Recently I had a fascinating visit to the Google headquarters to spend the morning with their marketing and ideation folks. Google's perspective on how mankind gathers and shares information is illuminating and can teach us all something about how to maintain relevance in a changing world.
THE EVOLUTION OF INFORMATION
Since Google has the lofty mission of informing the world, it makes sense that they obsess over how we all consume information. Here is how they view the shifts in consumer behavior over the past few decades:
• From the Broadcast Age: Powered by TV, radio and newspapers. Big media created content and we consumed it on their timetable. All communication was one sided and on the timetable of the content providers.
• To the Information Age: Powered by the expansion of fast internet access. This era allowed for a massive expansion in reach and scope of information. Consumers have access to more information at their fingertips than ever in human history whenever they want it. No more waiting for the nightly news. Say goodbye to going to the library to get informed on any subject.
• To the Participation Age: Powered by social media and consumer-empowering companies using technology to engage in a completely interactive way. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram are all changing how we consume and share information. Two-way communication and content co-creation are pillars of this age. Users can manipulate infographics, create alternate storylines that lead to different results and interact with the subjects via live video feeds. Through participation, consumers create experiences that are unique and personal.
It's fair to say that these huge shifts in how we inform ourselves have been mirrored by changes in our own industry. Our clients are in the midst of an inescapable transition in how they want to interact with advisers. At its core, the shift is about who has the power of information and who empowers the clients most. Sadly, many advisers are not adapting to the change in the world around them.
THE EVOLUTION OF FINANCIAL SERVICES. WHICH AGE ARE YOU IN?
• From the age of investments. For most of our history, people needed a broker to access any investment offering. There was relatively little choice for the average investor: stocks, bonds, a few mutual funds or some private placements. Clients had little information and little choice, but trusted the broker to make decisions for them. Like the age of broadcasting, it was a time of one-sided advice. Many firms are still stuck in this era.
• To the age of planning. The deregulation of the industry in the early 90s created two major shifts which increased choice and complexity. First, a new world of independent advisers expanded the market from independent brokerage firms to standalone wealth advisers. Second, there was an explosion of investment products. The new role of the adviser focused on building a financial plan and ensuring portfolios are allocated appropriately. Pricing shifted from commissions to fees. The vast majority of firms today provide a one-time plan that is occasionally reviewed, along with a single strategy investment solution. Unfortunately, technology is commoditizing that offering and what clients value the most from their adviser is being given away for free: their advice and guidance.
• To the age of collaborative guidance. The role of the adviser is again in the midst of major change. Technology is taking over the investing function and planning alone is not relevant enough to people's everyday lives. Clients want clarity and control over their entire financial lives. We will need more intuitive and collaborative tools and better methods of interacting with clients that allow us to help them at any time. We have to be present on their mobile devices and encourage interaction. We will need to charge for that guidance.
◦ Advice must provide clarity and empower clients over their entire lives, be more understandable, collaborative and actively measured.
◦ Financial plans will need to be more dynamic, relevant and collaborative.
◦ Investments should be broader in scope with multiple strategies and individualized for different stages of a client's life.
FROM PRESENT TO FUTURE
Think about the media landscape and how information providers are either adapting or becoming irrelevant. Newspapers that aren't mobile are disappearing, and broadcasters are experiencing ever eroding ratings and declining relevance. Even purveyors of information like AOL and Yahoo have given way to social media and curated information streams. Google will thrive because it empowers consumers every day.
To be relevant in the age of participation, there is only one secret to survival: We must empower our clients. We must engage them on their terms and where they live, not the other way around.
Joe Duran is chief executive of United Capital. Follow him @DuranMoney.