Are your clients loyal to their adviser or your firm?

Given the intimate nature of financial advice, clients and advisers generally cultivate a strong relationship built on trust and respect. Clients, often in face to face meetings, will share with their adviser financial information that few other people are privy to. So, a strong relationship usually develops, this can be a blessing and a curse.

Business owners seek to build strong, recognisable brands, based on consistent values and a shared ethos. In most cases, relationships are developed between clients and the firm. Marketing teams help manage the messaging and ensure consistency. In small IFA firms especially, individual advisers represent the brand while also forming strong relationships with ‘their’ clients. This can lead IFA owners to consider: who do our clients think of as their IFA? Their adviser or our firm?

Is your branding more Tesla or Musk?

There are many situations where individuals are arguably more recognisable than their businesses: Richard Branson and Virgin, or Elon Musk and Tesla. In some cases, recognition of the individual is greater than knowledge of the brand. However, in the Virgin and Tesla scenarios, the individual owns (or owned) the business – that isn’t necessarily so with adviser and firm.

So, is the question of the adviser brand really a problem? Not necessarily. Much depends on the context of your firm, especially the stage of growth, the size of your business and how settled your advisers are. In short, if advisers are happy, well-remunerated and well-supported, and the firm is growing, they’re less likely to move on and so why worry about semantics like who clients think of as their IFA?

Putting a name to financial advice

Giving and receiving financial advice involves a very ‘human’ interaction. The more the importance of that human interaction is stressed, the greater the perceived importance of the adviser relationship and the brand of the adviser. It is therefore unsurprising that many people would name their individual adviser rather than the firm as the one to whom they are loyal.

This can pose a dilemma, however, for owners of an IFA firm. Having clients whose loyalty is primarily  to their individual adviser means that the firm runs the risk of losing clients should that adviser ever leave. It also has implications for your marketing more broadly, including how clients find you and the chance of the firm getting referrals.

How can you ensure clients identify with the firm rather than just their individual adviser?

Meeting in the middle

Advisers have long been entrepreneurial, with some enjoying the freedom of being self-employed.

Yet advisers increasingly want marketing and other support, which is often a key advantage of working for a firm. Advisers within firms usually have access to a greater level of marketing tools that can help attract new clients and build a strong reputation.

How can these two forces – freedom and support – be reconciled?

An individual within a team

The holy grail for firms and advisers is marketing support tailored for an individual adviser – something we’ve witnessed an increased requirement for. It’s a win-win situation: the adviser gets personalised support to promote themselves to a particular market, while the firm gets to promote themselves and ensure that all branding is directing clients to the firm as well as the adviser.

How broad is the church?

Although the solution of tailored marketing support is ideal for many, it is not a silver bullet. In general, larger firms can be more prescriptive with their marketing since they will be more likely to have clearly defined and communicated target markets for which they recruit specifically. In this case, the firm’s branding prevails and the individual adviser may struggle to make their individuality known.

In contrast, smaller firms may be a broader church with independent-minded advisers being more individual and chasing their own target markets. In this case, the branding of the firm is likely to be much looser and there is a risk that clients identify with the adviser rather than the firm.

So, how can firms manage the risks?

There are ways for firms to mitigate the risks of advisers having a stronger brand than the firm.

First, clients who interact with multiple people within the business are far more likely to consider the firm to be their adviser than those who have only one point of contact.

Second, firms can give advisers enough freedom to advertise in the ways that suit them without forsaking the firm’s branding altogether. This tailored marketing approach goes a long way to finding a middle ground.

Even so, it is challenging to have both individuality and a strong firm identity. That’s why it’s important, as a firm, to ask yourself: do you want the firm to be the primary brand or are you happy for the adviser to take centre stage?

Who do your clients think is their IFA?

It’s helpful to put yourself in your clients’ shoes. Who do your clients think is their IFA – the firm or the adviser? If you’re building a brand it will be important to ensure that clients think of the firm as their IFA. If this is the case, you may need to strengthen your brand image and ensure that all communications come with a clear firm identity.

Here to help

Thinking about your branding is not a simple choice. At TOMD, we are experts in both branding and adviser marketing. We are always happy to take the time to discuss the various options – and help you implement the best approach for your unique circumstances. Whether you’re keen to improve the branding of your firm, provide your advisers with more marketing support, or to take a holistic approach, we can provide that viewpoint and advise accordingly, after all client loyalty is the cornerstone of any business.

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