Black Creek Group, a real estate investment management firm, developed Real Estate University, an educational program for financial professionals and their clients that defines some of the most common, yet sometimes misunderstood, real estate terminology. In 2020, the firm created 15 thought leadership and sales pieces focused on real estate investing. By expanding the company’s thought leadership, it reached more people, providing insight and education. In addition, the firm educated financial professionals on its hands-on business strategy and funds, which helps more people better understand the private real estate asset class.
BlackRock’s Emerging Leader Lab is an experiential program designed to help advisor clients build a pipeline for their next generation of leaders, including CEOs, other C-suite leaders, investment team leaders, senior advisors and relationship managers.The program, which started as a pilot with 54 RIAs during the COVID-19 pandemic, is expanding as advisory firms embrace the digital group format to engage at scale with BlackRock’s coaches. It includes general sessions with keynote speakers, peer-to-peer learning in small cohort groups, and 360 personal feedback reviews. Participants also are held accountable for applying what they’ve learned to their roles in an organization.
Cambiar Investors developed the Cambiar COVID-19 education campaign, designed to inform and update advisors on the pandemic and prepare them for potential investment implications. The result was a series of thought leadership pieces for which Cambiar was awarded the Investment Management Education Alliance Star Award for Best Education Content and Best Advisor Website. The campaign consisted of a three-part video series with Senior Healthcare Analyst Charmaine Chan, Ph.D. Chan's vast knowledge of the virus and broader societal impacts was evident in these videos, leading to high viewership, interviews in various industry publications and an invitation to speak at a leading biopharma/biotech event.
Charles Schwab first partnered with
Ariel Investments on the pioneering Black Investor Study in 1998 to characterize differences in attitudes and behaviors among Black and white investors tied to saving, investing and other financial priorities. In 2020 — a year that was particularly challenging for people of color, who were disproportionately hurt by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a year in which social and economic inequalities were being confronted from boardrooms to courtrooms and on Main Streets across America — these leading firms believed the time was right to revisit this critical issue. They reunited to refresh the study and bring renewed insight and attention to issues facing Black investors.
Fidelity Investment’s work in the digital assets space includes Fidelity Digital Assets, an institutional-focused execution and custody services platform; Fidelity Digital Funds, which focuses on making digitally native assets accessible to institutional investors; and a blockchain incubator within the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology (FCAT), which tracks trends and builds proofs of concept around new use cases. To benefit the advisor community and broader industry, Fidelity has continued to offer research, educational materials, and thought leadership about digital assets in the form of blog posts, whitepapers, bylines, webinars, and social media to educate advisors and our clients about this topic.
New York Life Investments recently launched the Advisor Advancement Institute, which provides financial advisors with innovative, educational resources built around research on the emerging trends in financial planning — particularly those that represent underserved or underutilized areas of opportunity in the marketplace. NYLI also used insights from various studies to develop a suite of educational programming to better position advisors to build successful and long-term relationships with the underserved segment of female investors. And in June 2020, NYLI launched the U.S. Candriam Academy, the world’s first free-to-access accredited training platform to provide education for advisors and intermediaries on sustainable investing.
Transamerica created the Being There for Her campaign, aimed at helping financial professionals build female-inclusive practices to better address life events that disproportionately affect women. The objectives are to educate advisors on women’s needs in retirement, provide resources for advisors and their female clients, and launch a social media campaign in March, Women’s History Month. The company created a series of educational materials to help financial professionals tap into an underserved segment of the market and aid them to become well-versed in gray divorce, widowhood and caregiving. These events disproportionately affect the financial futures of women.
Firms - Broker-Dealers
Cambridge Investment Research, an independent BD, serves more than 3,300 financial professionals across the country, with its home base in Fairfield, Iowa, since 1992, when Erik Schwartz founded the company. The firm was a pioneer in implementing fee-based structures. The IBD has been a leader in social dynamics, having had a female CEO, Amy Webber, for the past 11 years. In 2020, the pandemic sped up its five-year plan in building out digital transformation infrastructure, which meant it was able to add a digital texting solution that caught on with clients. The firm also helped advisors adapt to virtual communication, to work with current and prospective clients.
Incapital, during the past 18 months, has implemented three types of educational and thought leadership initiatives. For its Pulse Survey it partnered with Red Zone Marketing to conduct a series of studies to uncover how the most successful financial professionals are finding ways to change their business operations, communications, and marketing through the uncertainty of 2020-2021. With Value-Add Webinars, the firm introduced monthly webinars via Zoom and WebEx. And with Educational Materials, Incapital delivered the largest suite of educational materials in the industry with a goal of educating financial professionals and their clients on investment solutions.
LifeMark Securities Corp. requires all registered representatives to attend fiduciary training annually to reflect their dedication to a higher fiduciary standard. Their goal is to establish ethics and transparency as a standard for all broker-dealers and RIAs. Affiliating with the ethical standards of West Point, the Coast Guard Academy, and universities across the United States, no exceptions are tolerated for the best interest of the client standards presented in writing by every representative to each client. LifeMark is focused on the promotion of the Global Fiduciary Steward designation, and the continuation of this through the L5 leadership course.
Peak Reps’ Digital Partnership Program was created because not all advisors have the knowledge, skills or temperament to deploy social media campaigns on their own. To accelerate the learning curve and put advisors on a solid path, the company first created a library of customizable marketing campaigns. Peak’s team also deploys and manages social media and digital campaigns for participating advisors, and provides training so that advisors are more knowledgeable, proactive digital marketers going forward. This complimentary initiative drives leads to advisors and makes a meaningful contribution to the growth of their business.
Firms - Fintech/TAMP Platforms
Envestnet’s Institute on Campus, now in its sixth year, is creating a diverse pool of workplace-ready, entry-level talent for the wealth management industry. The online career-training initiative includes 43 participating colleges and universities that work with the fintech innovator to build a future industry foundation by strengthening diversity and inclusion. The curriculum consists of seven self-paced, hour-long eLearning classes that have seven required exams and are available at no cost to participating schools and students. More than 4,700 students have completed the program since its 2015 inception, including 1,617 women and 1,461 minorities.
FMG Suite provides a variety of resources to help educate advisors. The firm hosts monthly webinars and guest speakers to share their successes around digital marketing. It also creates eBooks for advisors who prefer long-form content and in-depth learning. Additionally, it provides bi-weekly podcasts from other influencers or thought leaders on trending topics. During the pandemic, FMG Suite designed a content series to support advisors during the crisis, which included a crisis communications checklist, an article on how to become a virtual financial advisor and a 26-point checklist of COVID-19 related planning opportunities.
iCapital Network over the past year has increased its education efforts with the development of an online program designed to support advisors in understanding alternatives and how to incorporate them into their practices. In January 2021, iCapital acquired AI Insight, an education and compliance platform that offers advisors investment research, training, qualification and compliance support for a range of alternative investments. In February 2021, iCapital Network and the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst Association announced a partnership launching AltsEdge, an education program for advisors that offers research-based, CE-accredited modules to prepare advisors to optimize the use of alternatives in client portfolios.
Smarsh, a communications archiving provider for regulated organizations, earlier this year published the 10th Annual Risk & Compliance Survey Report. The survey found that last year’s rapid shift to work-from-home models proved to be a double-edged sword for businesses. Technology made it possible to connect, collaborate and be productive, but the lack of oversight for those new channels created significant regulatory and reputational risks. The findings exposed an urgent need for financial services firms to bridge a growing gap between the use of digital communication and collaboration platforms and their existing compliance procedures.
SMArtX Advisory Solutions, is a platform that allows firms to run a scalable, modular infrastructure catered to their specific operational requirements. The company provides access to over 757 strategies provided by 196 managers and represents $15.56 billion of AUM across 60,356 accounts and over 1,000 advisors. In 2020, the company created The SMArtX 2021 Virtual Awards Program & Podcast to recognize individuals and companies for highest performances. SMArtX also created content around the awards program to reach new audiences of financial advisors who could potentially benefit from learning about different asset managers and strategies.
Snappy Kraken believes that though advisors generally may be amazing at serving people, they struggle to be great marketers. And yet, marketing is vital to their success. The marketing automation firm for advisors is focused on helping them get better at growing their business by using methods that are proven to work, rather than repeatedly failing at experiments. Snappy Kraken’s most recent study, How 2020 Has Changed Financial Adviser Marketing, analyzed more than 32 million data points. This study was provided, for free, to tens of thousands of advisors to help them improve their businesses.
Firms – Other
BNY Mellon Wealth Management’s Annual Charitable Gift Report provides analytics and observations on charitable gift annuity and charitable remainder trust activity for more than 100 nonprofit organizations. The report is intended to help nonprofit stakeholders better understand the planned giving landscape. Among other findings, the study revealed the number of charitable gift annuities rose 21% over the prior year and the average gift amount was up by 56%, suggesting non-profits should consider an increased focus on marketing gift annuities. The report has served as a benchmark for clients to compare their own program metrics around gift activity and donor profiles.
BNY Mellon’s Pershing’s Next Leadership Forum is a two-year personal and professional development program for rising leaders at Pershing’s client firms that successfully elevates and equips next generation leaders in the financial services industry. It was developed for the next gen, by the next gen. The mission is to create a community of like-minded leaders and give the next generation a voice in their firms and the industry. Rising leaders are nominated by Pershing or their firms to participate at no cost to attract the most diverse candidates. Due to COVID-19, the program pivoted to virtual delivery to ensure the community’s momentum.
Carver Financial Services’ goal is to be one of the highest educated independent offices within Raymond James. The firm created the Elite Wealth Advisors Symposium to support students and provide financial assistance with undergraduate degrees. Associates are encouraged to pursue advanced certifications and given dedicated time, mentoring, and accountability to help them achieve their goals. Team members develop a career vision plan and determine what certifications they need to get there. Each team member is provided mentoring and the opportunity to review their goals, set benchmarks, and stay accountable. Weekly meetings encourage advisors and associates to share their knowledge.
NaviPlan, a company that provides financial planning software, created how-to guides for advisors on engaging virtually with clients and growing their practice in the pandemic environment. The firm offered advisors access to more than 500 pieces of content and marketing materials in its Advisor Briefcase collection. It also delivered educational content for advisors on its blog and published two e-books to help transition advisors to remote work and advise on the importance of solid practice management. NaviPlan also published a series of articles surrounding financial planning and the pandemic and made its client portal available for free in light of the pandemic.
Firms – Partnerships and Consultants
Arnerich Massena has provided philanthropic educational resources to clients that highlight the work being done by nonprofits in the community during a time of historic need. Philanthropic advisor Katherine Fox interviewed individuals at nonprofits, spotlighting their work, and included the articles in AM’s wealth management newsletter, on its blog and on social media. In November, the firm compiled a holiday-giving guide showcasing the work and missions of several local organizations for interested donors. Each quarter, AM’s client newsletter includes an interview with a nonprofit to share its current capital campaigns, mission drives and projects. (repeat)
Ed Slott and Company, headed up by Ed Slott, CPA, is the go-to resource on taxes and IRAs. Nor is Slott a shrinking violet when it comes to telling lawmakers how their policies could negatively impact IRAs. For instance, lawmakers’ recent talk of a need to crackdown on “mega-IRAs” is all bluster, Slott relayed in a ThinkAdvisor commentary. Slott holds numerous advisor workshops and was recently named a Professor of Practice at The American College of Financial Services. He’ll contribute to the college’s Retirement Income Certified Professional program and support its faculty focused on retirement distribution planning.
FiComm Partners in 2020 launched Advisor Education, a series of workshops designed for the modern advisor with a focus on implementing a video-first approach across the client experience, launching a podcast, and all things digital marketing. In addition to launching Advisor Education, the firm also introduced The New Skool podcast in September 2020 to show advisors real case examples of how leading with authenticity and taking a digital first approach are not just aspirational or utopic constructs, but ones that actually drive business outcomes. FiComm launched these initiatives to provide examples and actionable steps to create change within the industry.
Financial Planning Association, in response to students losing internships because of the pandemic, created the FPA Virtual Externship. This program welcomed more than 1,100 active students for an experience where students worked for many different firms, instead of just one. This program introduced the industry to people who would have never had the opportunity to see what a career in financial planning would look like. Stay-at-home parents, students who could not afford an internship, career changers and those new to the profession were able to engage in a learning experience that gave them insights into a financial planning career.
RDCL + FlexShares ETFs have partnered to help advisors stay ahead of business and cultural trends with a research-based thought leadership program on topics such as changing gender norms among HNW consumers, issues of psychological stress and wellness among advisors, and the implementation of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. RDCL is a social science-based research firm dedicated to the most forward-thinking financial firms. The company is committed to uncovering strategic insights in partnership with companies hoping to define the future of finance. The RDCL and FlexShares partnership wants to provide insight and solutions to make a positive impact for advisors and investors.
Firms – RIAs
Avitas Wealth Management, in response to the pandemic, hosted weekly calls for clients from division leaders in the equity, fixed income & private equity Markets. On each call, company leaders discussed information regarding the impact of COVID as well as tax changes and charitable planning updates. Avitas developed the Total Wealth Organization platform where clients can access a real-time, comprehensive wealth statement reflecting their entire net worth, while having the peace of mind of secure vault storage for important documents. While many businesses were forced to scale back, Avitas managed to expand during COVID, growing its team by 30%.
Edelman Financial Engines, headed up by Ric Edelman, longtime advisor, radio talk show host, author, has now turned to educating advisors about cryptocurrencies. Edelman’s Digital Assets Council of Financial Professionals, formerly the RIA Digital Assets Council, now serves as a digital assets educational resource for the entire industry, including advisors licensed by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and insurance regulators. “We’re receiving requests for help from every sector of the financial services industry,” said Edelman, who founded the organization three years ago. The company’s recent name change “reflects our new broader charter to be of value to every company and all financial advisors.”
Matson Money developed the Matson Method, which integrates research in behavioral economics, finance, neuropsychology, and the field of human performance into an innovative and powerful investing science. The firm’s structured funds approach, combined with its coaching for advisors and investors on how to invest without resorting to stock picking and attempts to predict the market, demonstrated Matson’s commitment to empowering investors to stay disciplined over a lifetime of investing. Of the 558 advisors using the Matson Method, many were able to keep their clients on track in 2020 to stay invested throughout the crisis and subsequent volatility.
RFG Advisory launched Become a Warrior Advisor Podcast & Support Program for Financial Advisors, which is based on an advisor retreat held weeks before the pandemic with the legendary Dom Raso, Navy Seal and founder of Dynamic Alliance. Each episode includes a fireside chat between RFG CEO Bobby White and Dom, along with RFG President Shannon Spotswood on a variety of topics. The program played a critical role in providing the emotional support needed to survive and thrive during the pandemic. This was not only true for advisors, but for clients who needed the ‘virtual hand-holding’ this program provided.
Robertson Stephens’ thought leadership is led by Chief Investment Officer Stuart Katz and Chief Economist Jeanette Garretty. Since the firm’s founding in 2018, Katz has been instrumental in building the reputation of the firm as an innovative, nimble, fiduciary-minded firm, poised to attract the top talent in the industry and a diverse, committed client base. Garretty is a leading voice at the firm and in the industry. This past year, her insights played an important role during uncertain times — one of assuring clients and the industry, while providing context and understanding for the investor community.
The Humphreys Group is a women-owned and operated wealth management firm and a longtime champion of leading by core values. In 2020, THG became certified as a B Corporation, meeting the highest standards of positive impact on society and the environment. THG now is placing ESG funds at the forefront of their marketing initiatives. The firm actively promotes engagement and learning about ESG funds via blog posts, social media, and hosting webinars on the topic. In addition, the team has created an ESG questionnaire that helps them match the funds to their client's values.