I participated in an overseas study tour by a group of Australian financial planning business owners this week by contributing to a session on how we use social media and technology in our firm. They were a really interesting group of people who had also spent time at business school INSEAD while over this way, so were definitely engaged with developing their skills and knowledge for the benefit of their employees and clients.
I covered our participation in social media and why we podcast and produce videos among other digital activity. I was able to demonstrate the direct financial contribution much of this had brought and ran through the positive client feedback we had received in relation to it.
I think my presentation went fairly well, with lots of input and questions from the audience. But I worked out fairly quickly there was common theme to the questions. While most of the room seemed to agree that technology could contribute to an improved client service proposition, there was a lot of talk around what it all ends up costing. There was a real fear that all of this activity was more of a cost than a benefit. Most said they had tried it but had not seen results quickly enough.
There were a few private comments made to me in discussions over coffee around social media, in particular. It was compared to trying to build a network of professional connections who often do not seem to get what financial planners do for clients. The concern was that, having attempted this form of networking, it did not really work for them.
I admitted I had also started out as a real cynic when it came to social media. But after much challenge and cajoling I am glad I persevered. It has impacted so positively on what I do, helping me communicate with clients, colleagues, journalists and peers. Indeed, in my experience, these things take time. There are always costs and massive and consistent efforts involved at the beginning of any new initiative.
Investment in new technology is a good way to differentiate one’s practice and reputation from the competition. Technology is going to continue evolving at lightning speed and virtually all clients will come to expect their advisers to keep pace at least to some degree.
That said, for all my eventual and hard won digital enthusiasm, their concerns over costs did touch upon the Scot in me. Costs always have to be considered and while it can be difficult, particularly in the early days, to quantify a return on investment, care needs to be taken not just to do something because everyone else seems to be.
Even time spent comes at a cost to a business, so a careful digital marketing strategy with aims and objectives clearly defined is vital. Work out where technology can be used to improve client outcomes and administrative standards, how much this should enhance overall client offering and how much it could then save the businesses on an annual basis.
My technology spend is an investment in my business rather than a cost to it. But it was right that the Australians challenged this viewpoint.
Lee Robertson is chief executive at Investment Quorum