The way advisers market their services is evolving as the RDR and the speed of technological change affect the delivery of advice.
Software systems and online tools help advisers comply with the requirements of the RDR. As well as enabling advisers to do their jobs more efficiently, which demonstrates their value to clients, technology has also provided new ways to communicate such as social media.
But increasing reliance on technology has prompted a debate about how far it is able to replicate parts of the advice process, particularly for the mass market, where face-to-face advice is uneconomical.
Will advisers be able to communicate the value of their services and justify ongoing fees to clients if the industry increasingly relies on technology? And should advisers use new technologies to communicate their marketing message?
SEI Wealth Platform UK managing director Brett Williams says clients view technology as a helpful supplement to face-to-face communication rather than a replacement. He points out marketing practices are now more layered and multi-channelled. “Clients insist on more access, contact and availability, so firms that are marketing themselves have had to embrace the channels that cater to this, including digital media such as e-newsletters, online data-driven marketing, social media and mobile apps,” he says.
Broadstone private client partner Zane Hunter finds consumers are increasingly media-savvy, engaging with advisers’ websites and social media platforms when deciding to appoint a new adviser or retain an existing one.
“Most advisers need to update their websites from the basic format seen five or even two years ago to one which allows potential clients to easily understand what they might receive for the fees being charged and whether this represents value for money,” he says.
Chairman of advice firm True Bearing Chartered and founder of online advice firm Bread and Butter Advice George Critchley says advisers have to be creative about how they market themselves, possibly by targeting different services at different client segments.
Equilibrium Asset Management takes this approach to marketing. Partner Debbie Jukes says: “We use a mix of traditional marketing elements such as investment seminars, public relations and a company magazine and new forms like Twitter, blogs and YouTube.
“This integrated approach means we can reach our customers in a variety of ways, using a medium which suits them. We’ve found the younger market interact and ask questions via Twitter, whereas our retired clients enjoy meeting advisers face-to-face at seminars and events.”
Thesis Asset Management director of business development Lawrence Cook says: “Financial services firms tend to think of relationships they want with clients rather than the other way round.
“So if clients want to engage with us but not in person, is that really a problem? For some it is an opportunity to service clients cost-effectively and to increase the advice capacity of the firm. For others it may feel like a threat.”
Cook says an online service can be an effective way to engage clients that does, however, fall short of providing clients with the full financial advice and support many need. “Perhaps the bigger question is: if your service can easily be replicated by a website, are you offering financial planning or just a broking service?”
Foster Denovo director of sales and marketing Darren Laverty points to the speed at which technology is developing and believes it will reproduce many functions of the advice process. He adds the value of an adviser lies in a trusting relationship with the client as this human element cannot be replicated by technology.
“Advisers are moving more towards a model of financial life coaching, working with clients to help them achieve what they truly want over the long term. I would suggest the adviser is the product where they have to sell themselves to the client through building trust and rapport, then working with the client to decipher what it is they need and want,” he says.
Jim Pershing, partner at financial services software provider SunGard Consulting Services, believes social media and new forms of communication are changing the way advisers build their brand, find new clients and engage with existing clients.
Pershing says the use of networking sites, blogs and technologies such as Skype and webinars will enable advisers to use marketing techniques that are usually used in the consumer products industry and work almost as an electronic version of word of mouth. These could reach more people than the traditional method of referrals.
“These same technologies will allow the adviser to deliver value-added advisory services anywhere and anytime, increasing the level of engagement, strengthening brand loyalty and increasing the scale of the business model,” he says.