Years ago I participated in a colleague’s ongoing thought experiment by naming the price point at which something is expensive. My colleague wanted a crisp response without caveats but I couldn’t do it. My first thought was $100, but even then, that was cheap for a flight and expensive for a meal. I’ve revisited the question over the years and despite changing life circumstances, my resistance to naming a number has persisted and even increased as I’ve encountered more examples where it’s all relative. Messaging is rife with caveats, including—and perhaps especially—in the wealth management space.
Is an asset manager big when it serves thousands of clients? Manages billions of dollars? Has been in business for decades? More importantly—and this is the part that is often missed—are these numbers relevant to the customers the firm is trying to reach? Are the numbers communicated with the proper context to make them understandable?
We have ample data to show that the words we use are not always well-understood. For example, see this article from my colleague, Vivek Amin, that describes the dismal self-reported knowledge of fundamental financial terms. I’ve encountered plenty of instances where terms are not well understood by financial professionals either. This lack of understanding extends to numbers. While a number itself might not need defining in the same way, we can’t assume it always has meaning. Industry insiders know when a number is impressive because they have the context. Outside of context, a number is no better than jargon. Continue reading
Consistency sounds boring. We’re going to have chicken and broccoli for dinner again. I ran my 30 minutes on the treadmill again. Consistency doesn’t lead you to discover the perfect town when you’ve made a wrong turn or meet the band when you’ve stayed well past the encore at a random weekday concert. But consistency can be powerful. Continue reading
In an historic town hall held this week in Atlanta, all five Commissioners from the Securities and Exchange Commission sat mere feet from the general public and spent more than the planned two hours educating through a mix of prepared content and Q&A. The same commitment to investor protection that leads to the SEC being well-known for regulation also drives its emphasis on teaching. Though our work at Market Strategies and that of our clients largely rests in the private for-profit sector, we all share the same goal of communicating so that the target audience will listen and understand. From that perspective, we can take away a number of lessons from the way the SEC’s message was delivered…
FinTech, backlash, proliferation and winnowing. When our team is asked about wealth management trends and what the future may hold, the following ideas keep coming up.
I’ll take two lessons from our own communications research—be brief and be bulleted—and will skip additional preamble. Without restriction on topic or time period, and in order of increasing votes, the predictions: Continue reading
Advisors and investors have been sharing their mutual fund decision-making process and factors with us for years. As a market researcher in financial services, I can tell you that while Morningstar fund ratings don’t always make it to the top of the stated list immediately, they are regularly referenced, and advisors note that the ratings are a rare data point that seems to resonate with clients. The ratings also often capture attention when marketing material is tested. This is especially true when the material is for a brand not already at the top of an individual’s consideration set. And, for every time an advisor admits that the ratings have some impact, there are other times when the impact is understated or even unknown to the advisor.
I was recently looking back at responses from an old post-event survey administered by an asset manager, and I was struck by one recurring comment from attendees. The sponsor company had gone to great lengths to make this a value-add event, not a sales event. There was no talk of product and barely any talk of the company itself. The speakers were accomplished and noteworthy academics, the location was on neutral territory, and the topics were brand-agnostic. The result? Continue reading
In an entirely unscientific study, I talked to 31 people on the street Jimmy Kimmel-style to find out what “the people” think about the term “fiduciary” and the DOL’s fiduciary rule. These conversations happened in the financial district of a major metropolitan area. I made an effort to get a range of demographic profiles, though admittedly I may be overrepresenting people who are willing to be a captive audience while waiting for lunch at a food truck. What I learned was a good reminder of how quickly news travels from the industry to the consumer (hint: not quickly). It also reiterates the opportunity for asset managers to leverage the rule-driven structural changes that are already in place or in process, even if those changes may not ultimately be necessary. Keep reading to find out more and see a brief video of three investors describing what it means to be a fiduciary in their own words.
Tallying quantities of topic mentions in daily financial news feeds can reflect what’s on the minds of investors and industry professionals.
- Exhibit A: regular coverage of the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule.
- Exhibit B: regular coverage of robo-advisors.
- Exhibit C supports the theory in reverse: little news and, likely, little mindshare, though it deserves more attention. There is a fundamental change taking place in the way investment products are assessed, which is evolving the product ecosystem as well as how financial services market research firms explore those products.
I was recently explaining the idea of an in-home interview to my husband. “You would never let someone into the house!” he replied, knowing that I would be skeptical, at best, if invited to participate in one. However, I would agree to participate in this type of immersive research. Even though I am unabashedly, undeniably and thoroughly biased, I believe that helps me understand why some of the busiest professionals working in some of the most sensitive and regulated industries agree to do the same.
Yes, financial advisors are busy. Yes, doctors have to be careful about what they say and share. Yet both are willing to meet with us at their offices and talk for rather lengthy periods of time. There are certain industries—financial services and healthcare being two prominent examples—where compliance concerns, traditional thinking and precedent can falsely limit the qualitative method possibilities.
I hadn’t paid much attention to John Oliver until he lambasted US retirement plans in a clip that spoke directly to my clients and me with its relevance, comedy and mix of truths, half-truths and misperceptions. This led me to pay attention more quickly when my Facebook feed promoted a new Oliver piece about the Republican National Convention and the idea that feelings can…ahem…trump facts. I encourage you to have a listen (particularly at the 3:13 and 5:56 minute marks), though now is a good time to caution that there is foul language. It’s also important to note that the opinions shared in this video do not represent those of Market Strategies, though perhaps not only for the obvious reason that we do not support a political party or any opinions for or against Antonio Sabato Jr.