Correction To My Twitter Webinar

My webinar, Twitter For Advisors, on Friday, May 8, contained an error.

In the presentation, I incorrectly said that if you keep your tweets private and approve all of your followers on Twitter, other Twitter users could not see your followers. That's incorrect.

While approving your followers allows only approved followers to see your updates, any other Twitter user can still see your followers.

It’s important for financial advisors to keep this in mind. I incorrectly advised in the presentation that, if you create a separate profile for clients only, other Twitter users could not see them. Even if you protect your updates using the checkbox in the “Settings” menu in Twitter, any other Twitter user can still see your profile and the list of your followers.

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Are You Too Sexy For Social Networking?

In the 1992 pop hit, “I’m Too Sexy,” by Right Said Fred, lead singer Fred Fairbrass insists he’s “too sexy for Milan, New York, and Japan.” It’s a silly statement.

Just as silly was a statement by one of New York’s most prominent estate planning attorney, who told me he’s too sexy for social networking. I won’t name him because he’s a close friend and he’ll never come to our house for dinner again.

But he only had a couple of glasses of wine when he said that all of the requests to connect that he’d received on LinkedIn were from people who wanted to sell him something, socio-economic climbers who’d benefit from knowing him. He wasn’t connecting with people from which he could learn, get referrals, or derive some other benefit from knowing virtually.

This was my first reaction, too, when I first started using LinkedIn and again when I first used twitter. But once you use these tools, you figure out how the privilege of giving away information benefits you as long as you target the right people.

My lawyer friend is actually right about one thing: LinkedIn connections that you want to connect with probably won’t seek you out. You have to seek them out.

If you wait for your target client to seek you out, you won’t see the value in social networking. You have to go to them. On LinkedIn, this means looking at other people’s connections to see who among them you want to know.

For instance, say you’re an estate planning attorney or financial advisor and corporate executives with stock options, deferred compensation plans, and restricted stock are your target clients. You want to connect with senior executives at numerous companies in your area or industry about which you’re an expert.

In LinkedIn, you could click the “Search” the pull-down menu next to the “Search Companies.” If you want information about executives at
Research In Motion, for instance, you click on “see more” in the “Current Employees” section at the top of the page and you’ll get a list of hundreds of executives. If you only want top executives from RIM, use Advanced Search to filter for “Senior Vice President.”

You can request a connection with top executives at just about all of the 1,000 largest companies in the country.

Is that like cold-calling? Not if you have information valued by these executives.

If you request connecting because you have a white paper about the latest tax court ruling on restricted stock sales, or offer a service that tracks insider stock trades by executives at his company every day, he may value that.

Or, better still, network with people you know. If you have a client or college buddy who is a top executive at RIM, for instance, why not connect? You can then ask that friend to introduce you to a colleague at RIM. If you know the SVP for handheld software development, you can look at his connections. You might find that the SVP for channel sales went to the same high school as you or previously worked with someone else that you know and you could ask for an introduction to that person.

The same rules apply to Twitter. A lot of the people who want to “follow” me want to sell me something—search engine optimization, social networking tools, financial planning software. And that’s okay. Sometimes they actually have valuable information for me.

But at the same time I’m actively reaching out to financial advisors on
Twitter and Linkedin and streaming news about personal finance, regulators, and marketing. I’m updating people I connect with about my latest blog posts about advanced marketing techniques and events in the economy.

To make social networking work for you, figure out who your target clients are and what information you could easily send them regularly for free to prove your value to them. Shortly after you do that, you’ll stop complaining that only product salespeople want to connect with you and realize that you’re not too sexy for social networking.

For more information about Twitter and social networking, please read
my latest column in Financial Advisor.

And please register for this week’s session of the Financial Crisis Webinar Series on Friday at 4 p.m., when I will speak about
Twitter for advisors.

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Ways RIAs Can Reassure Clients

Five more advisory firm frauds made headlines in the past week. Meanwhile I received two hateful emails about my recent blog posts saying old ways of assuring clients of advisor integrity are no longer enough.

I’m sorry if I stepped on some toes or if you feel I was too harsh with my comments about NAPFA. But unless advisors communicate proactively, candidly, and in detail with clients right now about the trust issue, client assets could start moving away from advisors toward discount brokers.

I’m not predicting a huge stampede. But clients who have seen portfolios slashed in value and who see the string of frauds make headlines need reassurance.

During the last market pullback—the tech bubble of 2001-2002—discount brokers did not have the easy-to-use technology they do today, and only a fraction of the investors used the Internet. It’s different this time. Advisor clients are on the Web and the discount brokers have slick, easy-to-use interfaces.

The history of innovation should make advisors cautious. Disruptive technology systems (discount brokers) are always viewed as crude when introduced. This lulls established market leaders relying on existing technology (traditional financial advice outlets) to believe they will not lose business to the new competitor.

However, incremental improvements in once-crude innovative systems gradually overcome the established regime. This pattern of innovation adoption has been
documented extensively.

Advisors would be wise to watch the progress of the major discount brokers in coming months to see how much market share they pick up from the retail flight of assets from Wall Street brokers.

Ironically, advisors are more than ever in need of help from the big discount brokers. After all, these same firms are also the largest providers of custody services to RIA assets. And the custodians can provide advisors with crucial assistance in reassuring their clients of their fidelity and competence.

Perhaps the most important idea an RIA can communicate to assure clients fearful of fraud is that you have an independent custodian. This is a time to emphasize to clients that, unlike Bernard Madoff, you have an independent custodian.

Because of the important role an independent custodian plays in RIA client relationships, I emailed four major custodians a week ago—Fidelity, Pershing, Schwab, and TD Ameritrade. I asked them how RIAs can reassure their clients by emphasizing the role played by a custodian. Only two of the custodians responded.

To me this was surprising. Here’s a chance for the custodians to be on your side and play a valuable role. Your custodial firm can earn its fees by helping you communicate proactively right now. You’d think they would jump at that chance.

Mark Tibergien, who heads
Pershing Advisor Solutions, replied within minutes. Brian Stimpfl, a managing director at TD Ameritrade Institutional, responded a day later by spending an hour on the phone with me.

If Fidelity and Schwab contact me after seeing this post and have good ideas to add, I’ll post another entry. Keep in mind, Advisor Products is incorporating these messages into articles we write for RIA client newsletters and websites.

Tibergien says the simple fact that you have a custodian must be communicated to clients. Madoff’s firm was itself custodian of client assets. Almost all custodians mail statements monthly directly to clients. You want to mention to your clients that these statements provide independent verification of their account holdings, transactions, and values.

Stimpfl points out that only about 1,000 of the approximately 11,000 RIAs providing retail investment advice take custody of client assets. You may want to mention to clients that RIAs not holding their assets at custodians require far more due diligence on an ongoing basis.

Clients should understand that portfolio performance reports they get from an RIA can easily be compared against the independent custodian’s statement. This is also a good time to remind clients that custodians will send them notices of trade confirmations whenever a transaction occurs in their accounts. Mentioning that the custodian has its own website where account values are posted 24/7 would also reassure many clients.

You may also want to remind clients of the URL on the custodian’s website where they can sign up to receive the electronic trade confirmations directly from the custodian. Custodians years ago rolled out a feature allowing them to notify your clients of trade confirmations and they can send an email to your clients with the URL where they can download each trade confirmation. They also archive every confirmation for each client. Many clients will appreciate the reminder and your being proactive in disclosing how transparent your business is. It will instill confidence in your firm.

Incidentally, you may want to ask your custodian about its policy on ex-clients. If you move a client’s assets away or if the client fires you and moves to another clearing firm, how long will the custodian keep those old trade confirmations? Stimpfl says they’re archived for seven years at TD Ameritrade.

Stimpfl says several months ago TD Ameritrade produced and distributed a set of materials for RIAs to help them answer questions from nervous investors after the Madoff scandal and market break. The package of materials included a letter that could be copied, pasted, personalized, and mailed out under the RIA’s letterhead.

The letter, Stimpfl says, reminded clients to check their client services agreement with their RIA firm to see exactly what their advisory firm can do with their money. Reminding clients that you have discretion to trade their accounts and how carefully you manage that responsibility would be reassuring. While the majority of RIAs do have discretion of their client accounts, those that do not may want to remind their clients of this fact.

“We live in a transparent society,” says Stimpfl. “And if you're holding back anything, you could unintentionally and unnecessarily put client relationships at risk.”

RIAs who invest in alternative investments should be proactive in communicating about the value of those assets. Advisors who recommend alternative investments should have Investment Policy Statements for each client who holds them. Reminding these clients of the details about holding alternative investments would be wise. Advisors who do not hold alternatives or who hold less than 5% of total client assets in them should consider reminding clients of these facts.

Tibergien says clients should be told about processes and protocols your firm has in place to review investment decisions. If your firm has conducted a “mock SEC audit,” showing clients a report from your compliance consulting firm would be another way to demonstrate your commitment to run your firm with integrity.

You can also remind clients that your custodian has its own responsibilities under the law to ensure client assets are protected. SIPC insurance covers investors in the event of the insolvency of the custodian for up to $500,000 of losses. In addition, a custodian is likely to have separate insurance coverage purchased privately. One custodian has coverage for losses in securities accounts of up $149.5 million and up to $900,000 in cash accounts.

And speaking of cash accounts, Stimpfl says TD Ameritrade has safeguards in place that prevent an RIA from moving cash from a client’s account into the firm account. RIAs can move cash from a client’s account to another account held by the same client, but TD Ameritrade must receive written approval via mail. Similarly, client address changes must be verified via mail.

Finally, both Pershing and TD Ameritrade said they have automated systems in place to monitor RIA client accounts. Software to ensure compliance with anti-money laundering laws and programmatically search for suspicious trading patterns in customer accounts are yet another protection for RIA clients.

By the way, the two hateful emails I received were more than offset by two uplifting messages. I appreciate the kindness and support.

One More Thing:

If you are interested receiving notification of the continuing drumbeat of advisor frauds being uncovered almost daily, I’ve been “tweeting” the headlines about them. Follow me on Twitter to receive these notifications. Here’s the recent crop of those tweets:

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Online Portfolio Reporting Upgrade

Advisor Products just launched a streamlined interface for firms using AdvisorVault™ to upload portfolio reports from the two most widely-used portfolio reporting systems, Schwab’s PortfolioCenter® and Advent’s Axys®.

The way an advisory firm maps a report containing a client’s portfolio data to the client’s online vault is simple now. Mapping is a one-time procedure for setting up the Advisor Products Online Reporting Solution. It’s also used whenever a firms adds a new client to the system.

Until now, mapping a single client’s account data to the vault was a five-click process that typically took 30-seconds. Now, it’s a two-click,
two-second procedure.

Most clients have multiple accounts—five to 10 accounts per client is common—and advisory firms using the system typically have 200, 300, 1,000 or more clients. The streamlined workflow is a big time-saver for advisory firms—literally 10 times faster. While it previously took 16 hours to map 400 clients with five accounts each, it now takes about 90 minutes.

The Advisor Products
Online Portfolio Reporting Solution has also been enhanced to allow a client’s account to be mapped to different family members. A father and mother, for instance, can have different log-ins to view their own individual accounts, but they both are also able to see a child’s account.

Advisors can drag and drop files from their computer hard drive to any client’s online vault folder. Having the flexibility to drag a folder from your desktop or network drive to the online vault makes moving files in and out of the AdvisorVault™ fast and simple. Clients also can drag and drop files to the vault.

In addition, a client or an advisory firm can give outside professionals rights to access a specified folder in a client’s vault. For advisors working with estate planners or accountants, collaboration is much easier and totally transparent to clients.

With many clients seeking greater transparency from their advisor, online portfolio reporting is likely to grow in popularity. One of the HTML reports, for example, shows a client all transactions in his account. Since the system is so fast, advisory firms can provide clients a daily list of all transactions in their portfolio.

Advisor Products Online Reporting Solutions are fully-redundant and servers are behind dual redundant firewalls with web, authentication, and database servers in isolated subnets. Applications are monitored 24/7 and data are backed up daily and stored offsite weekly.

Web servers utilized by AdvisorVault™ utilize SSL 256-bit encryption for all activities, including the log-in screen and user interface as well as when uploading or downloading files. Uploaded files are stored encrypted and files are decrypted only when delivered to the end-user. Advisor Products staff can see partial file names residing in AdvisorVault™ but cannot view the contents of any client files.

AdvisorVault™ is hosted at a data center that’s achieved SAS 70 Type II compliance. SAS 70 is an internationally recognized auditing standard developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), which means our hosting facility has had its control objectives and control activities examined by an independent accounting and auditing firm.

The hosting facility requires two-factor authentication, including biometric authentication, for anyone to enter, and all entrances and common areas are monitored 24x7 via closed-circuit cameras. Redundancy is built into the heating and cooling systems to maintain a consistent and optimal environment. The data center has on-site redundant power sources and redundant back-up generators, including a multiple-day fuel supply on-site, and it remained lit throughout the Northeast power outage of August 2003. Connections from Verizon, AT&T, Cablevision Lightpath, and Keyspan enter the building through separate trenches.

The Online Portfolio Reporting Solution represents just one of many applications
integrated by Advisor Products into advisory firm marketing websites and client portals.

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The Trust Issue

Do advisors understand the extent of the public’s mistrust? Are they doing enough about it?

I don’t think so.

Advisors have failed to embrace transparency as much as they should. Even NAPFA, traditionally the industry’s strongest advocate in the fight against unethical behavior in the financial services business, has missed the opportunity.

Many consumers who trusted advisors during the bull market are now skeptical, and those who were skeptical are now cynical. Worse still, consumers who were cynical of advisors are now in contempt of them.

If you don’t believe it, read the
comments from readers responding to reporter Ron Lieber’s article in this past Saturday’s issue of The New York Times, “How A Personal Finance Columnist Got Caught Up in Fraud.” Lieber bravely reported that he—The New York Times’ personal finance columnist—had hired an advisor who is now being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for his connection to irregularities alleged to have been discovered in his clients’ accounts.

From the first reader’s comment (“The lesson I have learned is that you can't trust financial planners.”) to the last (“It is worth the time and effort, obviously, to be in complete control of one's assets.”), the public’s outrage boils over. Yet financial advisor discussion boards, trade magazines, and conferences are not addressing “the trust issue.”

There’s no mad scramble to find solutions, no urgency to address the trust issue. Look at the lack of comments on my blog posts in the past few weeks.

  • On March 11, in Closing A Door On Madoff Opens A New Era, I wrote that a new era for investment advisors had begun. “It’s an era in which trust is founded on undisputable proof presented at repeated regular intervals. Advisory firms must proactively adjust their behavior and business processes to succeed in this fearful new world.”

  • On March 12, a post entitled, “Your House Is On Fire,” chastised advisors for a lack of care in performing due diligence on alternative investments.

  • On March 19, a post entitled, The Elephant Wrecking Your Revenues said it plainly: “If you are not moving toward a more transparent relationship with clients, then you are not changing with the times and will be left behind. You will be crushed by the elephant.”

While this blog now has hundreds of readers every day, not a single advisor commented on any of these posts. It’s as if advisors don’t want to deal with the trust issue.

In my view, transparency through technology is the best hope for assuring clients they can continue trust you with their money and for convincing prospective clients that your firm can be trusted with their money.

I was fortunate enough to begin researching Web 2.0 technology three years ago and saw the beginning of the age of transparency unfold right before my eyes back then. That spurred the reinvention of my company, Advisor Products.

Advisor Products recently implemented a system that automatically records phone calls and automatically deposits audio files in each advisory firm’s folder in our CRM system. Every staff person here knows what he says to our clients is easily retrieved, encouraging outstanding service. I’m hoping to add even more transparency by allowing advisors to rate our performance for every service call we handle.

My research into Web 2.0 also caused Advisor Products to develop a
technology platform enabling advisory firms to practice with greater transparency to their clients. The platform extends CRM systems used by advisory firms beyond managing your staff to manage your clients. It integrates a CRM with personal client portals. It also interfaces with performance management software systems, enabling clients to see every transaction posted to their accounts.

We now live in an era of Google Earth, a twittersphere, a place where sophisticated investors will no longer be satisfied with mere promises about your honesty, integrity, and fidelity. They want proof. Either advisory firms reinvent themselves and figure out how to survive in this untrusting, fearful new world or online discount brokers will gain at your expense.

This information is, of course, self-serving. But that does not diminish its value or validity. I’ve aligned my business with my beliefs and values, and my strong desire to be honest. I encourage you to do the same. It also happens to be good for business.

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NAPFA Stained By Scandal

It was only a matter of time before NAPFA’s reputation would be tainted in the national media.

Ron Lieber, the personal finance columnist at The New York Times, wrote a story in today’s paper entitled, “How a Personal Finance Columnist Got Caught Up in Fraud.”

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A Breakthrough In Advisor-Client Communications

Do your clients know all the work you do for them? Do you sometimes wait weeks or even months for clients to send you documents, fill out forms, or provide you with answers to important questions? When a client asks you to work with his lawyer or accountant, do things fall through the cracks?

These common problems create inefficiency and can make your advisory firm look bad to clients. So Advisor Products attacked the problems and we have solved it!

To-Do Manager, a feature in the Advisor Products Personal Client Portal platform, bridges the gap between advisors and clients. Utilizing the power of the Web, To-Do Manager creates more meaningful communication between your firm and your clients to help you both get things done efficiently.

Now, To-Do Manager has been integrated with XLR8, a leading web-based CRM system, to create straight-through processing of client to-dos from your CRM system to your clients.

Whenever your firm has a task a client must handle, you can assign it to the client in the XLR8 CRM system and it is displayed as a to-do in your client’s personal financial portal. You and your client can track the to-do and comment on it until you mark it “achieved.”

For example, if you need a client to send you his will by the end of the month, you can assign that as a to-do for the client in XLR8. When you check off a box designating the task as a client to-do along with the due date, XLR8 programmatically exports the task description to the client’s personal portal. If a client has a question or comment about the to-do, the client’s response is tracked in the client’s portal and also deposited in XLR8 for your records. The entire conversation about each to-do is recorded in both the client’s portal and XLR8 because of this two-way XML integration, and each of you are notified when there’s a communication about the task.(See a one-minute video.)

Asset management fees have been slashed by the bear market while firms still have the same number of clients, making efficiency improvements mandatory. Meanwhile, the Madoff scandal and a slew of other Ponzi has required firms to be far more transparent in the way they serve clients. The To-Do Manager/XLR8 integration accomplishes both of these key goals.

Fewer items will fall through the cracks. Moreover, you are providing a way for clients to achieve near- term tasks that must be handled if they are going to accomplish long-term financial goals. And, by tracking and displaying all of the achieved To-Dos, you help each client through each task, showing them a running list of valuable service items you’re providing.

The interface of the Advisor Products Client Portal system with this XLR8 represents a breakthrough in client communications because it transforms a CRM system in to a client communication tool. While CRM systems have long been used by advisory firms to manage and track their contacts and, to a lesser extent, to track workflows and tasks assigned to staff, this integration transforms the XLR8 CRM system into a tool for managing and tracking tasks assigned to clients.

XLR8 is a customized version of Salesforce, the world’s largest CRM system, which was created by Moulton Strategic Partners (MSP) specifically for advisory firms. MSP is a consulting firm that implements many of the most popular CRM systems used by advisors. It works with many of the largest, most successful RIA firms in the nation.

Salesforce, a web-based system, is best known for its open architecture and flexible configuration tools. Just today the firm announced it was positioned in the leaders quadrant of Gartner's CRM Customer Service Contact Centers Magic Quadrant.

With XLR8, MSP leverages the power of Salesforce to provide most of the functionality advisory firms commonly need in a CRM. MSP consultants further customize the system by documenting an advisory firm’s processes into the system and then embedding those processes into XLR8.

The Advisor Products Personal Client Portals platform is the first web based, open-architecture system dedicated solely to enhancing client communications. The client portal platform provides interfaces with almost all of the leading portfolio management software systems. Integration with other CRM systems and financial planning applications are in development.

The client portal allows your advisory firm to assign other professionals To-Dos for easy collaboration with estate planning attorneys and tax accountants, and you can also enable clients to assign you to-dos.
More integrations are on the way and Advisors Products will continue to improve communications between advisors and their clients.

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What Advisors Want

In the 2000 romantic comedy, “What Women Want,” after he accidentally sustains an electric shock, advertising executive Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson) finds himself suddenly able to read women's minds. Gibson uses his newfound ESP to create better ad campaigns and make his boss, Darcy McGuire (Helen Hunt), fall head over heels for him.

Apart from the hilarity that ensues, the movie shows how important it can be to get into the heads of the people we care about. That’s what Advisor Products is doing right now with its clients and what advisors must do with their clients.

Advisor Products this morning sent an email to people we care about—advisors that are our clients—inviting them to a webinar where I will speak about marketing opportunities created by using our website services.

The webinar invitation included a link to a survey asking advisors they want from us, and we made the survey findings available. Like Mel Gibson, we now can see into the minds of our clients.

Advisors, to succeed in this environment, must work toward the same transparency, openness, and cooperative communication. How?

Whenever you rebalance a client’s accounts, complete a client’s review, or perform key services to clients, ask the client how you did. Creating a survey and emailing a link to your clients to fill out will take just a few minutes. Ask your clients how you’re doing. Ask them what they want.

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Making Sense (And Dollars) After The Plunge

“If you go to a doctor because your elbow hurts, the doctor isn’t going to treat you heart or hand,” says Craig Israelsen. “He’ll treat your elbow. That’s what advisors need to do with clients now.”

“It’s not like a client’s entire portfolio is hurt,” says Israelsen. “It’s just part of it.”

Israelsen, an associate professor at Brigham Young University and frequent contributor to Financial Planning Magazine, likens the market crash of 2008 to a client’s elbow that's taken a very unfunny blow to the funny-bone.

Israelsen will speak about how the market cataclysm affects rebalancing at this Friday’s 4 p.m. EDT session of the Financial Crisis Webinar Series.

Israelsen says that advisors who did not have retiree or pre-retirees holding age-appropriate cash positions before the global economic crisis decimated stock prices are vulnerable but have no one but themselves to blame. He has always argued that it was misguided to think of cash as being a drag on portfolios. “No one thinks cash is a drag now!”

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Smart Marketing For Tough Times

I received a call from an advisor last Friday that taught me a lesson, one that perhaps many advisors can also learn from.

The call was from a longtime client of Advisor Products. We don’t speak often, but I
always enjoy it when we do.

On Friday, she opened my eyes to the fact that Advisor Products needs to do more to educate advisors about what we offer. So I’m going to host a monthly webinar about how Advisor Products helps advisory firms retain clients and gain prospects.
Please join me for the first session Wednesday, April 15 at 4 p.m.

Back to the lesson I learned and how you might be able to learn from it.

The advisor who called me is responsible for marketing at the firm, but she didn't know about important ways we could help her firm.

She didn’t know we just completed an interface with the CRM software used by her firm (
XLR8) that enables her firm to assign her clients To-Dos in XLR8 and programmatically update them in a client’s personal portal. She didn’t know that Advisor Products 18 months ago more than doubled the number of articles available for newsletters and websites from 20 a quarter to 50. She didn’t know we now provide marketing videos or that we added search engine marketing services.

Advisor Products constantly updates advisors about how to benefit from what we do via:

  • MarketingSmart, an email newsletter with updates on all new services and advisor marketing tips

  • My blog, which I post almost every day

  • The weekly Financial Crisis Webinars Series that helps advisors manage the wrenching downturn

  • A sales team tasked with calling each of our clients every six months

  • A CRM system that records all email correspondence with each client and stores notes by our staff about every phone call

  • A “BackOffice” for each advisory firm to manage their newsletter and website and that prominently displays updates about our products and my blog

The list could go on but there’s no need to beat the point to death.

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