The World’s Largest Online Store Goes Offline

Did you get Joy Delivered this year? It came in the form of a catalog for kids’ toys you can buy from Amazon. What’s interesting about this is that the largest online store created a really great interactive print experience

First, the catalog is not actually a catalog, it is a “holiday wish book” with the message on the first page stating, “Start your adventure here.” The next page is a blank list that you can pull out of the catalog (sorry, wish book) so you and your kids can create their gift list—presumably from just Amazon. On the back of the list is a recipe for hot cocoa that looks pretty yummy!

The wish book has many pages of fun games that kids can play, like fill in the blank, stickers, and a story that parents could “snuggle up” and read to their kids. It also has pages that your kids (or you) can color, a Christmas tree maze, and a place to create your own snow globe. The genius of the holiday wish book is that it is a way for kids to interact with a printed piece, with their parents, all while picking out their holiday presents.

For a huge impersonal online store, Amazon has created a high-touch experience. Aside from the beautiful design, nice paper, and high-quality printing, the wish book offers an experience for two important audiences. The first of course being the kids, so they can pick out their holiday presents and the second being the parents who can get everything done from one catalog, from one online store, and share an experience with their kids playing games and making hot cocoa. Exactly what they promised — Joy Delivered.

Checking in with Robos

In September, financial consumer focused data firm, Hearts and Wallets, released survey results indicating that some 8% of U.S. households have invested money with robo-advisers.

While this is still a relatively small share, the penetration among millennials was significantly higher. According to the survey, nearly 20% of mass affluent millennials with investable assets between $50,000 and $500,000 are using a robo-adviser. Perhaps even more surprising is that nearly half of wealthy millennials with more than $500,000 to invest have chosen robos.

For many of these younger investors, robo-advisers may be a steppingstone to a full service advisory relationship once the complexity of the household finances warrants more sophisticated and tailored advice. However, several firms with robo platforms have begun to add new applications providing enhanced financial management and planning tools. These tools are provided for free and are typically easy to use and integrate into a client’s normal financial management practice. Among these are Fidelity’s SpireSchwab’s Schwab Plan and BOA’s Life Plan.    

It appears that robo-advisers are committed to adding functionality that provides a wider breadth of services and encourages users to deepen their “relationship” with the firm. It will be interesting to track the development of these new technologies to see if they can reach a level of sophistication sufficient to satisfy the needs of high-net-worth investors. If so, we anticipate that advisors and platforms serving this segment will begin to add “robo” to their arsenal of tools and applications.

2020 Davey Awards Winner

Optima Group is excited to announce that it is a 2020 Davey Awards Silver winner in two categories for work executed for Hightower Advisors:
• Corporate Identity – Logos
• Corporate Identity – Brand Identity

The Davey Awards competition is designed exclusively for smaller boutique agencies to allow them to compete directly with their peers. The Davey Awards are “sanctioned and judged by the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts, an invitation-only body consisting of top-tier professionals.”

Congratulations to Tracy Hubbard, our Creative Director, and her amazing team. We are honored to have been selected out of hundreds of entries for recognition and especially thank Hightower Advisors for enabling us to achieve this accomplishment. At Optima Group, we have a passion for the work we do and thrive on the challenge of taking an intangible “product” and bringing it to life for our clients and their clients.

Big Data in the Pandemic

Analytics are increasingly important for marketing, and the pandemic has made effective analytics even more vital. From everyday items to luxury goods, companies leverage analytics dashboards to decide where, when and how to market.

A prime example is Mercedes-Benz. It uses a dashboard to access 35 sources of data across 30 markets. This includes commonly used data such as media consumption habits, consumer sentiment, foot traffic, and shopping behaviors. But also factors in “of the moment” analytics on government restrictions to combat the virus and changes in local COVID-19 cases, and mortality rates. According to Natanael Sijanta, Mercedes-Benz Director of Global Marketing Communications, “Mercedes-Benz is seeking data to answer questions on customer behavior and economic activity in different regions.”

Candy maker giant, Hershey Co. is gearing up for what will be a very different holiday season. This iconic company is using analytics to understand what’s happening globally, nationally and, in the U.S., on a state level to make advertising and marketing decisions. “Hershey’s is a national advertiser, but there are state-specific implications which will impact the holiday period,” explains Hew Griffiths, Global Chief Product Officer for Universal McCann. State restrictions, local unemployment data, COVID-19 rates and other topical information could have a significant influence on what happens on a consumer level in a particular area.

Consumer products companies are not the only ones benefiting from creative data analytics solutions. SRAX, Inc. uses investor intelligence and big data to “unlock and utilize data in new powerful ways to create a new nexus of opportunity between public companies, financiers, investors and traders.” Its technology platform for investor intelligence, corporate communications and shareholder retention and acquisition, Sequire, has acquired more than 75 publicly traded companies as clients in just over a year. Using data and resources from Broadridge Financial, the platform allows companies to monitor investor behavior, access trendline information, and execute and measure retention and acquisition campaigns. It would seem to be only a matter of time before such capabilities are extended beyond the public markets. 

The wealth and investment management industries are not exempt from this trend. Firms are focusing on building out client relationship management systems and other information capture platforms to build a complete picture of client behavior and develop highly targeted sales and marketing using real time information and metrics to find out what’s working and what’s not.

Three Ways to Help Clients Get Through this Election

Election Day has finally arrived, and investors are nervous. Regardless of political affiliation, nearly 70% of adults report feeling stressed by the 2020 election1 and 84% feel the election will impact their investments.2

How can financial advisors help clients stay on track toward their goals, despite the uncertainties surrounding one of the most contentious elections in history? Here are three suggestions:

1.     Actively listen. Investors want an advisor they can trust, and an effective way to build trust is to be a good listener. Conscious listening forges deeper relationships and can help you understand why a client is truly worried about the election. It’s also essential for client retention, as the failure to understand a client’s goals and concerns is cited as a top reason for switching advisors. 3    

2.     Reassure. Clients pay advisory fees for personalized advice and guidance that gives them peace of mind. Now is the time to remind clients they have a financial plan in place based on their objectives and risk tolerance that considers the impact of potential market downturns. Let them know that the market has experienced increases under each political party. So, time in the market is what works, not timing the market.

3.     Provide thought leadership. Uncertainty creates an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and commitment to client goals. Advisors who are consistently producing informative and useful blogs and social media posts provide added value by giving their clients a greater sense of participation and control.

Finally, remember that every vote counts! So please be safe, but vote!

Getting Out the Vote

Election Day is one week away, and campaigning has reached a fever pitch. And, the number of organizations using their brands to urge people to vote is at an all-time high. From tech giants like Amazon and Google to classic American brands such as Wells FargoLevi Strauss and Starbucks, businesses are promoting “vote and/or vote early” on social media, including Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. The big social media platforms all have resources to help people find out where and when they can vote, as do high traffic apps such as Yelp. Of course, Optima Group agrees wholeheartedly with this sentiment and urges everyone to vote and make their voices heard.

How effective are these tactics? Like all consumer marketing, we think of this initiative along the customer lifecycle. In this situation, the customer or voter journey is something like this:

• Awareness (voicing/creating the need – why one should vote)
• Lead generation (how one can vote)
• Fulfillment (the means to register to vote and information on how to make sure your ballot is successfully cast)
• Conversion (actual act of voting)
• Post-sale communication (“I voted” acknowledgment)

Large company efforts promoting the importance of voting are strong in building awareness, serving as “air cover.” Unfortunately, the audiences they reach are often the ones that are already convinced of the need and have the resources and knowledge to execute. So while the tactic may be brand enhancing, it may not be moving the voting needle that much, according to Christopher Mann, a political scientist at Skidmore College. The tactical information found on social media sites focus more on lead generation and fulfillment. These sites and apps have a diverse audience, including those who benefit most and are accustomed to obtaining news, information and resources digitally. They are widely used by younger audiences, helping boost historically low voter participation rates. The last two stages of the customer journey, lead conversion, or actual voting, and post-sale communication, acknowledging the voter’s contribution to the democratic process, are handled by public resources.  

Is ESG Reaching the Tipping Point?

A just-released survey by PwC’s Luxembourg branch highlights some dramatic trends. Seventy-seven percent of European institutional investors surveyed plan to stop using non-ESG investment strategies by 2022. In Europe, ESG fund assets are expected to comprise up to 57% of total European ESG mutual fund assets by 2025.

As ESG assets are set to boom across the pond, there are also indications in the U.S. that investors are becoming more socially aware. For example, ESG ETF assets have risen sharply in 2020, with iShares’ three largest broadly diversified funds alone gathering $13 billion in assets year-to-date through October 16. Both iShares ESG Aware MSCI USA ETF (ESGU) and Vanguard ESG US Stock ETF (ESGV) have outperformed the S&P 500 Index in the past year, reinforcing the hypothesis that ESG investors do not need to give up performance to be more responsible.

It appears that a growing number of institutional and retail investors may be choosing competitively priced products from index giants like iShares, Vanguard, and others to serve as the core of their portfolios. This shift replaces traditional S&P 500 and MSCI EAFE index-based strategies while providing exposure to sustainable and social impact investing. If broad ESG index offerings are able to sustain a performance advantage over broadly accepted non-ESG products for the next few years, it is not unreasonable to anticipate a significantly larger movement of assets to core ESG holdings. 

For institutional asset managers, this may represent a fundamental shift that must be considered in light of new product and distribution strategies. For wealth managers, this highlights the importance of having a defined approach for clients that are increasingly demanding ESG/sustainable investing solutions.

Building Strength Through Adversity

It’s no secret that unemployment has risen to worrisome heights this year as the impact of COVID-19 works its way through the economy.

In its September report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics put the latest unemployment rate at 7.9%. This was a significant improvement from the year’s high of 14.7% in April but still leaves close to 13 million people out of work.

The downturn in jobs has not impacted industries equally, however. In fact, recent media reports have anecdotally suggested accelerating growth in wealth management employment. Fidelity, for example, just announced that the firm was seeking to hire an additional 4,000 client-facing personnel, including financial advisors, licensed representatives and customer service employees. This is nearly a 10% increase in the firm’s overall employment. Fisher Investments also recently announced that it has completed construction of a new facility that will house an additional 1,100 employees, increasing that firm’s total workforce by about one quarter.

In both cases, the companies pointed to significant accelerations in growth among retail clients this year. Fidelity reported a 24% increase in households engaged in financial planning interactions during 2Q20 compared to a year before. According to the firm’s announcement, recent market volatility and growing economic complexity “has driven millions of new and existing customers to open accounts, increase trading activity and contribute additional savings.” Fisher spokespeople, too, pointed to the need to support “ongoing rapid growth.”

It is encouraging that the investing public appears to be reaching out to their wealth managers in significant numbers to help them navigate this time of crisis. As the industry continues to expand its capabilities and resources to meet the service demands of a new market reality, advisors can benefit in terms of client loyalty, retention and referrals by communicating their enhanced commitment, increased expertise and range of solutions to help clients navigate challenging times.

A November to Remember

With only a few weeks until the election, uncertainty regarding the outcome and the unprecedented circumstances we live in are reflected in jittery global equity markets.

One could even argue that it’s almost a reassuring sign that markets are exhibiting their usual election year October behavior, as illustrated in the chart below. Historically, election year September and October stock market performance tends to be weak.  

Providing some historical perspective may help wealth and asset managers reassure their clients that it’s key to focus on the long term. Trying to predict outcomes and reactions to the markets is impossible. Prior to the 2016 election, more than one expert predicted that if Trump were elected the markets could and/or would tank and the U.S. could enter into recession. Then on election night, as it became increasingly clear that Trump was going to win, stock market futures dropped dramatically, and the S&P 500 declined rapidly in pre-market trading, triggering the circuit breaker to temporarily halt trading. But by the closing bell, the index was up for the day. 

Markets are Agnostic
Another historical trend may help to alleviate fears, no matter the candidate each of your clients support. Markets don’t really seem to care which party is in power. Again, this speaks to a long-term perspective, while not losing sight, of course, of the impact that short-term market movements can have on cash flow and spending.   

Source: FMRCo. Monthly data since 1789 through end of 2019 (mix of S&P 500, DJIA and Cowles Commission). Note that since the party system was not “Republican vs. Democrat” for part of the period in question, the various occurrences used to calculate these results do not add up to the total number of elections since 1789.

It’s Your Website’s Job

Your eyes may be the window to your soul, but your company’s website is the window to your brand. With fewer in-person interactions happening every day, a compelling, engaging, and interactive website is key. Your marketing, communications, and business frankly depend on it.

For wealth management firms, some objectives when developing or updating your firm’s website are: 

Business development
Unlike e-commerce firms, sophisticated wealth management clients rarely “buy” your services directly through your website. Instead, your website brings your firm to life for prospects who “found you” through an existing client, center of influence, webinar, email campaign or thought leadership. A great website enhances each step of your business development efforts by showing how your clients benefit from your approach. To support lead generation and information capture, visitors to your site should be encouraged to read up to date information, subscribe to content, and submit inquiries for follow-up.

Brand building
Your value and brand should shine through your site with every view and click. If your firm is high touch, then reflect that through a website, with ample opportunity to engage and interact. If a disciplined, sophisticated investment approach is your calling card, then your site can demonstrate that process in a way that is easy for visitors to follow. And, if your team is extraordinary, then personality should be front and center, featuring their expertise and accessibility through videos, photos, and quotes. 

Information resource
To build your brand and reputation, your firm should regularly produce high quality, value-added content including videos, webinars, and commentary to engage and guide your viewers. This will encourage visitors to learn about the relevance of your thinking and how you help manage their lives and their wealth. 

Employee recruiting 
A great website can also help you recruit top-notch resources by quickly demonstrating that you are a “serious player.” Information that humanizes your firm, promotes your awards and recognition, philanthropic initiatives, corporate sponsorships and events will help you attract professionals whose skills match your culture and needs.