Since 2008, the financial services industry has taken a beating-not just in assets under management and performance, but in reputation, as well. Market volatility, bailouts, scandals and other foibles, have left investors with a feeling of distrust. While lawmakers, bankers, regulators and many others are often blamed for the market crisis, financial advisors also face the ire of clients still coming to grips with its aftermath.
With signs of recovery evident, the big brokerage firms are working extra hard and employing every avenue available. Whether it's print and television advertising, direct mailings, training sessions or webcasts-the firms are doing a great deal in support of their clients and advisors. Here are some of their strategies:
Michael White, the marketing director of Raymond James, admits that investor confidence has been down in the last few years. "Financial firms obviously took a hit and it was disproportional to the larger firms," he says. "But Raymond James weathered the storm better than others."
While White says that the St. Petersburg, Fla-.based firm's relationship with its investors helped it to maneuver successfully through the turbulent financial climate, the firm's ramped-up marketing efforts on behalf of the advisors also aided in that regard.
"We went through a process of talking to our clients and advisors, and it was surprising how much our clients valued the rigor of our advisor's processes."
This thinking influenced Raymond James' "Life Well Planned" campaign. One television ad took a humorous approach to tackling the longevity risk, which many investors are concerned about.
"We tried to produce weekly emails or streaming videos, so the advisors could say, 'I know you are still nervous, but here is our take on what is going on.' The ones that did well were the ones that did a good job communicating," says White.
Along with advertising, emails and videos, Raymond James offered their advisors an in-house ad agency that allowed them to develop sub-brands.
"One advisor in a big city might need to reflect the sophistication of the market he is working with, while another advisor, in a small town might have a client that wasn't an investor until he had a $750,000 rollover," White says.
At Raymond James, the advisors have the choice to use a virtual shelf with hundreds of approved materials, or they can sit with an account manager and get a customized marketing solution.
Although there is a cost to advisors, White says it is one-third of the cost of what they would pay on the street. "We do not want to make money off this," White says.
Renee Brown, senior vice president and director of wealth, brokerage and retirement marketing at Wells Fargo, says that while the firm has stuck to its core values in good times and bad, having a plan is crucial.
"We are really focusing our advisors on helping consumers plan to be ready for whatever comes next," Brown says.
In supporting its advisors, she notes that the firm has created messages that not only tout a complete financial strategy for clients, but the firm also hypes its advisors as being fully invested in knowing and building long-term, meaningful relationships around advice and planning.
"We saw that folks that had a plan fared better than those that didn't," Brown says. "Every conversation with a client is a component of the their overall plan. We saw that our best advisors were in touch with their clients very frequently."
Brown says that while there is no exact science to branding, it is important to use the customers' language. The firm's print ad campaign with the tagline, "With You When You Need a Financial Advisor Fully Invested in You," shows how Wells Fargo's advisors can help with holistic planning.
Along with the advertising support, Wells Fargo advisors can also customize ads, brochures and seminars.
Morgan Stanley Smith Barney
Rebuilding trust is essential for Craig Pfeiffer, head of marketing and the client experience for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney.
"We always have a responsibility to help and care for our clients and always build trust," he says. The firm is currently focusing its marketing dollars on developing various client events and implementing advisor training. MSSB has employed the services of The Martin Agency-known for its Geico campaign-for future advertising efforts.
Along with events, resources and tools, Pfeiffer noted that the company is producing a new capabilities brochure and other customized collateral.
Even though Edward Jones managed to steer clear of the headlines during the market crisis, Jim Weddle, managing director, says that the firm paid close attention to the tone of its advertising-even going as far as pulling a humorous ad, opting for a campaign with a more serious message. "The humorous ad was replaced with one of a client and an advisor sitting down talking," says Weddle. A print ad shows the value of having an advisor helping to protect retirement assets.
Edward Jones' approach is to confront fear with facts. "We provided analysis of what is going on, even if there were very few answers at the time," Weddle says.
"We did a lot of research," he adds. "Clients want an individualized approach. They don't want a cookie cutter offering. We learned an important lesson from the dotcom selloff: increase proactive contact. Statement stuffers don't count. Advertising doesn't count."
Along with this support for advisors, Edward Jones is developing a desktop tool that would show all the pieces of a client relationship. "In the old days [an advisor] would have to go to a half dozen places [to retrieve information]. Now all the information is pulled together and it even points out opportunities," Weddle says.
"We start with the clients and the clients' needs, what they say they need, and what they might not know they need," says Claire Huang, head of marketing for the Bank of America Global Wealth & Investment Management division, which includes Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.
A large part of the firm's efforts to support advisors is making sure that clients are better informed. "One thing that we are hearing is that people want more control," Huang says. "They want more information so they can ask their financial advisor better questions and validate some of the things they are hearing in the market," she says.
To that end, Merrill Lynch has launched a series of client webcasts-hosted by former ABC News Anchor, Charlie Gibson-on hot topics including health care. "It helps them know what they are talking about when they are working with their advisor," Huang says.
The worst appears to be over at UBS. The tumultuous ride of management changes and advisor defections now seems to be a thing of the past, and the firm is moving forward with its "brand reinventing" initiative.
"To be straight with people, we had to disclose issues and tell the truth," UBS spokeswoman, Karina Byrne, says. "We learned that we needed to rebuild trust with people that we had let down, reaffirming client relationships and even advisor relationships."
That message is now being delivered. Byrne says it's no longer about scale, and adds that the firm's advisor sales force would now hover between 6,500 to 7,000. That's well down from the highs in its heyday. But Byrne notes that the organization will focus "on the top 15 markets, while partnering with the top intellectual capital." It's all in an effort to maintain "a boutique feel with the backing of a larger global firm," she says. The firm has jump started its marketing efforts with its "We Will Not Rest" ad campaign.
While these efforts to shore up confidence among clients continues to be a work in progress, there is proof that if the big firms stick with the basics of frequent communications, combined with the marketing support they are currently executing, they will be on their way to regaining the trust of their clients.
Mike Byrnes founded Byrnes Consulting to provide consulting services
to help advisors become even more successful. His expertise is in
business planning, marketing strategy, business development, client service
and management effectiveness, along with several other areas.
Read more at www.byrnesconsulting.com.