As robo advisor startups proliferate, some industry leaders have maintained that human delivered advice will remain the center of client relationships. Now, Investopedia is adding its voice to that chorus, launching a platform to connect investors who have financial questions with real advisors who have answers.
Advisor Insights, which is free and available on Investopedia's website, allows users to pose questions, advisors to answer those questions and everyone else to see those answers and learn from them.
"It's a marketplace model, and it's not that dissimilar from eBay. The only difference is that no dollars are exchanged. It's an idea exchange," says CEO David Siegel.
For investors, it's an opportunity to get answers to their questions while advisors have a chance to demonstrate their expertise to potential clients. And for his part Siegel says that this platform is about valuing the advice of real experts.
"Technology is disintermediating financial advisors and clients. And the number of FAs [industry-wide] has been declining in recent years. I don't want to see that happen," he says.
Similar services exist at other websites. NerdWallet has more than 1,500 professionals – including credit counselors, financial planners, tax advisors and others – participating in its Ask an Advisor platform, according to a spokeswoman.
Investopedia hopes to leverage its scale: the site has 20 million monthly users and publishes about 20,000 pieces of content per year, according to the company.
Siegel says advisors joining Investopedia's platform will need about 10 years of experience and a to-be-determined minimum AUM. Investopedia has already found some advisors through its existing partnerships with marketing firms such as FiComm Partners and GuideVine. Investopedia is also doing background checks on advisors through FINRA BrokerCheck and the SEC's equivalent service.
For advisors looking to get noticed by potential clients, Investopedia's scale and audience represent a potentially tantalizing opportunity to raise one's profile by demonstrating real expertise before a vast audience.
"Advisors are clamoring to be more discoverable online," says Marie Swift, CEO of Impact Communications, a marketing consulting firm for advisors.
But to get the most out of a platform like this, advisors need to be aware of certain issues, Swift says. Advisors should be sure to loop in their compliance department from the get-go. They should also work to make the most of their experience and see this as part of a multi-prong effort to make themselves more visible to clients; cross-linking to your website and with any social media efforts is a good idea, Swift says.
"Have a really good profile. Make sure you have a great picture. Add some compelling language so that it is not drab and boring. You want to seem like a real person who is personable and capable," she says.
Finally, it's important to set expectations properly.
"This is not likely to result in immediate clients. Many of the people who will be reading the questions and answers will not likely be ideal clients or local clients," Swift says.
Michael Conway, CEO of Conway Wealth Group at Summit Financial Resources, has been participating in Investopedia's Advisor Insights (which has previously been in a partially private testing stage). Investopedia has moderators for its site that screen the questions and then send them to advisors who have previously indicated various areas of expertise, such as annuities or divorce.
Conway says that the platform appeals to him because he can better focus his interactions with investors more likely to be his clients.
"As a firm, we don't work with everyone," says Conway, who has been in the business for more than three decades.
Conway says that most of his clients still come to him through referrals, but he wants his firm to grow.
"We have to make sure that we can adapt and meet the consumer where they are. This is not the 1980s. You can't cold call clients. Today people are going online and they can find any information they need on the Internet," the Parsippany, N.J.-based advisor says.
For now, Investopedia's platform is focused on the U.S., so advisors need not fear being asked to field a question about Ukrainian retirement plans. Siegel says that they will expand to have additional dedicated Advisor Insights platforms for other countries, with Canada as a likely first stop.
The company will also have moderators screen advisors' answers; in the event that a response is too self-promotional, then the moderator may ask the advisor to rewrite it.
"Nothing gets posted unless a moderator sees it," Siegel says.
He also says that RIAs are the likely participants for the foreseeable future, because of compliance reasons.
"At some point we want to create a partnership with a wirehouse," he says.
But the likelihood of that is low, in the estimate of Jeff Spears, a former Bank of America executive and current CEO of Sanctuary Wealth Services, a consulting firm.
"At a wirehouse, I can assure you the answer is no. Their solution for Twitter or blogs is so restrictive that you or I wouldn't even consider it Tweeting or blogging," Spears says.
RIAs would have an easier time leveraging services such as those of Investopedia and NerdWallet, Spears says, noting that social media has already allowed independent advisors to have a more visible presence with prospective clients than they previously had.
"This would be an enhancement of that voice," he says.
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