Direct mailing is an activity many IFAs may shy away from. It seems to contradict the ethos of personal, face-to-face advice which is the essence of the IFA's role. In an organisation such as ours, where there is considerable direct-mail activity as well as a big fieldforce of advisers, the two may seem to be in conflict.
However, in today's competitive environment, IFAs need to consider all channels.They need to look at the synergy between different channels, which can help to enhance the response from each.
Many people simply do not want face-to-face advice but do want to buy financial products. If you are not mailing them, you can assume someone else will be. You might take the line that they are best suited to dealing with bancassurers or discount brokers but this moral high ground is not going to deliver you increased business.
In any case, good direct-mail activity should be seen as a service – different from, but just as valid as face-to-face advice. At a basic level, direct mail is simply a form of advertising. But compared with an ad, it offers a much more personal approach and gives you far more scope to set out your stall.
Your mailshot may be offering a particular product or selection of products but what is important is the value you add through your presentation. This is the service aspect and will make your mailing stand out from that of another IFA or product provider.
Aside from business you do on any products you mail, there are opportunities to stimulate enquiries through “teaser” leaflets. Someone who has only ever been interested in, say, Isas may suddenly discover a new need through a leaflet on protection – and may be driven to seek face-to-face advice.
Even those who will currently only do business directly may convert in the future. There may come a time when they decide they do need advice – perhaps because of a change in circumstances, such as retirement or redundancy. Where will they turn for help? To the friendly IFA who has been mailing them – provided you have been doing the job properly and convincing them of your expertise.
There is also value in mailing existing clients. It keeps your name alive in their minds and is an efficient way of raising topical opportunities – far more time and cost effective than telephoning each individual client and you can give more information, more clearly. You can follow up with a phone call to those who are most likely to be interested and perhaps also a random sample of others, which will enable you to build experience of what works best with which type of clients.
In trying to expand business, the IFA should be looking at the whole spectrum of contact channels – direct mail, phone, website, face to face. Nowadays, thanks to telesales operations and the internet, people are becoming used to having access to information when and how they choose. So the IFA needs to cater for individual contact needs just as you would for individual financial needs.
The channels are not mutually exclusive but interactive. Mail is an excellent way of keeping your name in front of people and both alerting them to what else you can provide and steering them towards a contact method that suits them.
You can encourage them, for example, to phone for more information or to look at your website, where you can display a fuller picture of your services and capabilities. In turn, this can persuade them to step up to a full face-to-face service. In short, direct mail, far from being a poor substitute, can be the centrepiece of a truly comprehensive service and the catalyst to an expanding business.
Liz Walkington is communications manager at RJ Temple