A Look Into Consumer Beliefs and Behaviors

Getty Images, one of the largest most well-respected stock photo agencies in the world recently published a global report based on findings from 10,000 consumer surveys taken across 26 countries and its extensive proprietary database. The report shows what kind of visuals marketers globally are looking for. We live in a visual world, and it’s important to know what is meaningful to consumers, whether they are looking for cars, clothes or financial services. Getty calls the endeavor “VisualGPS” and promises to keep updating its findings. Below is a brief overview.

Getty has discovered four, what they call “Forces,” that influence the way consumers behave and ultimately make purchases. Wellness, Technology, Sustainability and Realness.

The term describes more than physical health, it includes mental health, spirituality, family, relationships and being more in tune with ourselves, living a more mindful and intentional life. 

The top three things people care about:
61% say the health and well-being of family members
60% say personal health and well-being
58% say financial security

The people who are more likely to feel strongly about Wellness are women, those who value kindness and joy in their lives, and those with higher incomes. 

What this means for financial services: It’s not just about accounts and numbers, it’s about one’s entire well-being.

Technology plays an enormous role in our everyday lives. It involves so many things, from cars to tracking packages being delivered to your house when you’re not home to connecting with friends and family with multiple apps on your phone.
79% of those surveyed said technology makes them feel connected to other people
82% said technology keeps them connected to what is happening in the world

However, the report also found a lot of worry around cybersecurity.
71% globally believe their country will experience a cyber-attack
76% of those in North America fear a data breach
88% said they need companies to prove they are protecting their privacy and data

What this means for financial services: the privacy and security of your clients’ data is extremely important to your business, so be sure your clients’ information is protected and they know you’ve got it covered. Provide guidance to help them keep their financial and personal information secure. 

Sustainability is something we hear a lot about, but it’s helpful to hear the way the United Nations described it 30 years ago: “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

On average, Getty found consumers are willing to pay 10-15% more if the company selling a product or service does the following*…
• Use sustainable practices
• Are aligned with their values
• Have transparent business practices
• Care about the well-being, safety, and security of customers

Sustainability proves to be important to almost all demographics universally, but its visual representation is no longer just windmills and solar panels. The resale market is growing, as evidenced by the growth in companies like Thred Up, and consumers are getting behind sustainable items such as reusable water bottles and straws. 

What this means for financial services: Help your clients invest according to their principles and be able to educate them on impact investing options.

Being our authentic selves at all times, accepting the differences among us, and having empathy for others is what Getty means by Realness. Consumers are concerned about how companies are representing themselves in categories of inclusivity, transparency and authenticity. The way to describe this from a visual standpoint is “diversity” or “unretouched” or “not Photoshopped.” 
80% said they want companies to show people with different body shapes and types
76% of Gen Z and Millennials want to buy products and services from brands that showcase diversity compared to 61% of Gen X and Baby Boomers  

In part, people who feel strongly about Realness are more likely to look for brands that:
• Exemplify honesty and transparency
• Celebrate and practice diversity
• Aren’t faking being real

What this means for financial services: Understand your brand personality and promise and be true to it. Be honest and transparent and communicate regularly with your clients so they get to know the “unretouched” you.

Read full report here

 *Source: Getty Images Visual Report

Don’t Forget Your Most Important Audience

Organizations often strive for a high touch model, focusing on constant communication and contact with their target market along the customer experience journey. In doing so, however, the most important audience, internal staff, is often overlooked. If employees, the standard bearers for your firm, feel uninvolved and uninvested in the future of the firm, this impacts the end customer experience negatively. Fortunately, three simple tactics can help to ensure everyone is on the same page:

Communicate– Let your employees know what’s going on in the company. As much as possible, communicate major developments or future plans so that everyone feels like they are in the loop and know what’s ahead. This is particularly critical in the current environment. An article published by Human Resource Executive early in the pandemic noted that almost 70% of employees surveyed by mental health provider Ginger responded that COVID-19 was the most stressful time of their entire professional career, leading to increases in new prescriptions, as well as lost productivity.

Involve– While not everyone can be a decision-maker, choosing representatives from all levels of the company to be involved in key initiatives can help everyone feel like they have a voice. Considering a major change in technology? Make sure the evaluation and implementation workstream includes both the end users of technology as well as the big picture strategy people. Getting ready to move offices? Include representatives that will be sitting in cubicles as well as those in an office. Each brings an important perspective and helps to build buy-in and consensus.

Recognize-This is a time when many employees have been going above and beyond in all aspects of their lives, both personally and professionally. Celebrate career milestones firmwide, such as work anniversaries, promotions, and awards, and congratulate individuals on personal accomplishments (with their ok of course), such as a marriage, birth of a child, winning a contest or completing a challenging athletic or other endeavor. This demonstrates your sense of community and that you care about each other beyond work relationships.

Taking the time to engage this key market “segment” will help to energize your sales and marketing efforts to your clients, prospects, and COIs.

Bring in the Professionals

It’s beginning to sound like a broken record: M&A activity in the RIA market is booming with no signs of slowing. According to the Q1 2021 edition of Echelon’s RIA M&A Deal ReportTM, RIA deal activity reached (yet again) an all-time high. According to Echelon’s data, 76 M&A transactions were recorded in the quarter, besting the previous record of 69 deals in Q4 2020, which itself topped a record 55 deals in Q3 2020.

While the continued frothiness of this market may not come as a surprise to many, it is interesting to note who is responsible for the lion’s share of these transactions. The handful of buyers who dominated deal flow in Q1 share a common characteristic: they are largely professional buyers (platforms, consolidators, or aggregators) whose business models require continued M&A activity to drive their growth and expansion.

Overall, strategic buyers continue to proliferate and gain momentum, as strategic acquirers account for 46% of the deals announced in Q1 2021, compared to only 32% in 2020. Conversely, RIA-to-RIA transactions continue their comparative downhill slide as pure-play RIAs represent only 22% of the quarter’s transactions, down from 40% of all transactions in 2020.

Furthermore, professional buyers continue to acquire larger and seemingly more mature firms, while traditional RIAs are buying primarily smaller firms. RIA acquirer deal size averaged only $450 million AUM, while professional buyer deal size came in at $2.2 billion AUM in the quarter.

Clearly, the era of the professional buyer is upon us, with a multitude of firms including Mercer Advisors, Beacon Pointe and Focus Financial each executing at least four transactions in the first quarter. While we don’t expect RIA-to-RIA M&A activity to disappear any time soon, it’s clear that the competition to acquire larger, more mature firms is primarily among the professional acquirers. We expect RIAs looking to make a play on the larger end of the RIA spectrum to face stiff competition from a burgeoning group of professional firms with deep pockets and substantial resources devoted to sourcing and executing deals of significant size.

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.