Blunt message to veteran financial advisors: No way do millennials want FAs whose goal is to sell them products. They want advisors who focus on meeting their needs, as Eric Roberge, 38, a successful four-year “virtual advisor” targeting professionals in their 20s, 30s and 40s, told ThinkAdvisor in an interview.
Roberge is unquestionably representative of the new financial planner paradigm. As a virtual advisor, 85% of his client meetings are held via video — digitally, that is — using Skype or a similar service. Marketing himself as “a personal trainer for your finances,” the fee-only CFP takes the friendly exercise/sports theme further by charging most clients a monthly subscription, just like paying for a gym membership.
Of course social media plays a big part in Roberge’s M.O. More about that shortly.
He manages assets of $6.5 million, but right now, gathering assets isn’t what this planner is about. He is focused on helping young, motivated men and women who make at least $100,000 a year build wealth by developing constructive money habits.
Indeed, he zeros in on the principles of behavioral finance to first gain insight into what makes his millennial clients tick money-wise — vital information for both advisor and client.
A J.P. Morgan assistant treasurer before switching to financial planning, Roberge founded his practice, Beyond Your Hammock, in 2013. He prefers helping people who want to be actively involved in managing and investing their money and has coached more than 100 determined millennials get to that next level.
How to connect with this cohort? Roberge confirms what you likely already know: Go where they go. The CFP is an expert at working the fertile terrain of social media, with his networks numbering 1,000-plus on Facebook, 2,000-plus on Twitter and about 1,000 on LinkedIn.
The trick to harnessing social media, he says, is to generate and post engaging content that indicates specific ways you can help the next-gen folks you’re pursuing.
Roberge charges most clients a monthly subscription fee for which he provides ongoing financial planning; when assets reach $500,000, some clients switch to an AUM model. He maintains a flat fee to create a financial plan only.
For the first six years of his career, the Methuen, Massachusetts-born FA worked at two big banks. He trained at State Street and there became a portfolio accountant pricing mutual funds. At J.P. Morgan, he was a supervisor in the mutual fund tax department.
By 2007, seeking personal fulfillment working with investors one-on-one, he left the bank and became a financial planner.
Stints at small firms followed, where he helped folks invest and also sold insurance. In the summer of 2013 he launched Beyond Your Hammock, a name that piques curiosity, which is precisely why he chose it.
The solo advisor incurred only about $12,000 in startup costs that first year and still keeps expenses low by paying monthly for a CIC co-working space in Boston’s financial district.
To set up shop daily, all he does is yank his laptop out of his backpack. Face-to-face meetings are held in one of several on-site conference rooms.
In a recent interview with ThinkAdvisor, Roberge revealed secrets to his success and why nowadays young advisors have clear advantages working with millennials over FAs who entered the business a few decades ago. Here are highlights from our interview:
THINKADVISOR: What’s your advice for veteran financial advisors who want to pursue millennial clients?
ERIC ROBERGE: If you’ve been in the business for 30 years, you deserve respect for having created the world of financial planning. But what got you there isn’t going to build a successful practice with millennials.
You have to figure out a different way of doing business in order to connect. It’s all about communication and listening to people, and providing something that will fulfill their needs — not having them fit into your process. Millennials aren’t interested until they understand how you can help them with their needs.
Many older advisors consider millennials almost a different breed. They say that cohort doesn’t like to meet with FAs face-to-face and want to be communicated with only by email and phone.
Millennials aren’t all that different. But they’re definitely technologically forward. So, yes, they use their phones more. They access social media apps often and communicate with people through Facebook Messenger, Twitter and Instagram. That’s how they’re connecting.
So social media is obviously critical for reaching millennials.
If you’re looking at the younger generation, you have to be in those places in order to get in front of the people you want to attract. But it’s about what you say on social media and how you say it that has people pay attention to you and engage with your content or not. If people aren’t engaging with your content, it might as well not even be there.
Why do you define yourself as a “personal trainer for your finances”?
People get that connection. Just like a personal trainer will help build a regimen for the gym and guide you to make sure you’re using the right technique for exercises and hold you accountable for going there, I’m doing the same thing for clients’ money.
What do you bring that differentiates you from other advisors?
I try to take the industry [emphasis] on demographics to another level and focus on psychographics — trying to understand people from a behavioral finance perspective, a mindset of growing wealth and what they’re looking to do. That way, I can focus on the people I really want to work with: those who are more inclined to build solid money habits.
How do you learn what your clients are really about?
One way, early in the relationship, is by using software that helps them understand their money mindset and propensity to grow wealth. DataPoints [software] offers insights into the behavioral finance side of planning. People answer survey questions that help me identify how well they rank in areas like “frugality” and “responsibility.” The scores provide talking points. I’m hoping that this helps clients better align their values with their wealth-building goals.
How do you encourage folks to save money and not spend too much?
Instead of consumption being the goal, it’s building wealth — directing the energy from “How do we spend as much money as possible right now?” to “How do we save and invest in a way that allows us to choose how we live down the road — and not having to make decisions because our money says so?”
But tightening the belt requires a great deal of self-discipline, especially when you’re young.
It does. And that’s where psychographics comes in. [My target client] is a certain type of person that’s very motivated and knows how to [capitalize] on having a coach, perhaps from doing sports. I want clients to be involved with their [finances]. I don’t want them to say, “I just want to go to work 9 to 5 and have you manage my money.”