Bank advisors are in one of the toughest spots I've seen in my years at Bank Investment Consultant. Two separate issues are hitting them at the same time, either of which could be a game-changer.

The first—differentiating yourself—isn't a new concept, although it's taken on new urgency in this channel. Long a core subject of MBA programs and strategy consultants, differentiation is often viewed as key to business success. However, I fear it's something that bank advisors have ignored at their peril. Every time we ask advisors what makes them different—usually as part of one of our surveys—at least 80% of the responses are about the qualities that make them similar: holistic planning, tailored plans and so on. Important parts of their job, granted, but not exactly what sets them apart.

More recently, there have been several studies that suggest consumers, particularly younger consumers, see little difference between financial companies. Once you and your service become commoditized, you're left to compete on price and scale, which means you're susceptible to any competitor that can do price and scale better than you.

That brings us to the second issue hitting bank advisors: the onslaught of the robos. This will hit bank advisors hardest of all. SourceMedia, our publisher, sponsored a two-day conference on digital disruption last month, and one of the recurring comments was how the robos are finding clients among mass-affluent investors.

Hopefully, most of your clients will remain your clients. But those robos are adding thousands of new prospects each week, so how long will it be before they start nabbing your B and C clients? How about your A clients?

It may work out that financial institutions find a place to offer automatic investing technology alongside its advisor force in a cohesive offering. But it may not, especially on the lower end for mass-affluent clients.

When you're defining your value and spelling out how you're different, you need to add one more twist:  emphasizing why robos can't replicate your value. The industry is changing and taking a pragmatic view of the landscape is crucial in defining yourself for the future. It may be the best way out of an increasingly tough spot.

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