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Analytics, Acquisitions, and the Future of Financial Advice

Data analytics is big business, but not just any solution will do in financial services

This summer, data analytics hit the big leagues. As I recently shared with InvestmentNews, Google and Salesforce spent tens of billions of dollars purchasing data analytics leaders Looker and Tableau, respectively.
The deals, $2.6 billion for Looker and a staggering $15.3 billion for Tableau, are among the largest either company has made to date. Meanwhile, rumor has it that both IBM and Microsoft may look to expand their own analytics offerings.
The money being poured into the market affirms the value that data pipelines and analytic tools bring to business in all major industries. But to truly deliver insight on that data at the point of business  impact, solutions must be tailored to meet the specific needs of vertical industries, including the highly regulated financial industry
Nowhere is data relied on more heavily than in financial services, which both requires and generates enormous amounts of data. As a consumer-heavy industry, financial services produces a huge amount of customer data. In addition, the compliance processes of this heavily monitored industry generate massive additional amounts of data.

The Future of Financial Advice

Actionable, accurate information provided by sophisticated data analysis, on comprehensive data, can provide insights into customer needs, preferences, and strategies allowing insurance agents and wealth management advisors to provide their clients with a level of service before unimaginable.
Based on targeted analytics like that that provide helpful insights on both client and field representative behaviors that influence sales, advisors and agents can easily engage clients at all stages of the customer cycle. Smart triggers can alert agents/advisors to potential problems early on, preventing policy lapses or lost clients, while other features streamline or eliminate tedious tasks and data entry, enabling advisors and agents to focus on high-ROI activities.

How to Get There

Every business needs a data and analytics strategy but as we’ve seen, not just any solution will meet the needs of financial services firms. Financial services organizations need to consider the hurdles posed by adherence to strict regulations. Compliance must be built into the solution, not just an add-on.
Fintech companies that understand the complexities of the industry and can integrate with all available data sources represent the best possibilities for the future. We can make the future of financial advice described above happen now. The resulting next-level insights will propel businesses forward as a personalized and more human experience pairs with the best of what technology can automate and optimize.
It’s a pivotal moment for analytics. As intuition is replaced by information, the impact of today’s decisions will set the course for tomorrow’s outcomes.

Financial Services Races toward Customer Experience Greatness

Data and analytics — the secret sauce in a 360 degree customer view

The financial services industry is racing to deliver amazing customer experiences. Completing my first year at Hearsay – and looking back on years spent at data and analytics companies – the race was inevitable. As digital technology capabilities rise, customers’ expectations have increased for personalized, high touch engagement and the industry has been forced to compete in an age of transformation.

The goal of building a seamless customer experience has been pursued for over 10 years now. Industry after industry has been disrupted by cloud-first, agile and flexible upstarts, driven by volumes of new data types that could suddenly be captured cost-effectively and we entered the age of the customer. The personalized experiences of B2C giants like Amazon and Uber forever changed the way every company does business. From retail to healthcare to streaming movies to insurance, customers today choose businesses that deliver an engaging, relevant experience by phone, online and in-person.

At the core of that customer experience? Data. For the Financial Services industry, this is fortuitous. As an industry, a side benefit of mandatory compliance and regulatory requirements is the vast amount of both customer and communication data we capture. This data can be the foundation for creating more personalized experiences. Working with enterprises in the era of big data, the ultimate goal of almost everyone was to build a 360 degree view of the customer. One of the biggest challenges coincidentally, was the capture of customer data and client engagements. However, as innovative, open source technologies such as Hadoop and Spark let us both house and capture streaming data and unstructured data — social media data being one of those — our views began to expand. With enough data, artificial intelligence began to hit the mainstream. We could suddenly detect sentiment, for instance, with more accuracy as our algorithm finally had enough data to train quickly with increasing levels of accuracy. Simply put, our ability to understand and serve our customers personally was greater than ever before.

However, there were challenges. First, the majority of customers had enterprise legacy systems with siloed data. They struggled to integrate ever increasing amounts of information to create one ‘golden record’ for each customer that could be accessed across all departments. Second, and by far the bigger challenge, was incomplete (or in some cases too much) customer data. Enterprises had difficulty capturing and integrating data and of course determining what gold actually existed in the vast data lakes that emerged. They were often limited by cost and talent to sort relevant data and began building metadata catalogs. These challenges continue.

For financial services today, however, we are much further along in addressing these issues. The constant capture required for compliance has become invaluable. We can now expand our view and understanding of the customer with the data captured across multiple communication channels such as social media, texting and voice. Applying AI, we can begin to automate and trigger actions that will make personalization faster and more precise. AI is so prevalent because of these simultaneous data forces. For more on this you can read my article on the convergence of forces that drove this phenomenon.

Financial Services firms still struggle with many of the same integration issues other enterprises face. However, the data collection phase is ripe for discovering valuable insights. Insights that will lead to a more personalized experience that advisors and agents can deliver based on client expectations. I’m excited to see the progress our customers are making on this journey to create a high tech and right touch experience for their clients. When we enter 2020, the winners will be those who leverage data across multiple communication channels and leverage insights to drive action for a one of a kind, personal client experience.

It Takes a Village of Integrated Apps and Data to Raise an Advisor’s Digital Success

Advisors and their clients have something in common. When it comes to their digital experience, it needs to be seamless and easy. Clients are looking for highly personalized communications and rapid responses, and advisors can meet these expectations – thanks to integrated technology and automation.

The Digital Transformation of Financial Services

The business of advisors’ is building relationships, but they often find that too much of their time is spent on tedious manual processes. Entering client data and notes into CRM systems, sending meeting confirmations and many other necessary, but non-revenue generating tasks can take precious time away from engaging personally with clients.

Today’s leading financial services firms have recognized the need to digitally transform this aspect of advisor prospecting and relationship management. With cloud CRMs, turn-key advisor websites, social media, compliant texting – and beyond – advisors are empowered with tools that should increase success in a highly-connected world. However, advisors often struggle with new tools that don’t plug in easily and work right away. Without insight into field activities, it’s hard for corporate to know whether their investments are worthwhile, and measure advisor success.

From Silos to Integration for Advisor and Corporate Success

Thinking any one technology will solve an enterprise-wide business challenge is unrealistic. Core systems can’t live and function separately; every platform and software application must cooperate to handle the vast increase in data, the number of applications used and the increased demand for a seamless and personalized experience. We are in a world where “playing nicely’ in an ecosystem of vendors is imperative.

Imagine this scenario: CRM tools like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics hold a wealth of client data, but populating them can take hours of an advisor’s time. What if you could automatically capture all advisor-client interactions and push them into your CRM? No more manual data entry for advisors. Now add social insights – life moments that indicate the potential to buy. Advisors become smarter about when to reach out and with the most personalized message. Add to that automation to proactively prompt advisors when they need to take action, suggestions for what message will be most effective and the optimal channel to use. Now, time isn’t wasted searching for leads, responding in a timely way or trying to figure out what follow up will be most effective.

Mark Madgett, Chief Distribution Officer at New York Life, explains exactly how and why this type of integration and automation are so powerful for advisors and their corporate counterparts in this brief video.

Drive More Value from Critical Business Applications with Integration and Automation

As technology advances in our ecosystem, data and application integration continue to be fundamental challenges. Uniquely in Financial Services, we are also burdened with ensuring these communications are compliant and captured. The good news is it puts us in an advantageous position relative to data. For AI to help automate and streamline processes, it becomes increasingly dependent on the continuous capture and integration of more data sources to improve the accuracy of models and the downstream automation and triggering of critical events.

When advisor-client interaction data is automatically captured and synced to CRM, the quality and the quantity of data rises. In fact, in our client base, we have seen a 10-15x increase in data in customer CRMs based on the automated capture of client/advisor engagement.  Subsequently, this captured knowledge about when prospects have a need and the ability to respond in a timely way with a personalized message drives better close rates and increased revenue.
It is imperative that applications can live and thrive in an increasingly broad ecosystem of partners. The more we can automate and capture data within this ecosystem, the more we can make both applications and workflows smarter. This coexistence can fuel automation and deliver a new era for the Advisor where time is spent enhancing the human touch by eliminating what is meant to be automated.

Sifting Through Data to Find Social ROI Gold

data ROI marketing digital tools
At the start of 2018, the marketing team for one of our customers made an advantageous discovery. The firm, one of North America’s largest insurance companies, had used the Campaigns feature in Hearsay Social to automatically post social content for its network of agents. Many of the posts linked back to the corporate website.
At the end of 2018, the marketing team found that the posts linking to the corporate blog drew over a million click-throughs. To be more precise, their social selling program was responsible for driving 1.05 million hits to their corporate website.
According to Wordstream, insurance is the most competitive category in Google search engine advertising and “insurance” is the most expensive keyword. Assuming an average $6.00 CPC across all channels, our customer’s price tag to generate the same amount of traffic would have been $6.3 million.
At a time when marketers are under increasing pressure to prove the value of their efforts, the ability to capture and analyze data has become paramount. While digital tools certainly make it easier to mine data and measure results, the right digital tools also can drive efficiencies within the organization – even beyond the marketing function.
In addition to helping identify the most effective content, most responsive client segments, and most risky compliance alerts, digital tools also enable automation of functions, empowering the most highly skilled employees to focus where it matters most, solving problems rather than accumulating data.
Whatever the challenge at hand, chances are good configuring and leveraging digital will help overcome the majority. To name a few:
Obviously, capturing and converting leads is a major goal for any firm, and many advisories look to their distribution teams for help. Often, significant budget is allocated to advertising and purchasing third-party lists for this purpose.
Ironically, most firms are already in possession of personal data for their best targets – in the hundreds of thousands of contacts languishing in advisors’ Rolodexes. The prospects most likely to convert are those who have already had some contact – however casual – with the firm. Digital tools like 1-to-1 Outreach in Hearsay Social can automatically pull email addresses from your CRM, enabling you to retain clients and convert prospects of new advisors who fail and leave your firm. The ability to track response through the platform provides the data needed to measure your results.
Client retention is another goal digital data can help facilitate and measure. It’s well known in the financial services industry that frequent and meaningful communication drives client loyalty – or perhaps more accurately, lack of communication is the primary reason for client attrition, especially among younger clients. Research recently released by Qualtrics cited lack of personalized attention as the main reason millennial clients switch financial advisors. It’s also typical for most advisors to spend 80 percent of their time focused on 20 percent of their client base. That leaves 80 percent of each advisor’s client base at risk.
Digital tools with the ability to automate and personalize messages help busy advisors send the right message at the right time, giving meaningful attention to a portion of their client base that might otherwise be ignored. Since all interaction is documented in the system, the data is available to measure retention increase from year to year.
Digital data can even drive efficiencies in compliance. Through the stack feature in Hearsay Relate, alerts can be ranked by degree of risk. Monitoring the data over time enables firms to identify and separate alerts that are genuinely critical from those that don’t require the same degree of supervision, thus allowing compliance staff to put their time to better use.
The ability to share data can also drive more meaningful and productive conversations between teams. Regarding compliance, many conversations take place based on concerns over hypothetical situations. Data enables teams to monitor specific communication types for trends and patterns and to discuss issues armed with data points rather than abstract ideas.
As leaders in our industry continue to point out, time is today’s new currency. Having the right digital tools that enable automated workflows, conserve resources, increase production – and measure results – are the key to proving ROI and meeting the expectations of today’s C Suite.
Where have you been able to apply digital tools to collect data and measure outcomes? We’d love to hear about your own experiences.

Hearsay’s January Product Release is Here

At Hearsay we have one prime directive: help advisors grow their business. So when we heard that $68 TRILLION dollars was set to be up for grabs, we went to work on a way for advisors to stake their claim.

Introducing Hearsay Social for Instagram: The Social Media Platform of Choice for the Next Generation

Over the next few decades, approximately $68 trillion is set to transition across generations in what is being called “The Great Wealth Transfer.” Yet to date, advisors and insurance agents have struggled to effectively engage with younger potential investors and clients.
At a whopping 1 billion users – 70% of whom are under 35 – Instagram is a platform advisors and insurance agents can’t afford to ignore. For millennials and Gen X, Instagram is the second most popular social network. Both generations have massive buying power and both will have considerable need for financial advice as “the great wealth transfer” starts to become a reality.
To tap into this market, advisors and agents need a way to build trust and gain mindshare with the next generation of clients who:

  • Don’t generally work with their parents’ advisors
  • Seek the financial independence it takes to retire early (epitomized by the “FIRE” movement)
  • Don’t prioritize insurance and
  • Are potentially poised to inherit up to $68 Trillion in financial and non-financial assets over the next 30-40 years.

The path to success here lies in helping them deploy a coordinated digital strategy across multiple channels and enabling them to rapidly respond with automation and delegation.
To meet this challenge, we’re excited to announce that Hearsay Social now fully supports Instagram. As a mobile-first platform, Hearsay Social Dynamic Campaign Instagram Social Media PostInstagram complements Hearsay’s abilities to empower field advisors and agents while they’re away from their office. Adding this critical network to the Hearsay Advisor Cloud further enables advisors and agents to engage with the increasingly vital “next generation.”
By leveraging Instagram, an advisor can build and grow their network by posting engaging content about a trend in the market or an insurance agent can share the latest clever ad campaign (have you seen those Allstate ads?). And with Hearsay’s addition of Triggered Advisor Actions and Hearsay Relate over the last year, advisors can quickly respond to potential new clients by utilizing powerful workflows with one-click follow-up via text (newsflash: millennials don’t read email) or mobile calling. Personalized, compliant communication is instant and simple. Read more in the Press Release.
Of course, adding a new social network to your program might seem daunting. That is why we have the hands-on training, implementation and support options you need to get your program off the ground. We’ll partner with you to help design an industry-specific approach to Instagram that is tailored to meet your unique objectives and provide you with the dashboards and reporting to measure your results and generate program insights. As always, we maintain vigilance when it comes to compliance to make sure you meet the rigorous regulatory requirements of financial services.

Beyond Instagram

Hearsay Social for Instagram is part of a bigger January release that includes other user experience improvements. Here are a few highlights:
PDF Capture of 3rd Party Links: For compliance and program admins, Hearsay Social now makes it easier to meet FINRA’s guidance around capturing and archiving the contents of a 3rd party link.
Hearsay Help Center: For all users, we invested in an overhaul of the Hearsay Help Center. In addition to a new design for improved user and support experience, we added our technical documentation portal for easy reference.
Contact Management: We refreshed our Contacts experience across the Hearsay Platform. It’s easier to add, edit and manage contacts in Social, 1-to-1 Outreach and Relate.

A Lesson in Digital Transformation: What We Can Learn from Industry Wins

In my blog post last month, I wrote about the journey financial services leaders must take to embrace digital technology, integrate our business systems and transform our approach to customer relationships to remain competitive. However, with siloed databases, outdated communication styles and regulatory demands, it becomes a tall order.

Last week I received a text from my doctor’s office, reminding me to stop in for my annual flu shot. It struck me that our journey into digital transformation is not a new one; others have taken similar paths, including the healthcare industry, which lies under its own thick blanket of regulatory scrutiny.

Like the financial services industry, the healthcare industry has spent decades collecting massive amounts of data on their patients – personal histories, clinical charts, insurance information, prescriptions and procedures. In most organizations, the information was siloed in separate databases, unable to be cross-referenced with pharmacy, scheduling, accounting, research and other management systems. The lack of integration, data integrity and transparency across systems resulted in unnecessary tests, insurance fraud, prescription abuse and more.

Today, much of the financial services industry struggles with the same siloed structure. Our CRM systems’ inability to communicate and automate the capture of data from other critical enterprise systems results in duplicated efforts, time wasted in manual data entry, missed sales opportunities, and the development of products and offers that fall short of clients’ expectations of a highly personalized product and experience.
The healthcare industry, a decade ago, developed Electronic Health Records (EHR), which now make it possible to share patient data across networks, leading to better patient care and financial savings. In “The big-data revolution in US health care: Accelerating value and innovation,” McKinsey & Company reported that one California healthcare network has seen an estimated $1 billion in savings from reduced office visits and lab tests, and improved outcomes in cardiovascular disease.

Becoming a data-driven industry has also been an imperative for financial services. If we simply take the world of the advisor and the imperative to automate tasks and create more efficiencies, there have been massive changes. Advisors and agents no longer need to waste time chasing dead ends with messages that don’t hit the mark. Digital algorithms can help us find trends, patterns and opportunities we don’t yet know exist. Predictive analytics can deliver “best next steps” to our advisors and agents based on what has proven successful with clients of the same habits, lifestyles and demographics. No more tedious searching of databases and recording of activities. Highly skilled field staff can spend their valuable time nurturing the right relationships – and more of them.

Embracing a smart digital strategy can lead to improved and often transformative business outcomes. It already is for Hearsay customer Thrivent Financial. Thrivent recognizes that the time its representatives spend with clients correlates to increased engagement and customer loyalty. By implementing Hearsay Social, Hearsay Sites and Hearsay’s built-in compliance, Thrivent’s representatives are reaching more prospects and spending more of their time in personal interaction. With Hearsay Relate, they are communicating in the way clients wish to be contacted – by text – and receiving positive and often immediate response. As a result, Thrivent is generating thousands of social media leads each month, has increased customer acquisition by 22 percent, and is spending 75 percent less time on marketing & compliance busywork. Read more of their story here.
Every day, both business and society make advances toward a digital landscape. The future of businesses, regardless of industry, lies in a willingness to embrace digital technology and turn the data into actionable insights.

The Digital Transformation Journey: Let's Take it Together

According to historians, it’s been 8,000 years since the Egyptians realized they could harness the wind with a sail to move a boat across the ocean. It was almost another 6,000 years before the first windmills were used to grind grain and pump water. Now 2,000 years later, scientists are still working to tap into wind energy, hoping it can someday replace fossil fuels to power the world. That’s quite a historic journey.
In the financial services industry, we’re on a historic journey of our own. Over the past decade, we’ve awakened to the realization that within our firms lie massive amounts of powerful data, collected over decades. And while we’re learning to tap and use that data to achieve new levels of client acquisition and loyalty, we’ve really only just begun. The possibilities that lie ahead for us will transform our industry.

Using Big Data in Financial Services

In one way, our industry is in a far more advantageous position than others. Thanks to regulatory requirements, we’ve been capturing and warehousing client data for years, while other industries are just beginning to build their databases. But having the data and being able to use it are two very different things.
Before I joined Hearsay Systems as chief business officer, I was involved in the emergence of big data, helping early adopters by bringing to market products and solutions that could capitalize on big data and eventually leading the data integration and analytics product portfolio as the market matured. I’ve examined the journey from all sides—IT, risk management, marketing, enterprise management, customer service—and I’m eager to share my insight with you. This blog is where, with help from many of my learned colleagues, I plan to do it. I hope you’ll join me.

Challenges to Data Integration

Almost since big data’s inception, the technologies and capabilities to store data foreshadowed the unlocked value and transformative effects we would see over the next 10 years. But with change comes challenge, and big data certainly poses its share. For example:

  • How do we identify the right business outcomes to apply the appropriate technology to achieve them?
  • How do we remove the almost 80% of time that is spent preparing data for analytics?
  • How do we integrate our many internal platforms?
  • Do we have the right analytics tools?
  • Who has the skills to interpret the data?
  • Can we remain compliant?
  • What role does automation play?
  • What can social media analytics tell us?

Before we can begin to capitalize on the promises big data holds, we need to explore a lot of questions. That’s why I say it’s a journey. I hope you’ll take it with me. I’m eager to hear the insights you’ve gleaned and the questions you still have. Please leave your comments and join in this conversation.

The Benefits of Digital Transformation

Already, digital evolution has led to the development of products that allow us to connect advisors to clients and enterprises to advisors with unprecedented insight and speed. In just a few short years, we’ve moved from having massive silos of data held hostage to enabling advisors to have all the tools they need delivered to their mobile phones.
Take, for instance, Hearsay Advisor Actions mobile solution, our most recent product release. It enables financial advisors, insurance agents and regulated relationship managers to turn their mobiles phones into smart work systems synched with their CRM.
Today, advisors around the world waste over two-thirds of their day on manual processes like client research, compliance verification, and activity logging, laboriously switching between systems for each task. Advisor Actions frees them from those tasks, allowing them to spend their time instead on quality interaction with clients, the best weapon to combat the increasingly competitive landscape of robo-advisors.
From an enterprise perspective, Advisor Actions’ real-time tracking of field activity helps firms to actualize the ROI of business intelligence, customer relationship management, and other expensive core systems.
That’s how far we’ve come to date. But, consider how far we can go. Big data holds the potential to continue to transform our industry in ways we are only beginning to imagine. I look forward to hearing how digital transformation is changing the way you do business. It’s going to be a journey. Let’s go together.
Hearsay’s Chief Business Officer Donna Prlich is responsible for global strategic business initiatives, marketing and partnerships at Hearsay Systems. You can reach her with comments or questions at