Archive for October, 2008
When the stock market plunged last week—bottoming with a loss of 40% from the all-time high reached October 9, 2007—we began a free service to help financial advisors manage client communications: a daily market update that you can copy, paste, and email to your clients.
The daily updates contain a summary of thoughtful stories covering the day’s events. These short takes on the financial tumult are intended to be used as a daily reminder to clients that you are in touch with them and on top of the situation.
An advisor who does not stay in touch with clients through this volatile time is much easier to fire than one who is in touch. Research has repeatedly shown that professionals who are liked by clients are less likely to be fired. Staying in touch—even in this seemingly small way—shows that you care and that all you need to do sometimes to reassure fearful clients terrorized by the plunging values in their accounts and seizing-up of the banking system.
The stock market today recovered about half of last week’s losses, and the crisis thankfully seems to be eased. But we will continue to provide the daily updates at least through the end October and longer if the wild swings continue. Advisor Products provides the daily updates for free to independent financial advisory firms because your support over the past 12 years enables us to do so.View today’s “Crisis Update.”
We recently found ourselves in a peculiar position. It happened when we launched dynamic online performance reporting for PortfolioCenter and a new online vault. Ironically, offering more features at lower prices than our competitors inspired skepticism. While advisors were thrilled to hear that we can save them money—especially since financial crisis has pummeled asset prices and, thus, advisory fees—their enthusiasm is tempered by suspicion.
Charging low prices raised a question in the minds of some advisors: If their firm for years had been paying twice as much for online reporting, why is Advisor Products charging so much less?
The answer is simple: Because we can! We can charge less because we have built a strong business. We’ve made mistakes and fixed them. We’ve hired the right people and fired lazy workers with bad attitudes. We’ve used our deep understanding of the advisory business to focus on what’s important to you.
Other advisor website development firms have focused on providing a way for advisors to share performance reports with clients. And, to their credit, they have answered a need in the market. Many advisors have wanted to display performance reports on the Web, and we admittedly lagged in providing this feature. But we were busy improving other parts of our business.
None of our competitors provides personal finance content or our level of design and customization. Moreover, none of our competitors offers the wide array of marketing products beyond websites that we do, including logo development, stationery, copywriting, client newsletters, brochures, and email newsletters. And no other vendor offers a personal client portal platform that interfaces with more than a dozen professional applications, including financial planning, account aggregation, form-filling, and CRM systems.
We have focused on developing processes and technology to improve our scalability and service. And guess what? We figured it out. We developed the processes and systems to provide excellent service across our entire array of marketing products and to develop new software applications fast while keeping our costs low. It’s been a tough couple of years, but we’ve done it. Our business is now more scalable and our service is much better.
One important change we made was in the people we who speak with advisors. Instead of graphic designers and web developers speaking with advisors about how they wanted their websites to look, we now have project managers as the single point of contact for every website we create. And if you purchase a logo, marketing copy, stationery, or a brochure, the project manager stays with you through the entire process. Providing a single contact—one person who knows design, HTML, and branding and who also has strong customer service skills—has increased customer satisfaction dramatically.
Another important shift we made was in working with Project Manager Professionals to outsource development. Rather than keeping development in-house, we now outsource most large development projects and we plan them in great detail. For instance, the planning document for creating our new vault system, which probably has more features than any other online vault offered to advisors—ran about 100 pages in length. Before a single line of code was written, we had a specification for the user interface so we knew how every major feature would be accessed by users. In addition, the world is now our labor pool. Instead of employing a few developers, we can find developers from all of the U.S. and worldwide who have skills in specific areas. As a result, we now develop applications literally five times faster than we did three years ago we’re doing it at a fraction of the cost. That’s why we’ve been able to deploy the client portal platform and a dozen interfaces in the past year, along with the vault and dynamic performance reporting.
We also have documented our core processes for building sites and embedded our processes in our CRM system, a proprietary application that we have built ourselves. We can now handle many projects at once without calls from clients going unanswered or tasks falling through the cracks.
After 13 years in business, we are more determined than ever and more able to become the dominant provider of marketing and client communication services to independent advisors. It has not been easy, but I am happy to report that we are there. And, hopefully, you now understand how we can do what we do at such low prices compared to our competitors.
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