Get clients on board with a merger or acquisition

Rebranding to accentuate the benefits of the new firm can allay client fears

Apr 1, 2015 @ 1:34 pm

By Liz Skinner

Advisers thinking about combining two firms should have a plan for how the new entity will be branded and rolled out to existing clients and prospects.

Those considerations include what the firm will be called post-merger and which marketing elements, such as newsletters and videos, will be developed to let clients and the public know about the union, experts said.

“Talk to a few clients early on to see what their concerns might be,” said Amy Zimmerman, principal of AZ Communications.

Address any negative perceptions from the beginning, she said.

The message of all the communications should be that the changes coming will be positive for clients because of new services or resources the combined entity can offer, said Christopher Norton, creative director at Blu Giant Advisor Studios, a division of NorthStar Financial Services Group.

“In the advisory space, you have people who are very tied to a particular adviser, and they trust those people,” Mr. Norton said. “It's important to paint the change in a positive light and present it as an evolution of the organization.”

Many companies begin with a recorded video announcement from the owners, who describe why they are excited to join forces and why the move is good for clients. The message may mention more diversified investment portfolio options or strategies, or additional technologies that will be available to clients after the merger, he said.

Ms. Zimmerman also recommends advisers from both firms reach out with phone calls or at least emails to top clients. Both firms should have shared talking points so the message is consistent and reassuring to clients, she said.

Many firms find a merger or acquisition is a good time to move an advisory business away from a name that's linked to particular founders.

Many advisers today don't want to name a firm after themselves if the end goal is to sell their business. If the name is closely tied to an individual, “that's another hurdle to overcome," Mr. Norton said.

Financial adviser Ryan Wells, who sold one advisory business and launched a new one in December, worked with a naming firm to come up with the moniker for his new firm, PathWise.

“It resonated with me because it’s a good reflection of what we do with clients,” Mr. Wells said. “They’re on a path, or journey, in life with forks in the road and they want wise guidance.”

Blu Giant created a logo, website and other newly branded marketing materials for PathWise Wealth Partners, which does business simply as PathWise.

(More: Top 10 adviser marketing myths)

Another option in a merger is to combine both names for a period, such as 18 months, then drop one of the names to make it a simpler label, Mr. Norton said.

A new name requires a new logo and branding campaign that incorporates all signs, letterheads, statements, websites, social media messages, profiles, quarterly newsletters, monthly commentaries and videos. It's a big enterprise, he said.

And it sometimes gets little thought in the heat of a deal.

“People don't realize how deep their name goes and what a massive undertaking it is to rebrand,” Mr. Norton said. “It's not just about swapping out a logo.”


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