Social and Channels and Brands, Oh My!

Hopefully readers can forgive me if I sometimes seem a little disjointed in my writings.

I attend wealth management conferences and find myself the only person talking about digital marketing, social media and engaging clients across multiple delivery channels. Then I attend social media and financial technology events and find myself the only person talking about wealth management, at least in terms of the kind that involves financial advisors actually helping clients.

Then I read, as I have referenced before, Ron Shevlin‘s BS-busting work on his blog Snarketing 2.0 and he skewers the very notion that some of this stuff even matters:

And so what if banks do create a “consistent brand experience across all channels”? Do you think bank customers will be lulled into forgetting the other issues and problems with their <sic> that they face?

He is right, of course. But I’ll come back to that.

Last week I sat in a room in New York full of bright wealth management executives to discuss important ways that firms can improve client service and grow their businesses. Booz & Company showed research that wealth management was one of the bright spots (along with payments) for growth in a sluggish financial industry. Their research showed an expected growth in the wealth management business of 3x GNP growth. That sounds pretty good until you realize that GNP growth has averaged about 1.5% over the past ten quarters.

Voice of the client largely missing

There were lots of good discussions on lots of relevant topics, but what struck me the most was how internally focused our industry has become. Maybe we have always been this way. Aside from my friends at the VIP Forum and WISE Gateway, most of the discussion was about the firms, their people, the investment strategies and the sales and marketing, rather than the clients themselves.

I can’t count the number of surveys and studies that show the increasing expectations of integrated mobile and web offerings, and the affluent have higher adoption rates than the general population. Yet someone in the room actually said out loud that they haven’t done anything with mobile technology because their clients haven’t been asking for it.

Henry Ford famously said (or perhaps never said, according to Patrick Vlaskovits in the Harvard Business Review) “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Whether he said it or not, the apocryphal quote highlights both sides of the same coin for me.

Listen to your clients. But also use your own intuition to design something to solve their problems in a better, faster or cleaner way. That is the essence of innovation, and what is too often lacking in financial services. (See Five Things Banks Can Learn from Start-Ups.)

Don’t repaint when you need to fix a cracked foundation

Which brings me back to Ron Shevlin’s comments. In my mind, it’s not that financial firms shouldn’t strive to “create a consistent brand experience across all channels” (or engage in social media, or build their brand), it’s that too many firms are focused on the window dressing instead of addressing  the core issues that consumers want us to address. Shevlin’s closing comments are spot on:

If, however, the focus was on “fixing problems” or “redesigning” processes and interactions, then maybe funds would flow to the places where they’re really needed.

But you’re not going to effectively prioritize those investment alternatives by asking consumers about their channel preferences.

I am now in Boston and off to another conference, surely filled with bright people. Let’s see who’s really focused on the clients…

More here next week.

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