It’s time…to have the (coronavirus) talk with your clients

It’s difficult to listen or read any vaguely news related report or look at any social media right now and not hear something about the coronavirus. Casual conversations frequently drift to talking about it, rife with opinions and advice on how to “protect” against it. Markets around the world have reacted negatively to coronavirus (Covid-19) fears, production slowdowns and other factors related to the virus. Here at Optima Group, we are keeping a close eye on the situation and making preparations to ensure work continuity in case we are impacted.  

Let your clients know you’re there for them
When the going gets tough, that’s often when your clients most want to hear from you. A variety of studies, as well as anecdotal evidence, point out the importance of client communication, particularly during periods of uncertainty. Take this opportunity to let your clients know you are closely following the situation and ready to make any moves or adjustments necessary. Reinforce the idea that you are not there just to manage their money, but to help them with a holistic approach to navigating life’s challenges. Your clients will appreciate it and be reminded of the strong relationship you have with them. 

Keeping Up

The recent offer by Morgan Stanley to buy discount broker E*Trade has been widely publicized – and for good reason. The move is emblematic of a number of important trends in the banking and wealth management industries, including:

• The strategy of leading investment banks to move down market to build their share of the growing mass affluent segment
• The realization by still another large financial adviser that a significant commitment to technology is an existential imperative, particularly in appealing to next gen clients
• The likelihood that discount brokerage as a standalone business is not viable and that brokerage offerings need to be part of a broader holistic offer that includes banking and potentially other financial services

But perhaps the greatest significance of the E*Trade buyout is what it suggests about the pace of change in the investment management business and how impactful a disruptive startup can be to a large and well-established business.

It was only five years ago that Robinhood, with $3 million of venture capital, built a better mousetrap. The firm launched a slick, easy to navigate mobile app with a social network aspect and commission-free trades in stocks, funds, gold, options and cryptocurrencies. By 2018, the platform had reached 4 million accounts surpassing E*Trade. This year, Robinhood reached the 10 million mark, almost halfway to the combined accounts of TD Ameritrade and Charles Schwab.

TD Ameritrade and Charles Schwab had been building their businesses for nearly 50 years, E*Trade for nearly 40 years. Robinhood, in less than 5 years, has reached scale and challenged these entrenched leaders forcing significant strategic shifts and consolidation.

We expect the pace of change to continue to accelerate in financial services as new technologies offer new solutions and value propositions. This only increases the importance of current industry leaders to stay ahead of market and technological change.

Your Home(page) is a Reflection of You

In many ways, designing a corporate website is like decorating a home. You expect, and, hopefully even invite visitors to come to each, and you want them to stay a while, get to know you better and continue to engage with you(r) company. Here’s how to apply lessons learned from the increasingly popular home design shows, to help you make your home(page) and the rest of your website welcoming, impactful, and a better reflection of your organization. 

Coordinate your look and feel with who you are. Are you more Shabby Chic, Industrial or Mid-century Modern? Your website design is an extension of your brand – it immediately tells visitors what your value proposition is and defines your target audience. For example, if clients and prospects are ultra-high-net-worth investors, the look and feel of your website should be upscale, not retail, so visitors know they’re in the right place. 

Make it easy for people to find you. When you invite someone to your house, you give them your address, so they know where to find you. It’s the same thing with your website – make sure your URL or a link to your home page is on your LinkedIn profile, stationery, email signature and other corporate literature. And work toward optimizing your site with SEO search terms that bring you to top of the list.

Create good flow. Everyone likes an open floorplan, where it’s easy to get from one room to the next. If your visitors wander into your ‘About Us’ location, create a clear passage to the next place they may want to visit (or you’d like them to go), such as ‘Contact Us.’

Avoid clutter. It’s hard to find what you need when your house is a mess.Make your website easy to navigate by presenting information in an organized fashion, with copy that’s succinct (and leaves out the unnecessary) and images that support your message. A little white space is a good thing. 

Set up space for visitors to hang out. Guests to your home gather in the kitchen when you have a large island with seating. On your website, create a spot for visitors to congregate, such as on your thought leadership page. Reinforce your expertise by making it inviting, and keep it stocked with fresh treats your visitors will want to consume.

Be a good host and keep the conversation going. When you entertain company, the onus is on you to provide guests with the essentials. You don’t want your website visitors to remain stuck on your home page or cut their visits short. Center your content around their needs and draw them in with invitations to view your most recent video or latest blog post. Engaged visitors hang out longer and will look forward to coming back again soon. 

In Search Of…

Today’s client journey often begins with an online search. To optimize that search – so that clients find you, it is important to understand why they are searching. Understanding the “why” provides insights into customers and what they are trying to accomplish in their search, allowing marketers to present the right information and solutions in the optimal format. 

Why: Search Intent
Data and insights are vital and necessary to understanding customer behavior. We can discern who the customer is, how they search, what they are looking for and really dig deep into “why” customers started searching in the first place. These are the three determining motivations that spark search.
• Navigational – customers have very clear intent; they know exactly what they are looking for and type in the business name or product. 
• Informational – customers want to answer a question or learn how to do something. 
• Transactional – customers want to make a purchase or sign up for a service. 
Once you understand the “why,” you can create content that resonates with your audience and provides the best user experience. 

What: Content Creation
Understanding the intent allows content producers to match what is on the website to the search queries. Content has evolved to become a way to connect with your audience and provide them with answers to what they want to know. The goal is to keep your website simple and focused strictly on the content that matters. Creating content for people and not search engines will in turn build trust and better connections with your audience. Always remember to ask yourself if the content is informative and engaging and does it fulfill the customer goal to get desired company information or complete a transaction. 

How: Website Design
The counterpart to content is design. Audience or segment appropriate visuals, tone and style, clear functionality, contemporary best practices and a defined call to action that allow users to quickly find what they are looking for help make the visit easy and stress-free. This results in better usability, higher engagement, and an enhanced user experience.

In today’s fast-paced digital world, people type in what they are looking for and expect search engines to immediately find the answers and information and map them to the right websites. If you have the visibility and insight to what people are looking for and how they are searching, then you can take action to create the right content and make sure it is conveyed in a simple, concise way. Knowledge and understanding defines and determines content. Unlock the power of search and ensure you provide the right answers and solutions. 

A Bias Against Women May Cost You

To grow your advisory business, it may be wise to heed Aretha Franklin’s warning and show women a little more respect. 

Studies show that women continue to be subjected to gender bias. For example, a recent venture capital experiment sought to identify gender discrimination to better understand why women continue to be underrepresented in entrepreneurship. In the study, 80,000 “promising but fictitious startup” pitch emails were sent out to 28,000 venture capitalists and angel investors using distinct male and female names. In an unexpected twist, female-generated pitches were favored by 9%.1 However, female-led businesses receive very little actual investment – in 2018, only 3% of total venture funding, according to Harvard Business Review.2 The article explained that in-person pitches invariably favor men and that when identical pitches were given, men “outperformed” women.  

Similar biases in wealth management
Attitudes affecting individual investors are no different. Women still tend to be regarded as less capable investors and tend to feel less confident about investing. In addition, women often feel patronized by their advisors. This is despite the fact that some studies, including one by Fidelity, indicate that women, tend to be better investors than men, performing better on average by 40 basis points annually, an amount which can be substantial over time. 

Money (and advisor?) in motion
It is no secret that we are in the midst of a huge transition in wealth, frequently to a surviving spouse, and usually to women, who tend to outlive men. This represents a substantial risk to advisors who may be consciously or subconsciously biased in their approach to working with women. A bias against women can cost you. In fact, according to Credit Suisse Research Institute’s 2018 Global Wealth Report, 70% of widows change financial advisors. 

Who’s winning?
Advisors that are succeeding are finding that a more collaborative approach that helps women build knowledge and confidence in managing their money is effective. Many are actively trying to add women advisors to their rosters to support their efforts. Others are dedicating specific sales and marketing efforts to different niches, including women. The winners will be those that remain dedicated and consistent in their efforts over the long term through this fundamental shift in investor demographics ─ because when a woman is about to give an advisor her money, all she’s askin’ for in return is a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T. 

1Gender, Race, and Entrepreneurship: A Randomized Field Experiment on Venture Capitalists and Angels, W. Gornall, A.A. Strebulaev, University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business, Stanford University Graduate School of Business and NBER, August, 2019.
2How the VC Pitch Process Is Failing Female Entrepreneurs. Hassan, Kamal, Varadan, Monisha, Zeisberger, Claudia. January 13, 2020. Harvard Business Review.  

Design Trends

The buzz around Pantone’s Color of the Year has died down. (You may remember the color is Classic Blue.) But Pantone is not the only trend forecaster, and we pay close attention to many other things trending. In case you are redoing a room, planning a wedding or deciding what to wear tomorrow, we thought we’d share some.

Art Deco
A comeback of Art Deco began in 2019, and the trend will continue into 2020. “The coming year will include a decidedly retro twist. Ornate geometric shapes, elegant color palettes, and Art Deco elements are on the rise, reflecting the hallmarks of a bygone era.”—    Shutterstock 2020 Creative Trends

Yellows and Earthtones
“Based on continued rises in key search terms and business intelligence, we are now seeing yellow emerge as a key colour in the visualisation of corporate life and is now regularly featured in our most popular business‑related content.”—    Getty Images Creative Insight

The color of the year for Sherwin Williams is Navel, “a rich navy that creates a calm and grounding environment infused with quiet confidence.” Its video announcing the color has an art deco flair, and it pairs the color with…you guessed it, yellow, well, technically “Midday.”

Some of the earthtones we will see from the fashion world: 

Trending along with minimalist home décor will be minimalist design. We will see more white space and fewer colors. Simple line art will be a trend for 2020, with minimal splashes of color. 

Photography is perhaps one of the most exciting creative forms. Digital and mirrorless cameras, along with smart phones, have changed the way photographs look, not to mention the types of photos we can now get with a GoPro or a Drone.

Trends in photography that are becoming popular and will continue to grow for the next several years are:
• Relaxed wedding photography as well as more candid corporate images
• The use of flash to create a specific look; and
• Good old-fashioned film which can create a different, more dramatic look than digital cameras.

While not all of these trends will find their way into financial services communications, we find it helpful to have knowledge of what is going on outside the industry.

Investing Becomes ESG Investing

In its 2019 ESG Survey, Callan documented the growing commitment of institutional investors to ESG investing. 41% of survey respondents claimed to incorporate ESG factors in their investment decisions, a share roughly double that of five years earlier. 

For that 41%, “integration” was the most widespread form of implementing ESG. “Integration,” as defined by The Principles for Responsible Investment is “the explicit and systematic inclusion of ESG issues in all investment analysis and decision making.” This is distinguished from other more rudimentary forms of implementation such as screening out specific investments or hiring ESG specialist managers. With “integration,” the boundary lines between investing and ESG investing begin to blur, elevating ESG to an essential valuation measure across all investment decisions.

Fast forward to last week. In two open letters, Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, the largest asset management firm in the world, put CEOs of companies that BlackRock may invest in and clients whose money BlackRock is responsible for, on notice. He was taking the next step in ESG integration.Going forward, BlackRock intends to “put sustainability at the center of our investment approach.” “Sustainability-integrated portfolios,” the letter continued, “provide better risk-adjusted returns” and so “sustainability will drive the way BlackRock manages risk, constructs portfolios, designs products and engages with companies.” Fink also pointed out that “sustainability extended beyond climate to questions around how each company serves its full set of stakeholders, such as the diversity of its workforce, the sustainability of its supply chain or how well it protects customers’ data.”

With these letters, BlackRock marks a watershed moment not only in the history of ESG adoption, but in the evolution of investment management. It is the moment when the world’s largest investment manager explicitly conflates profitability with social responsibility in the valuation process. We expect that this boldly stated position and the actions derived from it will resonate throughout the asset and wealth management worlds as investment product manufacturers and consumers live out its far-reaching implications. 

How to Surprise, Delight and Retain Wealth Clients

What determines whether a high-net-worth client stays with or leaves an advisor? Recent surveys of high-net-worth individuals ranked the top reasons they stick with or ditch their advisors. In neither case was performance the most important driver of behavior, although it is still an important factor. However, service and responsiveness topped the list.

Client experience is key to retention

Client retention depends on a satisfying client experience. Here are three things you can do to make a good impression.

1.      Establish formal customer service standards, and monitor compliance. Set guidelines for all client touchpoints, for example, indicating time frames for return phone calls and emails and when and how often to schedule in-person meetings. Then hold team members accountable for maintaining firm standards.

2.      Be flexible in how you communicate. Take note on how clients prefer to communicate, leveraging technology for those comfortable using it. The important thing is to be responsive.

3.      Be a good listener. Practicing the art of active listening strengthens your ability to provide good ideas and advice. Skills for active listening include periodically asking questions to keep an active dialogue and clarifying assumptions to make sure you understand what your client is saying and their feelings about the topic. Be supportive, not judgmental.3

Your clients want to be respected and supported throughout their quest toward achieving their financial goals. Dedicating resources for providing a superior client experience can go a long way toward building loyalty and maintaining relationships that endure through all types of market and performance environments.

1 Advisory Firms in 2030: the innovation imperative, John D. Anderson, SEI, August 2019 in association with FPA.
2 When Millionaires Change Advisors, April 2, 2018©, Spectrem Group.
3 What Great Listeners Actually Do, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, Harvard Business Review, July 14, 2016.

New Year, New Decade, New Client Experience

As we start a new year and a new decade, we embrace new marketing pillars that will dictate future growth and success. We have made our 2020 Marketing Resolutions and they revolve around the client. In this fast paced, competitive environment, navigating client needs has become much more complex. We resolve to focus on the client and their needs and create more personalized experiences while delivering superior service. This focus will ultimately build more meaningful relationships with the right customers and ensure their satisfaction. 

Client Experience – Empower clients and their journeys. 2020 is about omni-channel delivery; clients demand service in-person, by phone, on desktop, mobile, and tablets and through social media. Clients want to connect on the channel that is most convenient for them 24/7 and when they connect they expect to be “served.” The goal is to ensure that every touch point a client has with your brand tells your story and delivers an experience that makes your organization stand out from the competition. Think ahead, be proactive and anticipate client needs by integrating all marketing channels seamlessly to ensure you have a happy, satisfied client.

Personalization – Although this is not a new concept, this year raise personalization to new standards, fueled by AI and machine learnings. Consumers have learned to tune out generic marketing and are responding to ads tailored to their needs, interests, preferences and behaviors. Personalized messages create a connection between your brand, products and your target market.

Technology – We live in a fast-paced digital world and must embrace technology and digital advancements. Innovation and growth require access to deep data and the technology to apply this data to sales and relationship management. In order to meet today’s marketing challenges head on, data and analytics are critical to building and enhancing communication, identifying market opportunities, improving targeting and creating digital solutions.Whether it’s creating a new logo, refreshing your website to improve user navigation to make content easier to find, adjusting your e-mail campaign strategy by segmenting target audiences to send them personalized messages, or adding engaging video content to your social media channels, now is the time to start implementing these three key marketing factors as they determine where the industry is going in 2020 and beyond.

The Big Blue Splash


Since 2000, Pantone has been selecting the Color of the Year. On its website,, you can find information on the color of the year for each year since its inception, although it wasn’t as big an event as it is now. 

In 2000, even designers weren’t paying much attention to the color of the year. As time went on, the announcement became more and more well-known to the general public. Fast forward two decades to the December 4, 2019 announcement of Classic Blue as the 2020 Color of the Year, and every news outlet including CNNTimeFast Company and The New York Times wrote about it. 

And what an announcement it was. Keeping with the current marketing trends, Pantone made it a full-blown experience—blue cocktails, blue food, blue music and a blue fragrance. At the end of the day, the Color of the Year is a marketing opportunity for Pantone, so we can safely assume next year will be an even bigger extravaganza.

The Pantone Color Institute explains “Instilling calm, confidence, and connection, this enduring blue hue highlights our desire for a dependable and stable foundation on which to build as we cross the threshold into a new era.” Traditionally, blues are thought of as calming, peaceful and trustworthy, which is why you see blue used widely in the financial services industry, sometimes making it difficult for firms to stand out in a literal sea of blue.

The selection of Classic Blue makes sense as we enter a new decade—there’s a lot going on around the world! So, it made us wonder: what is the correlation of Pantone’s Color of the Year to the financial markets. For instance, at the end of 2008, what color won? Interestingly enough (to us anyway) the Color of the Year for 2009 was Marigold, chosen because “In a time of economic uncertainty and political change, optimism is paramount and no other color expresses hope and reassurance more than yellow.”

Pantone’s Colors of the Year Against the S&P 500 December 1, 1999 – December 6, 2019