Digital client prospecting and marketing are here to stay, spurred by the pandemic but reinforced by the promise of scalability
Online marketing isn’t anything new, but the COVID-19 pandemic significantly accelerated the adoption of digital client prospecting tools and technologies.
Over the last 20 months, financial advisors and their clients have become much more comfortable with – and in many cases, embrace – remote work. At the same time, the demand for financial advice has surged amid volatile markets and record low interest rates.
SmartAsset, a platform that connects advisors with consumers, found that user search frequency for the term “financial advisor” increased 17% compared to 2019’s average on Google Trends. SmartAsset also found a 27% uptick in investors’ willingness to work remotely between Jan and April last year, with more than half willing to work remotely with an advisor.
“With a significant number of investors gathering information online before making an investment decision, advisors must be equipped to meet prospective clients online in order to grow their businesses. Advisors who opened their practices to virtual clients and established a strong digital marketing and lead generation strategy – especially at the onset of the pandemic – should be well positioned to expand their client base and increase AUM for their practice,” said Dave Frisone, SmartAsset’s Chief Revenue Officer.
Dress to impress with digital branding
With digital presence becoming more critical, online prospecting tools are coming into the spotlight, with financial advisors’ websites, their presence on social networks, e-newsletters and virtual workshops more important than ever.
“That digital brand is really now the equivalent of what your office space used to be. It is the visual perception of your business and who you are,” said Susan Theder, Chief Marketing & Experience Officer at FMG Suite, a financial advisor marketing platform.
Referrals may still be the bread and butter for advisors, but advisors also need to have a strong online presence these days. “If somebody recommends a restaurant or a hotel or an advisor, nine out of 10 of us are going online and Googling them. If you don’t have a great website that makes a great first impression that has content that draws them in, or you don’t have any social presence, they’re going to probably not call you,” Theder said.
More advisors are feeling pressure to put more into their online marketing. “They’re realizing the difference it can have on their success and revenue growth and AUM growth,” she said, noting that more advisors are interested in learning how to drive online engagement, SEO best practices and more.
Digital marketing and prospecting drives more scalable growth
One big difference between in-person and online marketing is the reach. Traditional word-of-mouth referrals are limited by the size of each individual’s personal network. But a robust online presence, coupled with online referrals, can grow a network exponentially.
“Financial advisors who take advantage of this and leverage the testimonials in their marketing collateral on their website will experience a huge inflection point. It will be a boon to their business,” said Theder.
A new marketing rule that took effect in May allows advisors use client testimonials and rankings on third-party review sites under the Investment Advisor Act. Advisors are still treading carefully, but Theder sees this change having a big impact. FMG is piloting a platform that will aggregate reviews, allowing an advisor to manage all the reviews they’re getting whether from Google or Yelp or another social network.
Meanwhile, online marketing platforms are seeing a surge in demand. Financial advisors are increasingly turning to fintech firms that align qualified prospective clients with advisors who join their platforms.
SmartAsset’s SmartAdvisor platform has seen significant growth in the number of advisors and advisory firms on the platform. The company said it’s on track to refer $20 billion in new, closed AUM to advisors in 2021, up from $10 billion in new AUM in 2020 and $5.2 billion in 2019.
Among those to sign up is Concourse Financial Group Securities, part of Concourse Financial Group, a wealth management and insurance firm based in Birmingham, Alabama, supporting financial professionals across the country. According to the company’s most recent Form ADV filing with the SEC, Concourse Financial Group has nearly $4.4 billion in fee-based advisory assets.
Cristi Meyers, Head of Practice Management at Concourse, said the firm was first introduced to SmartAsset by their financial advisors.
“The pandemic has definitely caused a lot of advisors to take a deeper look at these opportunities,” Meyers said. “A tool such as SmartAsset, which lets representatives create a profile and set parameters of the type of client they’re looking for by asset range, geographic location, and more, is appealing to many financial advisors,” she said.
From regional to national client prospecting
The ability to work remotely is causing ripples through the advisory industry. “Clients are more open to working with an advisor, regardless of the advisor location. They don’t have to be within 10 miles,” said Meyers. Advisors are starting to embrace that, and digital tools are a crucial part of making that shift possible.
Advisors can split their time between locations, or be a snowbird earlier. One way to do this is to acquire a practice in another geographic area. Another way is to grow through digital lead sources without having to go through physically to do seminars, she said.
Another tech-enabled marketing firm that has been experiencing significant growth is White Glove, a marketing services company that helps financial advisors grow their businesses through seminars, webinars, social impression management, and digital media.
White Glove was launched by cousins Dean Thurman and Mike Thurman over three years ago, growing rapidly to over 130 employees serving over 1,000 professionals in the US and Canada.
“If you want to continue doing what you do, you need to be online,” said Kaijsa Kurstin, executive vice president of marketing at White Glove.
“The advisors who harnessed the online versions of webinars and are utilizing email and social media in conjunction with that, they’re having tremendous success. Those are the folks that are now back to doing in-person mixed with online,” she said.
Ellen Sheng, Contributing Editor, can be reached via ContributingEd@wealthsolutionsreport.com