Why Do Financial Service Providers Ignore Client Experience?

Building Financial Services Client Experience

It’s time we get serious about client experience.

 

Client experience is the interaction between an organization and a client over the duration of their relationship. This includes all points of contact, including interactions through the web, social media, traditional media (television, radio), word of mouth and face-to-face.

No doubt. Given the many touchpoints, financial intermediation makes delivering a superb client experience a challenge. But it’s not a lost cause. As private and institutional clients continuously raise the expectation bar, entities embracing a more consumer-centric approach can distance themselves from their competition.

While preparing for this piece - it occurred to me - in the nearly fifteen years I’ve been active in capital markets, I don’t recall the idea of delivering a meaningful client experience has ever come up. Sure, selling client service has always been prominent. In boardrooms above my pay grade, I trust it's discussed. But down in the trenches, client experience was never part of our collective DNA.

On average, our attention spans are now just over 8 seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000. The average goldfish’s attention span is 9 seconds. An interesting study even found people prefer electric shock to being alone with their thoughts.

ATTENTION IS OUR NEW CURRENCY


Investors remain skeptical. The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer continues to highlight the lack of trust placed in Financial Services and Banks, with only the Media rated institutionally worse. 

Alpha is scarce and performance perishable. (Only four active funds have beaten the S&P 500 for the last eight years).

Top it off with rapidly changing demographics and continuous technological change.

We’re quickly finding ourselves competing for new clients, or fighting to keep existing relationships, from factors only marginally related to the product itself.

When you get right down to it - quality in manufacturing is a communication issue. Errors always occur; but how long does it take to recognize them and how much product gets out the door before they’re remedied? (T. Petzinger, The New Pioneers)

Financial product manufacturing and service distribution are no different: better communication can slow the erosion of client attention, trust and performance dependency.

Whether a local financial advisor, or an international bank - when an elevator pitch is even too long these days - we can set ourselves apart by delivering a better client experience. Steps include:

Moving Closer To The Client

In a world of intense connectivity, the value of relationships become that much more critical.

Building solutions to meet personalized goals, such as retirement, funding college, or purchasing a vacation home resonates better with clientele. Success solely driven by investment product performance isn't enough, as investors increasingly recognize the difficulties in chasing returns.

Customized products, packaged with a simple and transparent proposition engage clients by removing unnecessary industry complexity; allowing clients to focus on how solutions deliver against their unique needs.

Financial information is no longer difficult to gather. To strengthen the client relationship, the value of professional advice needs to be clearly laid out, with advisors serving as educator, connector, and partner.

True client/advisor collaboration emerges as the relationship becomes less transactional. In a way, money becomes less important than the relationship itself. Of course, cash is king. But money is mainly about accounting for individual transactions, and transactions are less important than relationships.

We’re learning: pushing around a lot of paper (read “financialization” of our economy) is far less valuable than continuous collaborations.

Don’t believe me? Morgan Stanley issued this update last January. Exact numbers are not given. But the pattern is clear. Wealth Management (relationships), not trading (transactions), generates the bulk of revenues.

Fig.1

Fig.1

The Reformed Broker, Josh Brown, said it best with his The Relentless Bid, Explained post. Josh points out yesterday’s brokers were principally concerned with keeping money in motion (transactions), today’s wealth managers focus on making client accounts stretch out over decades. We do this through assets under management (AUM) fee arrangements. Hence relational, not transactional in nature.

Better Marketing / Branding

Marketing should be designed to engage, not sell. A principal long understood by car companies and other consumer product industries. Through better marketing, branding, and a more consumer-centric approach, service providers, such as financial advisors (of all varieties) can re-shape perception, create energy, and fully engage prospects and clientele. This allows for growing business, even as attention spans erode.

Financial branding is about trust, a modern version which includes access, familiarity, and relatability.

The shift from ‘product-push’ models to customized solutions is every bit a marketing challenge, as it is a relationship management topic. Old sales and marketing strategies pushing transaction based services are quickly evaporating. Providers are learning to get closer to clients; they must understand needs better, this means maintaining a relationship over a greater proportion of clients lives.

R “Ray” Wang, CEO of Constellation Research, offers a unique twist on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. By turning business needs upside down - a catalyst for growth emerges - as energy is put into value-added activities. Regulatory compliance is, of course, a major consideration. 

By giving branding and strategic differentiation greater priority, we’re a step closer to helping wealth managers clearly define a unique value proposition - which will reinforce differentiation through brand identity in an otherwise very crowded market.

Brand: priorities focused on expanding the image and appeal of an organization’s outside perception including building connectedness.

Strategic differentiation: priorities that create game-changing transformation or business model disruptions including the adoption of newer social enterprise apps or connected business solutions.

Sales and growth: priorities that drive top-line improvements.

Operational efficiency: priorities that drive business efficiencies including cost optimization, process transformation, and elimination of redundancy.

Regulatory compliance and controls: priorities that keep organizations from being sued, fired, or run out of business.