Real-time apps help advisers connect and stay in touch with clients

Getting to know your clients has never been easier, thanks to scalable technology

Aug 4, 2015 @ 12:01 am

By John Michel

Hundreds of years ago, people relied on town criers to shout out must-know information. The source of the news was limited to a few individuals. You had to gather at the right spot at the right time to hear what was said, then pray the criers knew what they were talking about.

Today we have social media. Take Twitter. Anyone in the world with Internet access can post 140 characters online for everyone else to see, and respond to, in real time. With Twitter we can share news and speak our minds, but we must interact with others in ways that interest them, if we want anyone to care about our words. That means knowing whether our audience wants to be informed or entertained, as well as knowing whether they share our views or hold different perspectives.

The range of choices to help manage social media can be overwhelming, from firms that are broad scale such as Edgar and Hootsuite, to firms that specialize in financial adviser communications such as AdvisorSocial and Hearsay Social.

Financial advisers must solve these same challenges when communicating with their clients. Picking the right software can make advisers better at connecting with clients in meaningful ways, while helping advisers scale their business. Typically advisers will leverage their CRM system, such as Advisor Assistant, Redtail, Junxture or Salesforce. CRM systems are typically helpful at recording client data and can be used to create traditional communications for target groups.

But first advisers must think about basic questions. Who are your clients? What do these clients value? And what is the purpose of any piece of communication with these clients?

MOBILE IN MIND

The next generation of software, however, is typically designed with mobile in mind and can automatically transmit customized financial content in real time to hundreds of users without the adviser having to define the specific recipients. Often these content management systems leverage machine learning to improve the targeting of content over time. This is similar to how humans use subconscious cues. When advisers meet with clients in person, people pick up on each other's facial expressions and vocal tones. Those indirect modes of communication convey almost as much significance as the words themselves. They even help advisers and clients get to know each other better. Advisers must be mindful of how clients might interpret messages sent without physical context.

Although machine learning and data mining doesn't replace subconscious cues, it does give advisers a different kind of insight into clients. When anyone visits a website or uses an app, software may be able to gather intelligence about the visitor based on their actions while online. Financial tools that let individuals upload information about themselves and their accounts can be the source of information about trends in an adviser's overall client base, as well as reveal what individual clients want from their adviser.

Account aggregation tools that allow clients to link all their assets to one portal, including assets their adviser does not manage, benefit both clients and advisers. Clients get to see the total picture of their portfolios, which enhances their understanding of their wealth. Some tools also allow clients to maintain their privacy, by limiting what advisers can see of external accounts. These tools give advisers better understanding into the financial institutions and types of assets favored by their overall client base, as well as the wealth level of the average client.

ENGAGEMENT METRICS

Engagement metrics built into software shows advisers what types of content clients respond to, and under what circumstances. Some apps let advisers automate distribution of market updates about municipal bonds to only those clients who hold a decent amount of them. The apps can show the adviser whether clients are reading those messages, forwarding them to other people, and even if clients are opening links within messages. If it turns out those clients are not engaging with muni bond messages, advisers can change course and send messages about another topic relevant to the clients' portfolios, based on the account aggregation tool.

While advisers could theoretically achieve the same result without automated real-time communication tools, the process would be much less efficient. Advisers would have to look at each client account, then manually build a database from which to pluck out client trends, then search the Internet to find a relevant news item, then email that article to clients. That's just the distribution phase. Advisers then would have to contact each client to ask what the client did with the article, and finally record that information in the database.

This is too time-consuming for advisers who also have a practice to maintain. Instead, many advisers send out mass emails that are largely irrelevant to clients, and largely a waste of time for the adviser.

Communication apps can make advisers and clients feel closer to one another, which improves client satisfaction and adviser performance. Studies show clients want more and better interaction with their advisers. They want to see that their advisers know who they are. When advisers do know their clients better, in terms of their portfolios and interests, advisers have a better shot at helping clients increase their wealth. Apps that let clients respond to advisers about content the adviser already sent have the added benefit of making the client feel heard.

BECOMING FRONT-OF-MIND

The nature of an app that puts all these features in one place increases the likelihood clients will use the app and glean useful financial information. When clients access these tools on mobile devices, advisers become more front-of-mind than they would otherwise. This way, if a client happens to run across a rival adviser somewhere, like a cocktail party, that rival adviser's small talk may be less enticing.

Good communication will always be a two-way street. The more information advisers have about clients, the better advisers will be at communicating with clients. Cutting-edge financial apps help advisers do this faster and with more clients. These stronger client connections can foster stronger business growth.

John Michel is chief executive of CircleBlack.

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