6 ways to leverage tax reform in your marketing strategy

InvestmentNews

The following blog post was an article I had published in InvestmentNews:

Changes like tax reform give you an opportunity to educate and provide value to the public.

After months of deliberation, our government passed the largest tax overhaul in over 30 years: the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Whether you agree with the changes or not, the public will need advice on how to manage their finances under the new law. When approached properly, the new legislation should provide financial advisers with the leverage they need to expand and exceed their 2018 marketing goals.

Here are six ways you can use the new tax plan to build existing client relationships and acquire new clients:

1. Hold an educational seminar. Whenever a new law is passed or regulations change, the public will always ask, “What does this mean to me?” This type of uncertainty creates a great opportunity for advisers to offer free seminars addressing common concerns to both existing and prospective clients. Seminars can also be held on a variety of more specific topics to targeted audiences. Since each demographic is affected differently, specific seminars can offer more relevant information to each group, so those in attendance receive personalized direction for their current and future needs.

2. Give presentations to the most-affected groups. Make your practice more accessible to new clients by offering free presentations in your community. This will give you the opportunity to share your specialized knowledge with a group that will benefit from it, while allowing you to build your brand and connect with potential clients in a niche area. The groups that are impacted the most by the new bill include charities, churches, universities, families, business owners and real estate investors. Develop some collateral that positions you as a dynamic speaker on specific topic or specialty within your practice, while keeping in mind that all of this material must speak directly to the interests of your target groups. Some options include a website, video or a simple brochure.

3. Provide existing clients with information. It’s great to bring in new clients, but it’s also important that you keep your existing clients up-to-date on legislative changes that may alter their financial situation. Some changes might affect your entire client roster, while others might just impact a small segment.

One suggestion is to group similar clients together when distributing information, so you can tailor it to their specific needs. Identify the best channels to communicate with each group and create a strategy for reaching them. This may vary from creating a fact sheet or new email marketing campaign to an informational video or social media campaign. Information that is accessible and easy to share will likely bring in more referrals as your existing clients spread the word about your services.

4. Reach out to CPAs and tax preparers. Many advisers struggle to develop meaningful relationships with CPAs. One way to start is by asking your existing clients who will be preparing their taxes this year. With your client’s permission, reach out and mention that you have a mutual client before asking them to a business lunch where you can exchange opinions on how the new bill will impact your clients.

Remember, when it comes to taxes, you are crossing over into their turf. To earn their willingness to provide referrals, you have to demonstrate knowledge, credibility and trustworthiness first. Share a few ideas and strategies that you are looking to integrate with your clients and get his or her feedback on what you’re doing to help people.

5. Reach out to real estate agents. A relationship with a real estate professional can lead the way to receiving referrals, as agents generally work with a wide variety of clients, many of whom are new to the area. First, however, you must establish your worth.

Real estate agents will likely be significantly impacted by tax reform, but they may not understand its full effect. To prove your value, consider creating a personalized seminar or write a short guide on the new tax reform bill’s impact on the real estate industry. With this personalized touch and expert guidance, agents will be more likely to recommend you to their clients. As with CPAs, maintain your relationship by sharing case studies with them in order to continually demonstrate your knowledge and commitment to your clients.

6. Offer a free consultation. With even a limited budget, you can offer free consultations to existing customers and warm prospects. These risk-free meetings are a straightforward way to provide your insights to those willing to listen. The value of your time will likely pay off in the long run when clients decide to sign on with you thanks to the personalized touch.

The best thing that could ever happen to financial services marketing can be summarized in one word: change. Change can provide you with the opportunity to educate and provide value to the public, especially when you’re working in the financial services industry. Potential clients are bound to have questions, and as an adviser, it is your job to market your services as the answer. This new bill gives you the chance to maintain relationships with existing clients and reach new audiences you might not have thought of before.

DOL Fiduciary Rule Enforcement: How Massachusetts May Have Provided the Spark for a Massive Fire

On Thursday, February 15th, the state of Massachusetts charged Scottrade with dishonest and unethical conduct and a failure to supervise. This is believed to be the first known enforcement action under the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule.

Where this will end up, nobody knows, but it could be the spark that triggers a fire within the financial industry. According to the regulator’s complaint, Scottrade violated impartial conduct standards by conducting some sort of sales contest with incentives for their employees to bring in new assets.

Let’s talk about the reality of this: anybody who has been in the industry for any length knows this happens all the time. It has been a part of the wirehouse and insurance sales culture for decades. The problem is this: far too many financial professionals (and the firms they associate with) are under the impression that the Fiduciary Rule (or Conflict of Interest rule) isn’t yet in effect.

As somebody who is actively involved the everyday communications with our own affiliated advisors, as well as the daily efforts to attract new professionals to our firm, I can tell you that there is a great amount of confusion surrounding this rule. In many cases, it isn’t confusion; it is flat out ignorance.

This is what advisors need to know: this rule is in effect. Today. Now. The “delay” that was triggered as a result of the Trump administration only impacted the second phase of the rule. Here’s where it gets a little fuzzy – it was assumed (due to statements coming from Washington, D.C.) that there wouldn’t be enforcement action taking place. The state of Massachusetts has proven that assumption to be faulty. And it won’t surprise me one bit if other states follow suit.

What does this mean to you as a financial professional? Much of that depends on the firms with whom you affiliate, the licensure you maintain, and the recommendations you make. Don’t be mistaken, regardless of your answer to the three questions items listed above, the rule still applies to you. The risk/exposure may be different depending upon your response to those items.

It really comes down to operating in an environment where impartial conduct standards are established and ensuring that those standards are adhered to by the institution and the representatives of that institution. For example, if you are affiliated with a broker-dealer or corporate RIA, has there been a process and standard established to review recommendations for best interests, as well as an honest effort to reduce or eliminate major conflicts of interest? If you affiliate with an insurance brokerage entity (FMO/IMO/MGA), do they understand the importance of adhering to this standard? Unfortunately, many are still running sales contests, sales incentives, and offering production-based compensation. Knowingly or not, many of these activities are a direct violation of the portion of the rule that is in effect and they are putting the professionals with whom they work in the cross-hairs of a potentially devastating regulatory mess.

This isn’t just an opinion. It’s a substantiated fact as evidenced by the state of Massachusetts. You may love the rule. You may hate the rule. You may be like me and think there should be a logical compromise to this regulation that could accomplish the goals of putting the interests of clients first without creating such a confusing and complex overhaul to the way business is done within all of the different entities that operate in the financial industry. None of that matters though. Our feelings about the rule today don’t change the fact that we all need to operate in a new environment. Sadly, some professionals aren’t quite there yet. And what’s even worse is that many financial institutions (broker-dealers, RIAs, FMOs, etc.) aren’t there yet either. And ignorance won’t be much of a defense if a regulator knocks on the door.

In the meantime, this Scottrade charge will be an interesting story to keep an eye on. You may not be aware, but TD Ameritrade is in the final stages of its acquisition of Scottrade. I’m sure this is the last thing they wanted to deal with as this thing gets buttoned up. If it turns out that the Massachusetts regulators have a leg to stand on when it comes to enforcement actions, you can bet that it may pave the way for other states to follow suit.

For more information and details on DOL Requirements, you can refer to our DOL Executive Summary and DOL Extension Fact Sheet.

For those of you already affiliated with USA Financial, you can find this information on the dashboard.

 

 

All the best,

Mark Mersman

Forming Marketing Alliances

Just the other day I received the email below about “marketing alliances” from an advisor-client we work with. This topic is certainly applicable to many, so I figured I could share some excerpts of my response to her.

A couple of people have approached me about establishing a promotional marketing partnership for the purpose of education and, of course, lead generation. One is a senior market realtor (certified) and the other is a mortgage loan specialist.

The idea is to target prospects in the 50+ marketplace by providing educational workshops around topics of retirement income planning, real estate decisions and options for home equity (have a mortgage, no mortgage, etc).

My question is about co-marketing like this. How do I establish a theme for video marketing (the lending person has a video production dept), yet clearly define myself as a planning professional? We need to create a branding slogan or title, create a branded marketing piece (the mortgage person uses postcards), etc. And of course, the whole time we’re planning this, I’m thinking of compliance requirements.

For messaging and target market, here’s what we have so far:
– 50+
– Educational
– Financial and Lifestyle Choices

Want to keep it  educational not salesy. Thoughts?

Alliance

(My response …)

I’ve certainly got some thoughts on this. Some are more general to the concept of a marketing alliance, and some are more specific. I share those below, but before I do, it should be pointed out that this concept is one that many entities have formalized. Some call them networking groups. There are certainly some that are specific to the financial planning industry as well, with most of them disguising themselves as “non-profits.” Personally, I think that part of it is a bit misleading, but the general concept of having collateral professionals working in unison in some way, shape, or form is pretty basic.

In general, here are some basics about setting up these types of arrangements:

  • Align yourself with the right people. This seems blatantly obvious, but there’s more to it than you might think. Many financial professionals wrongly assume that having a relationship with an accountant or attorney is going to automatically trigger referrals. Most advisors will tell you that’s a fool’s dream. The right partner should check off a few boxes:
    • Be likeable. Frankly, anybody that you refer a client to will be a direct reflection on you.
    • Be willing. The right partners must be willing to refer business to you. This may not happen immediately, and you may need to demonstrate where you bring value and how you help people, but in the end, it’s not a marketing alliance unless they are willing to say positive things about you and refer you to their clients and connections.
    • Be able. Not only do they need to be willing, but they must be able to refer you to the RIGHT people. If their client base is different than yours, it doesn’t make sense to pursue the opportunity.
  • Get on the same page right up-front. If it is truly going to be a marketing alliance, you need to clearly define what is expected before getting too far into the relationship. It may be the case that a direct referral is not what anyone is looking for. It might be as simple as doing events/activities together so you can co-mingle clients and prospects of one another. Whatever it is, cast the vision early and make sure everyone agrees to it.
  • Be fair (and realistic). It’s no secret that a client’s value varies from industry to industry. For example, a tax preparer may make $200 per client, whereas a realtor stands to make $10k-$20k+ per client. Given this information, the professionals that stand to benefit significantly more should be in a spot where they may have to contribute more financially to the alliance. The idea here is to be fair. And fair does not necessarily mean equal. Everyone needs to make commitments up-front.

As for some specifics…

The name. When naming this sort of thing, most people put the focus on the group itself, rather than incorporating the “WHY” into the naming. I often see names like “The SW Arkansas Networking Group.” There’s nothing about that name that is friendly to consumers. Look for something like this:

  • Financial Health & Wellness Initiative
  • The Money Project: Helping Boomers to Become Financially Savvy
  • The Grand Rapids Boomer Project: Providing Financial & Lifestyle Education to West Michigan area Boomers
  • The Well-Rounded Boomer Project: Helping Grand Rapids Boomers to become more educated on lifestyle and financial decisions.

Hopefully this gives you some ideas on where to start with the naming. With this approach, each alliance partner can promote their involvement in the project/initiative. It can receive its own branding and is certainly something that the media might latch on to from a PR perspective.

The activities. Treating the initiative as an educational effort will allow you to deliver life group presentations, recorded (or live) webinars, videos that promote your involvement (that also include the snippets from the alliance partners), and you can promote this via social media. I’d encourage there to be a Facebook page set up once the initiative is named. With each alliance member promoting their involvement via email, direct mail, including it in the footer of emails, etc., you are now able to multiply the reach and growth of any social media page. One of the first recommendations would be to define the goal and write a one-page brief on the project/initiative. Consider inviting other collateral professionals to join, but be sure to get the right ones (see above).

Sharing marketing concepts. Every business markets a little differently. As one of the first steps in the organizational meetings, each member should share how they have marketed in the past, what they are doing currently, and aspirations they have in the future. Openly discuss what was effective and what wasn’t. You’ll gain a tremendous amount of insight this way, and always look to find ways that you could bring value to their marketing efforts. Don’t be selfish here. Just remember, pigs get fed… hogs get slaughtered.

Leverage more than just clients. While it’s natural to salivate over an alliance members’ client base, you have to realize that the opportunity goes much further than that. Every alliance member has relationships beyond their client/prospect base that could be beneficial to tap on the should to get involved in the initiative. Define these opportunities (easiest way to do that is to really understand one another’s value proposition, and willingly discuss one another’s network.

Hope that gets your wheels turning! There are truly 16 ways from Sunday as to how you could approach this!

Mark

 

How to target employees of companies going out of business or offering early pension buyouts.

At least a dozen times a year I’m approached with a question like: “there’s a large company in my area going out of business, or downsizing, or offering its employees some sort of buyout package… how can I market to them?”

When this type of news breaks, financial advisors are usually the first to salivate. Very few are savvy enough, however, to take advantage of the opportunity.

The “how do I get in front of these people” question was asked of me again last week, and I just finished my strategy call with the financial advisor client who posed the question. I’ll set the stage for you by defining the opportunity, and then discuss a few of the marketing ideas we’ll be looking to implement in order to capitalize on the opportunity.

The Opportunity:

The state of Missouri announced that it would offer a lump sum buyout to former employees that had not yet started drawing on their pension. Letters went out to roughly 17,000 people informing them of their options. In fact, in the letter itself, it encouraged the former employees to speak with a financial advisor. The question is… how can YOU be that financial advisor when an opportunity like this presents itself. For the sake of time, I won’t go into all of the financial details of the buyout. Let’s just say that it might make sense for some to take the lump sum and it might make sense for some to keep the pension. This particular blog post is NOT about the financial planning aspect of the opportunity. I just want to discuss the marketing opportunity.

The Game Plan:

This particular situation was a little trickier because it involved only FORMER employees. More often than not when these types of opportunities arise, it includes current employees, which is a little bit easier to get at. Many of the ideas discussed below could be used in a similar fashion.

The holy grail for this type of opportunity is to obtain an actual list of the employees being affected. The VAST majority of the time (99.9%) you won’t be able to get your hands on this list. There are a few exceptions, but in general, you’re not able to dial up a list company and get a list of employees. Unless you know somebody in the HR department and that would willing to share that with you (very questionable from an ethics/legality perspective), you should plan to get a little more creative to reach out to these folks.

Step 1: Find out everything you can about what is being offered. This will be critical so you can speak intelligently about the opportunity. You should know the opportunity inside and out.

Step 2: With the knowledge obtained from step 1, write a simple whitepaper report. It could be something like “The 7 Steps to Evaluate the XYZ Company Pension Buyout: A Guide for employees to help them avoid making financial mistakes.” Don’t get too hung up on the title I just shared, your title should be a little catchier than that. This is now used as a call-to-action piece.

Step 3: Pay Per Click advertising via Google. Focus on keywords within the opportunity: things like the company name, buyout, etc. Drive them to a landing page on your website and offer a consult and/or the whitepaper.

Step 4: Email ALL clients and prospective clients informing them of what is happening. It does NOT matter whether they work for the employer or will be impacted in any way. Simply let them know that you’ve helped a few people in the area who have been affected by it and would be happy to help anybody that they may know that could be affected by it. Reference the whitepaper.

Step 5: If you happen to have a client affected by the situation, explore hosting a happy hour with them and any other co-workers of theirs that might be affected.

Step 6: Linkedin. Use the search tool to identify employees of the company in question. You could tackle this group two ways: direct advertising via their platform and/or reach out directly via the message feature. Offer them the whitepaper and let them know you’ve helped others in their position.

Step 7: Facebook. You could use the same verbiage from the email to existing clients/prospects and create a Facebook post about it. Encourage your “fans” to share the post to help people in the community who might be affected by it. Drive them to the landing page with the whitepaper. In addition, you could advertise on Facebook directly to individuals that currently work or have worked at the employer in question.

Step 8: Reach out to every media outlet possible introducing the story to them and explaining the significant reach that it could have on the local community. Position yourself as a thought leader on the subject and make them aware that you have identified a “7” things that the affected employees must know. The goal is to gain an interview and offer the call to action. Of course, once you’ve landed any sort of press, leverage that across all of your other mediums (email, social media, etc.)

There are certainly more ways to tackle this opportunity, but we’ll just have to cover that in another blog post.

All the best,

Mark

What’s Wrong with the Financial Advice Industry

The following article was an op-ed piece originally published in InvestmentNews.

The political system in our country is broken.               AdobeStock_68670670.jpeg

Sadly, the financial advice industry is following suit.

After a tumultuous, contentious election cycle, the United States is more divided than ever. This division is happening at a time where our country could arguably be at one of its most significant crossroads in its history. The decisions (or indecision) facing our leaders will no doubt change the future of our country. Health care. Foreign relations. Taxes. Social programs. The list goes on. And the financial advice industry is along for the ride.

How One Word is Fueling the Fire
Read more

8 Ways Financial Advisors Can Improve Direct Mail Marketing

The following blog post was originally published in Investopedia:

When considering the marketing and advertising options available, many financial advisors are ignoring traditional direct mail in favor of using email or other digital

AdobeStock_68646136.jpegcommunication tools to connect with potential clients. Direct mail is making a powerful comeback for those that are trying to deliver a message to Baby Boomers today. While marketing consultants are quick to turn to digital marketing because marketing tactics Read more