Any doubts about the power of Internet marketing have been eliminated with the popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa — dubbed the social media revolution due to its role in organizing the protests. However, before financial advisors leap into social media marketing campaigns, it is important to start with the basics.
As Bill Clinton joked in 1996, “When I took office, only high-energy physicists had heard of the World Wide Web. Now even my cat has its own page.”
According to International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a UN agency, about 80% of Canadians have access to the Internet, ranking us 15th in the world as of June 2010. And Canadians are increasingly looking for information on financial advisors online.
Stéphane Hamel, eBusiness strategist and instructor at Université Laval and UBC, suggests a financial advisor have a personal website or Linkedin profile.
“It doesn’t have to be sophisticated or complex,” says Hamel. “As long as it has the basics, such as available services and contact information, it can provide a web address that can be sent to prospects by client referrals.”
Hamel says the associated costs with creating a basic website are low, with hosting and professionally designed templates available for the equivalent of pennies a day — or even free.
“The most expensive item might be the advisor’s time,” says Hamel.
He adds blogging, participating in online financial communities — commenting on websites, answering questions in forums, etc. — and doing webinars are great ways to increase visibility and credibility.
Of course, advisors must adhere to regulatory guidelines that cover providing advice without being fully aware of the complete financial aspects of individual cases.
Most dealers provide assistance for financial advisors to set up web profiles on the dealer site, and will often furnish personalized URLs.
Macquarie Canada provides branded websites for individual advisors on the main company website . Macquarie advisors have the option of having a custom domain name point to their personal web page, which about 40% of advisors have created.
Silu Modi, vice president of digital marketing, says advisors find the personalized page a useful tool to help build their personal brand beyond that of Macquarie Private Wealth.
At Assante, approximately 60% of advisors have a personal website, says Bob Dorrell, senior vice president, distribution sales and service. Eighty-five percent of these advisors have used a website creation tool developed and provided by Assante at no cost to the advisor.
All websites need to be reviewed and approved by Assante to ensure they meet compliance and branding standards and policies; advisor websites are monitored and any changes to existing sites require Assante approval.
“Advisors have experienced different levels of success from their websites,” says Dorrell. Some advisors use their website to support traditional marketing efforts and digitize as much as possible, creating an online brochure that allows the advisor to tell his story, process and approach to wealth planning.
One advisor who’s invested a great deal of time and effort into his website over the last year is Keith Donoghue, an Assante advisor in Montreal. His website is an integral part of his marketing program, which includes a weekly radio talk show on FM 105.1 in Montreal, a CD with a PDF guidebook containing financial articles written by his team, and ongoing seminars.
The radio talk show directs listeners to his website, which advertises the CD. Clients can also book appointments and make other requests through the website. To reduce the burden on himself, much of the site’s content is updated by his junior partner.
While it’s a lot of work to continually maintain the website with fresh information, he puts in the effort to ensure his website comes up in the top 20 for a Google search of the phrase “financial planner Montreal.”
His hard work has paid off: Donoghue recovered the website’s cost in the first six months with new business from a high-net-worth client who made an initial appointment through the website. He also finds the website’s content prepares prospects well for initial meetings.
“Sometimes they’re already presold on moving their business,” he says.
His advice to any advisor without a website? A one-page web profile alone won’t bring in new business. Any web initiatives must be part of a well-thought-out marketing plan, which takes time and effort.