I think most of you, at one time or another, have wondered how it is possible that companies get it so wrong when they approach you. Some seem to think that if they give you golf balls, that will entice you to invest millions of dearly-won client retirement assets in their employer’s funds. People put interesting little items on their booth table at industry conferences, believing that this will get you interested in talking to them about a long-term business relationship. There are appeals that promise to raise your “production levels” or enrich you with commissions or other bonus payments that you know will come directly out of the pockets of your clients. So many companies that want to ally themselves with you don’t seem to understand your world, your challenges, or the nature of your commitment to your clients.
Some years ago, I had a side business, doing consulting work for larger organizations that wanted to partner with the fiduciary advisor cohort, but who either had no idea how to approach you or wanted to better understand the opportunities that you represented to them. These tended to be big picture discussions, mostly to help their management team understand the culture, and know what to do and (more importantly) what NOT to do; that is, what approaches would turn you off to them forever. Sometimes we would talk about specific outreach strategies and language; sometimes we would talk about how to structure their teams and products and understand what advisory firms would be doing three to five years from now.
Why did I stop this consulting business? The ethics of journalism (yes, there are some, and they’re kind of strict) required me to not write about these firms that I was consulting for, and often they were interesting stories. But the bigger reason was the fact that larger firms tended to move very slowly, which meant that my advice would be received, processed, discussed, and I would be in meetings for a year or two before any real initiative came out of the advice I was providing. Size and entrepreneurialism tend to be incompatible characteristics, and it became frustrating to see companies fumble great opportunities because they simply couldn’t switch gears in real time.
At the time, I also felt like there was something missing in my consulting effort; I didn’t have a marketing/advertising professional who understood the financial services space well enough to make recommendations that the firms could act on. They would take my advice, go to their advertising agency, and the next thing you knew we were back to golf balls and sales commissions. The agencies had no idea how to translate the company’s version of what I was saying into workable tactics, and it would sometimes take years to educate them.
As of today, I’m putting my hat back into the consulting ring. Why? First, because I see tremendous opportunity for change in the financial services space, with many companies starting to realize that they need to ally themselves with the fiduciary advisory community—and that they can no longer fake it; they have to become real partners offering real value, not just to advisors but also to the clients of advisors. I see this in the insurance world, particularly, where transparent risk pooling products and solutions are being developed for the first time at some of the world’s largest companies. Broker-dealer organizations are beginning to prepare for a transformation where they live on something other than commission revenue and advisor production.
Meanwhile, large software companies and other firms are realizing that they can’t offer their services directly to the public through some kind of robo offering, so they’re looking at how they can radically enhance the advisor’s service platform. And a surprising number of firms are too busy creating products and services to actually spend time thinking strategically or about their outreach to their target audience.
My other reason for getting back into consulting is that I believe I’ve identified a marketing/advertising professional who can sit in on meetings and understand the challenges and offer workable marketing solutions, not just in the traditional media, but also in online and social media outlets.
I think this is a tremendously exciting, potentially rewarding time in the financial services space—really the first part of an endgame, where fiduciaries take over the retail marketplace, where companies can either get on the train or miss the opportunity altogether. If you, reading this, know of a company that you believe could improve its approach, or which has the potential to enhance your life and the lives of your clients, I would be grateful for an introduction of them to me, and me to them. The goal is to create and hopefully replicate over and over again that elusive win-win-win situation for companies, for professionals, and most importantly, for clients and consumers.