Archive for the ‘Practice Management’ Category


Clients Do Not Want Help. Until They Do.

November 27, 2012

(This was originally published as a guest post for my friends at the management consulting and strategic communications firm Beyond the Arc: Understanding how customers really want help.)

On the same day I published a post on the Clientific blog about the sometimes disappointing allure of technology (Technology is Not a Silver Bullet), the always insightful Discerning Technologist Brad Leimer shared a a post from The Financial Brand on LinkedIn (Big Study Examines Retail Channel Preferences).

The study, sponsored by Cisco, showed strong consumer preferences for non-branch channels such as web, mobile, phone and ATM for many types of interactions. However, branches were the preferred channel for such things as “Apply for a loan” and “Support from banking representative”. (See below)

What explains the stark differences? First of all, as Ron Shevlin of Snarketing 2.0 says,  just because a person visits a branch for help or to complete a transaction doesn’t necessarily mean that they prefer to do it that way. It may mean that the web site or phone representative was inadequate to meet the client’s needs.

Secondly, and not to get all snarkety myself (that’s Ron’s sole province), but clients really don’t want your help. Until they do.

Results Not Process

Much has been written about the so-called “customer experience”– everything that a customer comes in contact with during their lifetime interaction with your brand; direct and indirect, obvious and subtle, conscious and unconscious.

Successful firms correctly attempt to measure the expressed and latent needs of clients. The best keep in mind the words of the great ad man David Ogilvy, who has been variously quoted as saying multiple versions of “People don’t want quarter-inch drill bits, they want quarter-inch holes.”

I have long found inspiration in the work of now-retired Harvard Business School professor David H. Maister, and I have been using some variation of his 2×2 matrix below for at least a decade.

Maister uses a healthcare analogy to describe the key operational and profitability metrics of different departments, and I have found it useful to help financial firms think through their various activities and how they provide value to their clients.

Pharmacy (Low Touch/Standardized Process)
For a financial firm, these are the things that just need to get done quickly and accurately. For the most part clients have little preference as to how.
• Account Opening
• Transactions
• Balance Reporting
• Transfers
• Basic Service Issues
Nursing (High Touch/Standardized Process)
These are items that might need a little more hand-holding, even though the processes and protocols are still well defined, and good client-service skills can go a long way to improving client satisfaction.
• Standard Credit
• Product Advice
• Estate Settlement
• Discretionary  Trust
• Complex Issues
Brain Surgery (Low Touch/Specialized Process)
These activities require specialized skills, but the real value comes from applying the expertise, not necessarily from the advisor/client relationship.

• Custom Credit
• Asset Allocation
• Basic Trust Admin
• Complex Assets
• Basic Estate Plans
Psychotherapy (High Touch/Specialized Process)
For financial firms (and especially wealth management firms), this is the top of the value chain. It’s what happens here that drives most loyalty/at-risk measures. Diagnosis is key, and it is from here where brain surgery may be prescribed.
• Goal Setting
• Financial Planning
• Complex Estates
• Succession Matters
• Nonfinancial Issues
• Moral Support

Bringing it All Together

Clients may well be willing to use your new app for certain things, utilize your web site to download transactions and contact your call center to change their address. Those things may improve your operating margins– as long as they work.

The face-to-face interactions that do the most to improve the client experience are not the ones that solve the issues that could have been (and should have been) solved via other channels. It’s the ones where they are really receiving the time and attention from someone who understands their situation and their goals and is helping them get to where they want to be.

Clients don’t want your help. Until they do.


Secrets of Successful Wealth Managers

November 15, 2012

Firms that succeed with affluent clients over an extended period of time do a number of things well. Through the work of my consulting firm Clientific we have distilled the twelve core principals that successful wealth managers follow.

The 12 C’s work like building blocks, from the bottom up. Begin with the first four, components of a strong strategy. Once those are set, work on the next four, the key elements of executing that strategy. Finally, the final four are the things that differentiate top firms from their competitors.

A solid strategy and strong execution provides a fulcrum upon which your differentiation can be leveraged. I have listed some sample questions to ask yourself for each point, but this is in no way an exhaustive list. Feel free to contact me at if you have any questions or would like a custom assessment.

Strategy- What are you trying to accomplish?
  • Clientele– Who are your target customers? Who are your best customers today? Are you targeting high net worth clients, with over $1 million in assets? Or the ‘merely affluent’, those with $100,000 to $1 million? What about the ultra high net worth– those with $25 million or more? All are attractive segments, but the keys for success are different for each segment.
  • Clarity– What exactly is your value proposition? What problem(s) are you solving for your clients? What do you stand for? What do you not stand for? If you don’t have clarity about why you’re in the business and why others should do business with you, how will you expect your clients to know?
  • Context– How does your firm fit in to the competitive landscape? Are your competitors big banks? Community banks? What about independent brokerage and money management firms? How do the legal and accounting communities address wealth management needs– are they referral sources or competitors? How will you balance all of your stakeholders– clients, shareholders, employees, community, centers of influence?
  • Culture – What’s it like to work with you? What’s it like to work there? What kinds of things do you reward? How do you make decisions? What roles do you expect your team members to play, and how do they fit with one another? What kind of individual and team incentives do you have?

Execution- How are you going to do it?

  • Competence– ‘Great service’ alone is not enough in wealth management. Your team has to have the technical skills needed to meet the complex borrowing, investing, financial planning and estate planning needs of your clients. They also have to have the ‘EQ’ to attract, retain and grow client relationships. How will you assess your team’s talent? How will you develop skills and hold people accountable? Are your current processes adequate, or will you need to adapt new talent management protocols?
  • Consistency– Having great technical and interpersonal skills will only matter to your clients if you deliver results consistently and in a way that meets or exceeds their expectations. How will you manage consistent delivery and a consistent client experience?
  • Client Intimacy– It’s easy to assume that positive, friendly client relationships are close and intimate; yet their are countless examples of advisors being shocked to learn important details from a client that are already well know by a competitor. How will you advisors move from information to insight? Think of the difference between a monaural AM radio broadcast and a Dolby THX surround sound experience. Often the difference involves understanding and addressing non financial goals and issues of your clients.
  • Courage– It takes managerial courage to truly execute. The best plans and strategies are worthless without the tenacity and discipline to execute and make necessary course adjustments. General George S. Patton said “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”  Change management, sales management, coaching– all kinds of leadership– require courage and discipline.

Differentiation- What makes you different?

  • Client Advocacy– The old saying “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is trite, but true. Clients have to trust you, and the most important element of trust is truly looking out for your client’s best interests. Character and integrity are table stakes, but you must be a true advocate for your client’s best interest. How do you demonstrate this to your clients?
  • Client Experience– What’s it really like to be your client? What are all the touch points clients have with you, and do they represent your brand the way you want? What about the automated letter they will receive if they accidentally overdraw their account that typically maintains six figures? Will they receive the same letter as every other customer? What will that do to their perception of your relationship? Do your call center, web presence and mobile offerings support your brand or detract from it?
  • Content– How do you communicate your ideas? You have already established what your company does and does not stand for, how do you demonstrate it? How do you present yourself as a thought leader? Do you have and communicate a distinctive viewpoint?
  • Connection– Content is usually outbound, but you have to have inbound communication channels too. What kinds of events do you attend and organize? How do you use social media to engage your clients? How do you really understand what your clients think about your brand, what they like and don’t like about your policies and practices?

We have entered a new era and the days of simply ‘build it and they will come’ is over. Firms that successfully address these and similar questions will be the ones that will succeed in this complex new era of wealth management.


Five Shifts that Define the New Era for Wealth Management

November 6, 2012

(This post was also published today on the blog of my consulting firm clientific,  follow me there too.)

Five massive foundational shifts are impacting financial service providers of all types, and they are impacting those that serve affluent clients in especially unique ways. Many of the strategies, skills and behaviors that enabled success in the past are now at best ineffective, and completely irrelevant in some cases. Advisors and firms serving affluent clients must adapt to these new realities to be successful in the future.

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” 

— General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff, U. S. Army

The first shift is economic. The global financial crisis begun in 2008 is still having a long-term impact on the creation, growth and preservation of wealth. Today’s low growth, low yield environment will likely stick with us for some time, and today’s advisors have to be able to help their clients navigate the realities of the new economy. Firms cannot count on rising portfolio values to increase revenues.

The second shift is regulatory. Partially as a result of the financial meltdown, central banks and regulators all over the world are the in middle of redefining the rules and regulations that today’s financial advisors will likely have to live by for the rest of their careers. Some of the important revenue streams of the past have been curtailed or eliminated—think overdraft fees, payday loans, interchange fees, some mortgage fees, etc. And we are not even close to done, as of October 1, 2012 only one-third of the provisions of Dodd-Frank had been finalized, and another third have not yet even been proposed.

The third shift is demographic. Various research projects that anywhere from $18 Trillion and $56 Trillion of financial wealth will be passing down from the Traditionalist and Baby Boomer generations to their Generation X and Generation Y children and grandchildren over the next several years. Gen X and Gen Y could have a combined wealth that exceeds that of the Baby Boomers as early as 2018, and they do not want “their father’s Oldsmobile”. Even with the more conservative estimates, this is a huge threat for those advisors and firms who don’t adapt to the changes. And it is a massive opportunity for those that do.

The fourth shift is competitive. The global financial crisis caused the weakest firms to disappear while the biggest and strongest got bigger and stronger. (In some cases, only bigger.) It is more important than ever for smaller firms to differentiate themselves in ways that are really relevant. Simply being “the bank” of, say Cozad, for example is no longer enough.

The fifth shift is technological. The tools are already here to radically improve client intimacy and client engagement. The rapid adoption of the iPad and other tablets give wealth managers the opportunity to change the dynamics of the across-the-desk transaction into the shoulder-to-shoulder collaboration that really engages the client. Big data and analytics give firms the power to better understand client behaviors and preferences, if they bother to listen. Social media opens up whole new avenues of client contact.

The challenge will be for firms to adopt the right strategies and then have the discipline to execute. As in every era, we will have winners and we will have losers, and success will go to those who embrace the possibilities of the future while staying relevant to their clients.

You might also like:

Wealth Management 3.0 is Here, Are You Ready?

The Convergence of High Tech and High Touch in Wealth Management

© 2012 JP Nicols. All rights reserved.


Improving Client Engagement with Technology

October 18, 2012

Readers of this blog know that my primary focus is the convergence of high-tech and high-touch that I believe IS the future of wealth management. I think Balance Financial gets this better than most fintech firms, and that is why I am proud to serve on their Advisory Board. Read on…

Balance Financial Inc.

A great article caught our eye the other day over at  It was an interview with Sungard Investment Systems President Daniel Bardini.  Sungard works with financial services firms around the country providing various technology solutions to private banking institutions.

Daniel made some great points that we thought were worth repeating.  Check out the video yourself, it is pretty quick:

Here are some of the highlights

According to Bardini, the future is about “engaging clients in new ways, more interactive.”  Further, “traditionally banks invested in back office.  This is more and more a commodity.  Focus is moving to front end tools that support relationship managers on interactions with clients.”

And finally, “Relationship managers struggle to get a 360 degree view of clients.  Need new ways of engaging clients.”

We could not agree more.  The core investments made in Private Banking and wealth management over the last several years…

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Learning from Customers in Social Media

October 16, 2012

I was recently interviewed by BAI Banking Strategies on the evolving use of social media in banking and wealth management.

Here is an excerpt from the article, which was published yesterday:

Nicols, a former executive with Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp, agrees that social media can warn financial institutions of potential problems. “You ought to be happy when a client is complaining because you’re learning something,” he says.

Young customers are more likely to be influenced by what their peers do than older customers, which, in turn, highlights the potential for social media, Nicols says. He cited the example of a customer who had a problem with his bank that was successfully resolved, which led to an enthusiastic recommendation of the bank to other consumers in social media. “There are whole businesses built on peer recommendations, such as Yelp,” which posts online customer reviews of businesses, from restaurants to bank branches, Nicols says.

Banks also have to use the right channels to respond to customer inquiries, Nicols adds, citing an occasion when a CEO of a technology company tweeted the bank that he wanted to talk to someone about a mortgage. The marketing department, which received the tweet and didn’t know how to respond, sent an email to Nicols, who immediately tweeted the executive. “Customers are giving you signals about how they want to interact and you need to pick up on those signals – or lose business,” he says.

Read the whole article here: BAI Retail Strategies


Demystifying Social Media: It’s All About Business Strategy

September 28, 2012

(I originally wrote this as a guest post for the management consulting and strategic communications firm Beyond the Arc. You should check them out for a lot of great information on customer experience, strategy, analytics and social business. I will be speaking on a panel on How to Monetize Social Media with their CEO Steve Ramirez, along with Citibank’s Frank Eliason, cited below, at the BAI Retail Delivery Conference on October 9.)

I am sometimes asked to give social media advice to others in financial services.

“I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a social media expert,” I once told a counsel-seeker.

“You’re a banker with a blog”, he shrugged, “the bar’s pretty low.” 

Well, ex-banker now. I now run my own consulting business for financial advisors and firms, and many of them have questions about social media strategy. I often start by quoting Ron Shevlin, Aite Research analyst and Snarketing 2.0 blogger:

“There is no such thing as social media strategy. There is only business strategy.” 

— Ron Shevlin

It is not uncommon for business managers to seek the holy grail, the silver bullet that when deployed, will magically transport their business to new heights. In the late 1990s, it was the internet. Lousy businesses added “dot-com” to the end of their name, changed their logo to purple and green, and threw up a website. They were still lousy businesses, and the internet didn’t change that. In some cases, it may have even accelerated their demise.

Social media is just a tool to use in running your business. There is nothing magical, or necessarily even compelling about it. Lots of very successful businesses have small or nonexistent social media presence. Frank Eliason, Global Head of Social Media for Citibank, and author of the book @Your Service: How to Attract New Customers, Increase Sales, and Grow Your Business Using Simple Customer Service Techniques, cites Apple as an example of a well-run, much-admired company that does not focus much on social media. Retired athlete Michael Jordan’s page has nearly triple the number of “likes” of Apple’s page, and dead musician Michael Jackson has nearly seven times as many.

Transparency: Good News and Bad News

Participating in social media increases the transparency of a company’s operations and people, which is a positive thing for most customers. The bad news is that poor practices and behaviors are highlighted as well. If you have a dumb policy or poorly trained people or a bad product, that will become readily apparent even sooner through social media. Maritz Research found that 51% of consumers who complain via social media expect to be contacted, but that 85% of those outcries are not addressed at all.

I sometimes air complaints and compliments via Twitter, partially as a social experiment. The range of results is stunning. I had a sleepless night in a Westin hotel due to a loud banging noise caused by a problem with air in their pipes. I tweeted my frustration and was contacted within hours by both the hotel management and their Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program, and each offered me apologies and compensation for my inconvenience. My frustration was quelled and I remain a loyal SPG guest.

Quite the opposite experience I had with a major retailer. I was not having any luck reaching someone on their 800 number with the authority to reverse an express shipping charge to correct their own mistake, so I tagged them on Twitter. The next day I received a tweet apologizing and asking me to call in with a “reference number”, but when I called in, I was right back at the low level where I had begun. The “reference number” was meaningless and no one on the phone had any more information or any more authority than on my original call. I try to shop elsewhere.

What is Your Business Strategy?

What are today’s key business challenges and how can social media help?

Acquiring new customers

How can you use social media to differentiate in a crowded business and gain market share over the competition?

  • Monitor social networks for disgruntled customers of competitors. Respond better than their own providers.
  • Run targeted ads to reach your ideal customers efficiently.
  • Demonstrate your expertise and thought leadership through blog posts, white papers, case studies, etc. Not only does this showcase your unique value, it helps prequalify prospects searching for specific solutions.
  • Be there when prospects are looking for the services you provide. The CEO of a major social network tweeted that he was trying to reach someone from my last bank about a mortgage. We were just starting to monitor Twitter and our social media team sent the message to me, so I responded on his terms– on Twitter.

Retaining existing customers

Half of bank customers are considered “ripe for change”, and most change because of changing life circumstances.

  • Monitor social networks for disgruntled customers of your own firm. A problem solved promptly and well can create more loyalty than a customer who experiences no problem at all.
  • Make your customers aware of current relevant offers or promotions. Providing offers only to acquire new customers is a turn-off to your existing customers.
  • Provide multiple channels for sales, inquiries, questions, and problem resolution.
  • Make sure you are providing your customers a way to engage in two-way (or multi-way) conversations. Social media is not just a soapbox from which to hawk your wares.

Expanding relationships with existing customers

In the consumer banking business, as many as 80% of customer relationships are unprofitable. Those statistics may not be accurate in your industry, but some variation on the Pareto Principle (the “80/20 rule”) tends to exist in every business– a small number of customers typically provides profitability to subsidize the vast majority.

  • Make more of your relationships profitable with relevant offers for additional or complementary products.
  • Pay attention to changes in life circumstances that may call for additional services. (Weddings, babies, moving, etc.).
  • Leverage your platform for mass customization.

The View from the Bridge

No matter what business you’re in, it’s likely you are dealing with these basic issues. A social media presence won’t make them go away, and poor social media practices will make them worse. Focus your business strategy on solving relevant customer problems, and leverage social media as an enabler. There are plenty of social media experts who can design just the right digital campaign to reach just the right markets with just the right messages –but first, ask yourself a key question (and one that we have discussed here before): Are you repainting the walls, when you have a serious crack in the foundation?


When the Affluent Become the Unbanked

September 12, 2012

Concern about those who have been left behind in receiving financial services (“the unbanked” and “the underbanked” ) have been popular topics of conversation amongst bankers and regulators over the past few years.

An important thread of these conversations has been the fact that in many cases, it is the customers who are leaving the traditional financial service providers behind, not the other way around.

I spend most of my time working with the “overbanked”– affluent families who have no shortage of financial services options, and as I have written previously, they too can find a variety of services to borrow, hold, invest and move money without the need for a traditional bank.

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal reported on an affluent family who has “…no need, desire or want to go to a regular bank,”

Footnote to Financial Crisi: More People Shun the Bank –



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