Posts Tagged ‘Financial services’


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.


Top 10 Best Banking Blogs

November 8, 2012

(Via The Financial Brand) Congratulations to all of the winners in The Financial Brand’s Best Banking Blog poll. I am honored to count several of the winners amongst my friends. It is a group of smart, kind and funny people– what more could you want?

1. JD Power & Associates Banking Blog – @JDPowerBanking

2. Snarketing 2.0 – Ron Shevlin —  @rshevlin

3. ACTON’s Financial Marketing Insights – @ACTON_Marketing

4. Bank Marketing Strategies – Jim Marous  @JimMarous

5. –  @bankingdotcom

6. CU Insight – Randy Smith @CUinsight

7. Bank Innovation – @BankInnovation

8. Netbanker –  @netbanker

9. GonzoBanker –  @GonzoBanker

10. Financial Services Club Blog – @FSClub

Congratulations as well to the Write-Ins & Other Honorable Mentions, along with the nominees, where I again am fortunate to recognize another great group of smart, kind and funny people I call friends. I am also humbled and grateful to even be mentioned in their company.

Again, from The Financial Brand, Write-Ins & Other Honorable Mentions:

Read the entire article, including links to representative posts from the winners at The Financial Brand: Top 10 Best Banking Blogs – Readers Choice 2012 Winners | The Financial Brand: Marketing Insights for Banks & Credit Unions.

Other nominees:


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 –




The Convergence of High Tech and High Touch in Wealth Management

September 5, 2012

I wrote a piece for the popular fintech blog netbanker yesterday on how high tech and high touch are converging in wealth management, and what I will be watching for in that convergence zone next week at Finovate Fall 2012 in New York.

In the article, I mentioned that most of the notable traction to date has been in the payments space. One might not think that this “dumb pipe” portion of banks’ business models– moving dollars and data from Point A to Point B– would provide such fertile ground for disruptive innovation, but consider the impact and potential of players such as Finovate alums Dwolla and Simple, as well as SquarePayPal, and others.

I also noted in the article that innovative specialty lenders and crowdsourcing platforms are breaching what had long been banks’ deepest moat–  the ability to monetize their balance sheets. Most simply defined, banks’ primary function is to be a financial intermediary. Besides moving money from one place to the other, they hold excess capital when it is not needed for investment, and lend it out when it is; providing liquidity to all sorts of macro and micro markets along the way.

Oligopolists acting like oligopolists

Even though there are over 7,000 banks (plus a similar number of credit unions) in the U.S. alone, the industry has long operated as an oligopoly. For the most part, it continues to act that way despite disruptive threats from all around. After all, their primary product is the ultimate undifferentiated commodity, money. Bank A’s money isn’t better designed, sturdier or more portable than Bank B’s.

Parenthetically, oligopolists acting like oligopolists has a lot to do with the reason most consumers hold banks in just slightly higher esteem than they do the U.S. Congress. Banks integrated vertically and horizontally, they bought weaker competitors, they raised prices, they made up new fees, they cut costs and maximized profits for shareholders with scant regard to other stakeholders, like, you know, their customers.

Predictably, smart players from outside the industry have visions for better ways of doing business.

As frightening as any of these threats should be to any entrenched bankers who are paying attention, the ongoing march of innovation should be scaring them right out of their moire suspenders. Innovators are moving beyond solving the algorithmic problems of the industry and beginning to tackle more dynamic and heuristic areas, such as wealth management.

I continue to reference a recent American Banker article cited a KPMG survey that said 9 out of 10 banks were considering a major overhaul of their strategy, and that 40% said that wealth management was essential to growing revenue in the future.

Wealth management is an attractive business, and if done right, the business can also be a key differentiator, but it requires the ability to develop, manage and leverage intellectual capital beyond the commodity that is the bulk of many banks’ current business models.

Not all will be able to make the leap.


Wealth Management 3.0 Is Here– Are You Ready? (Part 1 of 3)

July 12, 2012

Most banks today have wealth management clients with an average age somewhere between 70 and dead (no offense, Mom). Their books of business were largely built in bygone eras, from fortunes made in companies and industries that no longer exist.

These clients (and many of their advisors) are really not sure about this whole “interweb” fad, and they think Betty White is a great young talent.

The fact is, the world has changed and most banks have not caught up. Most probably never will. They will instead quietly slide off into obscurity like Don Johnson. Or worse, Philip Michael Thomas. At least Don Johnson had Nash Bridges. (Warning: if you readily recognize those names, you may very well be part of the problem.)

The segment of financial services we think of as ‘wealth management’ in the U.S. banking and brokerage industries today has evolved over a couple of broad eras, and too many advisors and executives don’t even realize that we’ve already entered another new era– one I call Wealth Management 3.0.

The term ‘wealth management’  is, of course, Latin for ‘don’t lose my pile of money, and make it bigger if you can’. It is also a term that was coined by the industry without its clients’ permission. Multiple surveys show that clients don’t like the term. Surveys also show that most clients define ‘wealthy’ as someone who has a pile of money at least twice as high as theirs. Maybe that’s because, as P.J. O’Rourke says;

Everyone enjoys pretending to be what he isn’t. It’s poor men who wear flashy and expensive clothes, pretending to have money. Rich men wear sturdy and practical clothes, pretending to have brains.

Nonetheless, today we begin an exploration of this industry evolution that is rapidly becoming a revolution, and we will lay out some imperatives for firms and advisors who want to survive and thrive in the new era

Meticulous researchers and conscientious historians labor considerably to deeply understand precipitating events and underlying causes. Readers of this blog know that I am neither, and therefore not burdened with such inconvenient details. I am purposely ignoring the long history of true ‘private’ banking in Europe and lumping many generations and iterations of evolution into three distinct (if arguable) eras for purposes of brevity and general laziness. Besides, sweeping generalizations are real time-savers.

Wealth Management 1.0 (1853-1982)

In 1853, some 61 years after the stockbrokers first began trading under a buttonwood tree (and presumably had since moved to more sensible indoor trading floors), some of the wealthiest men in America decided that their control of their respective piles of money ought not to cease with such trivial nonsense such as their own deaths. So they founded U.S. Trust, the first financial firm to act in a fiduciary capacity on the behalf of its clients’ trusts and estates.

Wealthy men hate to be left out of good ideas to protect and grow their own piles of cash, so over the next hundred years, other firms sprang up to facilitate all sorts of services related to the accumulation, preservation and distribution of personal wealth.

The wealthy denizens at the turn of the 20th century had to endure such annoyances as trust-busting, the advent of personal income tax in 1913 and the stock market crash of 1929. These indignations created many opportunities for firms to put their best ideas into practice to help the rich stay that way.

Much to the chagrin of more than one plutocratic robber baron, the post-World War II financial boom began to spread the wealth. The number of millionaires mushroomed from a few thousand to more than a half million by 1980, and wealth management practices spread beyond the ‘white shoe firms‘. Even to, egads, mere commercial banks.

Key attributes of Wealth Management 1.0

  • Key characteristics: Fragmented offerings- banking, trust, investment, brokerage and insurance services provided largely by specialists
  • Key firm capabilities: Creating and selling proprietary products and strategies, stock-picking, trust administration
  • Key client goals: Preservation of wealth, with eventual distribution to family members or large endowments
  • Key advisor skills: Narrowly focused subject matter expertise, membership in the right private clubs
  • Key advisor activity: Client retention, tying their rep tie into a perfect half-windsor knot

Evolving to 2.0

Most firms have had to evolve their business models beyond 1.0 to survive to this point; but as we shall see, many still depend on revenue streams attached to legacy clients that is not self-sustaining. Depending on which research you read, anywhere between $18 trillion and $54 trillion of assets owned by the Traditionalist Generation (those born before 1946) and Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) will pass down to Generations X and Y (no doubt with nary a trace of appreciation).

Business models and value propositions that worked for older generations are, at best, punch lines to the younger generations. At worst, they are powerful motivators to innovate their own disruptive start-ups to put grandpa’s firm out of business. Yet, many firms and advisors continue to whistle past their own graveyard.

Up next: Part 2– Wealth Management 2.0 (1982-2008)


Wow, I’m Actually Leaving My Day Job!

June 28, 2012

This week I celebrate an important anniversary in my professional career as I close this chapter and begin a new one.

Twenty years ago this week, I joined a small bank that would become one of the largest and most respected in the country. It has been an incredible ride, and I got the chance to work with some of the greatest people in the business. Not many bankers get to learn directly from an American Banker Banker of the Year CEO, but I have worked for two. At the same company. (Jerry Grundhofer and Richard Davis.)

During that time, we grew from $6 billion to nearly $350 billion in assets, and the market value of the company grew from $750 million to over $60 billion, with two 3-for-1 stock splits along the way. (More detail is available on My Day Job page.)

I know that the experiences and opportunities that I have had, the people I have met, and the things that I have learned will serve me well as I leave and begin a new chapter.

Where Do I Go From Here?

First of all, I will continue writing here about the intersection of leadership, advice and innovation. I started this blog as an outlet for my professional passions, and it has exceeded my expectations. It has been viewed thousands of times in over 30 countries, and my posts are also now available on and

New Opportunities

Secondly, I am thrilled with the new opportunities that have been presented to me so far–  and I haven’t even officially left yet! I feel very fortunate to have so many friends all around the industry, and very fortunate to know that I will have the chance to make a significant impact in another senior leadership role.

Hanging Out My Shingle

Among those current opportunities are some speaking and consulting engagements, so I will also add the titles Founder and CEO to my resume. I have started a new consulting firm called Clientific, LLC as a way to help others while I consider the right long term leadership role. The ‘intrapreneur’ gets to try ‘entreprenuer’ on for size– at least for a little while!

Let me know if you think I can help you or your firm.

Why Am I Leaving?

Simply put, the timing is right. I am proud of the work my team has done to help turn what was once a small regional bank into a competitive national platform. I have always called myself an “embedded entrepreneur” and said that I love to build great businesses with great people. That has certainly been the case here. The organization is ready for someone to pick up from here and take it to the next level, particularly with a deeper concentration on the high quality credit book we have built. I couldn’t imagine a more amicable and professional parting of ways, and I remain a fan and a friend of the bank and its leadership and teams. I wish them nothing but the best.

Stay tuned for details of my new adventures!


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