From the August 2010 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Broker/Dealer Marketing: Finding Their Voice

Broker/dealers know that for reps, smart marketing is crucial to success

Now that the markets and economy are showing signs of recovery, albeit haphazardly, independent broker/dealers are offering various new tools to help their representatives start using those marketing muscles that likely atrophied during the market downturn, helping them communicate better and more clearly to clients and prospects.

"Many advisors went into the downturn of the last two years not really exercising their marketing muscles," says Kirk Hulett, senior VP of strategy and practice management at the independent B/D Securities America, based in Omaha.

Before the market meltdown of 2008 into March 2009, advisor "referrals were coming in at a good pace and assets under management kept rising." But to get back to the asset levels they had prior to the crash, Hulett counsels, advisors "need to get back out and market."

Securities America, Commonwealth Financial Network, American Portfolios, and Capital Analysts are just some of the broker/dealer firms that are helping advisors re-energize their marketing programs.

B/D Marketing Case Study #1: Securities America

In the first quarter, Securities America launched a marketing campaign called New Conversations, which offers the B/D's 1,900 reps a series of business growth tools to enhance their relationships with current clients and build a strong foundation with new ones. The three-pronged marketing program includes help with such topics as Client Re-Discovery, "NextPhase" Retirement Income, and Attracting Dollars in Transition.

For client re-discovery, advisors are offered "training and tools to help advisors sit down and have an in-depth re-discovery conversation with their current client base," Hulett says. "Advisors can have a holistic conversation with their client that doesn't just deal with financial issues, but also delves into other aspects of [the client's] life. It's more about getting to know that client at a much deeper level." Having more in-depth conversations, he adds, "deepens clients' trust that has been eroded over the last two years, and it also [helps advisors] discover new planning opportunities and money in transition."

After the re-discovery conversation, the advisor can provide the client with a summary of the conversation in graphic form, Hulett says, and then get feedback from clients about areas that weren't covered. Advisors using the marketing program's techniques, he says, have actually revealed that "clients are bringing back additional information the advisor didn't ask about" during the conversation, like additional assets they have. Advisors can then present clients with a set of recommendations once the re-discovery conversation process is complete.

B/D Marketing Case Study #2: Commonwealth Financial

Joni Youngwirth, managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network in Waltham, Massachusetts, says that Commonwealth's Four-Corner Marketing program, launched just about a year ago, has helped the broker/dealer "orchestrate our marketing into one vehicle and helped us to market the marketing" program to advisors. "Some of the things [in the Four-Corner's offering] we've had for many years, but this [program] streamlined those and put them into one place."

Commonwealth's Four Corners program includes help with improving client communications, brand building, prospect marketing, and forming strategic alliances.

The program provides advisors with ...

... access to dozens of compliance-approved letters, seminars, invitations, worksheets, and market updates to help advisors create or maintain communication with current clients. Advisors can also get a customized Web site designed for them via Commonwealth's EasySite program. Also offered in Four Corners are customized advertisements, marketing brochures, newsletters, and articles of interest, as well as guidance on maximizing client referrals.

Four Corners also provides those advisors who are looking to nurture relationships with outside professionals--such as CPAs and attorneys--with access to a multitude of resources to build and support their professional network.

John Weibler, founder of Weibler Financial & Retirement in Lewiston, Idaho, says that Commonwealth's Four Corners program is "a more consolidated" marketing program than the B/D offered previously. Weibler's son joined the practice last year, and it was then that the two decided to create a "more consistent" marketing message. Four Corners "gives us the opportunity to build a lot of structure without starting from scratch," he says, and because multiple marketing tools are available in one place, "it's a matter of choosing the portions [of the program] that we want to use."

While marketing has historically been a challenge for advisors, Youngwirth says that she believes advisors are becoming "a notch more sophisticated with their marketing." Advisors, she says, "get the fact that you can't just do dribs and drabs [of marketing] and make it work." To make a marketing program really work for their firm, Youngwirth says, advisors "need to have a niche and [they] need to know what the hot-button issues are" in that niche and they need to be able to communicate how they "can take care of" that niche.

Ensemble advisory firms can be most effective in their marketing, Youngwirth adds, if the advisor puts together a game plan "and then delegates it to staff." If the advisor delegates the marketing plan to staff, she says, "It gets done. If they try to do it themselves, it's hit or miss."

B/D Marketing Case Study #3: American Portfolios

Joby Gruber, the former head of FSC Securities who started his new job as president of national sales and marketing for American Portfolios Financial Services on July 6, says that unlike other broker/dealers who've cut back and stopped "investing in their organizations over the last several years" American Portfolios' CEO and founder Lon Dolber has "continued to invest in his firm, primarily on the technology and operations side." During the firm's nearly 10 years in business, it has "grown rapidly," Gruber says, and because Dolber is a former advisor "everything he does is driven from an advisor's point of view."

Gruber says he's particularly enamored with an audio/visual studio called Studio 454 that's housed in American Portfolios' home office in Holbrook, New York, a marketing innovation that Gruber says he's never seen at another broker/dealer. "It's literally a film studio," Gruber enthuses, where all sorts of educational interviews can be filmed. It's also a venue where the B/D's 650 representatives who "want to market their businesses can build their professional audio visual presence." This type of "e-media," Gruber says, "is what that next generation of advisors are looking for."

One of the regular presentations that's filmed and lives on American Portfolios' Web site for advisors to view is an "advisor circle," Gruber explains. A recent roundtable included three advisors discussing a topic, and in one day it was filmed, edited, and posted for viewing on the broker/dealer's Web site, he says. "It's very timely information, and where advisors tend to learn the most is from their peers." Advisors "can go online to the company's Web site and pull up today's advisor circle video that might talk about the market, a new product, a practice management topic."

Advisors can also get ...

... the latest information from mutual fund and variable annuity wholesalers via the broker/dealer's Web site. Fund and VA companies meet with the sales and marketing staff at American Portfolios' Long Island headquarters, Gruber says, and then head to Studio 454 to "create a video about a topic like new trends in variable annuities, or something specific about a certain product. So all of this information is on the Web site, and you can see the wholesaler at your leisure as opposed to the wholesaler knocking on the advisor's door."

In his new position, Gruber says his goal is to help American Portfolios, which is closing in on $100 million in annual gross revenue, leverage its current marketing strengths and to work with what he calls the B/D's "focus partners"--the mutual fund, variable annuity, and alternative investing firms--showing them "how to focus on the advisors as business owners."

Gruber also plans to help advisors leverage "the very strong relationship they have with Pershing." Mark Tibergien, head of Pershing Advisor Solutions (PAS), Gruber says, "is an untapped resource," and Tibergien and his staff can help advisors, for example, map out a successful transition plan. "With Mark at PAS, Pershing has reasserted itself," Gruber says. "American Portfolios clears with Pershing...so [advisors] can tap into Mark and his team and the advisor is already familiar with Pershing."

B/D Marketing Case Study #4: Capital Analysts

Matthew Lynch, president and CEO of Capital Analysts, the independent broker/dealer based in Cincinnati, says that given the market disruption over the past few years and the pending regulatory changes tied to the financial services reform bill (see page 17), advisors say that "clients' expectations continue to evolve and change, and that client behavior has changed." That behavioral change is in turn "putting stress on the advisor in terms of their time."

Most of the representatives who affiliate with Capital Analysts offer wealth management services, providing more "guidance and consultative work with their clients, which is not always directly related to revenue-generating activity," Lynch points out. Thus, advisors have said they really need help "in adding the right type of clients" that meet the "advisor's expectations in terms of revenue and margins."

Read more about Matthew Lynch's advice to the SEC.

Advisors, Lynch continues, "are trying to be more specific in the types of markets they focus on simply because they have to. They have less time to spend on business development; they are spending more time on maintaining their current clients and helping clients deal with the current market challenges."

The marketing support that Capital Analysts is now providing advisors is to help them position themselves as advisors in the three tiers of wealth management--which includes investment planning, estate and tax planning, and life planning, Lynch says. By positioning themselves this way, advisors "are creating greater value in the eyes of the client that goes beyond just trying to generate investment returns that outperform the market." Because the investment piece is one of three key components of wealth management, advisors are saying: "'Help me make sure I'm positioning my services properly, pricing them properly, and have a service delivery that resonates with the high-net-worth client so that they perceive me as a wealth manager, and there is a distinction between what I do and someone who sells investments.'"

Capital Analysts' advisors--most of which are dually registered but tend to gravitate toward fees--are also "excited and cautiously optimistic about the prospect of regulatory change that would ultimately include a move toward the fiduciary standard," Lynch says. "Our advisors operate under a fiduciary standard anyway, and I think that's true of most advisors who are dually registered. Most of their clients tend to be advisory clients, and our view is that that's the nature of the relationship they have on a primary basis, and most advisors tend to believe that, however this bill comes out, there will be room for commission relationships."

While advisors do view requiring brokers to be held to a fiduciary standard as positive, "they are cautiously optimistic but also equally concerned" about how the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) goes about enforcing such a standard (see Advice to SEC sidebar).

Hewing to a fiduciary standard, and educating clients and prospects on how the standard benefits them, is just one example of how an advisor can differentiate herself from the competition in a crowded marketplace where clarity and consistency of message and brand can make a big difference in an advisor's success, or lack thereof.

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