Optima Blog

Alternative Investments Mainstream … and Gaining

Previously, we expressed our view on the growing importance of alternative mutual funds in advisor directed portfolios. Findings of the recent Morningstar and Barron’s 2012 Alternative Investment Survey of U.S. Institutions and Financial Advisors further support the position of our Optima Group consulting practice.

Nearly half of the advisors surveyed for the study expect annual growth in alternatives usage to exceed 11% for the next five years and 56% considered alternative investments at least as important — or more –than traditional investments. And, for most alternative strategies, advisors far and away select mutual funds as their vehicle of choice.

However, both Optima Group findings and the Alternative Investment Survey confirm that for alternative mutual funds to sustain growth they must continue to meet advisors’ primary needs for diversification and enhanced risk-adjusted returns. Also of importance, they must keep fees within attractive ranges relative to standalone hedge funds and alternative ETF options.

Five Steps to a Better Website

Your website is one of the most important expressions of your brand. For some companies it is practically the only thing out there giving clients and prospects a sense of who you are as a company. No matter the size of the company, here are some general things to think about. In this fast paced world where it’s possible to put a website up overnight, taking time to think about these considerations can help ensure your web presence is an effective tool for marketing your organization.

1. Make sure your website design and content are consistent with your brand.

2. Deliver content in a manner that is easy to read and skim, by:

  • Ensuring your content is helping your clients and/or prospects, there is something there that they need
  • Using color, typography and spacing
  • Breaking copy up into consumable sections using headlines, subheads, bullets, callouts, tables and relevant graphics
  • Writing concisely, cutting out extraneous content
  • Using relevant imagery to make the experience more interesting for users

3. Consider professional videos on your site to add personality and credibility.

4. Design predictable and understandable navigation, and lastly,

5. Include call-to-actions to make it clear that you are not just a website; you are real people who would welcome a call or email inquiring more about your services.

Alternative Investments Going Mainstream

In the past wealth management programs often turned to multi-strategy hedge funds of funds as an efficient and “safe” means to add exposure in the alternative space. These funds offered the ease of “one-stop shopping” access to a broad range of alternative strategies as well as the promise of potentially lower risk through diversification.

Now, the advantages of hedge funds of funds –– plus, in many cases, greater transparency, lower fees and improved liquidity –– are being offered by multi-alternative mutual funds to a wider retail audience. Since the financial crisis, multi-alternative mutual funds have grown at a CAGR of nearly 50% with annual inflows in the $4 to $5 billion range. The number of funds in this category has doubled since 2011, and industry giants such as Janus, INVESCO and Russell have entered the market. Somewhat of a catchall category, these funds range from multi-strategy, multi-manager fund of funds to single strategy, single manager. As the market grows, we expect there to be greater segmentation of this fund category.

We anticipate rapid growth of these funds to continue as acceptance grows among RIAs and financial advisors serving both HNW and mass affluent clients, and as DC plans look to add appropriate alternative options to investment menus.

Becoming the Starbucks of Financial Services


Starbucks makes great coffee, but their brand adds value to one of the most tangible commoditized things ever. So much so we are willing to pay $5.00 for a tasty Starbucks concoction, which is essentially — coffee.

We have found some financial services companies struggle with the notion of brand. Some don’t know why they need one. Some have parent brands that are the antithesis of what the sub-brand is trying to do (i.e., a wealth management division of a retail bank).

In the retail consumer products world, brand is everything. Our experience indicates that for financial services companies, brand is also important in order to stand out in a crowded marketplace. Picture your company on a shelf in a grocery store sitting next to hundreds of competitors.

A successful brand is made up of:
• An overall promise to the customer of what their experience will be
• Graphic identifiers (logo, colors, typography)
• Integration of your look and feel in marketing communications, print and web

How your brand should work for you:
• Creates a perceived value that is in line with your promise
• Helps customers associate you with specific attributes
• Creates awareness about your services
• Legitimizes your company and services

A brand will NOT work for you if you don’t use it consistently. Your brand also has to be the “right fit”, truly representing your company.

When One Brand is not Enough

Increasingly, leading commercial banks are adopting multiple sub-brands in marketing to affluent consumer segments. It’s now relatively common to see distinct brands targeting the UHNW, HNW and mass affluent markets.

To us, this movement towards separate brands is an appropriate and positive evolution of bank wealth management services for several reasons:

• Affluent segment delivery models naturally break into markets by AUM. Distinct branding clarifies the different models and helps align prospective clients with the one most appropriate for them.

• An effective affluent offering includes a holistic and integrated set of products and services, typically with features, benefits and advantages tailored to a specific market’s needs and preferences. Brands reinforce the unity of the product set and the promise of the special privileges reserved for that brand segment’s clients.

• The key attributes of an affluent brand are expressed through a sense of exclusivity and reward based on the significance of the relationship. Distinct branding defines the boundaries of that exclusivity and recognizes clients for the value of their relationship with the institution.

We expect the movement towards separate branding to continue particularly as banks accelerate development of more clearly defined and targeted offerings targeted to separate affluent segments.

It’s All About the Relationship

Wealth management is a relationship business. Banking is a relationship business. For banks in wealth management the primary challenge is to leverage banking relationships to build wealth management relationships. This means cross-selling.

In our experience effective cross-selling requires at least the following:
• Senior management buy in to break down silo-related impediments

• A wealth offering that is understood and respected by commercial and retail bankers

• Well designed incentive packages that use both carrot and stick to drive referrals

• Team delivery and service approaches that structurally supplant product with relationship marketing including vertical marketing programs

• Broad-based CRM systems that support senior management command and control functionality to track cross-sell activity and enforce quotas

Banks that are taking these steps are reaping the rewards of higher relative growth in wealth management plus broader and deeper relationships overall with high value clients.

Oh to be Social


At Optima Group, we think about marketing a lot. We think about strategy, we think about tactics, we think about creative. And given its exponential growth, what kind of marketers would we be if we didn’t think about social media??

Facebook’s growth represents the burgeoning of social media — the site had 1 million users in 2004, 12 million in 2006, and more than 900 million users as of its IPO. Because so many people are integrating social media into their daily lives, we feel that content marketing and customer service experiences delivered via social media can be integral components to a marketing plan. However, social media marketing requires a thoughtful strategy.

Many of the financial organizations that did not embrace social media initially are jumping on the bandwagon. Witness the Goldman Sachs posting on its website on May 1st that it plans to hire a “social media community manager.” The position involves overseeing the firm’s online communities and developing a “positive online presence.” Many other likeminded companies are developing their social strategies and trying to figuring out how to fit social media into their marketing plans.

We conducted an informal survey of the Facebook and Twitter presence of several leading financial services firms, and what we found is a mixed bag. Some have only a “Wiki” definition on Facebook , while others have lively timelines full of trivia and customer conversations. The firms that appear the most comfortable in the social media space are able to use the medium to deepen customer relationships.

While social media is continuing to evolve, we expect that its importance as a marketing tool will continue to grow and that it will be utilized in ever more creative ways. The key for financial services firms is to understand what it is and how to use it. Social media is a great way to talk to people who are interested in your firm. But different types of companies will use it differently, depending on whether they are marketing business to business or business to consumer. Additionally, even within those categories, buyer behavior varies widely. When thinking about what your firm’s social media strategy should be, it’s important to begin by taking a moment and thinking carefully about what you are trying to accomplish, and the target audience you are trying to reach.

So before you tweet, post or put something on the pinboard, remember, it’s a big, quickly-evolving (online) world out there, and your strategy and tactics must be nimble and flexible enough to keep up.

Rhona Heyl

Which Blue are You?


Throughout the years Optima Group has developed identities and brands for many financial services companies, including private banks, institutional asset managers, wealth managers, insurance and mutual fund companies. Twenty years ago, and amazingly, as recently as Monday, we have heard clients new and old say, “We can’t use red, everyone knows you can’t use red in financial services.”

Well, we are happy to announce that the tide has turned, and yes, you can use red, orange, yellow and any other color for that matter. The perception of blue as the only acceptable financial services color has become a fallacy. And just in time, as the world is starting to run out of blues (not to mention greys).

We believe in creating an identity, combined with a brand color palette, that speaks to who our client is, what will help them stand out in the marketplace and will allow for the greatest consistency in their marketing materials, while also allowing for the greatest creativity.

Don’t believe us yet? Here are some financial services firms who have dared to go beyond blue. You may recognize some of them.


The above identities were not designed by Optima Group.

Still not convinced? Then check out what the largest blue company of all time is doing; big blue itself—IBM, is no longer just blue.


Tracy Hubbard

You Say It’s Your Birthday


My birthday is coming up shortly, and I am already starting to feel the love. No, not from my family and friends, but from people that I, for the most part, don’t even know (and probably never will, at least not personally). By now, you are probably thinking I am a pretty sad case if the only birthday greetings I am getting are from strangers. Well, fear not, I fully expect to get some birthday wishes from those I do know (hint, hint to my family).

So where is all the birthday cheer coming from, you may ask? It’s simple – from a number of the places with whom I transact frequent business. Although I am guessing you will be able to figure some of these out, here is an anonymous sampling of the types of companies that have acknowledged my birthday, as well as some of the “gifts” I have received from them:

• Coffee shop (major chain) – free coffee drink of my choosing

• Drugstore (major chain) – “gift” that varies by year

• Healthcare provider(s) – birthday card (thankfully, no gift!)

• Department store loyalty programs – discount coupon, special points days

• Local retailers I shop at frequently – gift card good toward a purchase over a certain amount, coupons for discount on a single purchase

• Religious organization – invitation to attend services on a date near my birthday when birthdays for the month will be publicly acknowledged

All in all, a pretty wide range of “givers”. But all of them have used an opportunity to proactively and positively reach out to me, making my relationship with them a more personal one. As a marketer that preaches the importance of customer relationship management and helps put programs like this together for my clients, one part of me knows that this is a largely automated process requiring little manual effort. But as an individual, the other part of me thinks, wow, they really care about me!

The moral of the story – if even a seasoned marketing veteran can be impressed and positively affected by such efforts, think what an impact you can have on your clients with similar initiatives. A small investment of time and money can reap potentially big returns in terms of client satisfaction.

P.S. If any jewelry stores feel inclined to send a birthday greeting/gift, just let me know!

Ellen McKay

Can You Beat My Son at This Game?


When my phone contract expired last month, I decided to hop aboard the Apple band wagon and get an iphone. Within minutes, my ten-year-old was downloading ‘must have’ apps, including “LogosQuiz” by AticoD.

I just checked my phone and he is on level 1, with a score of 1487, and has guessed 15/34 logos correctly. Not surprisingly, he has correctly identified McDonalds, Starbucks, Pringles (which I thought was Mr. Monopoly), Nike, Twitter, and Kellogg’s from the partial logo they show on the game; he’ll never guess Calvin Klein or Louis Vuitton without his sister’s help.
What this game shows is that from a very young age, we are conditioned to recognize a company by its logo mark. Is there a three-year-old (that is allowed to watch TV) who doesn’t recognize the golden arches?

This got me thinking…enormous marketing budgets aside, is there a common denominator that helps make for a good logo?

A logo is one element of a branding strategy. When a company’s logo strongly represents its history, its goals or its values, it is much easier to connect with and remember. Think of the Twitter bird. Does it not immediately say “tweet”?

Some of the strongest logos were created to graphically represent a story. Here are some of the logo stories I uncovered — some from the game, some not. Did you know that…

  • McDonald’s® golden arches were originally an architectural detail that was part of the restaurant’s design. In 1962, the arches were used to create the logo in the shape of an “M” with the red roof serving as the background.
  • Starbuck’s siren represents the seafaring history of coffee. And, according to its website, also ties to Seattle’s strong seaport roots.
  • Mr. Monopoly, the current name of the MONOPOLY® man, started off as rich Uncle Pennybags. The character originated in the 1930s; in 2012, he was ranked as the 10th richest fictional character in the Forbes Fictional 15. Mr. Pringles didn’t make the list.
  • The Nike “swoosh,” which cost $35 to design in 1971, represents the spirit of Nike, the winged, Greek Goddess of Victory; apparently, one of Nike’s strengths was that she was a very fast runner!
  • MasterCard’s overlapping circles, first introduced in 1969, symbolized the interbank trade of liabilities and debts. The logo mark has evolved over the years, but still retains the circles.

Although your company may not have the billions McDonald’s spends on advertising, you can still create a strong logo, by making it meaningful, representative and appealing. But keep in mind that it takes time, reinforcement and consistent usage, to make a logo memorable. I don’t know what it takes to make it into the LogosQuiz game.

Image Source: www.gamerevolution.com. Screenshot of Logos Quiz by AticoD