Posts Tagged ‘financial advisor’


How to Rebuild Trust in Financial Institutions

April 6, 2012

I always enjoy reading Ron Shevlin‘s work. He is a senior analyst with Aite Group, where they say he is

“…a recognized thought leader for his pioneering research on right-channeling consumer interactions, the impact of customer advocacy on future purchase intention, and developing sense-and-respond marketing capabilities to improve sales and marketing efforts.”

I’ll buy that.

I also read his provocative and funny insights on his blog Snarketing 2.0 , so I was pleased that he linked to my March 27 post Why Should Your Clients Trust You? in his April 3 post on The Financial Brand, titled 9 Critical Ways Financial Institutions Should Rebuild Trust With Consumers.

In his post, Shevlin says that he has concluded “…that “trust” is too complex a construct to boil down to a simple formula. Trust is multi-dimensional, comprised and influenced by many attributes.”  I agree– I cited David Maister’s formula for trust in my post not because it’s the complete mathematical computation, but because it’s great shorthand for thinking about the way your (and your firm’s) behaviors impact how your clients perceive and trust you.

Shevlin cites Aite Group’s research that found nine critical areas that financial firms must address. It’s only fair that you read his entire post in context to get the whole list, so I will only quote the top three here:

  1. Have friendly and helpful service reps
  2. Listen to problems and concerns
  3. Empower employees to fix issues

None of the items on the list are any more complicated than that. So why is it so difficult for financial institutions to drive trust and brand loyalty?

The simplest concepts are sometimes the most challenging to implement. And the larger your firm, the harder it is to do it consistently.

I still go back to the whole “divided by self-interest” part of Maister’s formula.

If you can only implement one great idea– make it creating and nurturing a culture that really understands client needs and delivers what they want and need, in their best interest.

It’s usually easy to figure out “what’s in it for the firm” in any given interaction. Focus on “what’s in it for the client”.

Why should your clients trust you again?


Sorry, But You’re No Steve Jobs

April 1, 2012

Today is Apple’s 36th anniversary. Appropriately, there was an amusing article in the March 30 Wall Street Journal (Bio as Bible: Managers Imitate Steve Jobs) that described managers who take their admiration of the Apple co-founder beyond inspiration to imitation.

Mindless repetition of another’s actions in hopes of repeating their success may work for a simple task, but not for something as complex and artful as leadership.

Not a new phenomenon

Blatant imitation in the quest for success is hardly a new phenomenon. When I joined the business world in the 1980’s, GE chairman Jack Welch was widely regarded as the prototype for the modern manager. There were a number of factors that contributed to his success, including his contribution to a strong internal culture of developing leaders throughout the company (not to mention the tail wind of a strong economy and stock market during much of his tenure).

But for much of the public and the popular press, he was known simply as “Neutron Jack” in a wry reference to the neutron bomb for his ability to eliminate mass amounts of people while leaving their buildings intact. Welch was not alone. “Corporate raiders” like Carl Icahn, arbitrageur Ivan Boesky, junk bond LBO king Mike Milken and later “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap all grabbed headlines for their particular brands of  cost-cutting to “unlock shareholder value”.

Their ethos was personified in the star of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street– Gordon Gecko, who famously proclaimed that “Greed is good“.

Regardless of the unpleasant (and at times illegal) activities of some, there was a core of truth that many firms and many industries had become bloated with non-productive assets and expenses.

Imitation Without Integration

But other managers blindly imitated these activities, often without  broader context.

Suddenly, managers of every level thought that the key to the corner suite was cost cutting. Never mind that some of those costs were actually investments in their firms’ very future– infrastructure, key activities and key people whose disappearance could prevent paying customers from becoming, well, paying customers any more. Let alone loyal, raving fans.

A unique version of this played itself out in the banking industry too. For sure there were too many competitors with too many expenses to be supported in an efficient market. That’s a big reason why the total number of banks has been cut in half in the past 22 years, as I discussed in my March 26 post Is Bank Merger Mania Imminent?

The New Corporate Buzzwords

But now, the corporate buzzwords that seem to be in favor are some of those favored by Steve Jobs– “innovation”, “ecosystem”, “product focused” and “obsession with perfection”.

Those are all fine traits in the right context, but simply lifting them out of Steve Jobs’s biography and forcing them on your team blindly is not necessarily going to lead your company to become the most valuable in the world.

I recently spent some time with a senior executive who confided to me that her colleague was driving her crazy with his obsessive attention to all the wrong details while major issues have been left unattended. Knowing I can default to sports analogies when trying to make a point, she smiled and said “Let’s put it this way– his team is only scoring two field goals a game, but he’s obsessing over the right shade of color on the uniforms and the selection of halftime music.”

Worse, he had recently read Jobs’s biography and was now using it to justify his unproductively obsessive behaviors.

After all, he was just trying to make the company “insanely great”…

“Sorry, but you’re no Steve Jobs” she wanted to tell him.

Most of us probably aren’t.

Be You Instead

It’s great to pull inspiration from other successful people, but you have to channel that inspiration in a way that is consistent with who you are, and in a way that works for your team.

There was only one Steve Jobs.

Be you instead.


Stop When You Get to Yes!

March 29, 2012

That’s classic sales management advice, yet I have seen countless sales professionals ignore it at their peril.

The advice applies outside of sales too, and I just witnessed it yesterday in a whole new context on my flight to San Francisco.

We are all buckled into our (relatively) comfortable exit row seats and the flight attendant had just finished giving us the instructions for operating the doors. As per FAA regulations, she said that she needed to make sure that each and every one of us understood the instructions and that we were ready, willing and able to assist in the event of an emergency, and then she began checking with us one by one.

When she motioned to me in the window seat, I looked her in the eye and said “Yes”, as did the poor guy stuck in the middle seat next to me.  When she turned  to the man seated in the aisle seat, he looked up quizzically and said “Hmm?”.

The flight attendant asked him again if he understood the instructions and if he was ready, willing and able to assist in the event of an emergency.

The passenger replied in a thick accent “Yes. My English is not that bad”.

The flight attendant replied that she was concerned that he might not be able to understand instructions in the chaos of an unlikely emergency and that she was going to have to move him to another seat.

He protested with a few sentences in fluent, if heavily accented, English; trying to assure her that he did understand.

It was too late. the flight attendant had to make a judgment call on the potential safety of passengers, so she moved him.

The guy in the middle seat shrugged and slid over into the now vacated aisle seat, giving both of us the next best thing to first class– reclining exit row seats with an empty middle seat between us.

He knew how to stop when he got to yes.

And I did too.


Top Ten Geek Week Sneak Peeks – Part 1

March 9, 2012

This week I really got the chance to embrace that inner geek that’s just dying to break out of my pinstripe suit. On Tuesday I had the chance to visit the Microsoft Research TechFest 2012, and celebrate twenty years of Microsoft Research (Shout out to my host Juliane Carlson). Then on Wednesday I attended the GeekWire Summit and got to hear and meet all kinds of interesting people doing all kinds of interesting things. Here are some highlights and potential implications on the intersection of leadership, advice and technology in financial services:

Today: Microsoft Research TechFest2012

“The unanticipated results are often as important as the anticipated ones.”  

Peter Lee, Microsoft Research

  1. Multilingual text-to-speech (TTS) conversion. The demo was oriented around an American using GPS to navigate around Beijing, but imagine being able to serve non-English speaking clients in situations where multilingual employees might not be available or practical.
  2. Lots of projects involving Big Data, including FetchClimate, a massive mash-up of global historical climatic data made instantly accessible. Easily useful as-is to assist in assessing branch locations, client real estate projects, etc.
  3. Another Big Data project is ChronoZoom, which is a “…dynamic cloud based data visualization tool where educators, researchers and students can easily consume, compare and understand the history of the cosmos, earth, life and humanity. Where they can easily consume rich media sets like: audio, video, text, pdfs, charts, graphs and articles in one place and discover new possibilities.” Imagine a financial markets version of this product with every price and correlation of every financial instrument for the past 80+ years.
  4. IllumiShare is desk lamp with camera that allows people to share physical or digital objects across the internet. Imagine a client who has questions on their trust document (or paper statement from your luddite competitor, because of course your institution has a secure digital document exchange with e-statments…). They could flip this on from the kitchen table of their beach house and you can see it all on your screen, even mark it up or highlight key areas.
  5. Multitouch is still evolving, and the Wearable Multitouch Projector can turn virtually any surface into a touchscreen, including the palm of your own hand. The current prototype looks a little bit like  first generation home camcorders with a shoulder bag processor and a shoulder mounted projector, but it will undoubtedly evolve. No touch is evolving too, building on the Kinect interface, including potential touchless interaction in surgery.

Tomorrow: The GeekWire Summit


Why Bankers Need to Think Like Private Fixed Income Investors

February 15, 2012

Banks are in the business of taking and managing risks. Get that wrong and you go out of business, and there are many recent examples.

I have sometimes worked with advisors who view loans as just another product to sell. This type of advisor also tends to view anyone in the credit underwriting and approval process as being in the “business prevention department”. In these situations I try to explain how lending literally involves transferring some of the firm’s capital to a client, on which we expect a return of principal and a return on principal over time.

No matter how much profit the client makes as a result of a loan, a lender’s best case is getting a full return of principal, plus the contractual interest, and not a penny more.

$1 million loan x 2.00% spread = $20,000 of pre-tax, pre-provision revenue

The lender’s worst case is a complete loss of principal and expected interest, plus collection and litigation costs.

The firm that charges off that $1 million loan needs $50 million of new loans to get back to even.

And that excludes income taxes, labor or overhead costs needed to originate the loan, any loan loss reserves set aside, the cost of funds raised to lend out or any time-value of that money (i.e., liquidity issuance premium).

With that kind of mismatched upside/downside risk, it is necessary to view lending like the private fixed income investment that it truly is.

How advisors should think like fixed income investors:

  • They must seek an attractive risk-adjusted after-tax return on capital
  • They should expect low loss rates and low volatility of returns
  • They have to achieve these goals through disciplined management of controlled risks
  • Borrowers typically do not have public debt ratings, so individual underwriting must be performed
  • Borrowers typically do not have established market values, so risk-adjusted pricing must developed
  • Bankers must mitigate these risks through disciplined underwriting, appropriate credit structure and active portfolio monitoring and management.

Advisors that balance the needs of their clients with the long-term health of their firm win in the long run.


Remember When Laptops Revolutionized Financial Services?

February 12, 2012

Me neither. Today’s coolest tablets won’t either if they don’t enrich the advisor-client relationship. Many firms have pursued technology for its own sake, and some firms still have deeply engaged, profitable clients despite a shocking lack of sophistication. The real magic happens when technology enhances and enables the advisor-client conversation to uncover unmet and unstated needs to delight the client.

The Value Curve to Tablet Banking by Shahab Choudhry, partner and co-founder of the app development firm Propelics, describes correctly, in my view, that the highest value apps are those that advisors use in their direct interactions with clients.


The Intersection

February 11, 2012

The Intersection

Welcome to my blog!

I’m here to explore the intersection of leadership, advice and innovation to improve the lives of financial advisors and their clients.


I am particularly fascinated with the research and writings of Marcus Buckingham who describes himself as dedicated to “…understanding what makes world-class managers tick, bottling it, and sharing it with the world.”  As the co-author of Now, Discover Your Strengths, he helped create StrengthsFinder to help people look deep within to find their unique combination of inherent talents. (My Top Five:  Strategic | Achiever | Futuristic | Learner | Communication)

I have been lucky to work for, with and around some outstanding leaders (plus a few clunkers), and I’ve learned a lot from each of them. The best leaders know their strengths and leverage them to get outstanding results from themselves and from others, yet they know how to access different styles within themselves to provide the right leadership in the right situations. They harness the power of Strengths-Based Leadership and Situational Leadership. Regardless the industry, regardless the challenge, the need for effective leadership is always a critical ingredient for success.


Most of my professional life has been in the financial services industry, I have seen a lot of fads and trends pursued in the quest for growth and profit. Acquisition binges justified by “the need to diversify” followed by divestitures justified by “the need to focus on our core business”. An increased emphasis on variable advisor pay and commissions to “pay for performance” followed by flatter fee and pay structures to “better align interests” (or sometimes simply to “cut costs”). The optimistic splurges on technology to “revolutionize the client experience” (and/or “increase advisor productivity”) followed by the inevitable crash to the reality of disappointing ROIs. None of these strategies are necessarily misguided, but the key driver has to be advice.

Whether you are a bank teller suggesting that a customer might want to open a savings account to hold some of that excess cash in their checking account, or a superstar CFA portfolio manager recommending the latest structured hedged debt solution to improve alpha and reduce volatility, if the person on the other side of the desk from you doesn’t perceive you to be a trusted source of true advice that will solve their problem or achieve their goal, your personal success will be limited.

In my opinion, one of the leading authorities on the art and science of being a Trusted Advisor is one of the co-authors of the book by that very name, David H. Maister, and it seems like every financial firm I’m familiar with has had their advisors read the book. Not that it’s typically very apparent to their clients.  True Trusted Advisors remain as elusive as four leaf clovers in the vast meadows of financial services. Many advisors remain either salespeople or reactive servicers.


I’ve been a fan and early adopter of technology for as long as I can remember, but I can barely a wire light switch and I have never written a line of code in my life. When I was in high school, my “Computer Math” class consisted of entering strings of arithmetic into what was essentially a programmable calculator with a paper tape. The only thing I remember from that class was that every string was supposed to start with “To (0): Load”, whatever that meant. That, and the time my friend Jim and I conspired to slow down the smartest guy in the class. We each occupied one of the two available “computers” while I switched the + and x keys and then volunteered my keyboard to our unwitting victim. It took him two days to debug his formula.

Computer classes in college consisted primarily of carefully rubber banding slippery stacks of IBM punch cards lest they get out of order and cause you to spend the night in the computer lab. At least, that’s how it appeared to me. I avoided computer classes like I avoided brussel sprouts. Even though my engineering major roommate was easily able to infect me with lustful desire for an Apple IIe (with pen plotter) or even a Tandy TRS-80, my main technology fix at that time came from synthesizers and audio and lighting equipment.

After college I discovered the IBM PCjr, with MS-DOS 2.0 and SuperCalc on 5 1/4″ floppies. My job at the time required me to do simple but repetitive arithmetic with pen and paper to calculate a payroll budget. The mere fact that my results were being printed in stunning dot matrix grey on green and white tractor-fed 14 7/8″ paper seemed to quadruple my credibility compared to the same numbers on the old handwritten sheets. I was forever hooked on the possibilities of technology to improve jobs and lives, and a lifetime of exploration lay ahead.

About Me

I am an “embedded entrepreneur”. I have a day job with a Fortune 150 financial services firm, but everything here is my own work and my own opinion. The photos are mine too. I have been an advisor, a manager and a senior leader, and I love to build high performance teams to create and execute winning business plans. I’ll do my best to share the best thinking of those whom I feel are making important contributions to the intersection of leadership, advice and technology. I invite you to join the conversation.

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