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What I’ve discovered this year about Financial Advisers’ use of Social Media. It might surprise you.

I’ve just finished a run of sixteen presentations on Social Media to financial advisers at PFS (Personal Finance Society) events around the UK.  The turnout at all of the events was extremely good and I must have reached over a thousand people over the course of the first quarter.

I’m delighted to say that the feedback has been very positive, but I was keen to use the mini tour of the UK as an opportunity to listen closely to advisers’ questions and concerns about using Social Media in their businesses.  For the most part, it was good to note that there were in fact very few concerns – indeed as part of my presentation I covered the Compliance aspects they need to consider and no one baulked.   Contrary to popular belief, it came over loud and clear that Compliance in itself isn’t what’s holding back advisers from fully engaging with Social Media.

But what was very apparent was that despite Social Media as we know it being around since 1998 (arguably earlier); very few advisers are embracing it yet as a strategic tool in their businesses. 

As a speaker on Social Media I’m always aware that many people in my audiences will have preconceived ideas that my primary motive is to try and convince them to sell their services and market their businesses through the medium – and that within any highly regulated industry is likely to put them on the back foot immediately.  Quite the opposite, there are many other ways that financial advice professionals can benefit from Social Media.

The last time I presented to PFS members around the UK, was in 2009.  Back then, I watched many financial advisers looking at me blankly as though I’d just landed from Mars.  Their message was “I hear what you say Phil, but Social Media won’t ever catch on in Financial Services”.

Times have changed, and yes, I still get the occasional financial adviser telling me that “Social Media has absolutely no place in this profession.” 

Indeed, just before my speech in Cornwall, one IFA told me that he will not be staying for my presentation because “...I’m not interested in Social Media and I’ll have nothing to do with it”.  I’m pleased to say that he did say and was very complimentary afterwards.

No, it wasn’t Compliance that was holding financial advisers back, but very clearly three other factors:

  1. A lack of knowledge of the different ways that how Social Media can actually be used in a financial advice practice
  2. A complete lack of strategy on how they will use it
  3. Insufficient access to professionals who can help them implement their strategy – including staff within their own businesses

Not surprisingly, one follows the other, but let’s look at each in turn.


A lack of knowledge

From talking to advisers after each event this year, it was obvious that almost everyone was now fully aware of many of the various Social Media tools out there.  A show of hands at each event revealed that almost everyone was on LinkedIn, but another showed that hardly anyone knew why they were on LinkedIn!  Unlike presentations that I’d given in 2007, Twitter was now known to most, and this time people were aware of its impact and relevance in day-to-day personal and business communications.

There was however still surprise expressed that YouTube was a search engine, and my section on how today’s ‘YouTubers’ were making big money online genuinely dropped jaws at each venue.  My goal at each presentation was to get to a point where advisers could understand that Social Media is now as normal as email and the telephone, and that message seemed to be getting across, with only one adviser out of the thousand that I met questioning the point during Q&A.

So we’ve arrived at a point where the majority of financial advisers accept and appreciate that Social Media is a core part of the Internet, it’s not going away and that it has a part to play in some shape or form in their business lives.

If nothing else, many advisers at the meetings now realise that Social Media can be integral in helping them to differentiate from one another.


Lack of Strategy

But that said, whilst many advisers are using Social Media, they are doing so without any strategy at all.  They may be trying Twitter or LinkedIn or maybe Instagram and other tools, but they’re not quite sure why.

At the end of the day, Social Networking tools are little more than software – and like using any software, you need to know a) how to use it and b) why you need it.  If you don’t know these things, Social Media is unlikely to help you to achieve your business goals.

In my presentations around the UK, I suggested a number of strategies that a typical financial advice firm might want to consider, with the most popular being to attract high quality referrals through professional connections and by using Social Media to differentiate themselves from other local advisers.

It used to be the case that just being bloody good at your job was a great differentiator, but today being bloody good is just the starting point – it’s the ticket to the game.  Increasingly Social Media is bringing back the good old-fashioned concept that ‘People buy People’, with social tools helping prospects and professional connections to get to know us, get a sense of our expertise and credibility and to build trust and respect.


Professionalism

As a profession it’s great to see that we are really getting to grips with the importance of professionalism, and again Social Media will help advisers to enhance the perception of their expertise, credibility and professionalism.  For example, your LinkedIn profile is not your resume; it’s now a statement of your professional identity and reputation.  Advisers should use it to demonstrate the value that they bring to clients.

Social Media will also help advisers to communicate a sense of their passion for what they do.  Personally I believe strongly that professionalism is worth very little if not accompanied by passion.


Access to professionals and expertise

At every single event where I was speaking, several people came up to me afterwards and said that I had opened their eyes to the possibilities of not just Social Media, but the wider Internet.  But they all went on to add that they didn’t know where to start or who to approach for hands-on help.  Even within their own businesses, they admitted that whilst their office staff are very professional and capable at their jobs, knowledge of implementing Social Media strategy was a problem – though many felt that their kids could help!

This brings me onto a fourth point, which could help with the three previous problems.

Technology is moving forward at an incredible pace, and whilst we touched on the subject of so-called Robo Advice, most advisers present at the PFS events agreed that whilst we are inevitably seeing an increase in ‘DIY Advice’, there will always be a need for high quality face-to-face financial planning and advice.  That said, my own concern is that when many consumers search for financial information on the Internet prior to speaking with an adviser, they don’t end up on a financial adviser’s website.  Financial advisers’ websites are notoriously difficult to find online, and many of them are identical in their content and do little to help consumers find answers to their questions.

Like it or not, consumers use the Internet to get answers to questions, but many advisers’ websites are so incredibly vague, that they will leave and search elsewhere.  Furthermore the vast majority of financial advisers that I have spoken to at seminars, events, conferences and consultancy sessions have absolutely no idea how many people are visiting their websites.  In addition, they have no idea where they came from, how they found their site, which pages they looked at and from which page they left their site.

This is basic stuff, and website MI is now essential in this day and age.  Advisers must regularly scrutinise their website statistics and then act on what they see.  Sadly, very few do this, so they have no idea at all how effective their website is.  I have previously made a case that many advisers simply don’t need a website anymore if they make effective use of LinkedIn and maybe this could be a better option for those determined to use Social Media more strategically.


Invisible

Whilst the vast majority of financial advisers around the UK offer a high quality service, underpinned by a great reputation locally, they are for all intents and purposes invisible online.

My suggestion to help counter this, is that every firm of advisers should have a ‘digital champion’ – someone who’s responsibilities include being on top of what’s going on in the world of technology – and who reports to the Board or Management on a monthly basis.  The information being reported needs only be at a high level, but at a level where everyone in the firm has a grasp of tools, sites and apps which are emerging and catching people’s attention - not to mention technology that is disrupting traditional industries...

This could include a basic understanding of when Google makes changes to how it indexes websites.  For example – how many financial advisers know that on 21st April this year, Google is changing its search engine results to effectively prioritise websites that are easy to access on mobile devices?  This has the potential to have a massive impact on the visibility of advisers’ traditional desktop websites.  (More info at http://searchengineland.com/google-search-algorithm-adds-mobile-friendly-factors-app-indexing-ranking-215573)

It is very unusual for Google to announce such changes in advance, but they deem it to be so important that they are giving website owners pre warning of the changes.

This and other information is now critical in the day-to-day running of a financial advice business, and it’s more important than ever that you have a digital champion who can keep you up to date.  Technology has a habit of creeping up behind you and kicking you in the backside when you least expect it.  Just look at Kodak, Blockbuster Video and the Black Cab industry as examples.

Your digital champion could also be a non-executive Director who not only keeps you up to date on the world of technology and how it could impact your business, but who also challenges you to think and act more strategically when it comes to using the Internet.

In short, six years on from my last round of presentations to PFS members around the UK, there has been a massive leap forward in advisers' understanding that Social Media is here to stay, and it’s great to see so many embracing it.  That said, it’s vital that for Social Media and the Internet to be of value rather than a distraction, financial advisers must take the next step of becoming far more strategic in how they use these tools.

At the very least, include technology within your professional learning and competencies – and if necessary get help. 

If you’d like to learn more about how to use LinkedIn and Social Media more effectively in your business, then please join us at one of our two forthcoming workshops:

And finally, huge thanks to everyone who took the trouble to attend my presentations around the UK – it was very much appreciated.

 

Philip Calvert is the founder of LifeTalk – the Social Networking site for financial advice professionals.  Philip is a specialist in helping regulated industries to better leverage Social Media and speaks internationally on the subject.

Follow Philip on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/philipcalvert

 

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Author: Philip Calvert
Posted: Wednesday, March 25, 2015 | 2:01:40 PM


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