‘CliffsNotes’ For Elite Financial Advisors

A confession: Without CliffsNotes, I may not have made it through high school…or college. In fact, until just recently, I actually thought it was “CliffNotes” (no “s”) – but I digress.

If you’re like me, these very valuable summaries are extremely helpful and efficient. With that in mind, I wanted to share three takeaways from a financial services virtual event last week, all of which struck me as highly relevant for elite financial advisors.

Blueprint is focused on helping elite financial advisors grow and sustain their businesses. As such, we conjoin investment management and practice management services because we know that it takes both to operate a high-performing advisory practice.

It was fitting, then, that The Summit for Asset Management (TSAM) recognized our ability to contribute to discussions on both topics when inviting us to speak during its TSAM Digital East Coast event last week.

I covered the investment management perspective for Blueprint in a session on navigating the challenges of a low yield environment, while Director of Marketing Nicole Hands spoke to practice management through the lens of marketing/sales.

What follows are three points I thought were particularly timely reminders from each of our sessions.

#1 – In the Search for Yield, Know What You’re Buying

It’s been an unprecedented year globally due to the economic shutdowns, rate slashing, stimulus packages, and historically rapid recoveries spurred by reopenings.

In my session on the challenges of a low yield environment, we spoke about the importance of knowing what you’re buying. Many investors are forced into looking for “the cleanest, dirty shirt.”

Put another way: Sure, that shirt may be dirty with a slight foul odor, but relative to the other shirts in the closet, a second look (and smell) reveals that it may just be your best option. 

The moderator asked me a question about whether the only choice for investors right now is either to take on more risk or accept lower income, and I thought the topic was particularly important as it relates to advisors speaking with their clients about risk/reward in these unusual times.

I broke down the three macro choices available to investors, touching on the implications of each approach:

  1. Rather than fixed income, shift to a portfolio of high-dividend stocks
  2. Maintain status quo, and accept a lower yield
  3. Increase risk in the search for additional yield

In short: Investors have to know what they hold, what the credit sensitivity is, how quickly they can get out.

Another panelist, ClearShares COO Frank Codey, put it this way: “We think that there’s still opportunity, but you have to know what you’re getting and you have to know what your timeframe is for the investment.”

#2 – News Headlines Ring Loudly in Your Clients’ Ears, Your Headlines Should Be Louder

Perhaps “louder” isn’t quite the right word — but hopefully you get my drift.

Your clients are bombarded with messages about investing, the markets, and the economy. Does what they think those headlines should mean for their portfolio align with the financial plan you’ve crafted for them? How do you know?

If you aren’t regularly communicating with your clients, you don’t know for certain.

When you share information that helps your clients understand their portfolios in the context of the current macro environment, it provides guidance that helps them stay anchored to you as their advisor as well as to their financial plans.

In fact, a Vanguard study found, “As much as 45% of the total value of an advisory relationship perceived by investors is derived from emotional elements, while the remaining 55% is derived from functional aspects of the relationship like portfolio management and financial management.”

You can provide your clients with emotional reassurance through blog posts, Zoom calls, videos, newsletters, and personalized emails.

For help crafting talking points related to risk/yield tradeoffs and your current portfolio positioning, I suggest watching roughly the first half of my session, during which the panelists provide a robust high-level overview of the 2020 landscape and the factors that have led to the current macro environment.

#3 – Client Service & Business Development Make You a Marketer

The previous point, staying in the ears of your clients, dovetails with some of the takeaways from Nicole’s session, “Sales teams meet marketers in the age of digitization.”

Building and growing a successful practice requires you to constantly promote your service to existing clients and prospects. That’s marketing, even if you don’t usually apply this definition to your client service and business development activities.

In this COVID-era, two of the key themes financial services marketers are talking about — and therefore you should be thinking about how for your practice — are content and video:

  • Filming videos can be an incredibly efficient way to spend your time. Rather than hold 10, 20, or 30 distinct face-to-face meetings (whether in person or via video conferences), video puts a one-time demand on your time but allows you to distribute a consistent message to as many people as you like.
  • Short videos have broader appeal. The sweet spot is 2:30-3:00 in length.
  • Videos have been “casualized.” Stop obsessing over imperfections in lighting or production quality. In today’s world of work from home, school from home, everything from home, these imperfections can convey a sense of relatability, leaving your audience thinking, “You’re human, just like me.”
  • For content, forget quantity: It’s quality first and consistency second. There’s a misconception that blogging means constantly churning out new content. That’s simply not the case. It’s more important to distribute content that’s highly relevant to your audience — materials that answer questions they may have and shows your expertise as a financial advisor — and then to continue to produce it on a regular basis.
  • Your audience is your best marketing advisor. You can learn a lot about what your clients and prospects want from you by paying attention to their digital behaviors. Digital communication tools, including your website and emails, offer concrete data about which of your messages resonate best with your audience. You tap into this intelligence by paying attention to how much traffic is coming to your webpages, how many clicks your emails generate, and how many replies you receive. You can also go directly to your clients and simply ask them what, how, and how frequently they’d like to hear from you.


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