My Twitter stream is currently crammed full of, well, cramming.
What I mean is that many of the messages that pop up on my computer screen and iPhone seem, periodically, to be from financial advisers preparing for various exams. Well, that and the wit and wisdom of Joey Barton.
Take this tweet, for example, from Leeds-based Yvonne Goodwin only three days before Christmas: “On route to Manchester to do a 3 hour tax exam 🙁 ”. I understand she passed with flying colours.
Many of you probably know how Yvonne felt. The looming retail distribution review, as we all know, will require advisers to obtain a certain level of professional qualifications.
I wonder, though, if as much thought is going into something I believe is about to become stratospherically important (and something Yvonne also excels at): communication.
Financial services, more than any other, is an information industry. And an intermediary, possibly more than any other player in this game, has to be expert at receiving, processing and passing on that information.
At the same time, he or she needs to be expert at being visible to potential clients – and not the kind who talk too much, take too long and invest too little.
Of course, these have been the facts of life in the advisory industry for a long time.
But the RDR introduces three specific challenges that can become opportunities for the communications-focused adviser. And I believe the businesses that embrace online communications (producing blog posts, images and videos and engaging on social networks) will be the winners.
First, the balance of power between providers, advisers and consumers is about to change, casting advisers in a far more starring role. The transparent application of fees, as opposed to commission, will mean advisers are no longer ‘tied to the apron strings’ of providers, to coin a phrase. And this means they can increasingly expect providers to come to them.
So it will be more important than ever for advisers to be known and respected by providers – to have a profile. As it happens, product and service providers are flooding onto Twitter like migrating wildebeest at the moment and a brilliant way to stay in touch with their offerings and news is to network with them using that channel.
A second challenge will be to communicate the RDR changes to existing and potential clients. If the chief purpose is to increase consumer trust in financial services, then advisers must wear that badge of professionalism and trust with pride. They will be on the front line in the battle to build that post-RDR brand. These days, the first stop for consumers in the quest for financial products is Google. This presents a huge opportunity for advisers to demonstrate their professional and expertise. By producing digital content, from blog posts to videos, podcasts to online forum contributions – and turning up in search results – advisers could be building that post-RDR brand and winning the trust of the right kind of investors.
Finally, the important communication that often gets overlooked is peer-to-peer. When the winds of change are blowing, it can be invaluable to learn from the successes and mistakes of fellow advisers. There are two prominent IFA social networks: ifalife.com and Cherry. But many are staying in touch on the main social networks – Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Advisers are there to keep up with what is going on in the industry, to support each other and seek advice and opinions on a whole range of business issues, from I.T. and recruitment to conferences and provider offerings. Of course, they’re also there simply to make friends with like-minded professionals.
No-one is suggesting these channels will replace face-to-face communications, emails, letter-writing and traditional media; on the contrary, they complement them. But they will become more relevant post-RDR than ever before.
And if you ever get sick of building your business, making friends and furthering your education with these technologies, you can always find out a bit more what makes Joey Barton tick.
Michael Taggart is head of social and digital at financial services agency MRM