Optima Blog

See What Erica Can Do

Capgemini’s recently released World Retail Banking Report 2021, focuses attention on the fundamental transition in banks to digitization accelerated by the pandemic.

The report claims that “banking as usual is evolving into a digital-first, seamlessly integrated banking experience via coexisting digital channels and modernized branches” that includes “a shift to enhance the customer journey by enriching last mile delivery” and “product centric innovation that gives way to customer-centric intelligent transformation.”

The schematic below outlines the elements of this digital-first shift.

There are many examples of steps being taken by leading banks to travel the road to digitization, but one recent initiative by Bank of America’s Merrill division is especially noteworthy. Early this month, Merrill launched a new reporting tool called Digital Wealth Overview. Digital Wealth Overview is a three-minute, personalized, interactive video presentation narrated by Merrill’s AI chatbot, Erica. It offers a real time aggregated view of a client’s banking and brokerage accounts and allows for the client to consume the information at their own pace and to drill down in areas where more detailed information is desired.

Digital Wealth Overview does not replace the advisor, but it does function as a client-centric enablement tool that deepens engagement by being accessible, interactive through natural language and responsive on the client’s terms. It also is a first step to bringing the bank/brokerage branch experience to the customer digitally as ancillary services are added to the platform.

While the Digital Wealth Overview tool will give Merrill a competitive edge for the moment, we expect other leading banks/brokerages to up their digital game as they strive to enhance their clients’ digital journeys. 

The Personal Touch

A lesson that has been reinforced in the last year, given the lack of in-person contact, is the importance of communications. From online presentations, webinars, podcasts, and emails to social media, wealth and investment firms have been leveraging the power of digital technology to stay in touch and keep clients informed on perspectives and thoughts on the markets, topical issues, and investments.

But while you’re letting clients know what you think the latest market move means or why it’s time to consider rebalancing their portfolio, it’s ok to get a little personal sometimes. Your clients miss you, and they want to “see” you and find out what you’ve been up to lately. So, mix in some communications about employees, perhaps around a theme, such as what people are reading to keep entertained, new hobbies undertaken during the pandemic, or how you are staying connected internally, along, of course, with photos to bring it all to life. Commemorate life events, weddings, new babies, and even new pets! Let your audience know when new employees have joined or someone has been promoted. All of these give a glimpse into your work and professional lives and show that hopeful events are happening.

And don’t be afraid to be a little whimsical every now and then. Some examples include National Pet Day (April 11th) or National Garden Month (April again). Put out a quick post and put your pets or beautiful gardens or plants on display, because who doesn’t love a playful pet or a calming landscape? Obviously, it’s a balancing act, and if there are too many personal or lifestyle communications, then your audience may not view you as “serious” about what you do. Focus on the professional, but sprinkle in the personal. Your clients and you will feel closer than ever!

The New Age of the Common Man?

Image source: Charles Schwab, Schwab Stock SlicesTM

Back in 2014, three leading psychologists joined with the CIA to experiment on the ability of regular people to estimate the probabilities of potential geopolitical events coming to pass.

It was called the Good Judgment Project and tasked some 3,000 novice forecasters to predict events ranging from whether North Korea would launch a new multistage missile to when Russian armed forces would invade Ukraine. It turned out that these amateur prognosticators did surprisingly well. In fact, the top 1%, the aptly named Superforecasters of the group, beat professional CIA analysts’ estimates by 30% on average. And they did it without the benefit of classified information, with most relying largely on Google searches for guidance.

Fast forward to today as the movement to broaden the access to and appeal of self-directed investing intensifies. Moving beyond no trading fees or minimums, leading DIY brokerages have taken steps further lowering barriers for small and novice investors, inviting more to join the party. For example, in a recent national TV campaign, Schwab introduces “Schwab Stock SlicesTM,” a fractional share program with the tagline, “Now anyone can own any of America’s leading companies in the S&P 500 for as little as $5, even if their shares cost more.” This follows closely on the heels of Fidelity’s also nationally advertised program, “Stocks by the SliceSM,” which has an even lower $1.00 minimum investment on the fractional shares of over 7,000 stocks.

As this new cohort of retail investors grows, it will be interesting to see how well they perform relative to the professionals and whether the increasingly accessible and sophisticated tools of the information age in the hands of a tech-savvy user base can even the playing field with the pros.

A Peek Inside March Madness®

“March Madness” is one of the most powerful brands in college sports. It’s even trademarked. And, it’s hard to find someone who isn’t at least a casual fan. After last year’s tournament was canceled due to the pandemic, this year’s tournament has made quite the rebound. According to research compiled by WalletHub, corporate productivity losses during March Madness are expected to exceed $3 billion – this is madness indeed. What is it about the tournament and the brand (the Twitter account for @MarchMadness has 1.5MM followers and Instagram 800,000 followers), which dates back to 1939, that captivates our attention?

Blue chip brand involvement – Despite the absence of Duke and Kentucky in this year’s men’s tournament, it is still full of top programs. Many of these universities have long academic and athletic traditions, with millions of alumni, non-alumni fans, and media personalities helping to promote the tournament and widen its appeal.

Escalation of digital promotion – Many of the league’s top players, including Texas Tech’s Mac McClung and Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, were well-known YouTube stars before they even set foot on their respective college campuses. Social media has helped bring unprecedented levels of star power to many players, which helps fuel increasing interest in them and the tournament.

Everyone loves an underdog – For every Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan and Illinois (all number one seeds this year), there are a host of less well-known universities whose teams continue to enthrall even the casual fan. You’d be hard pressed not to pull for an Oral Roberts when they face off against Arkansas in the Sweet Sixteen this Saturday. And every year, the tournament delivers a healthy dose of David vs. Goliath matches to keep us coming back for more.
While all of us at Optima Group enjoy March Madness as much as anyone, we remain focused on developing winning branding and digital marketing programs that help our clients stand out from the crowd – and we remain available by Zoom even if we are watching our favorite team.


When was the last time you handed out a business card? Business cards are an extension of your brand but the purpose of them has always been to give the recipient the information they need to contact you. Remember when all that information was conveniently stored in a Rolodex? Those days are gone. With the shift to e-communications, an email signature is the new business card, so a good impression is important. Here are some tips on how to create a professional looking signature.

Your email signature is your contact information at the end of the content in your email. It should contain your logo and be representative of your brand. It should also have your full name, title, address, office phone number, cell phone number (if you are okay with that), link to website and your company social media. You can also include logos of awards, and you may need to provide disclosure information. If you still receive faxes, your fax number should be there also. Your email address is not necessary, since the recipient will already be able to get your address from the email you just sent.

• You can set up your signature in a Word document then copy and paste into Outlook or other email platform. This makes it easier to get the typography, line and letter spacing you want (again, all representative of your brand). One individual should do the initial set up and then share the Word document with the team so that all employees have a consistent signature.

• You will need a .png or .jpeg version of your logo to insert into the Word document 

• Use only cross-platform system fonts so your signature looks the same on Windows and Mac OS. You can find a list of them here. Although Comic Sans is on that list, please do not ever use it for business communication. Ever.

• Try not to overload your email signature with too many links. Be aware that although it’s great to have award banners (like Barron’s Top 100), for some recipients they may not show up as pictures, but as an attached file.

Join the #Conversation

Your clients and prospects are using social media, most likely more than any other means of communication, and the strategic use of hashtags will allow you to reach more of them. 

For financial service organizations, brand awareness is extremely important, and social media is one way to build your brand. According to Pew Research, over 70% of Americans leverage social media to get their news, share content, and access entertainment.* It’s where connections are made and word of mouth takes place. Most businesses understand that a social presence is table stakes. However, once you’re on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or other appropriate social channels, it takes time to build a following. One way to expand your reach is through the strategic use of hashtags. 

What are hashtags? Hashtags are words or phrases that channel your social posts into specific online conversations about subjects such as #divorce or #FinancialPlanning. You can join trending conversations and show support for causes you believe in by posting relevant and timely hashtags, such as #ChooseToChallenge or #IWD2021 for International Women’s Day or #EqualPayDay in support of women clients. You can #LightItUpBlue for #AutismAwareness to demonstrate your commitment to clients with special needs loved ones. And, you can share value-added financial posts throughout #FinancialLiteracy month each April. 

How can hashtags help you grow your audience? People use hashtags to find information. When your target audience searches a hashtag you used, they will see your post and may opt to follow you. Interesting, informative and snappy content will grab the reader’s attention. And consistently using a few, select hashtags will allow you to build recognition and confidence. 

How many hashtags are appropriate for each post? The more hashtags you use, the more conversations you will join; however, there is such a thing as too many. When posting to Twitter, your hashtags count toward your 280-character count, which will naturally limit the number you can use. Best practices for businesses are to limit the number to about 3 to 5 in general, and 1 to 3 for Twitter. 

Keep digital social etiquette in mind when you post. Choose hashtags that are relevant and appropriate for your business. Don’t highjack conversations. For example, it would be considered inappropriate to use #OprahWinfrey to increase your views.

Building the Structure of Sustainable Investing

The acceptance of sustainable investing continues to grow among asset managers globally. 

Last summer the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC) introduced the Net-Zero Investment Framework (NZIF) which laid out a blueprint “enabling investors to decarbonize investment portfolios and increase investment in climate solutions in a way consistent with and contributing to global net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner.” Over 100 institutional investors, representing $33 trillion in assets, were involved in crafting the Framework. Components of the Framework included objectives and targets, strategic asset allocation and asset class assignment, policy advocacy and investor engagement and governance.

To date, 35 institutions have put the Framework to use and five of these, including APG, Brunel, The Church of England Pensions Board, PKA, and the Phoenix Group, have just completed a test of its efficacy on real world portfolios. Research consultancy, Vivid Economics, (recently acquired by McKinsey) analyzed the test results and concluded that “The Framework provides a practical tool for alignment, and it is possible to deploy it using existing data and without compromising on performance.” 

Sustainable investing is becoming increasingly practical and economically feasible from a performance point of view. We expect that as sustainable investing approaches become more sophisticated and performance testing confirms positive expectations, the trend of leading institutional investors to mainstream sustainability in their investment processes will accelerate.

Digital Marketing Simplified

As most marketers in the asset and wealth management industries know, you must have a strong digital marketing strategy to stay relevant, promote your brand and generate leads.

Digital marketing for asset and wealth managers can take many forms which often makes it difficult to know just where to start. One easy way to think about digital marketing is in terms of the type of media that you are generating.

Paid Media – this includes all advertising and paid sponsorships, including display ads, search engine ads, such as Google Ads, remarketing and retargeting of ads, and social media ads, including direct ads, sponsored content, targeting and boosting within specific platforms.

Owned Media – this includes all the media that your firm develops and promotes on its own. It includes your website, blog, email content and social media pages and posts. It may also include webinars and podcasts your firm develops and hosts, either on its website or through a separate platform, for example, a dedicated YouTube channel.

Earned Media – this can be thought of as any likes, reposts, retweets and other commentary about your firm on third-party sites. It also includes testimonials and media coverage of your firm. The success of these efforts is highly dependent on how active your firm is on social media, the quality and regularity of your content, how much effort (and potentially dollars) are invested in SEO strategy, and other factors.

For asset and wealth managers, the most successful digital strategy incorporates elements from all three sources. Taking one facet away from your digital program significantly reduces the opportunity to drive more traffic to the others, to your website, and ultimately lead generation activity.

For instance, an effective paid media program that incorporates display, search and social media can help drive traffic to your owned media such as your website and your blog, as well as to online events such as podcasts and webinars. It can also help to generate earned media in the form of reposts and likes. A strong owned media program comprising an engaging website and compelling posts, emails and blogs can also help to drive more earned media. The key is to devote sufficient resources to each strategy so that they work in concert to build your audiences and help drive more qualified leads through your marketing funnel.

Abigail Adams, First Lady (of Bonds) and Others

In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day on March 8, we thought we would highlight five women leaders and pioneers in finance.

Muriel Siebert, first female owner of a seat on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE)
For many of us, Muriel Siebert is a legendary groundbreaker and proof that women could be successful on Wall Street. In 1967, she founded Muriel Siebert & Co., Inc., which sold institutional research and financial analysis. In addition, she applied for a seat on the NYSE. This requires a sponsor, and, of the ten investors she asked, only one agreed to do it. After finally gaining her seat, she had an extremely successful career, taking a break in the late 1970s to serve as Superintendent of Banks for the State of New York, during a precarious financial time; notably, no banks failed in New York State during her tenure!

Rosemary McFadden, first female president of a U.S. stock or futures exchange
Long before Adena Friedman became president and CEO of NASDAQ in 2017, Rosemary McFadden broke ground by becoming the president of the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) in 1984, an unexpected move at the time. A growth-focused innovator, under her lead, new contracts in crude, heating oil, and gasoline were introduced, and trading volume grew from 5MM to 34MM contracts. When asked if she could change one thing today, what would it be, her reply was “It would be that more women occupy the “C” suites, have parity on Boards of Directors of Fortune 500 companies and holding more senior elected offices.”

The Rise of the Retail Investor

In late February of this year, Morgan Stanley CFO Jonathan Pruzan said that client trading activity at his firm’s platform for self-directed investors – the recently acquired E*Trade – has been “off the charts” in 2021. Daily average trades have moved 50% higher this year from record fourth quarter levels, and DIY investors have opened more accounts at Morgan Stanley to date in 2021 than in the third and fourth quarters of 2020 combined.

But Morgan Stanley is not alone in experiencing a dramatic increase in trading volumes in recent months. E-brokers such as Interactive Brokers and Charles Schwab have also reported unprecedented trading volume, mostly driven by retail investor activity. The average daily volume of the largest e-brokers in December 2020 was 6.6 million shares, a record. In January 2021, average daily trades hit 8.1 million, a 23% month over month increase.

According to analysts at Piper Sandler, average trading volume across the major U.S. markets in equities is way up this year, as the chart below indicates:

Year over year, January volumes are up 92%, and from December, they are up 33%. Options trading is experiencing a similar trend, with the number of contracts traded up almost 18% from December 2020 to January 2021. 

These recent trends raise two important questions:

• How long will the DIY growth trend continue?

• What longer-term impact will this increased retail involvement have on the markets?

The answers to both questions are unclear.

Admittedly the pandemic created perfect storm conditions for day traders, which may subside as the economy and people’s lives normalize. However, the extraordinary and well-publicized success of a small group of traders and their deft use of social media to drive markets may have convinced some investors that trading can be profitable and that social media may provide the tools for success over the longer-term. Increased trading volume for shorter-term profit fueled by unpredictable social media events could initially lead to greater volatility. However, over the longer-term, it may also lead to more sophisticated integration of social media with investment decision-making and more fundamentally change the investment practices of retail and institutional investors alike.