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Welcome to the “Last-Mile” Digital Maturity Series

A new phase of digital maturity is underway. Transformational firms are optimizing across the client journey, proactively orchestrating the way in which the field engages with their clients in the “last-mile” and guiding seamless handoffs between channels to deliver business outcomes.

To help you get there, Hearsay has developed a framework for how you can evaluate your path to digital maturity. Along the way, we’ll provide insights and identify opportunities to accelerate your progress along the maturity curve. 

Over the next few months, we’ll share weekly blog posts with the framework components. This framework allows you not just to identify where your program sits, but to illuminate key areas for program growth that deliver the outcomes your business demands. 

But first, let’s start with why it matters.

The most digitally mature firms are enabling frequent and targeted engagement between advisors and clients. These interactions deepen the relationship between the advisor and client, and are what we call the “last-mile.” In a crowded, commoditized marketplace, this is the most differentiated experience you can offer so advice must be delivered in a human way to resonate.

As the ways to digitally engage clients have proliferated, leading firms have begun to recognize the need for an integrated and cohesive technology ecosystem. Their digital programs have become more systematic, and their digital platforms more integrated across their core technologies. 

Our aim is to align your program with your business objectives – centered around three key outcomes – shifting your focus toward the digital actions that drive the most success.

  1. Reach & Attract – Achieve the consistency and scale needed to build brand and acquire new leads
  2. Nurture & Convert – Optimize engagement to influence new business generation.
  3. Retain & Grow – Leverage digital to drive better client support and boost loyalty and retention.

Guiding your field to deliver these outcomes at scale is difficult. It takes time to set up the right framework, mine your data, and leverage technology to scale your efforts across a distributed network of advisors and agents. 

A new breed of marketing organizations, alongside a new generation of advisors and agents, are leveraging digital channels to find new ways to reach and attract clients and prospects. COVID-19 accelerated this transformation. Digital activities are more critical than ever when the field cannot participate in physical top of funnel activities like local sponsorships etc. COVID has put immediate pressure on the industry to rethink service offerings, and explore digital as a way to keep their business moving forward. Looking to the future, these behaviors will be entrenched amongst the most digitally mature. We’ll get started next week by discussing the foundational elements you need to Reach & Attract prospects. 

If you can’t wait to learn more, download the full white paper now.

Last Mile Maturity Model

It’s time to assess digital maturity in a more advanced and comprehensive way. To help, we’ve developed the Last-Mile Digital Maturity Model.

Leading Through Change: How to Motivate and inspire Teams into 2021

Across the course of 2020, a multitude of articles have been released sharing leadership strategies to help us navigate through uncertain and trying times. Leaders across organizations have devoured this guidance as they found there to be no playbook for 2020 and craved expert insights. But now, as we turn into 2021, leaders are asking themselves, how can I do more than just progress into the new year; how can I bring a renewed sense of motivation and inspiration to my team?

We asked Kim Sharan, former CMO and President of Financial Planning and Wealth Strategies at Ameriprise Financial, current board director, and consultant, to join an intimate roundtable discussion with senior financial services leaders to explore exactly that. What strategies can we bring with us into 2021 to break free from leadership fatigue and burst into 2021 revitalized.

To start, Sharan suggests we shift our mindset around work/life balance and move towards the concept of designing a work/life integration. Especially in times when there is no clear break or boundary between these two worlds, it’s necessary to reframe our approach and adjust our viewpoint. For example, as these two worlds meld into one, it is critical that we take intentional breaks. As we all lose control of our own calendars and impromptu conversations have morphed into scheduled calendar invites, it’s important to pay special attention to time management, plan your day, and be intentional about it. Schedule time blocks for activities that would naturally be happening as you commuted or walked from the bathroom back to your desk. Schedule walk breaks, nourishment breaks, and especially time to think. Science shows that some of our best work comes when we’re unintentional, and we need to create white space to ignite our best creative.

Sharan also proposed that to succeed in this new environment, we don’t need to create a completely new leadership playbook, but should consider revisiting the basics and reframe them in today’s world. Referencing Covey’s ‘Big Rocks’ paradigm shift, Sharan encouraged attendees to focus on the big rocks and get ultra clear on the most critical priorities. Only when you have a clear line of sight to, and alignment on, priorities can you truly differentiate between productivity and busyness.

Aligning on priorities is just the start of the battle. Accompanying those priorities with a strong project plan and project management is crucial to success in a remote work dynamic. Sharan emphasized the importance of taking the time to develop a clear, clean, accessible project plan including tasks, owners, milestones, timelines, and goals and metrics. Bringing together the right cross-functional team, creating a reasonable recurring meeting cadence, and keeping a maniacal focus on consistent communication are all critical components of bringing the plan to life.

So, give yourself permission to take a beat, go for a walk, find a way to connect with your team members on a more personal level, and reset for 2021. Leaders will need to continue to strike a delicate balance of moving the business forward and supporting our teams – and we need a clear head to hit the ground running.

How leading firms are rethinking their supervision models

No two Compliance organizations are exactly alike, especially when it comes to their approach to supervision. There are however some common best practices in how leading firms structure their supervision model. Over the past decade, Hearsay’s Compliance Strategy lead, Iain Duke-Richardet, led compliance teams for some of the world’s largest financial services firms. I had a chance to sit down with Iain recently to talk through a few key areas where hours can be gained and lost for compliance teams.

William: Iain, we work with clients that prefer a centralized model of supervision as well as others that prefer decentralized. I know that you’ve worked with both over the course of your career. My question to you is… is there a correct set up?

Iain: How first and second line control functions are set up, or any setup for supervisory controls really, is dependent on how an organization is structured. What might be best for one is not necessarily going to be right for the other. I’ve actually seen instances where an organization has started with, for example, a decentralized model and moved to a centralized model for efficiency gains or simply because they’ve had supervisors leave an organization and therefore they’re restructuring. So, it really is incumbent upon the regulatory Supervisor to evaluate and implement what makes the most sense.

All firms—regardless of their model—can align on certain best practices to put themselves in the best position to succeed. For instance, they can all look to reduce the instances of data fragmentation. So if a supervisor’s looking at a profile and the profile has been archived in such a way as to make it very fragmented, that’s not really very straightforward or easy. Our approach is to actually crystallize all those changes into an easy to read and review format so that the process is seamless and there’s no pushback from whichever group is assigned that review.

William: In your experience, what’s been the main driver of efficiency for the compliance teams you’ve led?

Iain: I find the way financial services organizations have structured their compliance functions very interesting. Efficiency is always at the top of their priorities. In this space, there are two main drivers toward efficiency. One is the efficacy of the organization’s lexicon, and by that I mean, is the firm using the terms that most align with the behaviors they’re trying to prevent. This is relevant because including an overabundance of terms in the lexicon will mean that items that get flagged much more often than they need to be. You won’t end up getting to the type of behavior you want to identify to correct through the supervisory process, due to too many false positives.

The second component is around how the review is being performed. It’s important to align reviewers with different components of the review process, leveraging a hierarchy of some kind, so that there’s no duplication in the work that is being done but identification is still prioritized through the process.

William: Thanks. Finally, taking a step back, at the enterprise level there’s been this rise of centralized databases and business intelligence systems, but really these tools are only as valuable as their inputs. We like to say, “Garbage in equals garbage out.” So, as advisors and clients communicate on more channels than ever before, does the same hold true for compliance and supervision technology? How can firms be more confident about the quality of their input?

Iain Duke-Richardet: I think that’s a great point. The “garbage in, garbage out” absolutely holds true in the compliance and supervision space where, as advisors use more and more channels to communicate, there is a notion of channel hopping; an advisor might move from one channel to another very quickly. Sometimes it’s an effort to perhaps circumvent some of the control or it’s simply because that’s the form in which the customer would like to interact. Having clear data that’s properly time stamped with the right author attribution, as well as having any corresponding attachments like 3rd-party links, is the key to seeing context. Because, ultimately, as the supervision is being performed, the ability to see the context of a conversation or a communication, regardless of the channel in which it occurs, is going to be the way that advisors and supervisors of those advisors will be able to identify any behavior that is not ideal.

In Summary:

  • Both centralized and decentralized supervision are valid options; supervisors must decide what makes the most sense for their organization.
  • There are two main drivers of efficiency for supervision in financial services firms: efficacy of the lexicon and a prioritized review process
  • The ability to see the context of a conversation or a communication, regardless of the channel in which it occurs, is the way supervisors can identify risky behavior

Properly managing compliance includes regularly assessing compliance strategy, tuning of policies & procedures, and evaluating technology. Our experts at Hearsay are ready to help. Learn more about our Hearsay Compliance Advisory Services and how we can offer compliance insights, analytics, and training to meet your program needs.

The Shift from Sales Push to Marketing Pull, for Advisor & Agent Success – Part 2

Across our customer base, we’ve seen a strong correlation between a solid social selling content strategy and website traffic and conversions, with as much as 50% of inbound traffic originating from Hearsay Social. The strong sales and marketing partnership these organizations have developed and the strategic approach to content has led to this success.

Corporate marketing teams have a responsibility to coach advisors and agents to create high-credibility social profiles which boosts SEO; this combined with highly-relevant helpful content helps sellers build out their network. As sellers share that targeted content, buyers engage because the sellers professional digital presence and consistent approach to content instills a sense of trust. A well-placed call-to-action draws traffic to the local advisor or corporate website. These website visitors are higher-quality traffic—they stay longer and view more—and then ultimately show higher rates of lead form submissions. Sellers are helping amplify and bring marketing content to life using their own personal social capital, while marketing is helping sellers establish a professional brand and supplying an ongoing stream of thought leadership. Thus, the marketing and sales funnel of today is inextricably tied.

1-to-1 Sales Engagement Still Requires Marketing Partnership

Even in one-to-one sales engagement with clients—email or text outreach—marketing plays an important role.

Instead of calling a list of contacts from top to bottom, it’s critical for sales to engage with those who have shown behavioral triggers that indicate intent or interest. Knowing who to engage when and with what message requires digital tools and data to interpret client signals. And who tracks client signals and delivers the technology to engage across multiple channels? You guessed it – marketing.

Across our most innovative clients, we’ve seen corporate marketing teams develop digital marketing hubs that provide advisors and agents easy access to tools that help them reinvent the way they engage with their networks. From tracking engagements on Hearsay Social posts to following up on lead conversion forms via a compliant text through Hearsay Relate and using Hearsay Social Signals to be the first to congratulate contacts on a new job or recent move – marketing insights allow advisors and agents to follow up in a timely and targeted way.

Digital touches may not all be sales opportunities, but they’re a powerful way for sales to stay connected and deliver the necessary human touch. The right digital tools help sellers scale and deliver more frequent light touches with a greater number of people to build pipeline, influence, and most importantly relationships. It’s surprising what consistently wishing someone a happy birthday or congratulating them on business news can do.

Endgame: Better Serve the Customer

In the end, when everyone is doing their part, marketing and sales together can transform outreach from random and cold to trusted, authentic, and timely. The key is to use digital to deliver relevant, targeted content created by marketing and analytics around what clients are engaging in to elevate advisors and agents to become trusted problem solving partners. This not only lets sellers scale to serve a greater number of clients, but serves the client more personally, on their timeline and channel, around topics that are important to them.

In the video, watch Hearsay’s co-founder and executive chairperson, Clara Shih, break down how sales performs better in partnership with marketing.

Compliance Must Embrace – and Understand – AI

Hand Over Tablet

Compliance teams are overstretched. It’s become imperative they find ways to leverage technologies to become leaner, more effective, and better able to handle increasing demands. But they’re not alone in these efforts; the most recent OCIE risk alert indicates that organizations are also responsible for compliance programs that are sufficiently supported with both staff and technology.

As we’ve discussed before, an over-reliance on manual functions means compliance teams are overwhelmed by low/moderate risk issues. Technology and automation have to be considered as part of the equation so that teams can focus on the riskiest issues that matter most to the business.

As technology gets more intelligent, an opportunity arises in artificial intelligence (AI) as a catalyst to enhance the efficiency of a program. As we’ve mentioned, this can lead to a more mature, impactful compliance program and increased trust throughout the organization.

However, as programs mature and manual processes shift into automation, compliance teams will need to understand automation more and more. AI is an important tool, but at some point, compliance will be asked to explain how they supervise and test these tools to know they’re functioning as designed and expected.

At its core, AI is designed to monitor a data set and when a logical trigger is set off, to translate that information into an action. In some instances, that translation is clear and easily understood. But in other situations, especially when the way the AI translates between data sets and actions is covered under a “Black Box” due to intellectual property concerns, it makes explaining it to a regulator more difficult.

As FINRA wrote in its June 2020 report on AI and again reiterated during its November Conference on AI, a compliance professional needs to understand how the AI they are implementing aligns with regulatory expectations. These steps include a documented understanding of the data set-to-action translation and a method to regularly test the system to validate it meets legal and regulatory requirements. When the algorithm informing your AI is hidden in a “Black Box”, this can prove difficult.

It might be time to evaluate your firm’s use of AI in its supervision policies. If in the course of your review, you have any questions on AI and how to prepare for a regulatory audit feel free to reach out to your Hearsay account team to help.

The Shift from Sales Push to Marketing Pull, for Advisor & Agent Success – Part 1

It’s hard to remember that just 10 years ago, smart phones were not the norm. Most people weren’t on LinkedIn. Marketing was relatively simple, focusing on press releases, collateral like brochures, and advertising. Sales was pretty straightforward too. Selling financial services and insurance primarily involved cold calling to set up in-person seminars and meetings.

Fast forward to today. Usage of Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites has exploded. Everyone has a mobile device and everyone ‘Googles’ when they’re thinking of buying something. People research their options and go into even their first sales conversations as an educated buyer. At the same time, government regulators around the world have stepped up their privacy protections which make cold calling much more difficult for salespeople.

Over the last decade, these new consumer behaviors, technologies, and restrictions in consumer privacy have led to the shifts summarized below.

Four Fundamental Shifts in Selling

  1. Sales people are trusted advisors, cultivating professional networks over an entire career. Cold calling is a thing of the past.
  2. Selling is all about attracting clients using educational content. Sellers are partners and problem solvers. 
  3. Digital analytics arm salespeople with intelligence about who to engage with, what they are interested in, and when to engage them. No more blind ‘call downs.’
  4. Engagement across a multitude of digital channels is necessary to acquire and build client relationships, (rather than in-person events, especially now), and allows salespeople to scale like never before.

The Power of Sales & Marketing Collaboration

These shifts have pushed once separate sales and marketing organizations toward an essential partnership for success. Webcasts, white papers, research reports, and blog posts are the thought leadership and credibility magnets that get prospects interested in engaging with organizations. Sales teams depend on marketing for this content and the behavioral analytics to know when to engage with who and on what channel.

In the video, watch Hearsay’s co-founder and executive chairperson, Clara Shih, walk through these shifts and their impact on today’s sales funnel.

The Impact of Technology on Compliance Program Maturity

With newsworthy financial services regulations such as the Department of Labor (DOL) guidelines and Regulation Best Interest (RegBI), RegTech has recently come to the forefront. The reality is that technology has been rapidly evolving for some time to provide compliance professionals with the ability to leverage solutions designed to accelerate their programs. Yet, frustratingly, not all programs have taken full advantage of the technology available to them.  While the hurdles to adoption may vary from organization to organization, the impact of not fully utilizing the technology available to an organization are profound.

NAVEX, a consultancy that has specialized in assessing the intersection of technology and compliance, recently took a closer look at this matter in their 2020 Definitive Risk & Compliance Benchmark Report. The report delivers a number of important insights focused on the maturity of a compliance program by measuring how sophisticated, entrenched, and embedded a program is inside its organization. I’ve summarized highlights below:

  • The technology spend for organizations surveyed largely fell within consistent bounds across maturity levels. This is an important insight: the difference between maturity levels was attributable to the focus of their budget spend: lower maturity programs spent on manual processes, while high maturity programs focused on technology innovation.
  • Across the board, programs that were “Maturing” or “Advanced” were more likely to report “good” or “excellent” performance in all areas of the program, including trust, performance, outcomes and integrations with the business.
  • Less mature programs were often seen as “necessary evils,” while those that were more advanced were more likely to be seen as “partners” to an organization.
  • In addition, more mature programs typically had a higher level of trust and typically had a more substantial seat at the table for decision making in the organization.

Our takeaway? Organizations can achieve better partnerships between their business and compliance teams, increasing the levels of trust and performance of compliance, by refocusing their budgets on technology that eliminates manual processes.

There are a multitude of other important findings in the report, so I would encourage you to take a look through it. If it sparks any ideas or questions, please feel free to reach out to your Hearsay account team to drive a deeper discussion on the impact to your program.

The Advisory Firm of the Future: A Case Study

We’ve written about the advisor of the future and the fundamental shifts in both client and advisor attitudes, behaviors, and relationships (not to mention the recent shift to remote-first work) that are driving adoption of new technologies for client engagement. And in order to meet expectations as the client engagement model evolves and stand out from the competition, firms need to be forward-thinking in how they support their field.

Not long ago, we were lucky enough to get an inside look at a visionary firm launching cutting edge programs to support their force of over 3,000 independent broker dealers and corporate RIAs. Amy Webber, President & CEO of Cambridge Investment Research, sat down with us to share how she and her team are getting Cambridge-affiliated advisors future-ready, today.

First, Webber shared the three things she sees as critical for advisors to embrace to be successful, today and in the future:

  • The advisor of the future needs to stay innovative and leverage digital engagement heavily.
  • They need to use technology to do the right things and delegate tasks that are not value add.
  • There must be a relentless focus on personalization and customization.

The ‘New Century Council’

Cambridge is ultra focused on making sure their advisors are enabled to meet the three requirements outlined above. They have a ‘New Century Council’ made up of progressively minded advisors and corporate team members, including Webber, that meet regularly to discuss tools they’ll need to be successful into the upcoming decade.

Several years ago, the Council raised texting as a channel that would be critical to success. Not long after, they began exploring solutions and started using Hearsay Relate. Webber herself is a Relate power user and shows strong executive sponsorship by texting with the field. “Every generation is texting. We pushed ourselves to think about how Relate could be used by the home office to communicate with the field, and started the journey believing we had to lead by example,” she explained.

Webber shared a story that demonstrated both the power of their onboarding strategy and how Camridge uses texting to build relationships with personal messages. One of their top producers was resistant to texting, so Webber personally helped get him set up and told him she expected him to send her a text once a day. When he missed a day, she checked in to see how he was doing. This showed him how his clients feel when they get that type of personal connection from him. Incidentally, Webber shares her Relate number with any of her 3,000 advisors who ask.

Though their advisors are all independent, Cambridge carries the cost of Relate for two reasons. First, it’s a critical tool that makes advisors efficient and productive. Second, and perhaps more important, it’s essential for risk mitigation. They weren’t willing to take a chance that compliance requirements weren’t being met.

Centralized Contact Service Center

Many advisors join when they’re embarking on the process to build their own small business and need or want to leverage the infrastructure of a larger company. In addition to offering Relate to all advisors, Cambridge also offers a centralized support center. By joining Cambridge, they get technology, practice management, products and services, compliance, regulation, and—for a fee—a centralized contact service center at a scale they couldn’t build by themselves.

The contact service center, a team of virtual office assistants, is one of Cambridge’s most popular offerings, for both solo and larger offices. The support staff’s pictures go up on the advisor/agency website, they talk to clients, pick up delegated activity in Relate, and clients know them as part of the team. This extended team helps the advisors deliver that level or personal and customized service that clients expect without the heavy lift of increasing headcount. It’s perfect for advisors/agencies who don’t have the bandwidth or desire to staff and train a support team – and enables them to hit the ground running.

A Blueprint for Success

With a continuing eye toward future trends, Cambridge has ensured that their advisors are ready for today and the future. When COVID struck, they were prepared to handle the 100% increase in text messages in the following month, thanks to the foresight of their New Century Council and Webber’s leadership in getting Hearsay Relate in place well before the crisis happened. And while they had a 5-year plan for digital transformation that now must be steeply accelerated, their ability to adapt and lead by example will serve them well.