When Words Matter: Optima Group’s Perspective

A well-used phrase has dominated the American lexicon this week. “Stay safe” closes emails and texts. It rings out from a safe distance while grocery shopping, running, biking and hiking. But, what does “stay safe” mean? I think it means more than staying healthy and avoiding infection. To me, “stay safe” harbors a nuanced combination of caution and optimism. It is sobering, helping us to move from the trivial things we thought were important to what is real and in front of us right now.

Erik Larson’s new book, “The Splendid and the Vile, A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz,” brings to life how the British Empire met its challenges and stayed focused while chaos literally rained down from the sky. “Stay safe” in 1941 London did not just mean staying alive during the often-nightly bombing. It meant finding new ways to keep the social, health, business and community life of the country functioning throughout the crisis.

In many ways, we are facing a similar challenge. As a country that is almost “allergic” to rules, we must all now follow rules designed to keep more of us from getting sick. As a society, we need to take care of our families and communities while leaving room to celebrate and frankly sometimes mourn. And we need to find new ways to attend to our healthcare system, economy, food and shelter that embrace real solutions for real needs.

Churchill understood the complexity of the tasks in front of him and concurrently managed each element to win the war. As we now struggle with what’s in front of us, we too will find ways to persevere and eventually thrive. In our industry, we are now even more acutely aware of the direct impact that the management of assets has on people’s daily lives. This is serious business for a serious time.

Perhaps we will, in many ways, eventually be better for the experience.

Stay safe and healthy,

Ken Hoffman
Managing Director and President

A Captive Audience

As everyone hunkers down in their homes, we are all wondering how to make the best of this time. Advisors are challenged to find ways to assist their clients remotely and help with what may be a difficult financial period.

This may be just the time to work with your clients to reinforce the tenets of financial responsibility with their children. They will appreciate the demonstration that we are all in this together and the fact that their kids are doing their part. In addition to imparting age appropriate concepts of financial knowledge and responsibility, there are a plethora of innovative digital tools out there, many of which have taken the place of the ubiquitous ceremony of opening one’s first bank account. While everyone has a favorite, and this is not a complete list, here is a brief sampling of some of the more popular free tools out there:

Chore and allowance apps:

iAllowance – iAllowance is a chore tracker, automatic allowance payment (to a bank account) and “reward” (such as an hour of video time) application that can handle multiple children and bank accounts
Bankaroo – Bankaroo is designed primarily for kids (generally 5 to 14) to help them learn about money, budgeting and goals, savings and financial responsibility. It has multiple versions ranging from free to one that allows for managing multiple accounts and transaction capability
PiggyBot – PiggyBot, an app available for Apple device users, geared towards younger kids. It’s free and is a “virtual piggy bank” that helps children set and track their goals and allowance
RoosterMoney – Allowance Manager – this app is similar to iAllowance but geared to a younger audience and includes a “star” chart, lets kids create goals and allows the whole family to keep track of spending

For older kids, there are apps that also include a debit/prepaid card functionality (caveat is that some of these do have fees or monthly charges):

gohenry – gohenry offers a range of savings, goals, budgeting and spending functions along with a debit card, all with parental controls to act as a safety check
Greenlight – Greenlight is a similar app that allows users to track chores, set spending limits and set parameters for where the debit card can be used (anywhere, restaurants and gas stations only, etc.)
FamZoo – FamZoo is an educative application and prepaid or IOU function that bills itself as suitable for kids of all ages, with the goal of helping kids, teens and parents.

Looking for something (and the rest of your family) to do?

Board games, Netflix, Amazon Prime… tired of them yet? Here are a few things we’ve found that you might find interesting (and are great for your kids too!).

• Head off to Paris and visit The Louvre. Discover some of its virtual tours.

• Some aquariums have cams that are still live, some are prerecorded. The otter cam at the Seattle Aquarium is oddly satisfying and calming.

• See the baboons, penguins, koalas and more with the San Diego Zoo live cams.

• Meditate and relax with a video of the moon jellies at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

• While we may not need Google Maps right now, Google Arts and Culture offers a plethora of interesting things to view.

• Sit comfortably with your iPad and download The Wider Image app by Reuters. It is an immersive news experience that’s hard to put down.

Have an online favorite that you’ve discovered? Let us know and we’ll post it for others to enjoy! 

Looking forward: Optima Group’s Perspective

As we all acclimate to a new working and living environment, we hope that everyone is doing well during this difficult period. We are here for you and encourage you to reach out to us with any questions you may have. This is a time where we believe we can only succeed by coming together as a community, even if virtually, and supporting each other.

This has been a challenging week for all of our clients, but today I was especially thinking about the RIAs. Their simultaneous need to manage clients, adjust investment strategies, and maintain firm morale has been overwhelming. And, most RIAs’ budgets are in disarray since they are faced with steeply falling revenues for the first time in years.

Yet, this is also an opportunity for many firms. Ones that recognize the fundamental tenets of running successful small businesses in different economic environments are likely to recover more quickly than their peers. Ones that don’t may suffer further disruptions from client attrition and loss of key personnel.

What are some winning strategies?

Client money in motion during times of crisis will result in new business opportunities. Make sure you are communicating to your clients and your market using every channel available. Recruit successful sales resources that may be looking for a new home. Step up your marketing activities, including letting clients, prospects and centers of influence know why you are still their trusted advisor.

Be ready to access capital. There is a tremendous amount of capital that is still available to RIAs – both as equity interests and lending facilities. While valuations and initial payments are being dialed back, firms that can think strategically about building long-term value can position themselves to come out of this downturn with higher upside potential. Don’t think about the great deal that got away because the market intervened. Think about how to get the best deal done now.

Get your team motivated and involved. Tomorrow is not going to be like yesterday. Successful firms will need to sacrifice in the near term to be ahead in tomorrow’s climate. Be blunt and direct but make sure your staff knows that you are all in it together. 

Get help while you can. The financial incentives and relief in the bill passed by Congress, and the facilities available in many states are there to be used. Don’t think that the funds are for other industries or businesses or be reluctant to access these resources. Your competitors will. Shouldn’t you?

To sum up, you know you offer great solutions, client service and reporting. It’s time to take a breath while doing even more. Run your business daily like a driven, entrepreneurial firm. Spend time on yourself and your business – not just your clients. We will all get through this. But some, with insight, perseverance and persistence will find themselves in a better place in the not too distant future.

Stay safe and healthy,

Ken Hoffman
Managing Director and President

Alternatives Platforms Gain Traction in the Retail Market

Earlier this week, in the midst of the current market chaos, iCapital Network, announced that it had closed on a new $146 million funding tranche. Latest round of investors included well-known industry giants such as Goldman Sachs, AMG and Hamilton Lane, who joined an equally impressive list of earlier backers featuring BlackRock, UBS and Blackstone.

The robust capital commitment reaffirmed the expectations of leading investment firms that interest in hedge funds and other alternative products among HNW investors – and the intermediaries that serve them – would continue to rise and perhaps accelerate through this period of market uncertainty. 

With AUM approaching $50 billion, iCapital now ranks among the largest of the new alternatives platforms targeting the HNW market. iCapital offers investors access to a curated menu of private equity, hedge funds, and private credit products from an independent source at lower minimums and with a set of due diligence tools. The firm has over 50 private label relationships with leading investment firms to drive distribution. Among these, is BlackRock, which has integrated iCapital as an alternatives source with its popular Aladdin wealth platform. 

iCapital, however, is not alone in this space. Listed below are other leading names in retail directed alternatives platforms. These platforms also typically offer a variety of services related to access, evaluation, trading, and reporting of various alternatives investments including:
• Comprehensive dashboards showing offerings, performance, execution records, manager roadshows
• Analytic tools and performance tracking
• Simplified execution with automated subscription and redemption processes
• Integration with PM and reporting systems

We will continue to track the growth of these alternatives marketplaces among B/Ds and RIAs serving the HNW and UHNW markets to see if they become a preferred option for alt. access and an attractive point of differentiation for intermediaries.  

What Should You Say to Wealth Clients?

We are in uncharted territory, facing a health crisis unprecedented in our lifetimes. People are stocking their pantries with non-perishables, searching online for Purell and coping with social distancing. Many businesses, municipalities, schools and communities across the globe have shuttered. What would have seemed like science fiction a few weeks ago has become what is hopefully our short-term reality.

For most organizations, it is no longer ‘business as usual.’ Many have implemented new service protocols designed to provide added support to clients while keeping everyone safe. And, where possible, companies are leveraging technology so employees can work from home. 
In times like these, it’s especially important for financial advisors to reach out to clients with empathetic messaging that builds trust and keeps clients informed.  

Communicate early and often. Frequent and proactive communications through all channels (emails, social media, updates to your website and phone calls) will reassure clients that you’re on top of the situation.

Where possible, segment your message. Your clients’ concerns will depend upon their situations. For example, older clients may be particularly worried about enjoying a secure retirement while business owners may need strategies to keep their companies afloat.

Be transparent. Let clients know how you’ve adapted your business operations and how they can reach you. Share your position on the financial markets and re-iterate your strategic approach to investing, being honest about the uncertain road ahead.

Be available. During times like these, sometimes clients need a sympathetic ear and recognition that we are all in this together.

Get creative. Schedule virtual get-togethers so clients can hear what your company is thinking and have an opportunity to ask questions. You can maintain a sense of community through webinars, social media posts and emails that reinforce your leadership and support.

How to Spring Clean Your Brand

Spring brings a sense of renewal, so it’s the perfect time to clean and revive. People give their homes a “spring clean” with the goal of making things feel fresh and new. But spring cleaning is not just for your home, use this mindset to breathe new life into your brand. Embrace the new quarter as a new beginning and an opportunity to revitalize your creative, positioning and marketing plans. 

Your brand creates an immediate first impression and is crucial to your business strategy. A strong brand should reflect your evolution by showcasing your value proposition, vision, and intent of the business. It allows you to connect with your current audience and reach new clients.

Here are four questions to ask yourself as you consider refreshing your brand this spring:  

Logo and Brand Identity  
Question: Does your logo, look and voice reflect where you want to be in this new decade?

Recommendation: Use this time to evaluate your mission statement/value proposition, logo, website and other creative assets. A strong brand is the pillar of your marketing efforts and is essential for building awareness. Companies are constantly evolving, and a refresh keeps your brand from feeling or looking old. On average companies update their identity every 7-10 years. Renew and refresh your company’s vibrancy and set yourself apart from the competition with an updated brand.

Client Audience and Database
Question: Who is your ideal client? Are you reaching them? Is your database segmented?

Recommendation: Now is the time to clean your client lists to ensure the information is current, accurate and consistent. After your data base has been scrubbed, the next step is to identify high potential niche groups with specific needs and create audience segments and client personas. Through audience segmentation you can deliver more focused, personalized and relevant content to targeted clients which ultimately provides a better client experience. 

Client Service
Question: Are you proactively anticipating clients’ needs and adapting your offering accordingly? Do you have a pulse on what your clients want in 2020?

Recommendation: As remote interaction and servicing becomes commonplace, businesses must find new and creative ways to help their clients and still provide exceptional client service from afar. This is an opportunity to implement digital solutions and technology such as video meeting apps into your communication efforts. This is also a great time to survey clients about specific products and services as well as overall company experience. Leverage any learned information from clients including feedback and reviews. These insights can help you determine what can be done to make your products and services better and what can be eliminated from the mix. In today’s world, it is crucial to provide a friendly digital presence and respond quickly to client needs. Embrace digital solutions to help you maintain exceptional client service and gain critical feedback.

Social Media
Question: Do you have the right social media accounts for your business? If so, are they up-to date? Do you have planned content to publish on these channels?

Recommendations: Evaluate the social media accounts you are currently using and make sure they are updated with current logos, images and links to your website. Review and refresh your social media strategy, set goals, examine analytics and build robust content calendars. LinkedIn and Twitter are the fundamental social accounts for financial services, but Instagram can bolster brand awareness and help you engage with clients. HubSpot reports that Instagram sees over one billion active monthly users and 500 million daily Instagram Stories. There is a financial services audience on Instagram, but make sure your content is optimized on this platform, which relies heavily on visuals including captivating photography and videos. Your employees are also key in building your social media presence. Recommend that their profiles are up to date and connected to your business page. Encourage your employees to connect on LinkedIn and share your content. They are valuable to organically expanding your social reach and building brand awareness. Finally, don’t forget to clean out your messages and make sure you haven’t missed any questions, comments, concerns, or feedback. Clients expect instant responses, this is a chance to showcase exceptional client service in a public forum.

An Important Message from Optima Group

As everyone continues to feel the effects of COVID-19, or coronavirus, we wanted to share with you our preparedness plans and our wishes for the continued well-being of our colleagues, partners and clients. Our goal is to continue to serve you and provide the highest level of attention and service. To that, we are taking the following steps:

1)     Business continuity plan activation. We have put into action our detailed business continuity and preparedness plan that covers remote workplaces, client communications, technology, cybersecurity and other key factors.

2)     Vigilance regarding health and the impact of contact with others. We remind, as always, anyone who is not feeling well to stay home and recover. We are practicing social distancing within our office and have established an optional remote workplace policy to enhance distancing. We have systematic interoffice communications and meetings both virtually and by phone multiple times a day to keep everything on track and continue to meet your expectations.

3)     Move to virtual meetings and communications. For the foreseeable future, we have cut down any non-essential travel or face to face meetings. We are fully enabled technologically to conduct virtual meetings through a variety of applications to continue to provide the guidance and help you require.  

4)     Heightened attention to office cleanliness and hygiene. We have increased our office cleaning and sanitation efforts and provided additional cleaning products and sanitizers for individuals to use as needed.

We understand that this is a very challenging time for all, but we remain committed to serving you as always. We continue to keep a close eye on the rapidly changing landscape in order to respond expeditiously. We thank you for the continued trust that you place in us and encourage you to reach out to us with any questions you may have.

Before the Mad Men…

Well before the post-WW2 “mad men” of advertising, there were pioneering women who made their mark in the marketing world. In honor of Women’s History Month, we celebrate women leaders who were ahead of their time and helped pave the way for future generations of creative women.

Mathilde C. Weil, America’s first ad woman  
Mathilde C. Weil, an immigrant from Germany in the 1870s, went to work as a translator following the death of her husband, then became a writer for newspapers and magazines. She found, however, that buying and selling ad space was a more lucrative career. In 1880, 40 years before the 19th amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote in the U.S., she opened the M.C. Weil Agency in New York. Her firm functioned as the middleman between advertisers and publications, with a strong focus on medicine ads. She had two female partners, Mary Compton and Meta Volkman, making it a solely female run firm. Mathilde ran the agency for over 20 years, until her death in 1903.

Queen of the copywriters, Bernice Fitz-Gibbon
Bernice Fitz-Gibbon began her career in the early 1920s in Macy’s advertising department. From there, she became Publicity Director at John Wanamaker, then moved to Gimbels as Publicity Director and a member of the executive board. In 1954, she left to start her own advertising agency and, in the 1950s, was “reported to be the highest paid woman in advertising.” Along the way, she came up with some of the most enduring retail ad slogans of all time, including Macy’s wartime “It’s smart to be thrifty,” and Gimbels’ “Nobody, but nobody, undersells Gimbels.” She was also a mentor and shared her knowledge, and, as a result, “Fitz-trained” copywriters were in hot demand throughout the advertising industry.

Mary Wells Lawrence, first female CEO of a NYSE-listed company
Mary Wells Lawrence began her advertising career working as a copywriter for a department store in Ohio. After working for Macy’s and several agencies, she joined Jack Tinker & Partners, a revolutionary “think tank” of creatives known as “Tinker’s Thinkers.” She was responsible for such innovative campaigns as the Braniff Airlines painted planes and Pucci-designed uniforms. According to Mary’s book, A Big Life in Advertising, when Jack Tinker failed to make Mary president as promised, because “It’s not my fault, Mary, the world is not ready for women presidents,” she left and founded Wells Rich Greene in 1966. Clients included well-known names such as American Motors, Cadbury Schweppes, IBM, Pan Am, TWA, P&G, Ralston Purina and others, and her firm created such iconic campaigns as Alka Seltzer’s “plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is,” “Flick your Bic,” and “Raise your hand if you’re Sure.” Mary continues to inspire and is one of the founders of wowOwow, which was a website (now merged into PureWow) started by and written solely for women.

March is Women’s History Month
Women’s History Month is a dedicated month to reflect on the often-overlooked contributions of women to United States history.”1


Three Things to Consider About Millennials

Recently, the cover story for InvestmentNews was “Why won’t financial advisors take millennials seriously?” In part, the article explains that most financial advisors don’t feel millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) are worth the effort because of a lack of investable income or because millennials are dubious of financial advisors. 

Millennials do present a different set of challenges from the generations before them, but perhaps some of those challenges would be worth it if financial advisors saw them more as a future investment in their businesses. 

Millennial women cannot be ignored
According to the Pew Research Center, since baby boomer women forged into the workplace, the percentage of women working has grown. In 1985, 66% of women were in the workforce and 86% of men; in 2018, the gap narrowed to 72% of women compared to 83% of men. Additionally, millennials are getting married and starting families later than previous generations, which means financial advisors need to adjust their thinking in order to help single, professional women.

Inherited money may walk
While millennials stand to inherit a significant amount of money from their boomer parents, most of them are not that interested in using “daddy’s financial advisor.” Millennials want someone who understands them and what their struggles and perspectives are. As the generation who entered the workforce during the Great Recession, they have different ideas about money than their parents, who enjoyed great periods of economic growth.

Millennial money may come from non-traditional sources
This may be one of the greatest challenges for financial advisors who are not millennials themselves. Millennials make money differently than their parents and grandparents. Mark Zuckerberg is a perfect example. Not to mention others like the founders of Pinterest, Mashable and Tinder.

Or consider even more non-traditional moneymakers, such as Jeffree Star, with a net worth of $75M, a make-up artist who became YouTube famous with 17.5M subscribers and started a make-up line. Or YouTube favorites, Dude Perfect, a group of five competitive guys who made $20M last year. These represent careers that ten years ago financial advisors, and the rest of the world, could never have imagined. Advisors who want to go after these millennial mavericks will need to present their services in a new, fresh, and personal way.