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Clara Shih: Democratizing Financial Advice— The 2016 IA 25

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A pioneer in the social media industry, Clara Shih developed the first social business application on Facebook as a side project in 2007, which led to the birth of Hearsay Social two years later.

Very quickly, Shih and the team at Hearsay realized there was a strong fit between the wealth management industry and the life events that are typically shared on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Shih admits she never saw herself working within the financial services industry.

“Frankly, Wall Street firms found us,” Shih said. “They said, ‘These life events that you find — the fact that someone has just gotten married or had a baby or changed jobs or is thinking of retirement — those are exactly the trigger points around which we want to talk to clients.’”

Hearsay works with 130,000 advisors in 22 countries today.

Shih found herself in a large and underserved market when it came to social media, and digital tools in general.

“Because of regulatory compliance, advisors can’t use all of these digital marketing tools that are available. That’s why you end up with […] advisors who have either no website, or they have websites that are worse than the nail salon or the grocery store down the street.”

Hearsay Social no longer focuses just on social media, finding advisors’ needs were larger.

“We realized that advisors have to connect and engage with their clients on every digital channel,” Shih said.

Last year, Hearsay launched the Omnichannel, a marketing and sales platform for advisors that covers social media, advisor websites, advisor email marketing and compliant text messaging.

“Through this process, we were just shocked that social media was almost the least of [advisors’] problems,” Shih said. “Not only were they blocked from accessing Facebook and LinkedIn, but they didn’t have a website! Or, they had terrible websites that were built in the early ’90s. And, they were told by their firms that they’re not allowed to text, even though all of their millennial clients are texting them and they want to text them back.”

Hearsay worked to create a simple platform that allows advisors to manage everything from a single place.

“It drives all of us every day at Hearsay to work toward helping modernize this industry,” Shih said.

With Hearsay, advisors are “basically able to work smarter so that they can provide that really bespoke, personalized level of service to a greater number of clients,” Shih said.

While the ultra-affluent has always had huge financial advisor teams looking after them, most people don’t have that, Shih said.

“So when [the ultra-affluent] had a life event or when they had some big change, those people knew because they had an entire family office,” Shih said.

That’s why Shih is so excited about Hearsay’s Omnichannel platform because it provides all these insights that advisors can use to give that same level of service to the everyday client.

“Just like Uber democratized who had access to private car service, we want Hearsay to democratize – or help advisors democratize – who has access to a financial advisor and who has access to personalized advice,” Shih said.

Looking at her own experiences, Shih said she wouldn’t have a company if a bank didn’t lend them money and give them “some stability.” She wouldn’t be able to fall asleep at night without knowing there’s life insurance to protect her son if “anything drastic” were to happen to her.

“As I’ve worked with [the industry] more, I’ve realized, oh my gosh, financial services touches the lives of 100% of the people. It’s so important for everything that we do,” Shih said.

Where does Shih see social media in the next five to 10 years?

Social media is going to become even more common, according to Shih. Her new book, “The Social Business Imperative,” also touches on this idea. 

Social media started off as customer service, and then it was marketing, and now it has become a transaction platform, Shih explained.

“It’s overtaking more and more of our clients’ journey, and as such, businesses have to pay more attention than ever,” Shih said. 

— See the full 2016 IA 25 in the May issue of Investment Advisor, and find ongoing coverage of the honorees, including extended profiles, all month on the IA 25 homepage.


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