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The Vitamin and the Painkiller – Where Does FinServ Fall?

Traditionally in business, a solution, product, or service is either a vitamin or a painkiller. Think about a vitamin — it’s a nice-to-have. When you remember to take it, you take it. If you don’t take it on a particular day, you usually don’t even notice — but over time, when you take your vitamins, you do feel better every day. Now, a painkiller? That’s when you have a major issue, you have a burning platform, you have to take care of it right away. Every moment that you don’t take care of it, you’re at risk.

The conventional wisdom is you can choose to build one or the other, but I believe that a great product does both: solves that burning problem right away … and makes you a little bit stronger to face tomorrow. In my recent episode of Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman, I explored how Hearsay started as a vitamin (social selling), accidentally uncovered and addressed a huge pain point (compliance), and turned that into an even bigger vitamin (human-first digital).

This metaphor is relevant today when we think about the products being created at this moment. Everyone with an entrepreneurial mindset has been watching with interest as these new markets develop. Face mask makers. Food delivery services. Virtual conferences. Parents’ collectives to organize virtual classes and pods. We’re all serving as one another’s painkillers right now – creating products and services that keep us safe and connected.

But the standout products in this new market? Not only are they saving us pain, they’re also making us a little bit better. A little happier, a little more resilient. I look at a company like Second Wind, a small mask-maker in New York. This team of women created a custom mask design with a stylishly long decorative chain — adding a dash of verve that turns the mask into an upscale fashion statement. Is this product a painkiller? Yes. A vitamin? Also yes.

While I recorded this episode early on in the Covid pandemic, revisiting the session more recently made me realize, never has this metaphor been more applicable to financial services organizations than now. The pandemic has turned lives, and capital markets, upside down. In today’s uncertain economic times, financial services organizations are in a unique position – their advisors and agents are vitamins and painkillers for clients. There is a short-term urgency and long term necessity for clients and investors to connect with their agents and advisors for that authentic guidance and personalized advice – and it’s never been more critical than now.

Our economies have been changed by this pandemic, and when it ends, they will not look the same. Lots of the products and services we need now are painkillers: Right now they’re vital, life-or-death, but when we don’t need them any more, we won’t use them any more. On the other hand, the things we’ve grown to love during this time, the things that make us better, happier, stronger … we’ll make an effort to keep those, even after. Whether it’s your new Peloton, or a delivery service that’s a delightful improvement over schlepping to the store, or a new habit of checking in with your social networks more often and being more genuine when you do. Those are our vitamins.

So my advice on how to help your advisors and agents thrive throughout this time and afterward — it turns out, it is the same advice I gave Reid and listeners in the episode. Encourage your field to be both a vitamin and a painkiller. Solve an immediate need for their clients, and strive to make their long-term vision just that little bit better too.

Clara Shih

A pioneer in the social media industry, Clara developed the first social business application in 2007. Her latest book, The Social Business Imperative, is a Wall Street Journal-featured bestseller. She is a member of the Starbucks board of directors.

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