Learning from leaders: key takeaways from Breakfast and Brainfood

Today, at our most recent Breakfast and Brainfood event in London, Rob Mitchell, CEO of Longitude, talked us through the ins and outs of getting thought leadership right for the C-suite. The session brought together influential communications and marketing professionals from across the financial services to learn how we can better engage, inform and influence business leaders in this field.

Rob’s presentation and following lively discussions gave us much to think about, so we’re excited to share some of our key takeaways.

Differentiation is crucial

Thought leadership has to be based on original thinking, helping brands engage top decision makers and supporting broader commercial and marketing goals. Without this originality, it is simply not thought leadership.

With senior decision makers spending on average four hours a week consuming thought leadership and 40 percent most valuing unique insights, it’s important to think about what makes your business stand out and what your audience wants to hear. Focusing on the three lenses of an audience, competitors and capabilities will help you get this right.

Choice matters

We have been told for some time that executives no longer want long-form content and that shorter, digestible formats are preferred. But the reality is more complex. While case studies were cited as the most popular form of thought leadership content, with 46 percent choosing this option, echoing a trend towards greater story-telling, long reports still have a role to play.

Overall, it’s crucial to present your audience with both variety and format choice. Not only because people digest content in different ways, but this will often vary from topic to topic.

Adopt an outside-in approach

All too often, thought leadership is written from the inside-out, when in fact it should be the opposite. Thinking about your audience first, the challenges they are facing and how you can help them should shape your approach and will add significant value to thought leadership content.

It’s a marathon not a sprint

For so many businesses, thought leadership is often a once and done affair, but it shouldn’t be. Compelling thought leadership content should be consistent, build momentum and more importantly be something that people can engage with over a long period of time.

If this is the sort of event that sounds of interest to you then please get in touch. We look forward to seeing many more of you at our future events!

The Rich Get Richer, While The Poor Get Poorer

Much commentary has anguished over the widening income gap between rich and poor.  Now a similar concern seems to have appeared in the business world. Income and profitability between large firms and small seem also to have diverged.  Here, the causes seem more straightforward than with the gap among individual earners. Two principal reasons stand out: 1) technology has enabled some firms to gain tremendous market power and 2) the expansion in government regulation, despite President Trump’s efforts to curtail the growth of rule making, has imposed heavy and uneven burdens on large and small firms.  Technology, if it has contributed to the problem, also might offer an answer. Indeed, it has already begun to do so.

Statistics paint a compelling picture.  According to a recent study by McKinsey & Co., the best performing decile of companies worldwide garnered 80 percent of all profits between 2014 and 2016, up from 75 percent a decade earlier.  The top 1 percent gained 36 percent of the profits. Of the array of over 5,000 firms surveyed by McKinsey, fully half were troubled. Though they may have rated as a solvent in a strict accounting sense, their return on capital fell far short of what investors would consider adequate.  Half, then, were effectively unsustainable. A separate, larger study by Aswath Damodaran of over 25,000 firms roughly verified these findings.

Some discussion of this problem has blamed globalization for the widening gap between small and large business concerns.  Though these days the winner-take-all character of global trade seems to get the blame for anything unfair or inequitable, laying this problem at globalization’s feet stretches credulity. With the Internet, global supply chains and marketing connections are now available to all.  A small retailer in Wichita, Kansas can access the same inexpensive inventory made in Asia as a giant retailer and, with inexpensive advice market those products nationally, even globally. Rather than drag out the perennial whipping boy of globalization, a better explanation might well lie with questions of market power.  Though all have access to the same suppliers, larger firms, such as Walmart and Amazon, can drive a harder bargain on price and delivery terms than smaller or mid-sized firms. Size also yields the financial power to expand through mergers and acquisitions, leaving for small players that would expand the more expensive and less reliable use of capital spending.

But more than market power or globalization, the main culprit in this matter appears to be government regulation.  Those discussing these trends in business – whether in the media or academia – have largely ignored the role of regulation, but it is nonetheless huge, and its burden clearly falls unevenly, weighing heavier on small- and mid-sized firms than on large ones.

Regulations – whether economic, environmental, or tax-related – certainly impose a great burden on American business.  According to a recent study by the Office of Management and the Budget (OMB), Congress passed only some 65 significant laws in 2013, the year under review.  In contrast, federal regulatory agencies that year issued some 3,500 regulations, an average of nine per day. Business had to accommodate every one of them.  According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the agencies of the federal government in 2015, the year of that study, issued some 80,000 pages of new rules.  Business had to digest these and accommodate them as well.

And all these demands on business have imposed great expenses.  According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, fully 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) goes to comply with federal regulations, and that does not even consider the burdens imposed by the 50 states, which combined have issued administrative codes for business approaching 18 million words.  By directly imposing on business for compliance and by additionally distorting investment decisions, regulations, according to the prestigious Mercatus Center at George Mason University, have slowed the economy’s growth rate by 0.8 percentage points a year. Had the regulatory structure remained steady at 1980 levels, that study points out, the country today would have a GDP one-quarter again larger than it does, giving every American more than $13,000 more income a year than he or she has presently.

Of course, these regulations also benefit the public.  Clean air and water are, after all, worth a lot, so is transparency in marketing, energy efficiency, fair treatment for workers, and highway safety, just to name a few of the aims of the regulatory structure.  The OMB’s study estimates that regulatory benefits outweigh costs by a factor of three. While some, the Mercatus Center for one, have cast doubt on the OMB calculations, that is hardly the point. Even if the OMB is accurate to the third decimal point, it is the public that benefits and it is business, the subject of this discussion, that pays, except, of course, when it can pass the costs on to customers. What is more, the data show that these costs to business, whatever the balance between overall burdens and benefits, fall harder on small- and mid-sized firms than on larger players.

The reason is that most regulatory costs are fixed.  The reporting and other compliance requirements demand staffing that imposes additional costs but that varies little with the size of the firm involved.  Even when and increasing business volumes increases regulatory costs they seldom do proportionately. Because small firms have much less revenue and fewer employees over which to spread those more or less fixed costs, their relative burden weighs more. The Small Business Administration estimates that firms with fewer than 20 employees pay on average 80 percent more per employee in regulatory costs than do firms with over 500 employees.  A rigorous academic study done some years ago under the auspices of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) put this overall figure slightly lower, at 40 percent, but that is still a significant gap. For tax compliance, where most of the costs are indeed fixed, the NBER study found that compliance costs small business pays 3 times more per employee than in larger firms.

If then, it is regulation that has created the gap or a good deal of it, technology may offer a way to level the playing field.  Many fintech firms have already seized on the opportunity and moved into this space. Systems to deal with tax calculation and reporting have led the way, but increasingly players in this area are developing systems to deal with labor, environmental, and trade regulations.  Given the overall burdens involved, these systems, especially as they become more efficient and cost-effective, will offer businesses in every industry tremendous relief. If the new technologies can save only one-quarter of the amount spent presently on regulatory compliance (11 percent of GDP), they will save the business some $232 billion.  If the systems developers can capture for themselves only 10 percent of that amount, they will secure over $23 billion, an amount well worth the effort. Into the bargain the technology developers will benefit small business most of all, not at the expense of large business but simply because the greatest burden at present falls on small rather than large firms.  Doing well by doing good always has great appeal.

Pitch perfect: Tone is crucial in storytelling

There have been quite a few conversations and comments recently, which have spurred conversation for our team around an element of storytelling that is a bit more difficult than many communicators anticipate: tone.

It’s all about tone. Getting tone pitch perfect is crucial.

A few weeks ago, I explored some other aspects to successful storytelling, but pitch felt so important, we decided to devote a blog to it, specifically. Most frequently used in the musical sense, tone is a synonym for accent, emphasis, inflection, resonance, strength, timbre, force, intonation, modulation, stress and tonality. But when it comes to marketing and communications, it’s typically used as a way to describe how a campaign has landed, how audiences have reacted and how it’s been discussed on social media.

Unfortunately it’s often a negative reaction, ‘the tone just wasn’t right,’ ‘the tone didn’t sit well with me,’ ‘why have they said it like that?’ And that’s not what any of the hard working professionals involved in any campaign launch would have been looking for as a reaction. There might even be a phrase or sentence in this blog that doesn’t sit well with you, where your perception of the tone of my writing is negative and where my intended point misses the mark for you.

So, back to what drove this conversation amongst the team at Vested here in London. It was the recent work by Natwest and Stylist about banking for women and Santander’s new partnership with Ant and Dec. With plenty of women who love finance represented on the Vested team and a similarly vocal male contingent, the Natwest work didn’t sit comfortably with some of us. We don’t want institutions to apologise … Just act! The sentiment was absolutely right, but was it delivered badly? Maybe. The tone just didn’t work for us. But for some Stylist readers, the man in a bowler hat will have been spot on, drawn them in and made them think about their finances on their commute home. And that’s definitely not a bad thing.

Now Ant and Dec have undeniably had their ups and downs over the last few years, and we’re sure Santander would see their addition to the roster of celebrities they’ve worked with as a great coup. But we’re just not sure why any celebrity or sportsperson is the right choice for selling current accounts or reducing mortgage payments. Do we trust them? Are they experts in this area? Or are they just raking in the fee and doling out the same advice of not buying expensive coffee to improve your financial future? In this case, perhaps it’s just somebody getting carried away with a pun … Santander or Antandec, where would you rather bank? We all know that big celebrities, which with more than six million Twitter followers Ant and Dec undeniably are, will raise awareness and get people talking, but will the tone deliver better financial outcomes for Santander customers? We’re not so sure.

5 Tips for Generating Leads Through Marketing

What is a lead? In the world of sales and marketing, a lead refers to an individual or organization who is interested in your products or services. Businesses know when someone is interested if he or she shares an email address to subscribe to the newsletter, contact number, or social media account.

It sounds simple enough. The tricky part is getting more leads to generate sales. Even if you already have loyal customers, you will always need new ones to keep the business growing. You don’t need to buy leads either in order to keep up with your competitors but generating leads on your own entails a lot of time and hard work. Keep in mind that in a competitive market, when every other company in the industry targets more or less the same audience, generating leads can be challenging.

How can you generate more leads? Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Get by with a little help from your friends. One way to generate more leads is to tap into your personal network. In this business, networking is king and keeping connections, whether they be former colleagues, industry peers or someone you’ve met at a party, counts for a lot. They can tap their networks and share posts about your business on their respective social media accounts. Getting referrals can go a long way in reaching a much wider audience and hopefully pique the interest of other people.
  • Set up and maintain a blog. Even if you’re not a writer, your knowledge and understanding of your offerings, as well as the industry, will make it easier for you to create content regularly for a blog. This platform is a popular way to showcase your products or services. At the same time, it helps establish your online presence and improve your credibility as a business owner. Another great thing about having a blog is that it’s easy to set up and maintain. There are several site-building platforms that you can choose from and before you know it, you can publish your content.

The digital space is becoming more and more saturated with all sorts of content. If you will utilize blogging for lead generation, make sure that your articles are straightforward and relevant to your target audience. Always add a call to action so your readers know what you want them to do. Also, post regularly to improve site traffic and your rankings in search engine results pages. If your content is interesting enough, your readers will be more engaged and likely to share your articles on their social media accounts – another potential source of more leads.

  • Contact previous clients or old leads. Don’t lose hope when your leads didn’t result in sales. Though they were interested before, they might not be ready to purchase what you’re offering. It’s also possible that they lost interest because they found other options. Revisit your list of old leads and reach out to them again. They are probably ready to try your products this time around.

Reaching out to old leads is easier since you are already past the introductory part. At this point, you can remind them about your business and be more personalized in your approach. Offer to send email newsletters so they don’t miss out on promos or latest additions to your offerings. In the end, they may give your business another chance and this will translate to sales.

  • Set up a referral program for existing customers. Client testimonials are useful tools to promote your products or services, and who can better attest the credibility of your business than your loyal customers? If you think that it may be awkward to ask them to help promote your business, set up a referral program. For every X number of people referred, a loyal customer will get some incentives. Giving incentives is a proven way to help gain new customers. And since they already have experience in doing business with you, they can provide positive feedback and hopefully attract more people to check your business out.
  • Face-to-face interactions never get old. In this digital age when most people are always using their smartphones and gadgets all day, face-to-face interactions are still essential. The human approach provides several benefits that you cannot get from online networking.

Generate more leads by taking part in conferences and industry events. Be genuinely interested in conversations and make a mark in small group discussions. It may be old school, but it does the job of getting leads your way.

It’s also great to be invited as a guest speaker to an event where you can showcase your knowledge in the industry and your business. This will significantly help in establishing you as an authority in your space, and in building customer trust.

There are a lot of strategies to generate more leads to your business. It’s crucial to know your target market and their buying behavior so you can utilize the right approach to turn them into sales. We may be going digital, but it also pays to give your lead generation process a human touch. Promote your products or services to friends and family. Be an active participant in networking events. The right mix of traditional and digital approaches will help you gain new leads and make your business grow over time.

By Emily Lazration, CoverWallet

Emily is the Content Marketing Specialist at CoverWallet, a tech company that makes it easy for businesses to understand, buy and manage commercial insurance online.

Monzo uses customer insights as a powerful disruption tool

In 2015, Monzo arrived on the UK fintech scene with a bang. Everybody was talking about its brightly coloured cards and exclusive waiting list, and everyone wanted in. Having a Monzo card was an absolute must – it was a trendy accessory akin to an oversized pair of headphones or a wearable fitness tracker.

And it’s not like the concept was totally ground-breaking; the prepaid card market was active before Monzo launched, but it was dry and its users were disengaged. So as Monzo hits the 2 million customers milestone, we look at how the business, alongside some of the UK’s other new banking ventures, Starling Bank and Tandem have successfully disrupted the fintech narrative among millennials and challenged the way we budget, spend and save.

Spoiler alert: It all comes down to how well they know their customers!

Exclusivity

‘FOMO’ made its way into the Oxford Dictionary in 2013 after being normalised by the media, popular culture and millennials themselves. The fear of missing out experienced by young people is driven by social media and 24 hour digital communities, and it’s increased the value of exclusivity – a fact Monzo, Starling Bank and Tandem all clearly understand and have applied to their customer acquisition strategies.

Monzo’s waiting list got the nation competing, persuading and pitching. With ‘Golden TIckets’ designed to bump prospective customers up the list by referring a friend, those who weren’t already on ‘the list’ suddenly found themselves feeling like everyone’s best friend. As the initial surge in demand softened, Monzo ditched its waiting list, but Tandem has an ongoing waiting list to help it manage demand for products on an ad hoc basis and Starling Bank lets customers join waiting lists for products which haven’t even launched yet. In January it announced that 3,500 customers were waiting for euro accounts still being beta tested by employees.

Generally speaking, we want what other people have, and what we can’t have, so although the very nature of a waiting list barrs customers from automatically opening accounts and ‘buying’ products, this makes those items more desirable. And if waiting lists are managed properly – with countdowns and regular comms – they can drive demand.

Putting customers in control

Living in 24 hour digital communities, millennials are accustomed to real-time news and insights. And they want their own lives to reflect this – they don’t want a paper statement from their bank telling them what they spent in Sainsbury’s two months ago, they want to see a summary of their outgoings there and then so they can adapt their spending accordingly.

Monzo, Starling Bank and Tandem have built app functionality which nudges customers (utilising the best of behavioural theory), empowering them to monitor and control their behaviour. As Richard H Thaler, author of the critically acclaimed book Nudge, said, “A nudge, as we will use the term, is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives.”

Convenience

When Grandparents send birthday cheques, it would be really helpful to be able to visit a physical bank branch, open at a vaguely convenient time. After work, or at the weekends… But for the most part, millennials like to do their banking online. And not just online, on their mobile phones. We’re an increasingly mobile society and want to be able to manage our lives on the go.

Gone are ‘life admin Sunday mornings’ spent making our way through a pile of bills and a cafetiere. We don’t want to spend our weekends budgeting and working out where our money has been spent. It doesn’t suit our lifestyles – we want to be able to see it online, and this is what Monzo, Starling Bank and Tandem offer.

A new story to tell

Finally, Monzo, Starling Bank and Tandem have distanced themselves from the traditional financial services narrative, creating new stories to sympathise with the needs and wants of their target customers – most of whom grew up during the financial crisis and may have a poor view of the UK banking sector as a result. To challenge this, Starling Bank claims to be ‘changing banking in 2019’ while Monzo calls itself the ‘bank of the future’.

Tandem elevates this, almost distancing itself from the banking sector entirely. On its website it says ‘FYI we are a fully regulated UK bank’ – important information, right? Of course, but the use of ‘FYI’ implies that this is an afterthought, so instead of focusing on ‘being a bank’, Tandem is able to prioritise customer experience. The tone is challenging and makes a mockery of traditional financial services businesses who put regulation and authority at the forefront of customer comms. And its customers love it – they want a bank who is going to challenge the status quo on their behalf.

So there we have it – our take on why the fintech disruptors have disrupted so successfully – and why they’ll only continue making an impact. It comes down to exclusivity, convenience, control and storytelling, but this is all underpinned by deep customer insights. Monzo, Starling Bank and Tandem know their customers – they know how they think, feel and act, and this has translated into serious success already.

– Sophie Paterson, Associate Director EMEA

The Power of Storytelling for Brands

Storytelling is something that we’re passionate about. From how we help our clients tell their stories, to admiring the storytelling of investigative journalists and our personal favourite stories – whether they’re our go-to holiday reads, childhood memories of being read to, or the books we enjoy reading with our own children. Stories are at the heart of what we do and what we love.

But why does effective storytelling matter for brands?  Vested UK CEO Elspeth Rothwell and I discussed this during a recent webinar with Kurtosys. Below is a brief summary of the conversation:

Simplification

Storytelling is rooted deep in history and we experience it through all facets of life. For example, children’s stories help us understand the context of our environment, simplifying complex concepts and helping us understand them. They are how we learn and communicate, adding excitement, interest, and intrigue to life. And if told well, they can do the same for brands by adding emotion, building personality adding a sense of humanity, simplifying what a brand is about and giving businesses a voice.

Just like myths and legends, fables and fairy stories, brand stories can be complicated. And more often than not, the complexity only increases for financial services brands. Telling brand stories can support complex messaging by adding colour, presenting ideas in a different tone and using examples of other environments and contexts which then translate back into the financial services world. Stories can also be adapted to appeal to different audience groups by creating characters with needs and emotions that we identify with.

Adding Emotion

Brand communications often struggle because their stories lack emotion. And financial services lean more in this direction due to regulation, compliance and the large amount of data and factual information that has to be presented.

But storytelling is an opportunity to overcome this by appealing to the emotional side of our audience’s brains. The ways in which the rational and emotional sides of our brain interact and work together were the subject of our recent breakfast event with psychologist Simon Moore. Often interactions and communications fail because we assume we are engaging with a rational brain and not one that is led by emotions.

Less than 1 percent of the decisions we make on a daily basis use the rational side of our brain so we must be making emotional as well as rational connections, particularly in a fact-based world. And with stories activating the emotional side of our brain, their power cannot be underestimated.

Building Stories

But where do authentic stories come from? Within a business, they can come from so many places and people.  Employee and customer data, focus groups, in-house experts and social listening are just a few examples. But how do we translate these facts into stories which inspire?

We build stories by grouping our insights into three key areas – what’s happening in the real world, what’s happening in the world of your customers and prospects, and what’s happening within your business. We then identify where the opportunities are between them.

From this, we define the ‘why’ of any communications strategy – enabling brands to confidently articulate and engage with audiences about their vision and the future of the business and its goals.

The investment in developing authentic stories means that brands, their marketers and communications teams have an arsenal of ideas, content, topics, and themes at their fingertips, to activate through integrated campaigns that reach their target audiences.

—-

Elspeth Rothwell, CEO Vested EMEA and Katie Spreadbury, Director Vested EMEA, recently spoke about successful storytelling in investment management communications during a webinar hosted with Kurtosys. If you want to hear more, please watch or listen to the full webinar here.

How Traditional Financial Marketers Can Compete With Fintech

Do you remember when the financial services industry was in its heyday 20 years ago? There were high barriers to entry, institutions had been around for centuries, and life was good. There hadn’t been a major disruptor since the invention of the ATM.

The Great Recession sent all that crashing down in an instant. Suddenly banks had bad reputations and people didn’t know who to turn to. It was the perfect time for a new disruptor to hit the scene: fintech.

Why has fintech been so successful? One reason is because of its stellar digital marketing strategies. This may seem like bad news for those of you who work for traditional institutions, but there are certain strategies traditional financial marketers can use to compete with fintech.

Target A Specific Demographic

Traditional financial institutions tend to market to everyone from baby boomers to Gen Z. But you’ll have a stronger impact if you focus on one specific demographic. Take a look at your existing data. Which demographic has the biggest impact on your bottom line?

It doesn’t just have to be an age group. Your target demographic could be people going through certain life events—like graduating from college or retiring from the workforce—or it could even be the people in your local community. Whoever it is, create a robust marketing campaign aimed at them specifically.

Become An Industry Leader

“Fintech companies are succeeding because they put the customer at the center of the proposition, banks do not.” – David Klein, CEO of CommonBoard.

Once you’ve honed in on your target demographic, identify their pain points and solve their problems using your marketing campaign. Not only does this help build trust and loyalty with your customers, but it subconsciously tells them you are the go-to person for any information they need on that topic.

Include subtle calls to action, such as product recommendations, and you’ll begin to see an increase in profits as you become an industry leader.

Make Products & Services Accessible

People are beginning to view financial institutions as transactional rather than relational. They’re no longer looking to spend several hours in a bank just to get approved for a loan. They want to hop online, answer a few questions, and get a decision within minutes.

This means traditional financial institutions need to focus on:

  • Creating mobile apps,
  • Moving lending processes online, and
  • Improving digital banking tools.  

“The younger generation will gravitate toward brands that provide the best user experience, the best value, and ultimately, can help them reach their financial goals,” says Devin Ryan, Managing Director and Equity Research Analyst at JMP Securities.

How can you market your company’s products and services in a way that meets the needs of your customers? This may mean innovating any of your current offerings to better appeal to today’s tech-focused audience.

Refocus Your Marketing Strategy

There’s a reason why most fintech companies are full of people under the age of 30. They’re not looking for people with 20+ years of industry experience. They want someone with a fresh perspective and innovative ideas.

As a traditional financial marketer, don’t be afraid to question the relevance of your current marketing strategy. Who’s running your UX design? Are you engaging with your customers online through social media? How are you talking about your app or other offerings?

When Goldman Sachs partnered with Apple, for example, the deal had a lot of sex appeal because it was two big brands coming together to create a very sleek product. Is it really just a credit card with Apple rewards? Maybe. But because of its marketing, it felt very high-end and buzzy.

If any part of your marketing strategy is too outdated, cut it out and improve on it. It may seem ruthless, but innovation must also happen within your marketing department if you want to really compete with fintech.

Conclusion

No one can escape the effects of fintech and how it’s changed the way people interact with money. Whether it’s the idea of instant gratification, rewards, or being easy to navigate, there are elements that are now ingrained into our everyday lives. These changes force traditional financial marketers to rethink how they do business.  

So, let’s talk. How are you using fintech as a source of innovation in your own company? Are there other ways traditional financial marketers can compete with fintech? Share your thoughts with us on social!

Twitter: @Vested
LinkedIn: Vested LLC

How Financial Brands Can Use Privacy & Security To Gain Customer Trust

People can be just as protective over their hard-earned dollars as they are their first born child. Before potential customers willingly hand you their money, they need to know they can trust you with it. Because money evokes so much emotion, financial brands have to work twice as hard to build trust with their audience.

No one wants their brand fading into oblivion, so you must take advantage of every opportunity to establish trust. There are multiple ways to do this, but the most powerful way is through the use of technology. Think about it: five billion people walk around with mobile phones in their pockets every day.  

Nearly all of those people interact with brands they’re passionate about through email, social media, and web content. So, how can you leverage technology to establish trust with your audience?

Here are three powerful ways to get started:

Show Customers How You Protect Their Data

We live in a time where people are both dependent on technology and distrustful of it. Breaking headlines of data breaches and compromised security flood media outlets.  

Now is the time for financial brands to use technology to tell a story about their data privacy and security. Part of your marketing strategy should include actionable steps you are taking to show customers their data is protected.

Did you know only 25% of consumers believe companies responsibly handle their sensitive personal data? Use storytelling to show your customers how you protect their information through features like:

  • Account alerts
  • Two-factor authentication
  • SSL encryption
  • Security best practices
  • Secure data storage

Show Customers How They Can Protect Their Data

Sixty-nine percent of consumers believe companies are vulnerable to cyber attacks. Yes, demonstrating how you’re protecting their data is one step in the right direction. But strengthen that trust even more by showing them how they can protect their own data. The long-term benefits are substantial.

“By using marketing to serve customers and prioritizing customer needs before short-term business and marketing objectives, companies will gain a long-term competitive advantage and sustainable business success as indicated by the increases in purchase intent and loyalty we measured in the study,” says Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content at MarketingSherpa.

Teach them how to secure their online financial accounts by:

  • Creating strong, unique passwords
  • Enabling two-factor authentication
  • Setting up account alerts
  • Identifying non-trusted sources asking for personal information
  • Showing them how to recover from a data breach

It’s a win-win. You earn your customers’ trust by engaging with them on a deeper level, and you get added peace of mind knowing they’re taking extra steps to protect their information. It’s not all on you.

Show Customers They Come First

“Customers are 269% more likely to be satisfied when they view a company’s marketing as putting their needs ahead of its business goals,” according to a MarketingSherpa survey.

It should come as no surprise that satisfied customers lead to more sales. So as a financial brand, what better way to show customers you put them first than by calming their fears around data security and privacy? As policies and best practices change, keep your customers in the loop on how you’re changing too. They’ll appreciate the consistency.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where your data has been breached, be transparent. Don’t be afraid to talk about your brand’s weaknesses and the strategies you’re using to improve on them.

“A consistent brand helps increase the overall value of your company by reinforcing your position in the marketplace, attracting better-quality customers with higher retention rates and raising the perceived value of your products or services,” writes Bo Bothe, Will Cunningham, Elizabeth Tindall, and Leslie Rainwater of BrandExtract.

Trust is earned at a premium in the financial services industry. With privacy and security at the forefront of customers’ minds, financial brands need to earn trust by calming these fears. The benefits are insurmountable–if you are strategic about how you do it. So tell us, how are you using data privacy and security to build trust with your audience?

Asset Managers Respond to Intense Pressures

Asset management is not the business it once was.  Margins have shrunk dramatically and seem likely to fall farther.  In part, the problems stem from an explosion in regulatory burdens, but that is far from the whole picture.  Client demands for transparency and for more and better service have contributed to the margin pressure as well, as has the business active management has lost to indexing and algorithm-driven investment schemes sometimes called “robo” investing.  The asset management business as a whole has lost to the growth of exchange-traded funds (ETFs).  While technology has at times facilitated these margins squeeze, it has also provided answers to the challenge.  The pattern in all its aspects will carry on for the foreseeable future.

The margins squeeze is well documented. Fees have dropped precipitously. In 1990, mutual funds on average charged nearly 100 basis points for both equity and hybrid mandates and about 90 basis points for fixed-income mandates.  By 2005, these had shrunk back to 85 basis points for equity funds, 80 basis points for hybrid mandates, and only 65 basis points for fixed-income efforts.  In 2017, the most recent period for which data exist, they were respectively 60, 65, and 55 basis points. Fees on client specific products have, if anything, fallen still more, though statistics in this area are spotty at best.

Part of the fee problem stems from the poor performance of active managers during this time. According to Bloomberg, global active managers have lost to their benchmark indices by more than 300 basis points a year during the last few years.  Though some studies show a less dramatic shortfall, all show active management underperforming on average. Little wonder then that clients have shifted from high-fee active management to low-fee passive management, including ETFs, with all the attendant ill effects on fees generally. At the same time, fees have also suffered as regulators have constrained the ability of financial advisers to put clients into funds that pay them best. The existing data are striking. According to calculations by PwC, low-cost passive funds have risen more than six-fold in the last 20 years, far faster than the overall asset base.  Funds in ETFs have more than doubled in just the last ten years.  Projections by PwC indicate that active management as a share of global assets under management (AUM) will fall from 74 percent in 2015 to 65 percent by 2020, while passive will see its share rise from 14 to 22 percent.

While fees have plunged, the cost of doing business has risen.  More demanding regulations have played a big role.  In the United States, the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation has imposed considerable cost, as has the Liquidity Risk Management Rule of the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC).  Europe during the last ten years has imposed no less than nine major financial regulations.  All have imposed cost increases on asset managers.  Though meaningful cost measures remain, in the words of KPMG, “elusive,” the accountants there estimate a 20 percent increase in compliance costs alone during the last five years. Adding to this are the demands clients have made for more thorough reporting, through even mobile aps.  This combination of pressures on both fees and costs has, Boston Consulting estimates, shrunk profit margins overall in the asset management business by nearly a third from their peak of 39 percent in 2007 to the mid 20s more recently.   

The desperation among asset managers created by this margin pressure has, unsurprisingly, become a boon for consultants.  Under their direction and the insights of asset managers themselves, the industry has responded to the challenge through a combination of technology and organizational changes.

Mergers are one way of coping with the growing fixed costs of regulatory compliance, as well as of other so-called “shared services” such as operations, marketing, and sales.  Expenses in these areas are virtually the same for a two-person shop for a large organization.  By enlarging the overall effort, spreading these costs over more products and more revenue, they have become relatively more bearable.  To be sure, more products have also enlarged the burden of compliance, operations, and client service, but not proportionally.  Mergers have also enabled firms to consolidate overlapping product and reduce the usually expensive investment staff involved.  To hold those costs down still more, firms have also begun to link pay more closely to performance.  The drive for cost containment has also prompted managers to shift their client focus toward larger accounts.  The whole effect is an industry that has fewer, larger firms that focus more than ever on the super-rich.

On the technology side, the changes have been still more pervasive.  At one time, cost-saving efforts involved offshoring, mostly of operations, to lower cost venues such as India.  Now with more advanced technology, firms have begun to bring these activities home into still more cost-effective AI systems.  Technology has entered the client service realm as well, to meet client demands for timely access to their accounts and other support.  Though answering these demands has increase costs, tech solutions have kept those costs in check.  Tech has also entered marketing, which increasingly has turned to big data to better serve existing clients, to cross-sell, and to ferret out new sales opportunities.  This, too, has increased costs, but the efforts presumably pay a substantial dividend.  On the investment side, technology has long been the backbone of passive management.  Increasingly tech systems have begun to support active management, as a way to improve performance but also as a way to check rising compensation costs.  With the turn to the super rich, tech has also found a new role in robo investment management for the mass affluent.  Even in meeting compliance burdens, fintech has offered ways to keep a lid on an array of costs, from staffing and bookkeeping to reporting. 

In all these efforts, cost-sensitive firms have turned to specialized fintech providers rather than develop the capabilities themselves, and this includes some of the biggest players.  Whether in-house or outsourced, the use of systems, for cost savings and ways in improving client service, has simultaneously increased cyber risk in all these firms.  They have accordingly had to spend on cybersecurity, which has to some extent limited the overall cost savings these technological solutions have brought.  Evidently, the Gods, as usual, have decided to take with one hand even as they give with the other.

It understates to describe this as a complex transition.  It is accelerating both in the United States, where assets under management still amount to a third of the world’s investable funds, but also in Europe, Japan, and elsewhere in Asia, where asset growth is fastest.  Because all the pressures creating these trends will likely remain in place for the foreseeable future, the pattern shows every sign of continuing, indeed accelerating in coming years.

How to Reduce Jargon in Marketing Content

EBITDA. Buy-side and sell-side. Risk-adjusted return. A-, B-, and C-shares.

If you’re an investment banker, portfolio manager or financial advisor, you are likely familiar with the above terms–but would your clients know what they mean?

As with any complex and specialized industry, financial services has its own lexicon of words, phrases and expressions. This jargon is useful and meaningful to those who work in the field to which it applies but can be confusing and off-putting to everyone else. For marketers in the financial services space, creating content that resonates with target audiences is critical to building a brand and supporting greater business goals. And as a general rule of thumb, the less jargon you incorporate in marketing materials, the better–particularly when it comes to reaching an audience beyond your own industry peers.

This is not just to avoid alienating those who aren’t in the know. Expressing ideas in plain English forces any writer to fully examine, understand, and clearly explain his or her message. In a fast-moving digital landscape where 280-character tweets have the power to move markets, crisp, concise language resonates–even among audiences who understand the most technical of terms.

A related wording pitfall that often plagues marketing content is business-speak (or as one spirited Financial Times columnist describes it, “guff”). These are corporate-sounding cliches that are so vague and/or overused that they dilute the meaning of your content. Buzzwords like “low-hanging fruit,” “thinking outside the box,” and the dreaded “synergy” can act as a crutch for writers who have failed to finetune their message–or who hope that inflating their copy with corporate-speak will make it more professional or important. Consider the difference between these two sentences:

“Our ongoing benchmarking efforts indicate that our revenue performance year-to-date aligns with our projections for strategic growth.”

“The company met its first-quarter sales goals.”

They both deliver the same message, but one reads like business jargon soup, while the other tells readers exactly what he or she wants them to know, and not a letter more. Depending on your brand characteristics and desired tone, the appropriate style may fall somewhere between these two poles.

Writing in plain, simple language can be harder than it sounds. Fortunately, there’s a tool on the internet that can help: the Hemingway App–named for one of literature’s most celebrated masters of bold, straightforward prose. The app allows users to compose or paste in an existing block of text, then analyzes it for readability. It flags linguistic stumbling blocks like passive voice and overly complex sentence structure and assigns a grade-level score. (The app rated this paragraph at a 12th-grade reading level, and recommended aiming for grade nine).

Of course, it won’t make sense to simplify every piece of marketing content to a ninth-grade reading level. Subject matter experts may need to deploy industry jargon in order to present a complex argument or address a specific need or problem in their fields. But in general, the more clearly you can communicate your message, the more deeply it will resonate with your audience–whether they are sophisticated institutional investors or middle-class consumers.

More content marketing tips:
Three Ways to Maximize Financial PR Wins
How to Conduct Productive, Insightful SME Interviews
6 Tips for Writing Like a Financial Journalist