November 18, 2009

Time for a Transition (III): Niche Marketing

How one advisor expanded her existing practice by targeting a specific company and demographic group.

The theme of this series of articles is change. In my last two articles, I discussed changing affiliations (including a move to independence) and growing through a merger or acquisition .

Why am I talking about change? For some time now, many financial advisors have been hunkered down, focused almost exclusively on maintaining clients' confidence and doing whatever they could to minimize their losses.

Some advisors may have put some business and career plans on hold while focusing on keeping their teams and their clients afloat. As the pressure to do that wanes, there's time and space to devote to regaining energy around plans for positive change.

Savvy advisors are thinking about the future. While you may be quite content with the broker/dealer or custodian you currently have, and aren't looking to sell or acquire another practice or book of business, you may be ready to expand your existing practice.

One way to do that is to consider focusing on a niche market. Here is a compelling example: Sammie Gatti, an energetic woman and tenured advisor who markets to women employees at Texas Instruments.

Marketing to Women

A financial advisor with Dallas-based Navigation Financial Group, which trades through Securities America, Gatti can trace her work with more than 300 employees of Texas Instruments to one well-connected company manager. "My first 'TI-er' was in charge of a large department. She made some introductions, the women she referred to me made a number of introductions, and that was that," Gatti explains. "My practice has really grown through word of mouth."

With referrals from her clients leading to a steady stream of new women from Texas Instruments, Gatti has spent the time and energy she might have used for marketing for new business into researching the company's benefit and retirement plans.

"I got on the company website, and I worked it every which way but loose to learn everything I could about the TI retirement process - and I discovered some critical nuances," she notes. "For example, if you don't work changes in the GATT [30-year Treasury] rate to your benefit, you could end up losing thousands of dollars. You might end up with a lump sum pension payment of $280,000 on November 1, vs. $320,000 if you waited November 30."

Picking up on those nuances has enabled Gatti to add great value for the women she works with, and convert her satisfied clients into true practice-building advocates. Her practice got another boost from her work with women clients on TI's numerous "early outs."

"Working with women who were not expecting to retire quite so soon presented unique planning challenges. As I was able to help them to make major decisions in a very short timeframe, my business really took off," Gatti explains. "These women thought they would be in for the most stressful time in their life, but with me they didn't need worry about the details."

The details of the retirement plan, however, are just the beginning of what Gatti manages for her clients. "The company encourages retiring employees to complete all the forms online, but I prefer to get on a recorded line with my client and a company representative to avoid possible glitches," she says.

Gatti also ensures her clients sign up for health insurance within 30 days after retirement and attends Texas Instruments' Open Enrollment meetings to discover new offerings retired clients could benefit from.

"I was at a meeting last week and need to tell my retirees about an upcoming free osteoporosis screening," she notes. "There's nobody at the company who will walk you through the retirement process or look out for you after you retire. Sure, my clients could read all the fine print, but they don't have the time or inclination. They know I am managing the details."

With massive layoffs in Dallas, Gatti's women clients are more mindful of the need to save for emergencies and retirement - and more willing to help each other. "Women want to help each other," she says. "I have a group of women who have moved from one career to another who have offered to help other clients who have been laid off. That's heartwarming. It's all about women helping each other."

In fact, Gatti has furnished her waiting room more like a living room to encourage interaction among her client base. "My client appointments overlap, and many of my clients know each other or will discover they are connected somehow at TI, so it's fun for them to be able to be comfortable and spend time together."

Of course, as much as she enjoys her "TI women," Gatti is careful to stress that she works with men, too. "I have husbands, sons and brothers as clients. However, we joke that men have to come highly referred by one of my women clients," she adds.

Stay tuned.

Next month, I'll continue this series of advisor success stories and talk about how your peers are transitioning to new opportunities and continually reinventing themselves as consumer mindsets and trends in the marketplace change.

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Marie Swift is president and CEO of Impact Communications, Inc. Read her "Best Practices in the Financial Services" blog at www.marie-swift.blogspot.com, and follow @marieswift on www.Twitter.com.

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