One of the primary benefits of working as a financial advisor within a bank or credit union is the access to the institution's customer base from which to draw and develop a client base.
But what if—as is all too often the case among many smaller regional and community programs—the institution doesn't support the investment program? Worse still, what if the institution actually restricts your marketing efforts? The reasons for it may be as varied as the programs themselves, but the bottom line is that when it happens, the rep is left largely to whither on the vine.
The unfortunate reality is that in many cases the third-party providers of investment services programs have more to gain from the relationship with the institution than the institution gains from the investment services program.
What many advisors don't realize is that oftentimes the institution's revenue from investment services is such a small contributor to the overall bottom line that the institution can't justify allocating marketing resources to the program.
It becomes something of a Catch-22: The revenue generated is so small it doesn't justify additional resources, but without those resources, the program struggles to generate revenue. Certainly in this era of ever-shrinking margins, non-interest income such as that provided by investment services can play a larger role, but a certain level of critical mass needs to be achieved in order to make a serious impact and warrant a re-prioritizing of the marketing resources.
A more challenging issue occurs when the institution's culture doesn't fully support investment services. Even after 30-plus years of investments being offered through banks and credit unions, many institutions still fail to view investment services as a core offering.
While minimal revenue contributions are often the reason, there are also several cultural reasons.
First, management may be suspicious of the motives of the advisors in their branches. They may be quietly asking themselves, "Are our advisors doing what's right for our customers or are they motivated by commissions?" (One would think that if the institution's management had these concerns, they would act to eliminate them. Unfortunately my experience is that these concerns still exist.)
Second, branch management may have their own goals for asset growth and therefore perceive the investment program as competition.
And finally, the program may have been initiated as or evolved into a defensive offering simply as a means to compete with other institutions providing similar services.
As you can imagine, not a lot of advisors—none to be exact—were willing to go on record to talk about what they perceive as a lack of support from their institution, but here is a sampling of the some of the more extreme cases of cultural conflict I've witnessed or consulted on over the past several years:
• An institution where the advisors were not allowed to make out-bound calls, not allowed to conduct seminars, not allowed to place signage in the branches and not allowed to educate the branch staff about the services provided.
• An institution where the entire investment services program of over two dozen employees was dismissed when the retail branches failed to reach their asset growth goals.
• An institution where a successful advisor's compensation was cut because he was deemed to be making too much money.
Thankfully these kinds of extreme situations are rare. More common are the small things—a newsletter article gets bumped, a mailing gets cancelled or a seminar doesn't get promoted.
So what's an advisor to do when they find themselves in this kind of situation? I spoke with several program managers—who also wished to remain anonymous—who offered these suggestions:
• Take a step back and create a new perspective. Ask yourself what are the benefits that you do have? Free office space? Free mail or phone service? Some access to customers, staff or centers of influence? Health insurance or retirement benefits? Credibility associated with the name of your institution? A lot of independent advisors would consider these things we take for granted as huge benefits.
• Along with a new perspective, display a positive attitude. It's human nature to be attracted to those who show a positive outlook and avoid those who display negativity. The branch staff can sense when things aren't going well. Display a positive attitude so they'll want to be around you-and make referrals to you.
• Recognize your own responsibilities. In any financial institution, there are at least four different target markets from which to grow your client base - the general customer base, existing clients, centers of influence and the branch staff. Even in the most well-supported programs the institution can only do so much. Their responsibility is to create awareness of your services among the general customer base, but you still have the responsibility to develop relationships with your clients, staff and centers of influence.
• Look beyond your institution's walls. Like the tens of thousands of independent advisors out there, get out into your community to start building relationships on your own.
• Be willing to invest in your own success. There are several good marketing programs available today that offer pre-approved articles, newsletters, or market updates you can use to help develop those relationships. Even certain software tools can help you present a more professional image. These can be invaluable in positioning yourself as a trusted, competent professional. While many advisors are hesitant to incur these kinds of expenses themselves, no one has more to gain than you.
• Create a formal, detailed marketing plan and stick with it. A truly detailed marketing plan is not something you throw together in a half hour.
Go through the exercise of identifying your target markets, selecting specific marketing activities that you will direct toward each market, break each activity down into its component tasks, and put those tasks on a marketing calendar.
Only when all the tasks associated with each of the marketing activities you want to execute are on a calendar for the next six months is your marketing plan complete. Then it's simply a matter of executing your plan.
Certainly being an advisor inside an institution that doesn't support your services can be both frustrating and discouraging. But even then there are benefits to be had and success to be achieved.
Stay positive, take control of those things you can, and stay focused on providing great service to your clients.
In the end, that alone will make all the difference.
Keith Weber provides program management consulting to financial institutions. For more informaton, visit www.kjweber.com.