Paying Dividends: How Digital Equals Growth for the Finance Sector

by Leo Mullen, CEO and Digital Strategy Lead at NavigationArts, now an EPAM company

Evolving consumer behavior and digital marketing are creating seismic change in the financial services marketplace. As a result, many financial service providers are finding that they need a new approach to remain competitive.

The marketplace for financial products and services has undergone profound changes since the meltdown crisis of 2007. Many firms today stress their rigorous analysis, independent thinking, and disciplined approach to money management as pathways to sustainable investment opportunities with greater long-term value for clients. But standing out in this crowded field becomes ever more difficult as the volume and intensity of outbound financial services marketing activity increases.

Disrupting this market are changes in consumer behaviors and digital interactivity – such as the rise of social media, the rapid adoption of mobile devices, and the proliferation of new and powerful tools for managing customer data. These forces, among others, are making it necessary for providers of financial services to assess their digital outreach in order to remain competitive. For those who seek to compete in this space, it is crucial to understand that such change is just beginning and will likely accelerate. We’re already seeing changes to the structure and innovative features of products and services; changes in the way consumers react to digital marketing; and changes to the business models designed to efficiently connect consumers with these products. The challenge for many financial services providers today is to think beyond the next version of their website and put in place a platform that allows them the flexibility to efficiently synchronize operational changes with those in the marketplace.

Knowing your customer’s customer

Many financial services providers serve a broad range of retail and institutional customer types, but one segment is emerging as a top business priority- intermediaries or Financial Advisors (FA). Marketing successfully to FAs requires establishing a credible value proposition for the provider’s branded products / services and providing the means for the FA to convey that brand promise to the retail customer. For all customer segments, and especially for financial advisors, content is king. Successfully reaching and retaining these elusive customers requires the ability to intelligently segment them by type and provide specifically customized and personalized content that correlates closely to their demographic and psychographic profiles. Content that is closely tied to the roles and goals of these online users will create an experience that is the key to long-term brand loyalty.

Digital information and tools obviously must be structured to work in close alignment with the way advisors work. They must be able to configure reports, dashboards and marketing offers that are customized to a workplace retirement plan or personalized to a specific retail customer with a college savings plan. But these materials must also be configured to serve the needs of the internal sales people and others who support the advisors. Some of the things frequently cited most important by FAs include:

Better Data: Make available accurate, complete, real-time data that can be modeled to match specific investment strategies.

Easier Access: Provide simple, intuitive authentication systems and avoid complex login flows that requiring separate IDs and passwords for each tool or system.

Efficient Workflows: Much of the reporting process requires paperwork, emails, and telephone contacts. Such workflows typically require high levels of administrative support which is frequently unavailable.

Data Visualization: Provide easy-to-configure dashboard tools that allow simple manipulation of asset performance and facilitate comparison of alternate products within any asset class.

Automated Reporting: Provide the ability to run established reports on a specific schedule without a manual trigger.

Thought Leadership: Provide access to easily consumable, high quality intellectual property related to specific reports that provides context and market perspective.

Report Templates: Provide publishing tools that allow easy configuration of customized / personalized reports that permit balanced co-branding between provider and FA.

Providing reliable performance data that customers can easily access and work with is the minimum threshold of customer engagement. More and more, what differentiates asset management companies is the quality and depth of their fund managers’ thought leadership and areas of expertise. Best demonstrated practices among many leaders in the financial service sector underscore the value of content marketing as a means to reach their desired audiences.

But many financial service providers struggle with this thought leadership content. Much of what they produce is lengthy, dense, and highly technical and difficult to consume. Much of it is trapped in PDF files that must be unpacked and made more accessible through navigation, search and SEO. Other content lacks the relevant insights or rich narrative content that promote easy consumption and viral distribution.

Leaders in financial services marketing are seizing the opportunity to showcase their best and brightest talent on the web, getting them and their commentary out in environments where advisors congregate, on sites like Morningstar, Bloomberg, Yahoo Finance and even LinkedIn. Doing this requires not only a nimble web platform but also an enterprise content strategy that details how content is developed, structured, stored, and packaged for consumption on multiple channels and devices. It also requires creativity. What ultimately helps persuade an advisor to include a specific product or asset into their portfolio is the narrative, the story, the product personality and how it connects to larger economic, social, or stage-of-life trends.