A marketing primer for financial planners

You’re a financial planner.

How do you get clients? How do you get people to see the value in what you do and choose you over other options, including the option of doing nothing at all?

More specifically, how do you get the right clients? You know, the ones that don’t make you want to gouge your eyeballs out with a spoon when you’re on a call with them.

I got to see Seth Godin speak at the Smart Hustle Small Business Conference in New York City last week and someone in the audience, a financial planner, asked just that. His question was along the lines of, “How do I get noticed and get people to choose me?”

In other words, how do I get people to give me their money?

Between Seth’s response, the concepts I learned taking his Marketing Seminar (10/10 would recommend), and my own experience working in the financial industry here’s a few things financial planners should consider when thinking about marketing.

Yes, this is marketing. And yes, you have to do it yourself.

You can’t opt out because how you do business is your marketing. And you can’t outsource it because no one cares about your business as much as you do.

Familiarity is not the same as trust.

Just because people know you doesn’t mean they trust you. You can be familiar because you’re active on Twitter or host events or because you’re known as “Rhonda, the finance woman!” at parent events at your kid’s school… but that doesn’t mean people trust you. They might know what you do (familiarity) but not how or more importantly why you do it (trust).

Getting in front of people so they know you exist is only part of it. For someone to work with you they’ve got to trust you.

Being specific helps build trust.

How do I tell you apart from all the other financial planners?

You have to give me a clue. Something that shows me, “Oh, she’s the financial planner for people like me.” I need to be able to figure that out quickly and I can’t do that if you look and sound like every other financial planner.

You have to resist the urge to play it safe because safe equals generic, and generic equals ignored. Be clear about who you are and are not for. If you’re “a solution for everyone” you’re a solution for no one.

Share specific, detailed stories that your client can see themselves in. Stories that act as mirror… “I work with families going through exactly this moment who believe this” kind of stories.

If you tell a potential client a story that sounds exactly like the one they tell themselves every day, guess who trusts you now?

You must create tension.

Tension is created when I realize I have a problem and that you’re the one who can solve it. Tension is why we go from interested to paying client.

We pay for solutions.

How do you create tension? Bring to someone’s attention a problem they’ve been burying. A great example Seth gave was picking up a Berne Brown book… “I didn’t know I had a shame problem until I read the cover. The answer is inside so I’m going to buy it.”

Once we know we have a problem we’re dissatisfied until we get the answer (that’s tension) and the answer should cost money (that’s a business).

Those free intro calls with prospective clients? They’re great as long as they create tension. If you solve someone’s problem on that first call—and don’t bring up other problems you can solve—they’re not going to become a client because they’ve already solved their problem. They’ve already relieved the tension.

Change what people know, not what they believe.

You can change what people believe or you can change what they know.

It’s much easier to find people who believe what you believe and change what they know. Keep this in mind when you’re thinking about how to show people they have a problem you can solve.

What do they currently believe about money or financial planners? And what do they currently know about those things? If someone doesn’t think they have a fee problem then that’s not going to be a selling point for them. You’ve got to show them why they have a fee problem (change what they know) while connecting with them on something they believe in i.e. “my kid deserves to graduate from university debt free” or “I don’t trust banks”.

And finally…

They are not wrong.

Sure, if they knew what you knew and believed what you believed then they’d do what you’d do. They’d open retirement accounts and save diligently and become properly insured and hire a planner.

But they don’t.

And furthermore, they are not wrong for that. 

Everyone does the right thing based on what they know and what they believe at the time. That’s why it’s so important to start with where people are, because nobody likes to be told that “they’re doing it wrong”. It puts them on the defensive and makes them much less likely to trust you.

And yes, showing people they have a problem is different than telling them they’re wrong.

Another reminder that these concepts come from things I’ve learned through Seth Godin. I’m not this smart… *winks*. This is simply my interpretation and expansion of those concepts and how I think they apply to financial planners.

Well, any business, really.

And here’s a photo from that trip to New York. A reminder to always look up. 

Budgets, buckets, and home equity according to Thaler

Welp, I’ve officially gone down the rabbit hole that is behavioural economics. Because I’m consumed by this ‘How do people money?’ question.

How do people feel about, think about, and spend their money?

I’m reading Thaler’s Misbehaving thanks to some great Twitter recommendations and I just got through section two on Mental Accounting, which was all kinds of up my street. Acquisition versus transaction utility, sunk costs and payment depreciation… you know, the good stuff.

But oddly enough it was a paragraph on home equity in Chapter 8: Buckets and Budgets that’s stuck with me the most.

He talks about how home equity lines of credit came to be a thing (that’s HELOC for short) and how they completely changed the way Americans do money.

(Yes, I’m fully aware this is old news to most people but you have to remember that I’m a snowflake millennial who’s just coming around to the idea that a) the world existed before 1990 and b) said world might be worth learning about.)

So here’s the deal on HELOCs in the US according to Thaler…

– Until the 1980s home equity was sacred. Like your retirement accounts. You didn’t touch those buckets. That was money for future you, not present day you.

– This meant that in the early 80s people over 60 had very little mortgage debt. Paying off your mortgage—as quick as possible—was what you did.

– Then came Regan. Good ol’ Ronald and his tax reforms. Before 1986 all interest paid (on auto loans, credit cards, etc.) was tax deductible. After 1986 only mortgage interest was tax deductible.

– Hmmm. So now that mortgage interest was the only kind of interest that’s deductible, there was an economic incentive for banks to create something that lets you borrow money in a tax-deductible way. Because people love a deduction, right? Enter the HELOC.

– Want a new car? Finance it using a HELOC, not an auto loan, because you’ll get the deduction. Have credit card debt? Take equity out of your house to pay it off. And so on…

– On top of this interest rates kept getting lower and mortgage brokers became a thing, which encouraged more and more people to refinance.

What did all of this do?

“The change eroded the social norm that home equity was sacrosanct.” 

Home equity was no longer the ‘safe’ mental account it once was. It was no longer a bucket for future you, like your retirement accounts, that you didn’t touch. It was for spending and spending today.

“During the housing boom in the early 2000s, homeowners spent the gain they had accrued on paper in home equity as readily as they would a lottery windfall.”

And then he says this...

“The fall in stock prices did not impact spending as much as the fall in home prices.”

Since people still had retirement accounts as this bucket you didn’t touch, stocks taking a dip in your 401(k) didn’t change how much you were going to spend on furniture that year. Your 401(k) was still mentally filled under ‘money for future you’.

But your home? That was now a bucket of money for present you. And when people could no longer take money out of their homes to finance new cars because house values had fallen so much and/or they were underwater on their mortgage, well, you know what happened. Things went downhill fast.

Enter the 2008 financial crisis.

Here’s what’s so interesting about this to me…

How do we go from, “Here’s a sacred thing we don’t touch” to, “Burn it to the ground.” 

How do these shifts happen?

What’s going on with culture, with education, with how ideas spread… What’s all the stuff circling around a change in behaviour that facilitates it? What’s the narrative around it?

The marketing bit. Because marketing isn’t just advertising, it’s the story we tell others and ourselves.

How did we change the story?

That’s what’s super interesting. That’s what we’ve got to dig into. When we look back and when we look around at what’s happening today…

What’s the story being sold to us and what’s the story we’re selling to ourselves?

Because if there’s one thing we can count on in this world, it’s that history repeats itself.

Oh look, a house. Because home equity. Points for originality, yes? Taken near Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. 

P.S. Read this NY Times article from 2008 on bank advertising leading up to the crash. Ya. History definitely repeats itself.

How do we get people to care about their money?

Here’s the thing…

All this wonderfully educational how-to content doesn’t mean much if people don’t care to look for it in the first place.

As an industry—a community—we’re great at engaging with each other. But how do we engage with people who aren’t already in the conversation?

For the people who don’t already care about money, what’s the catalyst?

What experiences or events lead someone to think… Money. That’s a thing I’m going to look into.

What conversations circle around and trigger one about money? Maybe it’s wanting to start a business. Or leave a job. Or leave a relationship. Maybe it’s a health scare. Maybe it’s wanting to do something—or change something about their life—and realizing money is the thing that will help them get there.

Nobody cares about budgets. They care about putting their kids in soccer camp. They care about being able to go on tour with their band.

The headline, “How to build a budget” isn’t going to sell anyone unless they’re already enrolled in the conversation. “I took a sabbatical from work to do a cross-country tour with my band,” however, might do it.

Money is just a means to an end. It’s not the end itself. So what are the ends people care about? The people you seek to serve, what goals do they have? Where are they now and where do they want to go?

Take them there. Not with money as the focus, but as a means to their end. Not what you think they should want for themselves, what they want for themselves.

Maybe the money conversation is triggered by change in people’s lives—it’s tied to a breaking or inflection point. If so, we can meet them at the crossroads. 

And show them how to get where they want to go.

No one’s entering this world through a door marked, “Budgets, right this way!” They’re entering through “I’m starting a business” or “I want to leave my job.”

What other doors can you open?

Please enjoy this most wonderful sign outside of a gas station-meets-convenience-store-meets-diner near the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. That was a top notch road trip, indeed.

Banks, budgets, and beauty bloggers

I’m scrolling through Instagram, as you do, and I get to thinking about sponsorships and the fact that Social Media Influencer is now a job title (explain that to your grandmother). Which leads to me wonder where are the banks and other financial companies in all of this? If it works for L’Oréal, would it work for Citigroup?

Take a lifestyle blogger for example. Look at their Instagram account. They’ve got millions of followers and one of those perfectly curated, envy-inducing feeds. Now look at their sponsors. Huge beauty, fashion, and fitness companies pay them (and pay them a lot, apparently) to fill their posts with branded products. Sometimes it’s a seamless fit, sometimes it’s not (hello, detox teas), but either way we’re taking it all in. And it sticks with us right to the checkout counter.

When we follow someone like that we’re not just learning what’s trendy this season, we’re absorbing a set of values.

What if one of those values was financial responsibility? What if more social media influencers talked about how they manage their money? So instead of just showing you their collection of Chanel bags, they showed you how to afford your own?

There’s a YouTuber, Chase Amie, who has a great video on exactly that. No one follows her because she knows how to budget, they follow her because they admire her lifestyle. It just so happens she has that lifestyle because she’s driven in her career and knows how to manage her money, both things she’s open about in her videos. Now someone who started following her because they envy her closet finds themselves learning about why they should open a savings account. None of it’s sponsored, just stuff she talks about naturally. Pretty cool, right?

What a great way to reach people that would benefit from financial advice but aren’t likely to Google ‘how to invest’ on their lunch break. If banks, robo-advisors or lenders found a way to genuinely collaborate with these social influencers it could open them up to a whole new audience.

I’m not exactly sure what this would look like, or if it would work, but it sure is interesting to think about.

P.S. In lieu of a somewhat-passably-relevant stock photo… Please enjoy this snap I took of the Flatiron building in New York while I was waiting at a crosswalk. It was a thousand degrees and smelled like garbage. It was beautiful. 

Why finance needs better teachers

What makes someone a good teacher? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I don’t mean teacher in the traditional chalkboard and apple sense. We’re all teachers. We all have to explains things we understand to others who don’t.

So what makes someone particularly good at that?


The best teachers remember what it’s like to not understand. They remember the questions they were too embarrassed to ask. They remember the sticking points.

The best teachers make you feel like they’re in the thick of it with you. They talk to you, not down to you. They make it okay to be exactly where you are.

The finance industry needs better teachers.

There are plenty of advisors, writers, and bloggers who know their stuff but aren’t great teachers. They assume this baseline financial literacy that, let’s face it, most of us don’t have. (Looking at you, education system.) Sometimes it feels like they’re just catering to other finance nerds. But what about everyone else? What about the people they claim they’re trying to serve?

By using fancy words to explain other fancy words, it creates an environment where it’s really hard to stick your hand up and say, “I don’t get it.”

And that, my friends, is dangerous. That’s how we get gaps. That’s how we get ‘us’ versus ‘them’. When this happens, we all lose.

Nowhere is this gap more obvious than at the cocktail hours advisors throw to get new clients (yes, I go to those for kicks). You can literally see it widen with every PowerPoint slide. No one’s going to interrupt Cindy mid-pitch and ask for clarification on, “Wait, where did that number come from?” because that would be embarrassing.

I don’t think it’s intentional (not always at least). I think they honestly forget what it’s like to not understand annuities because to them it’s second nature. But if you want to build trust and lasting relationships, you’ve got to know your audience so that you know where to start.

“RRSP contributions will lower your taxable income!” isn’t a selling point to someone that doesn’t know what taxable income is.

Do you see what I mean here? Just because it makes sense to you explained like that doesn’t mean it makes sense to someone else. You’ve got to be conscious of who you’re talking to (or rather, who you want to be talking to) and use language that makes sense to them.

Remember what it’s like to not understand.

That kind of empathy is really, I mean really, powerful.

P.S. In lieu of a somewhat-passably-relevant stock photo… Please enjoy this snap I took in Chinatown, New York. Note Mr T, he knows a thing or two about teaching…

Why banks should care about beauty vloggers

You know what’s really interesting? The rabbit hole that is YouTube beauty videos—monthly favourites, Sephora hauls, get ready with me’s… that slice of the internet.

It’s addictive. I can watch someone apply eyeshadow with 14 indistinguishable brushes for hours, knowing full well I’ll never try it myself. My idea of a ‘smokey eye’ is mixing two shades of skin toned beige I’ve owned since university, and I’m OK with that. I am not the product hungry teen these videos are targeting, and yet, here I am.

I know I’m not alone because these videos have millions of views. Beauty vloggers are building tiny empires on our support. They’ve changed the entire industry. They’re a new breed of celebrity.

And it’s fascinating.

Why? What makes a girl who doesn’t even own eyeliner watch a 20 minute smokey eye tutorial? I’m sure there’s some good psychoanalysis to be done here, but I’ve noticed it’s the personality I’m watching more than the content. ‘I don’t really care what you’re talking about as long as you’re the kind of person I’d want to hang out with on the weekend’ sort of thing.

It’s magnetic.

Do you see how influential that is? It might feel like passive entertainment, but think of what I’m subconsciously absorbing and how it’s affecting me. I mean, Wow.

If a stranger on the internet can keep my attention for 30 minutes on a topic I’m not even interested in… that’s powerful.

My question is how could you harness this magic to make topics that are traditionally a snooze fest, like finance, accessible? What can we learn from these content creators who have millions of teens hanging off their phones waiting for the next upload?

The way people consume content has changed, and the finance industry needs to pay attention. Banks thinking the YouTube beauty vlogger phenomenon doesn’t apply to them isn’t just stupid, it’s suicide — how do they think they’re going to get their next generation of customers?

P.S. In lieu of a somewhat-passably-relevant stock photo… Please enjoy this snap I took of pretty colourful things like flowers in Chinatown, New York.