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The Last Mile of Insurance: Keynote at InsureTech Connect 2020 #ITC

In the last five years, InsureTech Connect (or ITC, as it’s commonly known), has rapidly grown into the largest gathering of insurance innovators. Last year, our team joined the event in person with over 7,000 attendees in Las Vegas, and launched the Hearsay-Guidewire Connector. This year, of course, the event has gone virtual and we are so excited that our founder and Executive Chair Clara Shih is being featured in the keynote fireside chat with Guardian Life CEO Andrew McMahon.

Most insurance companies had focused most of their digital investments on automation and self-service, and in the pandemic, we’ve seen how the time has come to equally leverage digital to rearchitect how the field works and to strengthen rather than replace human connection. Using Hearsay as the front-end between agents and customers, companies are redistributing marketing and servicing work to corporate teams to allow reps to focus on value-added selling and relationship activities.

InsureTech Connect CEO and co-founder Jay Weintraub moderated a powerful, exciting conversation between Andrew and Clara. Here are some of the key insights and takeaways:

  1. Guardian Life has been in existence since 1860. They are celebrating 160 years this year. Covid is not the first global crisis Guardian has had to navigate. They’ve been able to apply lessons learned from previous pandemics including the 1918 Spanish flu and world wars to navigating the uncertainties of this year and maintain the long view of what needs to be done.
  2. Technology is disrupting every aspect of the insurance value chain from product and underwriting to marketing, distribution, and claims. As an insurance executive, it can feel daunting and hard to know where to start. But one area matters most: what customers experience. The most effective digital transformations start with the customer. Not what the carrier ideally hopes the customer will experience, but what the customer actually experiences– the last mile. Not customer surveys, but actually solving customer needs when and how they want. Start there, and the priorities will become clear.
  3. So-called personalization today doesn’t feel very personal. Has anyone ever gotten an automated email and thought to themselves how special it is and that it was uniquely made for them? Relationship advisors play a very important role. Life insurance is still very much sold, not bought, the vast majority of the time.
  4. Combining the authentic human relationship with a trusted expert with digital scale will allow advisors to maintain ongoing touch points with customers– which is increasingly important both for retention and cross-sell and also for regulatory reasons, such as RegBI. In the past, there were too many insurance customers who never heard from their agent again after the initial transaction.
  5. There is a role for direct-to-consumer and also intermediated channels. Today, most carriers approach each channel in a siloed manner. A unified last-mile engagement layer will allow carriers to blend digital, contact center, and field channels in a frictionless way for customers.

For centuries, the insurance category has played a critical role in helping businesses and families survive the hardest of times. In the past seven months, we’ve seen unprecedented human connection take place on our platforms between agents and advisors and their customers– and all signs point to this authentic digital engagement sustaining well beyond the pandemic. Thanks to Jay and ITC for featuring Hearsay this year, and thank you to Andrew and Guardian Life for being one of our boldest, most forward-thinking customers!

Clara Shih on The Big Reveal, with Suzanne Siracuse

We were excited to hear about Suzanne Siracuse’s new podcast, The Big Reveal, which aims to bring personal interviews with wealth management industry innovators and leaders to life. Suzanne, founder and former longtime CEO and Publisher of InvestmentNews, is herself an influential leader in the wealth management industry, and we were thrilled when she invited Hearsay founder Clara Shih to be her launch guest speaker along with Michael Kitces, George Nichols, and Bill Crager.

Here’s a link to Clara’s recent conversation with Suzanne, with a few excerpts highlighted below:

Suzanne: Clara, we met four years ago when I interviewed you at the InvestmentNews Women Advisor Summit.  I have to admit I was in awe of your background… You graduated from Stanford with undergraduate and Master’s degrees in computer science. You were an early employee at Google, then joined In 2007, you saw the rising tide of social media and became famous for creating the first business application on Facebook, known as “Faceforce.” Then you founded Hearsay Social, now Hearsay Systems, where you served as CEO for 11 years until one month ago. With all those successes, I found you to be warm, generous, and personable, and you were a huge hit with the many advisors who attended that summit.

Clara: Thank you, Suzanne. My family came to this country in the 1980s with not very much, and I’m so grateful for the many opportunities I’ve had. In my life, I have always tried to dream big and take risks. Some have worked out well. I’m thankful to have met inspiring partners and leaders like you along the way!

Suzanne: So let’s talk about your recent announcement.  You recently moved into the role of Executive Chair and promoted your COO Mike Boese to CEO.  Whenever a high profile leader leaves the top spot, there’s always speculation on why. Can you take us through this decision and why now?

Clara: After 11 years, it was time. I know you know, having been the founder of InvestmentNews, and those of you watching who have built your own business know that being the founding CEO takes everything you have– every day, every hour, every weekend, every ounce of your being.

Last December I let the board know I needed to start thinking about a longer-term transition. In Q1, I met Mike, and here was someone who has started companies and scaled companies to hundreds of million in revenue and loved our mission and culture, then COVID happened and I realized the transition could happen much sooner.

Suzanne: Do you think the pandemic accelerated your timeline?

Clara: There is no question. During crises, we see what leaders are made of. Mike rose to the occasion and truly impressed me and the entire board of directors with his compassionate leadership, incredible work ethic, and commitment to our customers. On a personal level, the pandemic for me, like many people, has been a time of reflection and soul-searching. Over the summer, I realized the time had come after 11 years for me to take a break, spend time with my family, and try something new, with the peace of mind that Hearsay would be in great hands.

Suzanne: Over the summer, before you announced your new role, you and Mike co-led a major deal with Salesforce in which they took an equity share in Hearsay.  This deal showcased an important strategic alignment between Hearsay and Salesforce marrying Salesforce’s CRM and Hearsay’s social and digital engagement capabilities. It was big news in our industry.  Tell me how that all came together.

Clara: Our partnership has been driven by market forces – compliant digital engagement and CRM need to come together in service of the customer. Customers of both companies kept asking us to work more closely together on integrations, customers like Fidelity, Prudential, Morgan Stanley. So it was really just formalizing what was already happening naturally in the market to better serve what advisors need.

The amazing thing is there are now multiple phases of digital transformation which have been made possible thanks to this partnership. It’s not just about digital marketing. It’s completely rearchitecting how advisors spend their time and leverage analytics in every part of running their practice. The implications are tremendous, more than many people realize.

Phase 1. Contact and data sync

Phase 2. Workflow

Phase 3. Routing

Phase 4. Automation

Suzanne: While both Salesforce and Hearsay are giants in serving large brokerage firms and independent broker dealers, you have not made as much traction in the RIA space, though you do count Marty Bicknell and Mariner as a client. Are RIAs an area you are looking to expand into?

Clara: There’s no question we need to serve RIAs. They are a critical and growing segment in wealth management, and it’s a matter of when, not if. That said, I’m a big believer in focus, and timing and sequencing expansion– this is why Hearsay doesn’t sell technology to life sciences or tech companies. We have always been laser-focused on wealth management and financial services firms with relationship managers. When it comes to RIAs, we have a lot of learning to do. I’d like to learn from as many people as I can. Thinking about new markets and segments such as RIAs and international geos is one key area I’ll be focused on as Executive Chair.

Suzanne: Social media, which was the primary area Hearsay specialized in when you started the company in 2009, has become “not a nice to have” way to communicate but almost an essential way to communicate.  You were ahead of your time!  What gave you the idea to create Hearsay and the category of social selling in the first place?

Clara: Back in 2009, Facebook and LinkedIn had just launched and usage was growing at an exponential rate. A friend of mine was just starting out as an advisor, had no clients, and was just cold calling. I couldn’t believe how inefficient and ineffective it was. It dawned on me that every step of the sales relationship cycle, was going to get totally transformed by social and digital forces and that a solution was needed to bring business focus to social media. We started with social signals – money-in-motion life events being shared on social networks (the “hear” part of Hearsay), as well as social drip campaigns and 1-1 messages (the “say” part of Hearsay), and of course all of the compliance elements which are table stakes in wealth management.

Suzanne: Since then, Hearsay has made some big moves into adjacent client engagement areas, such as your compliant text messaging solution and new Hearsay Actions platform. How have you seen digital help advisors with their business development and client engagement efforts?

Clara: In every industry, technology is completely transforming how we need to work. In wealth management, this manifests as advisors focusing more of their time on value-added relationship acquisition and deepening activities. On the surface, Hearsay appears to be compliant text messaging and social selling. In reality, what Hearsay really is, is a way to automate and route marketing demand generation and client servicing tasks.

Suzanne: How has COVID changed the way Hearsay is working with clients and how advisors use Hearsay?

Clara: We’ve seen unprecedented usage of our platform since March. It’s been very uplifting to see how advisors have stepped up like never before to be there for clients when it really counts. From Hearsay’s perspective, the shift to remote work has been very seamless given we were already set-up with zoom, texting, social, and digital engagement tools pre-pandemic. With everyone stuck at home, we’ve tried to get creative in finding ways for human connection despite not being able to meet face-to-face, such as sending a supply box to everyone ahead of our largest-ever customer summit in May, or more recent virtual dinners where we have the same meal and bottle of wine delivered to a client as what we’re having so that we can still break bread together and have a slower conversation outside the hustle and bustle of back-to-back meetings.

Congratulations to Suzanne for the launch of her new podcast, and thank you for featuring Clara and Hearsay!

Guide your Advisors/Agents to the Center of the Digital Client Journey

In high-consideration categories such as wealth management and life insurance, a trusted advisor is everything. So many other interactions in our daily lives are digitized and missing the human touch. But in wealth management, the complexity of financial decisions are higher and the value of advice more critical. That’s why clients are more apt to stay long-term, after fostering a connection with an advisor.

In fact, in wealth management and life insurance, the vast majority of the client experience happens through the agent/advisor. And yet most of the technology investment has been in other aspects of the client experience. If financial services organizations have invested in digitizing the service center, building a corporate marketing engine, or even introduced robo-advisors or banking apps, they still may not have optimized the most important technology opportunity—advisor/agent-client engagement. It’s the missing piece of the client experience platform.

Digitized service centers and mobile apps are important, but not differentiators. No one switches banks because of their mobile app. And competing on pricing and products has become increasingly untenable. Competitive advantage needs to come from better enabling the connections between agents/advisors and clients that deepen relationships and retain and grow business.

While a firm’s field advisors or agents are your most expensive channel, they are also the most effective—particularly when guided with best practices. A trusted relationship is the only thing clients are willing to pay a premium for.

Client journeys, both pre- and post-acquisition, naturally and organically flow across communication channels. It’s critical to help agents/advisors engage at just the right times to move clients along their journey. Advisors/Agents who engage too soon waste their time and might even spook a client, and agents/advisors who engage too late or are overly reactive instead of proactive miss out on valuable opportunities to make a difference during the moments that matter to clients.

The key to communicating at just the right time is for firms to proactively guide and capture that last mile of interactions. But for the most part today, the last mile is a black box, which means that corporate teams don’t have visibility into the most important part of the client journey.

An agent/advisor may receive a task or lead in their sales portal, and sometimes there is a conversion at the end; what happens in the middle is a mystery to the firm. Even though these 1:1 conversations are the most important, growth-oriented conversations happening across the entire system, there is little to no transparency to the firm.

That’s where Hearsay’s client engagement platform comes in. Hearsay enables corporate teams to capture those interactions and then analyze the activities that drove results. Corporate marketing teams can use these best practices to systematize the sales plays that work and guide every advisor/agent to act like your best advisor/agent.

Download this guide to learn the foundational strategies corporate marketing can use to give agents/advisors the head start they need to maximize a high-tech and right-touch approach.

Five Essential Traits of Successful Digital Leaders in Financial Services

One of the most important success factors in any digital effort is strong leadership. Here are the traits we’ve seen prevail, over and over again.

The financial services industry has changed significantly over the past decade or so. As firms continue to drive digital transformation, Hearsay has had a front row seat collaborating with innovative executives on their digital transformation roadmaps, and we firmly believe that one of the most important success factors in any digital effort is strong leadership. Amongst firms that have thrived, we have consistently seen five traits across successful digital transformation leaders.

1. Agility

If there’s one thing digital leaders understand, it’s that today’s world calls for an agile approach. Technology, competition, and client sentiment change too fast to get bogged down in meetings and/or approval processes that take weeks or months. Add to that a paradigm-shifting global pandemic, and agility solidifies its place – by miles – as the number one most valuable trait in a leader.

Take Prudential Financial for example. The corporate marketing team had been working on a new brand campaign, a deep-dive into the company’s mission. The campaign was scheduled to launch in the midst of COVID-19, and the team quickly pivoted their approach. “March 12th, we all met, and we said ‘This is not going to be right.’ Because it’s not about us, it’s about them,’ said Naveen Agarwal, Chief Marketing Officer at Prudential. Agarwal and team developed a new campaign that focused on hope and the heroes on the frontlines, in just eight short days – from concept to production to launch. Agarwal shared, “I actually think that what [the pandemic] has done is allow large companies to think agile. Not agile as a methodology which is in my mind a small aim; the big aim to me, is when the company starts thinking fast and acting fast.”

2. Diverse Knowledge Base

There’s often a push in one’s career to specialize in a particular area. But running a financial services firm’s digital efforts, as CIO, CTO, or CMO, calls for a combination of business and technical skill sets. Brooke Forbes, CIO at Fidelity Investments, agrees, “Digital leadership really embodies the connection between business acumen, technology acumen, and even operational acumen.” And Forbes has a career that spans all three.

After starting out in business roles working for technology, software, and consulting services companies, she moved into a COO role managing the operational reporting and sales and marketing forecasting for a particular technology platform.

She jokes, “I fell over the other side of the fence one day [into a technical role] because my boss said to me, ‘You know what? I’m going to ask you to run this thing.’ And from that moment forward, I found myself in the business of leading development organizations through large scale platform transformations. What I found I loved about it was that I could bring the end user and the business perspective to the conversation. Because it’s not technology for the sake of technology, it’s technology in the name of what client, business or associate experience or outcome we’re all trying to drive. And having that intersection of the conversation I find is where the magic and the innovation really happens.”

3. An Insatiable (and Humble) Hunger to Learn

A smart leader knows that though they may have a lot of experience, there is always more to learn. Dontá Wilson, Chief Digital Client Experience and Marketing Officer at Truist (formerly BB&T and SunTrust), went from regional bank president to oversight across all things digital including product research, UX, client experience, analytics, marketing, innovation, and communications. With his primary area of expertise in client relations, he relies on humility and a team of experts to drive strategic digital innovation.

“I have a fantastic team of some of the best and brightest talent in the world. One of the things that I committed to very early on was to […] know what I don’t know; to be very open and transparent about [my team] being the smartest people in the room and that I’m going to lean on them to make the critical decisions. But I’m also going to lean on them to teach me and educate me to fill gaps, because I felt it was strategically important.”

Wilson walks the walk on this commitment with a once a month 2-hour deep-dive tutorial session, along with a full ‘Saddle Day,’ where he sits with someone on his team and actually does their job with them looking over his shoulder.

4. Client Centric Viewpoint

No matter how much a leader (or leaders) knows or how much experience they have, today’s successful leader must use the client as their compass for every decision made within their organization. Digital leaders need to be thinking about their customer, be it external or internal, at all times.

Wilson’s role is a perfect example of that. It has responsibility “for making sure that we show enough care for our clients and that we wake up every day with our client at the center of every business decision that we make,” said Wilson.

Wilson shared that the reason it’s so important to put clients at the center is because, “client experience is now the differentiator because people have options. There’s product and price parity, so you have this competitive, what I call sea of sameness. So you can get price here, you can get product here that’s similar to your competition. You build a store here, they can build a store there. Most financial services companies move to what I would call a lake of differentiation. So, smaller than that sea of sameness, and they did it based on the human experience.”

5. Understand the Critical Importance of Human Connection

Though Forbes pointed out that she’s “in the business of technology,” she also emphasized the importance of enabling Fidelity advisors to create a human connection with their clients by putting the client at the center of every engagement. Forbes pointed out that in this “economy of customer choice,” it’s imperative to let customers guide their own journey. For her, that means providing an omnichannel experience and creating an ecosystem for clients.

“If you really have the mindset that it’s an ecosystem, the ability to leverage a channel at any given point in time thoughtfully, with personalization in mind for that client experience, it gives organizations and those serving their clients, be it advisors or other kinds of roles, a lot of flexibility and scale. [It also allows you] to deliver the human touch in a really omnichannel way, and platforms like Hearsay really give you a lot of power in that,” she shared.


Agility, a love of learning, customer centricity, a broad range of knowledge, and the belief in the power of human connection have made certain leaders stand out while driving digital transformation. And as the pandemic crisis drove waves of change through many aspects of business, it forced the acceleration of digital transformation. This disruption tested and challenged the agility and adaptability of leaders across the globe. Are there other traits you think will be important for leaders going forward? We’d love to hear from you! Use #FSDigitalLeaders and @HearsaySystems on Twitter.

Elevate your Advisors & Agents When LinkedIn Elevate Winds Down

This post explains the difference between employee advocacy and social selling solutions, and discusses the importance of helping advisors and agents create real human connection while increasing brand reach.

LinkedIn has announced it is sunsetting its employee advocacy tool, Elevate, come December 2020 and integrating it into LinkedIn Pages.

What is Employee Advocacy?

At its core, employee advocacy is the promotion of an organization by it’s staff; these days that’s most often executed through social media. A number of tools, including LinkedIn Elevate, have been developed specifically to facilitate this purpose.

To the marketing function, these tools are attractive since maximizing the reach of your social media efforts increases brand awareness. The right advocacy tool will amplify your marketing messages and increase the return of your investments in content marketing and social media. And certainly in wealth management, P&C, and life insurance firms, the advisor or agent workforce is a powerful force to get the word out about your firm’s brand, thought leadership, and offerings.

How does Social Selling Differ from Employee Advocacy?

Expanding the reach of corporate marketing is only one side of the equation. Advisors and agents today must use social media to buoy their role as trusted advisors to their prospects and clients. Sharing corporate content is an important part of that, but advisors and agents also need a way to be authentic through a personalized social presence – consistent with the firm’s brand – to make a real connection with prospects and clients.

Enter social selling solutions. Whereas the primary goal of employee advocacy tools is oriented toward one-to-many marketing at the brand level, social selling solutions help advisors and agents develop deeper one-to-one relationships. Sharing corporate posts is part of that and brand reach goals will be met; but the extension and customization done at the field level drives even stronger client connections.

The Intelligent, Human Future of Financial Services

In high-consideration categories such as wealth management and life insurance, a trusted advisor is everything. So many other interactions in our daily lives are digitized and missing the authentic, human factor. But when it comes to finances, the complexity of decisions are higher and the value of personalized, tailored advice all the more critical. The same is true with the highly emotional decisions that take place with insurance. That’s why clients are more apt to stay long-term after fostering a connection with an advisor – that connection tends to be built at a personal level through meaningful conversations.

Foster Real Human Connections Between Advisors/Agents and Clients (and Increase Brand Reach)

With a complete social selling solution like Hearsay, advisors and agents are able to authentically and intelligently grow business relationships. They have the opportunity to establish themselves personally as trusted advisors and stay top of mind, in addition to amplifying the corporate brand promise. Sharing corporate content to LinkedIn should be just one piece of the social selling strategy, alongside others that contribute to attracting and retaining clients throughout a full client lifecycle.

An effective social selling solution delivers business outcomes such as:

  • Driving interest and validation by helping advisors and agents project a professional digital image across their social profiles (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram)
  • Increasing engagement by offering the field organization the flexibility to automate and/or personalize their social presence to support varying levels of sophistication
  • Reaching more customers by activating other complementary, modern channels like advisor and agent websites
  • Optimizing sales engagement to grow share of wallet by providing integrated email and text messaging to complement digital lead generation efforts with authentic, human outreach
  • Unlocking more value from CRM and other sales and marketing systems, analytics, and compliance investments by populating them with field-level data
  • Guiding all reps to act like the best rep with AI-based triggering of timely, relevant outreach to improve prospect conversion and deepen client loyalty

Learn how you can go beyond employee advocacy to drive real ROI through advisors and agents, by downloading The Five Pillars of Social ROI.

Four Ways Financial Firms and Their Advisors are Creating Stability in Turbulent Times

Financial advisors in the midst of this unsettling market environment are working overtime to calm investor jitters. To further complicate matters during this historic volatility, many are unable to meet face-to-face with clients because of COVID-19 concerns. It is precisely these uncertain times when the best advisors demonstrate true value.

It’s been heartening to see the proactive measures that advisors using Hearsay are taking during these turbulent times, leveraging our communication tools to reassure clients with a human touch. Over the past few weeks, we’ve had a record number of communications go out over our platform. Clients are grateful in their responses – retirement plans, dream vacations, and childrens’ college plans are at stake.

Our fundamental belief at Hearsay is that technology should strengthen human relationships, not replace them. We’ve seen this play out in spades during times of great uncertainty when only a human interaction can assuage fear. These are key moments for building stronger relationships and loyal clients, and we’ve summarized our advice into four recommendations on how to best deliver these critically important communications.

Ensure Advisors Know What Communication Tools Are Available to Them 

Be prescriptive with your field on how to maintain continuous conversations with clients during any potential disruption. Advisors must know how to access systems remotely and be prepared to communicate with clients in fast-changing situations. Firms should consider how incoming business calls can be re-routed to a remote office location or provide other means of compliantly communicating with clients. In previous downturns, texting may not have been available to your advisors – now it’s essential when trying to connect with both your team as well as clients quickly. Fortunately, many technologies that advisors use to conduct their business are increasingly cloud-based, allowing easier access and reducing outages.

Reassure and Realign Clients to a Long-Term Vantage Point

The intense media cycles flooding clients can influence them to make hasty decisions that may not result in the best long-term outcome. It’s critical for advisors to proactively and immediately reach out to reassure clients that they have a firm grasp on their long-term financial goals. This could be a quick text from an advisor letting the client know that their current portfolio is still on track to meet retirement goals with minimal effect from the recent downturn, and that the current turbulence is not necessarily a long-term trend.

This type of reassuring message can also be conducted via a one-to-many communication, delivered by a text, email or social media post. We’ve seen that when advisors send a broadcast text (to several individuals at once), these are often perceived and responded to as if they were a one-to-one message. This means advisors can touch many clients very quickly, and provide a personal experience.

Open the Conversation to Adjustments in Strategy

Some clients may be in a position where they need to re-allocate assets to protect their financial future. Others may see the downturn as a buying opportunity. Start the conversation as soon as possible by letting the client know that you are monitoring their situation – this will reassure your client and let them know you are ready to act on their behalf. By opening this conversation via a direct channel such as texting, the client can respond quickly and easily to guidance or suggestions for alternative strategies that you provide. Timely responses make all the difference, and direct channels help ensure your clients get back to you quickly.

Use Video Meetings if In-Person Isn’t Possible

In disquieting times, nothing beats a live conversation or face-to-face meeting – not always possible in our current day and age. We’ve seen advisors scheduling video meetings with clients to talk them through the downturn and ensure that the appropriate next steps are being taken – and even offices proactively changing all of their scheduled in-person meetings to video conference calls.

With 70% of communication being non-verbal, information is more effectively communicated and understood via video call vs. an audio call. Conversations that include a visual component also allow for body language and expressions of empathy and understanding can help build stronger and more trusted relationships.

Seeing advisors use our technology to provide proactive, extraordinary service, build stronger relationships with clients, and ultimately stabilize our markets is extremely gratifying. This is a defining moment for the industry, and we appreciate seeing advisors creating exceptional customer experiences during a moment that deeply matters.