Financial Advisor Marketing & Technology

Marketing & Technology For Independent Financial Advisors

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Archive for February, 2009

Kanye West, Passwords, And Computer Security

Work it harder, make it better,
Do it faster, makes us stronger

Kanye West, Stronger

Okay, so Kanye West probably wasn’t thinking about computer security when he wrote the song, Stronger. But that is a great song and a great way to make a point about creating "strong" passwords.

I need you right now to know how easy it is for hackers to crack you. Google "password cracker software" and you get the idea.

As an advisor, you probably store client data on your office computer network, or maybe you provide clients with access to their accounts online. Since most passwords that people create are regarded by security experts as “weak,” it would be wise to take Kanye’s advice when it comes to passwords: “Work it harder, make it better.”

An estimated 40% of passwords are guessable by cracker programs. These programs run “dictionary attacks.” They programmatically go through every word in the dictionary to guess your password.

Some cracker programs combine personal information about a target with the dictionary words. So if a hacker steals your computer or hacks your office, they may snoop around to find your date of birth, phone number, kids’ names, and other personal data. Then, they use the cracker program to guess your password by creating combinations of your personal data with the dictionary words. Such an attack can literally last days, running through many, many combinations of personal data and random words.

Some of the most common ways you might create weak passwords are when your passwords use:

· nothing—you leave the password field blank
· the words: password, passcode, admin, or guest
· words in the dictionary
· a sequential string of keyboard letters like “qwerty”
· your name or email address
· your spouse’s, child’s, or pet’s name
· your birthplace or date of birth
· your license plate number (or spouse’s)
· your phone number
· spelling your name backwards
· Social Security number
· a curse word

If any of these weak password-creation ideas sound familiar, you’re vulnerable.

What you can do is to fight back. Use techniques for creating strong passwords, and tell your clients how to create strong passwords.

To make passwords stronger, let’s turn to Kanye's big hit again.

My favorite line in that song is: Let's get lost tonight! You can be my black Kate Moss tonight.”

That random phrase can be the basis of a good password. Simply take the first letter and punctuation from every word—Lglt!YcbmbKMt—and make that your password.

In fact, that tactic–using a verse from a song, poem, famous quote or some other random phrase that is forever committed to your memory–can be the basis of a great strong password.

Strong passwords are comprised of the following:

· Capital letters and lower case
· Numbers
· Non-alphanumeric characters and punctuation (!, (, @, #, ), $, %, ^, &, or *)
· 12 to 14 characters

The best passwords appear to be a random string of numbers, letters, and special characters. But they can be a memorable phrase or based on a phrase that has meaning to you, or based loosely on the first address you lived at as a child. More examples:

· 6590160thst,FNY: 65-90 160th Street, Flushing, NY (my first address as a child)
· BOit44thPotU.S.: Barak Obama is the 44th President of the U.S.
· Mf.iWShi'912'99: My favorite period in Wall Street history is '91 to '99

Some other password tips:

· Use one password for low-security applications such as magazine subscriptions and crossword puzzles.
· Remember that email is not secure and that emailing your passwords is unwise.
· Consider using a password-generation and memory program. I use RoboForm (www.roboform.com) and love it.

And, as Kanye would say, “Don’t act like I never told ya’.”

Finding More Meaning In Life

Texas Tech University opened a technology complex for financial planning students yesterday that was financed with a $1 million contribution from the Charles Schwab Foundation.

The building, which is part of the school's Division of Personal Financial Planning is undoubtedly the world's best collection of planning technology tools ever assembled to educate students. If you're studying to become a financial advisor, you get trained on applications you actually will use when you get a job.

While the movement to transform the job of giving financial advice into a profession has progressed over the last decade at a maddeningly slow pace, the lab is a leap forward.

  • It’s a way of providing real-life training for students
  • It sets a new standard in educating the next generation of advisors
  • It establishes a benchmark for other schools to meet or beat
  • It creates a baseline for software features to meet to be part of an educational curriculum
  • It establishes the types of tools will become part of an advisor’s desktop.

There are probably lots of other reasons why opening this lab is a significant event in the effort to shift the role of financial advisors from salesmen to professionals. The point of this post is to acknowledge how and why this lab opened.

  • How did a school in Lubbock, Texas pull this off?
  • Why did Charles Schwab, who received a BA and an MBA from Stanford University, donate $1 million to this school?
  • Who thought of this lab and followed through to get the building constructed?

The answer: Deena Katz.

Aside from waving hello at conferences, I haven’t caught up with Ms. Katz in several years. We did a series of speaking engagements together about five years ago and were in touch regularly for about two years back then, and I learned what a good person she is.

Ms. Katz was surely the one who tapped Charles Schwab for the money, a contribution to the profession that he, too, deserves being acknowledged for making.

An Associate Professor at Texas Tech, Ms. Katz is mentioned in the last paragraph of yesterday’s press release about the opening of the lab for her role as “coordinator of the initiative.” While I'm sure when she reads this post, she will say that so many other people were responsible for it, this complex started with Deena Katz.

In one of those 60-second conversations that we all have with colleagues at conferences, Ms. Katz told me two or three years ago that she was trying to build a financial planning technology lab for students at the school.

The last time we had a chance to talk at any length was when we shared a taxicab to an airport somewhere about four years ago. Ms. Katz told me she was going to pull back from practicing as an advisor to become an educator at Texas Tech. I was mystified about why she would shift her life from being one of the best known advisors in the nation with a lucrative practice to become a teacher.

She yearned for more meaning in her life, she told me. She said teaching the next generation of advisors could be a way to make her life more meaningful.

Clearly, it has been.

CNBC Poll: Clients Have Lost Faith In Advisors

I'm not a big fan of CNBC and other financial TV channels. They're great at covering live news and breaking stories, but they are not so good at covering the deeper issues.

Print reporters covering the same issues at great publications, like Financial Times, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal will always do a better job because they have more time to think, they can choose from experts all over the world and not rely solely on sources that are close to a studio and who are colorful, and they can organize their thoughts better because they use the written word.

Taking The Snake Oil Out Of Search Engine Services

Companies providing search engine services are often snake-oil salesmen. Making your website appear at the top of search engine rankings and effectively advertising your services on the internet is dependent on a complex formula. The complexity involved lends itself to claims to having a magic potion for success. While it would take a book or two to give you the whole story, here’s an abridged version of what advisors need to know about search engines.

1. Search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) are two different things. People who work in SEM and SEO cringe when these two terms are used interchangeably. SEM is pay-per-click marketing, like Google AdWords, the Web’s most popular SEM product. With Google AdWords, you bid on search terms (keywords) that you think people will use to find a firm like yours. When someone actually uses the terms that you placed a winning bid on in a search, your ad appears in the results of the search in the “Sponsored Links” areas at the top and right side of the results page. Coming up with the keywords that will trigger your ads on Google requires:

· time, thought, and an understanding of AdWords campaign techniques

· well-defined target clients and niches


If you want to create your own SEM campaign, read AdWords For Dummies by Howie Jacobson. I’ve interviewed Jacobson and he’s funny and personable, and his book is easy to read. (The interview will be published soon.) But just knowing Google AdWords won’t be enough to succeed. To create a successful AdWords campaign, you must first have a strategic marketing plan. You must know who your ideal clients are. That’s the tougher part of creating an SEM campaign. You can learn some basics of keyword advertising by watching Google's AdWords videos


2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a constant battle that most advisors don’t want to fight. The operative word in this phrase is optimization. SEO is an effort to optimize your website to attract traffic from search engines by writing the right words on your website. Google, Yahoo! and other search engines are always scanning the Web with “bots” and use complicated and unique algorithms to rank them. The algorithms rank your site based on how frequently you keywords are repeated in your site’s copy. So an advisory firm that uses the phrase, “Florida Power & Light executives with stocks options” on its site repeatedly would have a good chance of coming up high in search results if an FP&L executive searches for advice about his stock options by using that phrase in a search. Other factors influence the optimization of your site for search engines, including:

· URL. It is itself an influential search term in search engine algorithms.

· Frames. Search engines don’t like sites with frames.

· Originality. Search engines don’t like copy duplicated on other websites.

· Change. Search engines like new content (or content that has been altered).

· Broken Links. Any broken links hurt your ranking.

· Links To You. The more sites that link to your site, the better.


The algorithms weighting the many factors used by search engines in ranking sites are secret, change periodically, and experts differ about their relative importance in influencing site optimization. But because SEO is so byzantine, the field is rife with snake oil salesmen who collect money and may not do very much. SEOmoz.com, a reputable SEO company, published a ranking of SEO factors and an in-depth guide, which can help you better understand this important but complex area of internet marketing.

Advisor Products offers advisors SEO and SEM services offerings. If we host your website, you’ll find our search engine services priced fairly, and they are implemented by search engine specialists. Because of our focus on providing marketing solutions to independent advisors, we add value as domain experts when compared with other providers that do not know the financial advisory business. Moreover, with a 12-year record of integrity in serving independent advisors, you have the comfort of knowing we’re not selling you snake oil.

If you have questions about SEO or SEM for advisors, please feel free to ask me. That's what this blog is for.

CFP Board Continuing Ed Policy Must Change

The CFP Board should change its policy and begin providing continuing education credits for sessions dealing with practice management.

Financial planners often don't know which portfolio management system, financial planning software, or customer relationship management application to buy. They may not know what kind of computers they need or which marketing products make most sense for them. For CFPs to provide financial planning advice, being educated about these issues is crucial. Yet the CFP Board says education sessions covering these topics don't qualify for continuing education (CE) credit.

The CFP Board has a list of hundreds of topics that qualify for continuing education (CE) credit. You can get CE credit for attending a program about Generation Skipping Transfer Taxes, swaps, or collars—topics that rarely come up. Learning about technology and marketing issues arguably is more important and useful. It certainly meets the CFP Board’s test that a CE program “increase the professional competency of CFP certificants.”

The American Institute of CPAs, the equivalent to the CFP Board that regulates the nation’s 340,000 CPAs, gives continuing education credit for practice management and marketing issues. The CFP Board should do the same for its 60,000 CFP licensees.

If the CFP Board wants financial planning to flourish and be accessible to more Americans, it must help CFP certificants create stronger practices by promoting education of practice management and marketing. While I appreciate the many good things the CFP Board does, its policy on this issue makes no sense.

The Financial Crisis Webinar Series sponsored by Advisors Products recently began receiving CE credit and most weekly seminars are likely to qualify for credit. But I don’t see why the sessions about marketing and practice management should not receive approval by the CFP Board for continuing education credit.

If you think I’m wrong or missing something, please write a comment to let me know. But this has angered me for years and I’m pleased to finally air this issue.

Let me know what you think. Should this CFP Board policy be reformed?

Highlights Of Survey Results About Advisor Marketing And CABs

  • 27% of advisors said they don’t need a client advisory board to know what their clients want.
  • 57% of advisors believe their clients will give them referrals now despite big losses in portfolios they manage.
  • 58% of advisors say their website is fairly effective, effective or very effective in marketing to prospects, while only 38% say their website is fairly effective, effective or very effective in communicating with clients.
  • Many marketing vehicles are not being used by a majority of advisors, although the vehicles are at least fairly effective when used.

These were some of the findings of a survey we took in advance of last week’s webinar about client advisory boards. Bruce Peters, founder and CEO of CABHQ, was our featured speaker and he had plenty of material to work with from our survey.

Although 288 registrants signed up for the free session, just 43 filled out the survey. The survey was too long. We’ll keep surveys shorter in the future. Please respond to the surveys. Understanding your needs is important to us.

While the number of respondents was small, the survey results give us a good indication—albeit unscientific—about how advisors feel about issues they were questioned about. From my experience, once you have more than 35 advisors respond to a survey the overall results do not change much whether an additional 100 advisors or 1,000 respond.

I believe that the one-quarter of advisors that responded to question one by saying they don’t need a client advisory board to know what their clients want are mistaken. A formal feedback loop lets you know what your clients are thinking. Without formally asking clients what they’re thinking—through surveys, a CAB, or other means, you’re just guessing.

In question six, 57% of advisors say they believe clients will give them referrals despite large losses in their portfolios. If you are among the 43% of advisors who believe your clients will not give you referrals now, it may be worthwhile to examine why you feel this way. Could you do a better job of focusing client relationships on retirement planning, estate planning, risk management, and articulating and planning to achieve long term goals? How can you become less dependent on investment performance for referrals? Can you do a better job of educating clients about market risks?

It’s unfortunate that 43% of respondents to question eight say that establishing a client advisory board would require too much work amid the crisis. With clients in trouble, this is arguably the perfect time to set up a CAB. It would provide an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to making your firm great even in the worst of times. CAB members are more likely to bond with you now, in difficult times, than ever. This is precisely the right time to elevate communication and show clients you care.

Answers to questions 10, 11, and 12 could be the topic of several blogs. One interesting finding is that 58% of advisors say their website is fairly effective, effective or very effective in marketing to prospects. Yet only 38% say their website is fairly effective, effective or very effective in communicating with clients. That makes sense. Advisors are not yet utilizing Web 2.0 tools available to them to facilitate client service and engagement. According to the survey, 75% of advisors say they do not provide clients with an online vault, 89% say they do not write a blog, 67% are not using online meeting software, and 67% are not providing webinars for clients. While websites have been better for marketing than for client service, the growing use of client portals, online vaults, personalized content delivery, and other Web 2.0 tools will make the Web a much more important tool for serving clients.

While face to face quarterly or annual meetings remain by far the most effective way of communicating with clients, it’s interesting that personal notes run a close second and are among the most widely utilized tools for keeping in touch with clients. We’ll dig deeper into this in future surveys to determine if handwritten notes are more effective than emails. Your feedback on the use of personal emails with clients would be welcome.

For marketing to prospects, the most widely used vehicle of those listed is a website, followed by personal notes. Both are rated as having about the same effectiveness. Interestingly, brochures, seminars, and webinars are all used by fewer than half of those who responded. The low utilization of these proven marketing vehicles is noteworthy. While the great majority of advisors are not using these marketing tools, some of them appear to be fairly effective. For instance, 52% of those surveyed do not have a brochure, yet 36% of advisors say their brochure is either fairly effective, effective or very effective. Similarly, 40% of advisors are not using email newsletters but 40% say they are either fairly effective, effective, or very effective and the results show hard-copy newsletters are rated as slightly more effective while 40% of advisors do not utilize them.

This indicates many marketing vehicles are not being used by a majority of advisors, although the vehicles are at least fairly effective when used. A minority of advisory firms are able or disciplined enough to invest time and money needed to benefit from these marketing efforts. Those that do reap the rewards.

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