How to create a better brand and client experience

Jan 3, 2019 @ 12:01 am

The following is an excerpt from a new white paper, “What financial advisors can learn from Amazon: six steps for creating a better brand and client experience” co-developed by InvestmentNews and Cadaret, Grant. The white paper points to six lessons from these companies' journeys, and how those lessons can be applied to a financial advisor's business to create a competitive advantage.

To download the full white paper, please click here.

Not only has Amazon revolutionized retailing and transformed American business — making founder Jeff Bezos one of the world's wealthiest individuals in the process — it has changed the way we think about business leadership and management.

Much of the company's success has come from doing well what successful businesses have always done well: satisfying customers. But the ways in which Amazon and other innovative tech-based giants such as Zappos, Uber and Lyft have satisfied customers and revolutionized their market segments are often quite innovative. For financial advisors, the success of these companies offers many insights and applicable takeaways despite the likely disparity in scale and business models.

This whitepaper will point to six lessons from these companies' journeys, and how those lessons can be applied to a financial advisor's business to create a competitive advantage.

Lesson #1: Be obsessed with your customers — and listen to them.

From the very beginning, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos put the customer first. When given the choice between obsessing over competitors and obsessing over customers, Amazon always chose customers, as Bezos said in his company's most recent annual report.1

Part of that customer-first obsession is the practice of listening to customers, which includes paying attention to what they say overtly as well as gathering data on what they actually do, which Amazon tracks through its storied data analytics.

An example of their customer attentiveness is Amazon Prime, which the company launched in 2005, and which many critics thought was so “out there” that it was bound to fail. But Amazon listened to what customers told them and heeded the results of various experiments, which indicated that fast, reliable shipping would enable the business to compete successfully with in-store retailers.

For financial advisors, knowing the customer has been built into the securities industry's regulatory framework for more than 80 years. But “knowing” the customer in the sense of his or her suitability for a particular investment is different from understanding their motivations and aspirations, and then making the customer experience satisfying. For that kind of knowledge and orientation, advisors must develop deep relationships with clients that go beyond suggesting and executing transactions. Many advisors have such relationships, of course, and are able to discern and then incorporate a client's emotional goals (self-reliance in retirement, helping with grandchildren, travel, for example) into a sound plan that provides the financial wherewithal to achieve those goals. But relationships can always be deepened.

While Amazon's data-analysis tools are extraordinary, the good news is that financial advisors don't need such tools because they have something Amazon does not: one-on-one human relationships. Advisors should make the most of those relationships and cultivate those that need extra attention. For example, advisors should take special care to develop stronger ties to the client spouse who typically doesn't participate in decision-making. Remember, an estimated 70% of wives abandon the financial advisor they used as a couple after the death of their husband. Also, it's important to regularly ask clients what has changed in their lives, what additional help they might need, and what you might be able to do to improve their interaction with you. Better for an advisor to ask and learn that something easily provided is missing from a relationship than for a client to walk out the door without an explanation because they assumed the advisor couldn't deliver something they wanted.

Also, encourage clients to be open with any criticism, complaints or identification of service elements they don't understand or find curious. For example, some new clients may find the onboarding process to be time consuming and confusing, especially given the speed and ease with which other kinds of information exchanges now can be accomplished online. If electronic onboarding is not available, offer to hand-hold them through the process.

1 2017 annual report


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