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Artificial Intelligence at Work in Financial Services Marketing and Sales

The recent onslaught of headlines about the application of artificial intelligence (AI) in financial services makes it hard to separate the wheat (what’s real and possible) from the chaff (pie-in-the-sky hype).
We hear again and again about how AI can increase advisor productivity, improve the customer experience, and reveal previously hidden insights that can be a competitive advantage in an increasingly commoditized space.
It’s all great in theory, but often lacks real-life validation. Here’s a breakdown of ways AI can actually apply in the day-to-day, nose-to-the-grindstone world of financial services marketing and sales.

Human-in-the-Loop

Maran Nelson, founder of AI platform Clara Labs, suggests a simple but powerful framework: Focus on how AI impacts humans and their common, everyday workflows.
Nelson began her remarks on AI at the recent Hearsay Summit in San Francisco by admitting there is a mystique about AI, but in the end, “it’s all about predictions.” Beyond that, it’s nothing more than applying math and data to human decision-making.
Clara Labs is the technology company behind Clara, a “virtual assistant” that schedules meetings for recruiters. By eliminating the back-and-forth email exchanges that are normally required to set up a call, the company estimates it saves its clients many hours per week in both time spent and “cognitive load.”
As AI solutions go, Clara is a bit unique in that it takes a “human-in-the-loop” (HITL) approach – in other words, it employs a model that requires human interaction. Clara is able to read emails, compare calendars, and communicate with multiple participants. And while it’s designed to be reasonably good at this task, it’s programmed to bring a human into the process when needed. For instance, when a long, meandering email trips things up, Clara notifies a human Clara Labs team member to help make a decision about the action required.
According to Nelson, having a human involved is not just about getting a better outcome. It illustrates the fact that AI doesn’t serve a purpose on its own. It’s meant to help people – for example, by eliminating tedious or repetitive work. Ultimately, the value of AI should be judged by whether it is allowing people to focus on more creative or rewarding parts of their work.

AI-guided human interaction is also a central part of our work and products at Hearsay. We believe that a human in the loop can help drive casual customer engagement to sales conversations as quickly as possible. Our software automates common advisor workflows – like following up on a meeting, sending an annual review reminder or sharing an article that reflects a particular client’s interest – so that advisors can focus their time on more nuanced and productive human-to-human activities.

Lessons for Advisor Productivity

For all the fears about AI taking over human jobs, most of us in the financial services industry remain confident that we’ll always need actual people to play the financial advisor role – which means that the HITL approach could be an ideal way to think about AI.
Texting is a great example of this. Advisors are increasingly using texting and direct messaging on social media to communicate with clients and prospects, and AI is improving the experience on both sides of the communication.
On LinkedIn, for example, the messaging app will suggest likely responses based on the conversation, so the user can simply choose a response (“See you there”) rather than type it out. It may seem like a small thing, but over time these prompts can save advisors time and encourage them to use direct messaging and texting more frequently.
This can be really powerful when you are able to use automation in messaging that is specific to your industry, feels personal and can be executed at scale. Advisor-focused technologies like Hearsay have industry-specific messaging prompts – based on AI from hundreds of thousands of advisor-client interactions – that go well beyond simple suggestions.
With both Advisor Social (social media) and Hearsay Relate (text and voice calls), advisors are proactively notified of opportunities to wish clients a happy birthday, congratulate them on a new job, schedule an annual review, send them a reminder of their upcoming RMD, or reach out for other reasons based on data collected and analyzed. The outreach itself takes just one click with pre-written templates that are optimized for that specific conversation.

Lessons for Customer Retention

The “human” in HITL can also be your customer. Many financial services firms are leveraging AI to improve the client experience, leading to greater customer success and retention.
RBC, the largest bank in Canada, recently launched an AI system called NOMI. A play on the phrase “know me,” the platform monitors customers’ checking accounts and anticipates overdrafts based on the bills it knows are about to be due.
Unlike more simplistic, alert-based solutions, which are more common in the U.S., services like NOMI make informed predictions, suggest a course of action, and even carry out the request if approved. Over time, it learns to propose better suggestions based on what the user does and doesn’t execute.
“If nothing else,” says wealth management thought leader Joel Bruckenstein, “(NOMI) should serve as a wake-up call that maintaining the status quo is no longer an acceptable business strategy.” Bruckenstein believes that many advisors in the U.S. have been “slow to grasp the magnitude of technological disruption taking place in financial services,” to their own detriment.

What’s Next?

In a word: chatbots.
According to a study by Personetics, 80 percent of financial institutions globally view chatbots as an opportunity and, in fact, almost 50 percent are already using or plan to start using bots. And while Gartner predicts that chatbots could handle at least 85 percent of all customer service queries by 2020, these clever little programs can do more than just free up the call center’s time.
Take Bank of America’s AI chatbot, Erica. Accessed via the BofA app, Erica can seemingly do it all, from tracking customers’ credit scores, to reviewing spending habits, to offering advice on how to pay off bills. Users can chat with Erica via voice or text message.
Before you board the chatbot train, remember that almost half of bots are only used once. To increase engagement, Personetics CEO David Sosna recommends that your bot “proactively reach out to customers with information, insight and advice – presented at the right time and place based on predictive analysis of individual customer needs.”

AI in Finserv: Improving the Human Experience

Hearsay CEO Clara Shih believes that technology is highly unlikely to replace all the people working in financial services – especially when it comes to financial advisors.
Rather, she says, “technology will help them transform,” in the way that Nelson of Clara Labs argues that AI will be about “eliminating the parts of your job that you like the least.” Financial companies that embrace AI will allow their people focus on the most creative, challenging and impactful aspects of their jobs that ultimately help their clients navigate through important life events.
As Steve Jobs once said, “Silicon Valley has always been at the center of both technology and humanism.” Despite the advancements in AI, financial services consumers still continue to demand a high level of personalized services. In the end, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that digital platforms are ultimately about helping people.
Hey, Siri, what do you think about that?
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Why Financial Services Marketers Should Care About Sales Outcomes

Top financial services enterprises have proven that strong alignment between sales and marketing teams leads to better business outcomes: increases in customer engagement, better customer service, and faster revenue growth. In fact, research has shown that when sales and marketing teams are in sync, companies can improve close rates by 67 percent and get 209 percent more value from marketing.
Unfortunately, efforts by some companies to create alignment and results often fail before they even begin. Marketing teams are under increased scrutiny from corporate teams that question its productivity and performance. With increased pressure to become more accountable and prove marketing’s value and contribution, it’s no wonder that sales and marketing teams are rethinking the way they communicate and collaborate.
With this in mind, here are five ways to unite your sales and marketing teams – and achieve better business results:

1. Focus on the Right Metrics and Experiences That Drive Business Outcomes

While marketing’s primary focus often is to generate awareness and influence customer behavior – i.e., meet prospective customers at the start of their buying journey and help to move them down the funnel through to a potential sale – today’s marketers must think more like sales when it comes to their marketing activities.
Marketing must shift its strategy from only looking at “vanity” metrics to also analyzing the data that directly affects sales outcomes. More specifically, in addition to brand impressions (e.g., views, followers, retweets), marketers must take partial ownership of qualified pipeline opportunities, such as when a customer or prospect does any one of the following:

  • Visits a website or landing page
  • Downloads a product brochure
  • Requests a call, meeting or quote
  • Participates in a webinar
  • Attends an event

By focusing on metrics that truly drive sales outcomes, sales and marketing teams can better operate as one coordinated, cohesive revenue generation machine.
Firms like Farmers Insurance are taking advantage of the full customer experience by using digital technology to enhance human interactions. This includes understanding where their customers are, what channels they interact on, and determining how to improve the customer experience at every point of engagement. Mobile apps and collaboration tools are now being used by advisors and their team to efficiently schedule meetings, text policy reminders and other rote tasks, freeing up time for advisors to focus on more meaningful client engagement activities.

2. Determine What Constitutes a Qualified Lead

Crossed wires between sales and marketing teams can lead to missed quotas and budget shortfalls, not to mention unnecessary tension between sales reps and marketers. To align teams, it’s important for sales and marketing to act as one organization and, together, determine the programs that they will implement to enable the field.
Ameriprise, for one, has found success in this area by agreeing on key metrics and deliverables at the start of their programs and coming back together after the completion of programs to determine what was successful. Simply determining what constitutes a qualified lead and what are the key metrics and stages in which to measure can be tremendously beneficial.

3. Automate Content Marketing for Every Stage of the Client Journey

A strong sales and marketing strategy should include relevant content that extends the reach of the sales team to more leads, provides more opportunities for leads to engage with both the brand and individual advisors, and helps accelerate the customer journey toward sales conversations, retention and upsell.
But advisors aren’t content marketers. Asking them to not only create their own content, but also figure out what, when and how to share it will most likely result in an initiative that’s dead on arrival.
Instead, marketing teams should leverage automation technology that provides advisors with a steady stream of engaging content – personalized to their interests and client base – and automatically shares it on their networks (i.e., “set and forget”). Advisors can then dedicate their time and resources to more high-touch activities.
For example, one of our customers (a Fortune 100 financial services firm) has seen great success in offering advisors the ability to subscribe to our Hearsay Content tool (via our Advisor Social solution), which curates content from top news sources and automatically posts it on an advisor’s social media business profiles over time – compliantly. Advisors can subscribe to “dynamic campaigns” that are relevant to their practice and customer base – topics like investment strategy commentary, personal finance news, financial advice for women, kids and money, and retirement planning.
Another Hearsay customer uses RSS feeds to help ease the load in terms of curating content for specific topics or client segments.
For more insights on what advisors should publish on social media and how to optimize their efforts, check out our 2018 Social Media Content Study
With a concrete content architecture in place that aligns your content with marketing and sales enablement processes, firms can assemble, organize, package and measure the performance of all their content assets, throughout the entire sales funnel.

4. Optimize Lead Hand-off to Sales

Your field marketing is in place, and your advisors are running an automated content machine that keeps them top-of-mind and relevant to their local customer base. At the same time, your brand marketing team continues to run campaigns at the corporate level. If marketing is doing its job successfully, qualified leads are coming in from both sources.
But, what good is a qualified lead if it is not getting passed on to the right advisor, or isn’t being followed up on in a timely manner? This is one of the primary causes of disconnect between marketing and sales, and why sales organizations often don’t see the value of marketing. Lead generation suffers when teams aren’t properly aligned and leads aren’t handed off to sales successfully, or aren’t quickly followed up on by an advisor.
The answer – again – is leveraging automation to get that lead to a one-to-one conversation as fast as possible. Using solutions like Hearsay, firms can now trigger, track and automate a lead follow-up workflow where once an advisor is assigned a lead, he or she can quickly send a pre-scripted email with corporate-approved copy through Hearsay’s Advisor Social platform, as well as promptly follow up with a mobile text and voice call using Hearsay Relate.

5. Connect the Data to Drive More Prescriptive Next-best Actions

Everyone knows by now that consistent, accurate data is critical in any decision. Yet, one of the biggest obstacles to sales and marketing alignment and business growth is the use of disparate systems without sharing data.
When it comes to CRM and other platforms, it’s important for sales and marketing to be on the same page and make it possible for advisors to stay in touch with potential leads – with complete and accurate data – without a huge investment of time.
Firms that connect their advisor-client engagement solutions – including Hearsay’s Advisor Cloud – to their CRM and other core systems will benefit from data insights that lead to more personalized and prescriptive client action.
What’s more, all these advisor-client interactions are automatically captured in CRM without any manual data entry required from advisors. The result? Complete and accurate data across systems, corporate visibility into field activities, and no extra work for advisors.
For example, one of our customers drives results by providing real-time alerts for advisors on mobile whenever there’s a new lead, as well as pre-written and pre-approved compliance communication they can send to clients immediately as a follow-up.
Perhaps one of our technology partners sums it up best:
“An advisor’s job is to sell, not become a technologist. The key for greater sales and marketing alignment and better sales outcomes is having one seamless ecosystem to help advisors find the right person, know what to say and when to say it, and recording it in the CRM where we want these insights to live. In other words, advisors need integrated connectivity to do their jobs effectively, and without which, they are at a huge disadvantage.”
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