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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 Salesforce.com. 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!
In order to help advisors thrive in the current environment, corporate teams need to rethink how they guide the field through and beyond the present crisis to adapt to new realities and seize the very real opportunities to make their practices stronger than before.
In 2020, we’re seeing a new engagement model emerge in financial services to support human connections in a remote-first environment. Driving business outcomes from the home office on personal devices has become a requirement, and therefore compliance for BYOD and new digital channels is a challenge that must be addressed now. Both Hearsay and Salesforce are focused on driving this transformation, and today we announced an expanded partnership to help financial services firms bring new capabilities to their field organizations. Read the press release here.
Individual investors, as they navigate the uncertainty and in some cases upheaval of their lives, are rightly feeling vulnerable and have substantial concerns over their financial futures. This may result in new risk curves for some, more price sensitivity for others, and across the board a desire for consistency and transparency to provide (at least a feeling of) control. When the world is volatile and unpredictable, decisions are harder and more complex, so more in-depth advice is desired.
This reset of reality is also prompting many to rethink their long term plans – how they want to spend the rest of their lives, their priorities and goals, and what they feel is truly essential. With both more time and more concern to rethink their financial position, they may want to simplify their finances, change their risk profile, or realign with changing personal or philanthropic goals.
This represents both risks and opportunities for financial advisors. People who never thought about life insurance may now work with the first person who takes the time to explain their options. Auto insurance customers may become more price-sensitive and decide to move away from a long-time agent. Investors may simplify their financial plan and consolidate from several firms to a single advisor and bank. Some investors may need reassurance to stay the course, while others may need more compelling evidence to change their position.
One common need across these risks and opportunities is more immediate and proactive communications between financial advisors and clients. This means faster responses, more frequent one-to-one communications, and deeper dialogs. There is opportunity to take advantage of a more captive, focused audience, and engage with clients who rarely respond or want engagement.
Advisors who rely on community events to make new contacts and face-to-face meetings to develop prospect relationships have seen their marketing playbooks go up in smoke overnight. With regular channels of communications not available, they must adopt new digital channels that give clients choice and are just as easy, if not easier, to use. In some cases, their strongest benefit may be unavailable (e.g., their convenient branch location), creating the need for a business model adaptation as well.
At the same time as they are facing these challenges, they also face a huge opportunity to be there for clients when it matters most. There is a strong opening to discuss new goals and plans, building new levels of trust and connection. To make the most of this situation, personal relationships between clients and advisors need to become more digital, and digital needs to become more human.
Although extra support from corporate is clearly needed, digital messages alone without a human touch can be tone deaf. With the large amount of reassessment and planning happening at this moment, human advisors are needed more than ever, but without digital support, they cannot scale to meet the demand.
HEARSAY + SALESFORCE
Given this environment, advisors and agents are being far more proactive with their customers and prospects. As a result, Hearsay has seen a 300% spike in activity in our compliant channels. We are also starting to see the financial services industry strike a better balance between automation and authentic engagement. At Hearsay, we focus on providing that critical last-mile of customer engagement, and more than ever our clients are focused on connecting those activities back into Salesforce to inform the next step in a personalized client journey.
This is the foundation of the Hearsay-Salesforce partnership. The ability to capture activities including texts, call records, social media and website interactions back into Salesforce records is transformational for our joint clients. When we connect these last mile channels to Salesforce we’ve seen a 15x increase in the amount of data flowing into CRM. This provides new insights for our customers.
The other very exciting aspect of the partnership is our ability to leverage Hearsay’s compliance platform, including the automation and intelligence that allows last-mile programs to scale up for field deployments into the tens of thousands. The platform captures and supervises activity across digital channels to comply with global regulations for financial services including requirements from FINRA, SEC, IIROC, FCA, and PRA. Using an AI-powered alert system, Hearsay’s platform intelligently surfaces, tracks and remediates sensitive communications so that supervisors can focus on the highest-risk violations and be more efficient.
All in all, we are excited to address some of the biggest challenges in financial services CRM – namely regulatory compliance and adoption of CRM in the field. Our partnership brings together a complete customer experience across automated and last-mile, one-to-one channels. There’s more to come in the next few quarters, and we look forward to sharing more innovations this year at Dreamforce!
From webinars to live social media sessions, coffee hours to “appy” hours and more, virtual events are a great way for advisors and agents to build their brand and build trust. Here’s a whole list of ideas for you to build out for your field.
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We’re proud to announce that Clara Shih, Founder, CEO and fearless leader of the team here at Hearsay, was recently named the first Fintech Woman of the Year at the inaugural Finovate Awards. This award is presented to the woman whose achievements in the fintech-related areas of financial services have most enhanced the sector or raised its profile as a career for women – through education, leadership, mentoring, coaching or acting as a role model.
“Finovate has always aspired to highlight the accomplishments of the people and companies driving fintech forward. Our inaugural awards program takes this a step further by celebrating our industry’s brightest stars,” said Greg Palmer, VP of Finovate. “Clara Shih has led the charge of women in fintech since she burst onto the scene. Now she is helping to develop the next generation of leaders. We are delighted to honor her as a true role model.”
Known as a trailblazer throughout her career, Clara developed the first social business application in 2007 before penning the New York Times-featured best-seller, The Facebook Era. After founding Hearsay to provide innovative, compliant fintech solutions for advisors and agents, she authored a sequel, The Social Business Imperative.
If you’ve met Clara, you know she combines her expertise in social media with what she lives and breathes: Fintech. Clara has consistently prioritized mentoring others and at Hearsay specifically, she guides teams to empower one another through activities such as the monthly ‘Ladies of Product’ meetups. STEM education has also been an area of emphasis, from working with Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, on the school’s STEM program, which now graduates among the highest number of female engineers in the country, to her involvement with Girls Inc, a national organization that inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.
You will hear more from Clara in the coming weeks. She will be speaking at the upcoming FORTUNE Most Powerful Women Summit 2019, in Washington, DC. She’s on a panel discussing ‘The Art & Science of Board Composition,’ where her role on the Starbucks Board of Directors will provide a good perspective.
She’ll also be speaking at Dreamforce this year. Be on the look out for more details!
To view all of the Finovate Award winners, please visit https://finovate.com/drumroll-finovate-awards-winners-announced/.
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