When CLS Investments convenes a meeting of its financial advisors these days, the chances are pretty good that technology will be on the agenda.
The firm, a leading independent third-party money manager, is preaching the gospel of engaging with investors on new platforms ranging from apps for tablet computers and smartphones to online video commentaries and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
That push comes from the acknowledgement that these are no longer fringe technologies. And while older Americans are in fact buying iPads and setting up Facebook pages in greater numbers, their kids, the so-called Gen X and Gen Y set who constitute the next wave of investors, are already there, natively. They'll expect their advisors to be, too.
Such was the message CLS leaders delivered to advisors who gathered at the firm's headquarters in Omaha, Neb., last month.
"The message that we were really giving them was that it's not only their current clients, but this is where their clients' beneficiaries are living," said Jim Anderson, chief system officer with CLS. "This next generation -- this money's going to go to them and we as an industry need to be able to react to that."
For CLS, that comes in a variety of formats. The firm hosts a weekly market commentary on its website which it promotes through mobile apps and QR codes that users can scan with a smartphone to navigate to the content. The commentaries typically run between one and two minutes, supplemented with quarterly commentaries that are significantly longer.
The videos are a big part of the digital engagement strategy (and supported by a new in-house production studio), not only because they offer a more vibrant and accessible form of market intelligence than, say, an email blast, but also because they allow the firm to gauge the extent to which the content is resonating with the target audience in very specific ways.
According to Steve Biermann, chief marketing officer at NorthStar Financial Services Group, CLS' parent company, one of the chief advantages of an effectively designed online campaign is "having a set of metrics that are measurable so you know you're being effective. We don't do video because it's cool -- although it is cool."
Apps are another part of the mix. CLS has its own mobile app for the Apple and Android platforms that advisors and representatives can freely download, giving them instant access on a smartphone or tablet to client information such as account values, performance and research.
The firm's stable of advisors are increasingly warming up to the tablet as a tool for work on the road. Features such as a near-instant boot-up, slick presentation and, through the apps, speedy retrieval of investors' information presented in a vibrant visualization can make for smoother client meetings. Not to mention that advisors' clients in growing numbers have embraced the new apps and devices as a mainstay in the way they seek out financial information.
"They're understanding that this puts them on the same side of the table as the client," Biermann said.
CLS counsels advisors to cast a wide net as they develop their own online content and apps for mobile devices. Just as the firm has staked out a presence on the Apple and Android platforms, it has also opted for the HTML 5 standard for its online video, deciding against Adobe's Flash, which is not supported on the iPhone or iPad.
On the social media front, Biermann waved away the friction between compliance and marketing that many industry observers have noted.
"First and foremost with social media, compliance is your friend. They are not the sales prevention unit," he said. "You do have to go by the book. We're not tweeting that we're going out to lunch."
Despite FINRA's guidance on the subject, policies can differ considerably from one shop to the next. Biermann suggested that advisors check with their broker-dealers about their stance on social media. While some outfits still cling to an across-the-board ban, they are a diminishing segment, as industry professionals warm to the idea that social media can provide a valuable platform on which to engage with current and prospective clients, as well as giving marketing types a glimpse into what people are saying about them online.
"Social media is a great way to listen first," Biermann said. "That really is the foundation of a good social media policy."
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