The Grass is Always Greener

Over the past several months a family has been reporting their exploits on social media from various countries in the Far East. In their early forties, they have embarked with their young son on an ambitious year-long round the world adventure. 

The typical reaction to their posts echos findings from Schwab’s 2019 Modern Wealth Survey under the title, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) fuels American spending. The survey of 1,000 Americans found that nearly two-thirds of respondents “wondered how friends can afford expensive experiences posted on social media.” Just over one-third admitted they “spent more money than they could afford to participate in experiences with friends.”

It appears that this modern form of “keeping up with the Joneses,” particularly in highly visible (and post-worthy) experiences, is widespread and may be having a significant impact on spending and, perhaps more important, savings habits. Wealth managers, particularly those whose business includes serving the mass affluent, should be conscious of the new social dynamics that influence their clients’ financial behaviors and should align their financial planning offer and process to reflect this awareness.  

Schwab 2019 Modern Wealth Survey

Three Tips for Creating Effective Calls-to-action

A call to action is arguably the most essential element of any communication (from your website to videos to emails), yet it’s often overlooked. For every engagement you have with a recipient, providing clear guidance on what they should do next can significantly improve response rates and help you build relationships.

Here are three best practices for prompting responses that grow businesses:

1.      Segment your mailing list. In your communications, whenever possible, version your message with tailored calls-to-action based on the relationship you have with the target audience, such as distinguishing between prospects, warm leads, current clients and centers of influence. For example:

  • Prospects. Raise awareness and pique their interest to learn more about your organization by inviting them to visit your website, join your mailing list or follow you on social media.
  • Warm leads. Suggest that prospects who have engaged with you in some way, but have not yet become clients, call you to set up a meeting so you can close the deal.
  •  Clients. Increase your level of engagement with existing clients and encourage them to generate referrals by arranging conversations and recommending social sharing.
  • Centers of influence (COIs). Invite other industry professionals with whom you share target clients to join your mailing list or to set up an introductory telephone call; persuade actively engaged COIs to share clients and disseminate your thought leadership or bring clients to events.

2.      Be specific and compelling. Provide the rationale for taking action using words that guide, for example: to learn more about how we can help you achieve your goals visit our website… join our mailing list… follow us on social media… attend an event or give us a call so we can schedule a meeting.

3.    Make your call-to-action obvious and easily actionable. Simplicity encourages response and gets results. For example, if you want prospects to visit your website provide a clickable link that lands them on the appropriate page; encourage website visitors to join your mailing list with a fillable form; and invite social sharing with a suggestion to follow you on Twitter and LinkedIn.

The Beach Read Brand

Say the words, that’s a perfect beach read to someone (hopefully someone who enjoys reading!), and it immediately conjures up a specific feeling. Or as an article from way back in 2010 in The New Yorker states, “Is there a more backhanded compliment than calling a book “a good beach read?” The article then moves on to call a beach read, “the Paris Hilton of the book world,” perhaps not what most authors are striving for when they put themselves and their writing out there for all to read.  

Like it or not, the beach read has become the brand for summertime reading. Although there are contrarian readers who try to buck the trend, such as the author of an article titled “Bleak House on the Beach: What Makes a Good Beach Read?”, the term typically evokes a lighter, fun read that doesn’t require deep attention or thinking.

Beach Read Evolution

According to Michelle Dean, the term “beach read” entered into being in the early 1990s, typically in book trade publications, then migrated into general usage. As far back as 1976 (remember that pre-internet era age?), however, The New York Times published a “Vacation Reading List,” with a variety of categories ranging from poetry to autobiographies to fiction. As books seek to compete with all of the audiovisual and other written content available from any device at any time, the definition of a summer read has narrowed significantly. 

A Book about Beach Read Books

Like any strong brand, the beach read has even had a book written about it, sort of like a play within a play. “Books for Idle Hours” traces the history of summer reading back to the 19th century, where increased tourism, the rise of printing in the U.S. and an emerging middle-class viewing summer leisure as a symbol of upward social movement all contributed to the idea. Book publishers saw their opportunity and authors embraced the potential for new readers. The trend was not without controversy at the time, as “fun, leisure reading,” especially for women, was viewed as possibly disreputable. Fast forward to contemporary times, and summer reading is big business for publishers, who devote significant investment to maintaining and building the “brand.”

Whatever your vision of the perfect beach read is, we encourage you to embrace it and indulge in some good old-fashioned summertime reading!

Happy and in Love

Wednesday, July 17th is #WorldEmojiDay. This is a real thing. It’s a holiday created by Emojipedia, also a real thing. Only a few minutes of research will get you to the list of the most popular emojis and not surprisingly, number one is the red heart and number two the face with tears of joy. The Emoji Report by Brandwatch breaks down emoji usage and states that on average 75% of Twitter emojis are positive and 25% are negative. However, interestingly, around the time of the 2016 U.S. election, negative emoji use went up substantially.

One of the reasons we like emojis is that they save us from typing words. The smile emoji alone can mean “I’m so happy I’m on vacation at this amazing beach” or “I’m happy you’re cooking dinner tonight.” The heart emoji expresses your love for an infinite number of things. Emojis are a visual language that are universally understood. They are in the same category as icons and infographics, all of which exist based on the idea that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” 

A visual language can help users of a website understand where to click or what the content promises to be. Infographics can create a story that otherwise might be pages long. Just like any other language, it is important that a visual communication is clear and consistent, but more importantly, it needs to be there for a reason. They should have meaning to the audience and make a message more obvious rather than more confusing. Emojis, icons, infographics… they have all made it into our everyday method of communicating, we just need to be sure we use them correctly and that they are understood by our audience.

Clients need their wealth advisors, especially in the summer

Summer used to mean down time in wealth management with many clients on vacation. However, nowadays even when clients travel, they remain one click away with their smart phones in hand.

Below are some typical wealth planning issues that occur during the summer months:

Travel inspired expenses. Many high-net-worth clients consider major purchases while on vacation. Imagine how many of your clients pick up the real estate section of the local paper curious about how much a beach house or villa might cost. Others are ambling down the pier, checking “for sale” signs on boats or strolling through local art fairs and galleries (where nearly half of the high-net-worth buy their art).

35% of high-net-worth individuals are active in the art and collectibles market and dealers made 46% of their sales at art fairs in 2017*

Divorce. According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington, March and August are peak divorce-filing months. Many suggest the August timing results from the stress of family travel and failed last ditch efforts at reconciliation during summer vacation. And, most high-net-worth individuals say they don’t have a financial plan in place for divorce.

College incidentals. Although many high-net-worth parents of college-aged kids have put aside funds for tuition, room and board, they may not have foreseen the additional and often significant added expenses of college. For example, Greek life can be very expensive, and some kids are surprised to find they need a car on campus (to get to an internship, for example). So, when college students head to school at the end of August, there may be unplanned additional expenses.

Stay in touch with clients this summer

If your business is providing advice or guidance to high-net-worth individuals, stay top of mind this summer. Email clients thought leadership addressing topical issues, add timely resources to your website and post entertaining social media reminding clients you’re available to help wherever they may be, because you’re only one click away.

* Source: The Art Market 2018: An Art Basel and UBS Report

Getting Smart with SmartAsset

SmartAsset is another player in the holistic online “advice” and information market. Co-founder and CEO Michael Carvin states that the mission of the company “is to help people make the best personal financial decisions and to build the web’s best resource for personal decision-making.” SmartAsset originally launched as a “buy versus rent” analysis tool, allowing users to also see how much they could afford to spend if they did buy. It has since added information, tools and calculators for taxes, retirement, banking, credit cards and, unsurprisingly, since Focus Financial, the advisor roll up is one of its major investors, investing. For each category except for investing, it offers a somewhat curated list of providers, with comparisons and reviews. 

Target: Advisors

On the investment side, SmartAsset has somewhat loftier goals and is focused on providing advisors with leads (for a price, of course). For investors, it provides an advisor matching service. For advisors, the value proposition is attractive. The portion of the site targeted to advisors says that it reaches “a monthly audience of more than 45 million Americans, and provides more than 5,000 qualified prospects per month to financial advisors (like you) across the country.” Using publicly available data and algorithmic robo-writing, it has been building profiles of advisors to be used for matching, with the goal of eventually having all 300,000 U.S. registered advisors eventually up and available. “Listing” is free, qualified leads are not. Other firms, such as BrightScope, have tried this in the past, without success. SmartAsset, however, has far greater sustained traffic and the backing of Focus Financial, which is in turn backed by Stone Point Capital and KKR.   

Better Leads?

It also brings the promise of qualified leads that may be worth the price. The typical lead they provide is in his or her 50s, with an average of $750,000 in investable assets, most of whom don’t currently have an advisor. Advisors can choose their leads by:

○ Range of investable assets

○ Geography

○ Number of introductions per month

The qualification process appears to be reasonably vigorous, conducted through a multi-step process that includes a detailed online survey with phone follow-up for a final vetting. 

As the online advice and information environment continues to evolve, this model could provide a significant boost to the smaller independent advisor in the form of a cost-effective lead generation tool. Some have termed this Zillow for advisor listings – the question remains whether investors will “buy” an advisor like they buy a house.

5 more reasons you should be on social

An annual research study released by Putnam Investments in April 2019 reports that financial advisors are rapidly gaining new clients from social media. Of the 1,021 financial advisors surveyed, 92% said that social media helped them gain new clients in 2018, versus 49% in 2013. 

Source: Putnam Investments, Social Advisor Survey 2019

In addition to gaining new clients, there are other advantages that come with active social media participation, including:
Faster and more efficient communications. Communications occur in real time, on platforms where clients are spending their time and are more comfortable interacting.

New opportunities. Following up on a client referral and making introductions to connect is much easier and faster through social media.

Connections. Making new connections to existing clients’ adult children and heirs are much easier than traditional methods.

Better client relationships. Through social media, advisors have a better sense of their clients’ personal lives, such as marriages, births, travel, career movements, etc., which can help build more personal, authentic relationships and create additional touch points for interactions. 

One Stop Shop

The trend toward offering more holistic solutions continues to accelerate among leading wealth managers. Two recent developments that add traditional banking services to wealth offerings are worthy of mention:

○ The addition last month of the Cash Account to Wealthfront’s investment offering

○ The announcement last week by Carson Group of its partnership with fintech payments firm, Galileo, to offer Money+, a bank-like checking and savings accounts in the third quarter

For both firms, accounts are FDIC insured, offer high interest rates, charge no fees and have low minimums. Wealthfront’s Cash Account, however, is online only. It does not include an ATM card or a checking account version, although Wealthfront promises new features to be added “over time.” For now, it is meant as a high yield cash savings tool more in line with traditional sweep accounts. The planned Carson Group products, in contrast, are designed to replace clients’ need for a bank relationship. They include debit cards, ATM access, online bill pay, and checking features and are intended for everyday transacting.

Regardless of their differences, both developments have been facilitated by technological advances in payments processing and in the familiarity with, and acceptance by, the market of online banks. Both also represent moves by wealth/investment managers to keep more client money in-house and under control and to address the competitive advantage of large brokerages with built in bank affiliations. 

What’s in a Name?

The world was abuzz recently over another royal birth, but there seemed to be even more breathless anticipation of the prince’s name than the birth itself and the significance of each potential naming option. That got us thinking about the importance of names and what to keep in mind when you’re naming a new product, service, process, or any intellectual property.

Make it descriptive. A name should quickly communicate what the business proposition is. Make it easy on your audience to understand what you do. Take, Ticketmaster, for example. Quick and clear.

Make it benefit-oriented. What’s in it for the customer or user? Does Rocket Mortgage leave any doubt? Goodbye red tape, hello approval.

Make it memorable. Ideally, a name makes an immediate impression and is easy to recall. When turbo is combined with tax, the seemingly disparate terms combine for an alliterative name with high impact.

Make it your own. A name needs to fit your culture and emanate naturally from it. If your corporate personality is formal and conservative, your name should align with that.

Survival of the Fittest

The chart below, from the Summer 2019 Morningstar Magazine, is a stark indication of the hurdles asset managers face in the Post-Crash investment environment. 

Source: Morningstar Direct-U.S. Open-End Fund (excluding Money Market and Fund of Funds), ETF, Separate Account, and CIT Historical Data. 

In the early 2000s mutual funds and ETFs enjoyed strong cash inflows. Performance mattered, but even offerings with mediocre Morningstar rankings (2 & 3 stars) attracted net new money. Following the 2008 Crash, success has not been so easily achieved. By 2010, only 4 and 5 star rated products attracted net inflows. After 2013, virtually all positive flows have gone to 5-star offerings only. 

To make matters worse, investment management fees in the Post-Crash period have been consistently declining while net contributions to DC plans, long a staple of steady contributions to mutual funds, have turned negative for the first time since 2000. 

The secular forces that are stressing the asset management business show no signs of letting up any time soon. To survive, managers will have to increase efficiency and cost containment, while providing higher quality and/or lower cost products to the market. In addition, managers must be able to tell their story in a clear and logical manner and demonstrate repeatability of their approach and process.