charge of recruiting other advisors.
Are you an experienced advisor whose needs have been neglected by broker-dealer? If so, then let’s discuss opportunities on our wealth management team. I would love to learn more about your career goals to see if we may be the right fit for each other. We have over 70 years in the business.
This is the recruiting language used by every recruiting financial advisor in the world. Here’s why it fails. There’s no real “why” given here. The only compelling thing is that I know you’re not a fly by night organization because you mentioned you’ve been in business for 70 years. What benefit does that create for me? Does that give me access to the best mentors? Training? Facilities? Products? Better payouts? Why why why?
The callout is also very weak here. It doesn’t “agitate” enough. It mentions that your needs might be neglected, but what does that mean? Broker dealers might neglect you by not getting your proposals generated quickly enough, not passing your advertising through compliance quickly enough, not subsidizing your licenses, etc. None of those are mentioned here and I’m not agitated at my boss enough as a result of reading your copy to feel motivated to reach out to you.
Example of Good Financial Advisor Branding
Here’s a financial advisor that I think has done branding right. Jeff Landers is an advisor who focuses sheerly on divorced women. It’s a great niche to focus on, as the problems someone encounters after divorce can be quite stressing and lead them to seek advice. He’s got a great tagline “think financially, not emotionally” that ties right into the idea of him being a beacon of light during a confusing time. The “why” of why work with Jeff is very clear. His copy centers around the subject of women, money, and divorce and it’s so clear from visiting his website that if you are a divorced woman than there is no better source of counsel.
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