In 2014, asset manager Jim O'Shaughnessy spoke with Barry Ritholtz on Bloomberg Radio and talked about the study:
“Fidelity had done a study as to which accounts had done the best at Fidelity. And what they found was ... the accounts that did best were the accounts of people who forgot they had an account at Fidelity.”
The takeaway? If you want good investment performance, forget you have an account.
Whether this study actually exists or not (it’s never seen the light of day), there is an overall consensus that the best way to invest is for the long haul—establish a well-diversified portfolio and, for the most part, don’t touch it too much.
If this is the case, what does this mean for financial advisors who have focused all their marketing on how great they are at managing investments?
Today, any financial advisor can deliver a comparable set of investment returns and products. This does not mean that all financial products and services are equally good. It means they are, in most cases, equally interchangeable.
Of course, many wealth managers and CPAs claim to have developed strategies unique to their firm. But if the strategies are legal, they aren’t proprietary— eventually, another smart advisor can (and will) replicate them. The financial advisors who develop these new strategies may get the first-to-market advantage, but over time even the most brilliant approaches become commoditized.
I hear some of you thinking (internally screaming), “Well of course investments have become commoditized. But I don’t focus my marketing on investment management—I focus on financial planning!”
But even financial planning as a service is being commoditized.
Just this past August, Charles Schwab launched Schwab Plan, a free, self-guided, digital financial planning tool available to all Schwab investors. Notably, there is no minimum asset requirement to access and use the free tool.
This came on the heels of Fidelity’s July launch of Fidelity Spire, a mobile app that walks users through establishing, prioritizing and tracking their financial goals.
I’m not saying these digital tools are a replacement for having a trusted financial advisor in your corner. What I am saying, however, is that what is true and what the public perceives to be true are two different things, yet the latter matters just as much as the former.
So what do you do? How do you market your advisory firm in a commoditized world?
First, let’s start with where the industry is going and how to align yourself with the future.
- The origin of the word wealth comes from the Middle English well being
In an increasingly commoditized world, wealth management will more and more become “well-being management.” This means going beyond numbers on a page, financial projections and surface-level conversations.
The most successful advisory firms have already adopted this strategy and know that when clients come into your office to talk about their money, they’re never really just talking about their money. They're talking about their hopes for the future, their bucket list desires, their insecurities and their deepest fears.
Yes of course people need financial advisors, but often not for the reasons they think.
As human beings, we want to believe that we’re rational, but just having good information and being educated is a weak predictor of behavior change.
Take our physical health: We may know what foods are good for us to eat, and that daily exercise is a must, yet just knowing these two things does not inherently cause us to make healthier choices. The same can be true and applied to our financial lives.
In the same way, you don’t necessarily have to have a personal trainer or coach to get in the best physical shape of your life, having one makes it much easier and more likely you will be held accountable to your goals.
In much the same way, the future of financial advice is holding clients accountable to their future selves. It's helping them remember the “why” behind their plan. It's keeping their eye on the long game, because as we all know, it's hard to stick to something when the end result is so far away.
- How to pivot your marketing to focus on “well-being management”
Whether you already operate your practice in this way or want to in the future, what does marketing a firm like this look like?
i. First, be brutally honest about how well the “set it and forget it” approach works in investing—and how investment management is just a small part of what clients pay you for. This has another benefit as well—if you train your clients to take a long-view approach, to expect ups and downs but not to expect to move things much, then when the markets are down, you’ll have to field many, many fewer panicked phone calls.
In fact, this very phenomenon played out in March 2020—the advisory firms we work with at Twenty Over Ten whose value proposition aligned with this strategy reported that barely any of their clients were calling in a panic.
ii. Next, explain in your marketing how terrible humans are at making good decisions—and how having a good financial advisor is important to keep yourself accountable to your future self. Use parallels that people can understand. You might talk about how our society has added nutrimental information and calorie labels to all of our food, yet we are actually twice as obese now, and that behavior change takes much more than just education.
iii. Then, work on focusing on the tangible outcomes clients get from working with you. What benefits would your own clients list first? Almost always the benefits that will be mentioned are not “more money” but instead are more akin to “reduced taxes,” “not having to worry,” “having one professional manage everything and collaborate with everyone else so we don’t have to,” etc. (If you aren’t sure what your clients would list first—ask them!)
The past 18 months have brought many, many changes to the financial services industry. The rise of no-fee trading, the launch of digital financial planning tools, the wide adoption of DIY investing apps and the increase of novice investors trying to capitalize on “opportunities” like the GameStop saga are just a few that we’ve seen.
Taken together, all of these changes represent a dramatic shift in the industry. The firms that will come out on top will change too.
Samantha Russell is the chief evangelist at FMG Suite. Sam helps financial advisors create digital marketing strategies that produce explosive growth through website development, content marketing, SEO, social media and video. Learn more about Samantha