Financial advisors are often known for their people skills, which are essential to maintaining the confidence of clients and winning the trust of prospects.
However, when it comes to leveraging those skills using digital communication methods, many salespeople and senior managers are falling behind – which is unfortunate, given how these tools can significantly improve advisor productivity and client NPS (Net Promoter Score).
Financial advisors have long had an online presence, and many have used social media to share ideas to grow their businesses. But the advisor’s digital toolkit has grown in recent years, giving financial services companies more opportunities to save time, improve the quality of communications, and create more frequent touchpoints with both leads and current clients.
As such, financial leaders increasingly recognize the importance of using high-tech systems to foster high-touch relationships. Between websites, social media, online messaging and texting, there are a multitude of ways that advisors can boost engagement with clients and prospects, as well as take mundane tasks off their plates so they can focus on what will really move the dial.
Here are four digital best practices we’ve heard from the leaders in this space.
The term “digital native” is often associated with millennials who prefer to communicate by text or chat versus over the phone or in-person. Given the influence this group has had on communication preferences for all age groups, financial advisors and business leaders would be wise to start thinking like digital natives, too.
Paul LaPiana, senior vice president of MassMutual, suggests that advisors develop a “digital-first mindset” – essentially, be where clients are to connect with them on their terms. In practice, this might be as simple as wishing them happy birthday via social media or using text messaging for real-time communications.
Texting, specifically, has become an area of focus for more financial services companies. Recent studies show that 98 percent of texts are read/opened, versus a 22 percent open rate for mass marketing emails. Embracing text messaging has helped Prudential, a Hearsay customer, achieve better engagement between advisors and clients, with advisors reporting “how intuitive it is to be able to send a text message to a client,” said Birdia Chambers, Prudential’s Head of Social and Digital Strategy.
Learn how Prudential rolled out a winning text messaging program for its advisors
Popular financial advisor authority Bill Winterberg says, “as advisers pick up more digital-savvy clients, those clients are going to demand texting because they use it with every other professional in their lives.”
Rohit Mahna, SVP and GM of Financial Services at Salesforce, a Hearsay partner, says that “technology has vastly changed the way customers expect to interact with financial institutions, so wealth management firms need to provide more personalized and engaging experiences to compete.”
But the lessons here aren’t limited to advisors and clients. Many financial services leaders feel that email alone isn’t enough, forcing them to find more modern ways of communicating to their organizations and beyond.
Digital channels were once thought of as the marketing team’s domain, but that’s no longer the case. Today, everyone – from the CEO to the advisor to the back office – must embrace a modern way of communicating and collaborating.
It all starts at the top, with firm leadership walking the digital walk. Just as Tim Cook uses social media, business leaders in financial services need to embrace the use of digital channels like texting and social media in appropriate ways, and not limit their own communications to in-person, email and voicemail.
MassMutual’s LaPiana makes it a point to “lead by example” when it comes to adoption of digital tools. He notes that it’s inauthentic to ask employees to use new communication platforms if he’s not using them himself.
LaPiana uses and encourages advisors to use Hearsay Advisor Cloud to engage deeply with clients through social media, but also to align processes such as website lead collection (Advisor Sites) with new digital advisor-client engagement tools like texting (Hearsay Relate).
Digital also has the power to transform clients’ user experience, which can take time-consuming tasks off advisors’ plates. “20 percent of incoming advisor calls are password reset requests,” says one executive vice president. Solving the system access problem at a digital experience level will allow advisors to spend more time “engaging with clients in a relevant, valuable way.”
Corina Roy, assistant vice president of digital at MassMutual, points out that “retail has really set the bar that other businesses have to shoot for when it comes to digital. Firms such as Amazon have revolutionized our ability to obtain what we want with fewer steps.”
As a result, MassMutual is working with partners like Salesforce to build a platform that enables advisors to deliver a compelling user experience, such as an online quote that doesn’t require any paperwork; clients can e-sign and be set up with a policy in a matter of seconds.
Adopting these digitally-driven efficiencies won’t only result in loyal, delighted clients and higher NPS metrics – it frees up advisors’ time for activities that build their businesses and keep clients happy.
When it comes to leveraging digital, advisors can usually look to their marketing team to provide air cover. But what really creates marketing-sales alignment, not to mention higher client NPS, is the ongoing sharing of data and insights from the marketing organization to the field, and vice versa.
“What we’re trying to do is use digital as a test bed,” says Amanda Rierson, head of digital for Farmers Insurance, noting that advisors tend to want to see data in order to feel confident about a new digital strategy. “You’ve got to show success, show positive customer interactions – then you can scale widely (to the field) when you have some points on the board.”
Jon Pauley, interactive strategy and chief digital officer at Ameriprise, lists several instances of using data to drive better practices in the field – from proving that a professional headshot drives more clicks on advisors’ websites, to discovering that advisors using social media had 250 percent higher net flows and 400 percent more high-value acquisitions than advisors who abstained.
“We were challenged by our CEO to make marketing and sales act as one organization,” says Pauley, who admits they had a rough start of it when they handed a digital framework to advisors without backing it up with data. But when they began to test and measure, then pass those reports to sales, “advisors started to listen.”
And sharing insights isn’t a one-way street. Marketing teams who leverage the field for testing and data gathering can learn valuable lessons for their broader efforts. “The more you can help advisors test and learn, you can figure out what capabilities you can leverage and do at scale,” says Jennifer Atkins, head of marketing strategic capabilities and insights at Wells Fargo.
Financial services industry expert Michael Kitces often shares tips on how technology drives advisor productivity. He famously wrote that he’d gladly pay $100 to save him one minute a day, observing that “one minute a day is actually five minutes a week, or 20 minutes a month, or a non-trivial four hours a year,” and can be a 900 percent ROI for a busy professional.
Kitces challenges us to do more, noting that if you spend 10 times that amount (about the cost of some leading, cloud-based productivity platforms), you would save the equivalent of a full week of work per year.
MassMutual’s LaPiana states that digital technology should be used to “get activities off the advisors’ plate” so that they can focus on the interactions with clients – a fair point, given the fact that 70 percent of advisors’ time is not spent meeting with clients.
LaPiana adds that the future of wealth management – while marked by fee compression, since consumers will be able to make price comparisons more easily – will require “more personal interactions with customers to guide and coach them to the right decisions.”
Prudential’s Chambers notes that Hearsay’s texting technology helped their advisors not only to engage clients better, but also led to a significant boost in productivity – advisors or their support staff can easily pre-schedule meeting reminder texts instead of leaving voice messages, over and over. Digital platforms like Hearsay’s can give a major boost to advisor productivity and client NPS, for example by automating workflows, making touchpoints more frequent, and automating and delegating tasks to the advisor’s support team.
A Digital Culture is a Productive Culture
To be relevant and competitive in today’s digital world, where real-time responses are the norm, leaders must adopt and embrace digital platforms. But beyond platforms, leaders must follow best practices that bring marketing, sales and the enterprise together to engage clients in a modern way, power productivity gains, and deliver superior client experiences.