Saturday, November 28, 2009

10 steps to take your financial services pr & marcomms communication online

This morning my colleague Paul Cheal and I presented a seminar about how Australian financial services marketers still have a window of opportunity to achieve “first mover advantage through online PR”.

This afternoon we also published an eBook focusing on the most practical take-away from that seminar - the ten simple steps to take your pr and marketing communication online.

Yes, it’s a new era of consumer sovereignty (post-Ripoll, post-GFC & mid-online PR (r)evolution).

Yes, transparency in retail and institutional markets is, or will be, greater than ever before

And choice of information channels & sales channels will proliferate…
At the same time the rise and rise of social media means choice of marketing tools can be overwhelming.

Where to start?

By taking the same principles we learned in traditional PR, communication and marketing online – and playing by the new rules of the social media world.

The sweet spot for financial services is online PR.

By online PR we mean:

-          1. Quality and quantity content that earns you search engine superiority and viewer attention
-          2. Communication direct to clients in both institutional and retail markets
-          3. All linked back to an effective website AND
-          4. Engaging your audiences with the next “P” in financial services marketing – philosophy.

Because in the new digital democracy it will be what you stand for, what you do and how interesting you can make it, that earns you the attention of the people who matter most to your business.

So what are YOU going to do to tell your business’s story more effectively online?

Download BlueChip Communication's ten steps to online PR for financial services here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

How to brief a financial services, or B2B, public relations firm

Brief? What brief?
It’s been seven years since I last briefed a PR firm, and just on 48 hours since I last took a brief from a potential client. In the intervening six years and 363 days, I’ve often wondered how the various suppliers I worked with coped.

A good brief sets up the whole relationship, saves time and makes sure you get value for money. I've got a feeling my partners didn't ever have quite that clarity from me.

Sure I had a set of criteria (sometimes). And a well-written three or four pages about what I wanted from the engagement. Maybe even a vague notion about my ideal outcome.

But not a clue about how to create a “long list” then run a selection process, using criteria to choose a short list then the right firm.

No, I more often used that other time-honored selection process - gut feel. Which is great if you are already working well together.

Not so great if you’re looking to establish a relationship.

So assuming you’re going to apply some logic and order to how you choose a communication partner, here are some of the things I’ve learned from clients, my own consultants and various fantastic staff.

As I said in the beginning, good brief sets up the whole relationship, saves time and makes sure you get value for money. It sets expectations, objectives and boundaries.

It doesn’t have to be onerous, or too long. It can be a one pager if your needs are simple, or less if you have previous experience with the consultancy you’re briefing.

Should include scope, timeline, results you want and the sorts of deliverables you want to see along the way. Headings may include:

1. Summary
2. Objectives (SMART if you can)
3. Desired outcomes (what you really really want – both realistic and, perhaps, not so)
4. Activities (you may or may not know all of these but if there are some you clearly want, best you let your potential partners know)
5. Challenges to overcome/issues (almost all organisations face both opportunities and challenges – the more upfront you can be about these the better the response from the potential partner)


6. Performance criteria (how do you expect to measure the firm? Output, outcome, impact?)
7. Timeline (how long do you want them to work for?)
8. Terms of engagement (fixed or project fee, recurring engagement for a set price and time, or on an hours basis?)


9. More about you and your firm
10. Budget (upper and lower limits are really really helpful and save an immense amount of time & rework)
11. Non-disclosure (we usually ask our clients if we can give them one of these before we get the brief)

Next, how to actually select a B2B or financial PR firm and then, how to get the most from them.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Day One at FPA 2009

Bruce Madden attended Day One of the FPA National Conference 2009 in Melbourne for BlueChip Communication.

Three industries have converged on the Melbourne Convention Centre this week, meaning delegates to the Financial Planning Association annual conference must first run the gauntlet of the "Mind, Body and Spirit Festival" before hitting the annual gab fest of the Australian College of Emergency Medical Practitioners, to finally reach the zone partitioned off for the FPA.

It makes for an eclectic mix of patrons under one roof, and with Australia's financial planners facing sustained attacks on the remuneration, education, client obligation and pretty much anything else front, along with Bernie Rippoll just days from delivering his much anticipated report into the industry, you could forgive one or two delegates who feel the urge to nip out for a spot of chakra realignment or some aura mapping down at the Mind, Body and Spirit convention.

And it is comforting to know that - should things really deteriorate - the Emergency Medical experts are on hand next door to care for the real cot cases.

Not that the mood at FPA 2009 is at all downbeat. At least not compared with the thoroughly morose start to last year's event on the Gold Coast, at the peak of the global financial crisis.

No, things are best described as"busy". Businesslike. Not inspirational, but determined.

Busy keeping up with the swiftly moving national agenda played out in the media. Busy absorbing what the politicians and reviews will have to say about the future of the industry. Busy trying to figure out why the good planners, who have never taken a commission in their life and who act only in their client's best interest, are being swept along in the turgid morass that has become the industry's reputation.

As one senior industry figure put it: "there are many balls in the air, and I feel sorry for the good planners who are juggling them all while trying to make an honest living".

These are issues rich times. Witness this exchange last night between IFSA CEO John Brogden and IFS's David Whitely as evidence of just some of the viewpoints being played out among stakeholders at present:

FPA chief executive Jo Anne Bloch's comments on raising education standards was a front page report on this morning's AFR. ABC TV turned up at the FPA news conference today, asking Ms Bloch the familiar question, repeatedly, "will you ban commissions".

So, your humble correspondent has selectively done the rounds today, asking people from various backgrounds, what single issue must the industry overcome?

The best response was from Jo Anne Bloch: "we must restore confidence in financial planning among consumers".

Bruce Madden will file only one report from FPA 2009. He would love your feedback on

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Minister Chris Bowen: ASFA Day 3

Day Three of ASFA in Melbourne ended on a self-congratulatory note, with Minister Chris Bowen concurring with earlier speakers that we do in fact have a great national savings system, and delegates rating the conference a success.

In closing the 2009 ASFA conference, Chris Bowen, Minister for Financial Services, Superannuation and Corporate Law, outlined his four tests for the outcome of the various reviews that are to affect the national savings system: simplicity, efficiency, equity and adequacy.

A system that is easier to understand will help ensure Australians are more engaged with their super says Bowen. Great technology will reduce costs and improve returns, with the Medicare clearing house described as a “modest first step towards a more efficient, less paper-based system”.
The Cooper review will look at reducing fees and increasing long term returns, said Bowen, citing Treasury figures that estimate a one per cent difference in fees can translate to 16 per cent less at retirement in a members’ account.
Side stepping whether or not nine per cent is adequate, the Minster linked adequacy (the minimum objective) and equity, suggesting that the greatest challenge is to design a system with genuine incentives for low and middle income earners, signalling greater concessions for this group.

“The global financial crisis has put super through the wringer. It’s battered returns and shaken the confidence of those who are about to retire or have already retired.”
Against that backdrop, Bowen says his job “is partly to explain to Australians the importance of super” for individuals and to the economy generally.
Bowen addressed audience questions focused on adequacy, the Henry Review and some particularly pointed questions about legislative changes to super.
“Adequacy isn’t enough”
“Henry Review recommendations won’t be implemented immediately – most will be the subject of a national discussion.”
In addressing continual government changes to super, Bowen suggested “the reviews are an opportunity to have more certainty in super”, but only once the various recommendations from current processes are implemented. In other words, more change now against the promise of longer term stability.
I attended ASFA on behalf of BlueChip Communication. Bruce Madden will also be attending next week’s FPA Conference in Melbourne.

Will Cooper reshape the world of super as we know it? ASFA Day 2

Jeremy Cooper may not be planning wholesale changes to our super system. On the other hand, his comments in an ASFA plenary session suggest he's certainly not entirely buying the industry line that "it ain't broke so don't fix it".

In a wide ranging speech, Jeremy Cooper outlined the potential governance issues facing the industry in 2025, including the potential for a group of four "super" super funds to dominate the landscape, providing direct private equity sources of funding and wielding far greater leverage in their investment decisions. Cooper drew a parallel with Canadian behemoth funds Ontario Teachers and the Canada Pension Fund.

In this brave new world, the superannuation industry "dog" would no longer be wagged by the funds management tail. Cooper shared a possible view that super the system, if re-designed around members' interests, may look significantly different to the possibly funds management-centric structure of the industry today.

He asked if perhaps superannuation trustees are captive to their service providers, and suggested that without greater scale our funds are at a significant disadvantage in bidding for access to global assets.

In a message that made trustees happy, although perhaps didn't deliver joy to fund managers, Cooper suggested "Super funds have to start acting like they are at the top of the food chain", using their power to benefit members.

Other advantages of scale? Lower fees, in-house investment expertise, improved diversification, lower admin costs per unit and better member education.

Financial literacy - are we there yet? ASFA Day 2

If financial literacy is "the ability to make informed judgments and effective decision regarding the use and management of money" then 46 per cent of Australians are functionally illiterate and 53 per cent are functionally innumerate, according to Russell's Linda Elkins.

On a panel with Vanguard's Jeremy Duffield and Paul Henderson from The Smith Family, Linda Elkins told ASFA delegates how one in two Australians do not have the skills they need to make informed choices in their interactions with the financial service sector.

Part of the solution is education and access to low-cost, effective, advice.

The Smith Family is doing their bit for national education, with a Financial Literacy Certificate that helps disadvantaged people increase their financial literacy and improve their money management skills.

What can we all do? Paul Henderson suggested delegates should make sure they are aware of the scale of disadvantage, raise the issue inside their own organisations and volunteer to run a financial literacy training course.

Long time BlueChip client Jeremy Duffield asked the audience what their post-GFC learnings were about member communication. The answers were clear: understand and segment the audiences, make information highly relevant, use plain English, and create simple materials speaking at the right level.

And "stop sending regulatory-driven reams of material people don't understand."
Also in the member engagement stream, Andrew Inwood (Brand Management) & James Coyle (Australian Super) made a case for member communication.
Key themes in their presentations included the opportunity to communicate more effectively to members whose attention may have turned to their super thanks to the GFC, the importance of brands - as yet underdeveloped in superannuation - to member engagement, the need to educate members and the rise of social media as a way to talk and engage effectively.
Will this lead to an "uncontrolled debate" online between funds and their members? Not yet, but certainly with members now arguably more interested in their super, there's never been a better time to achieve greater engagement online.

Have we reached peak Super? ASFA Day 2

Ross Greenwood coined the term "peak super" in opening Day Two of the ASFA conference in Melbourne today. The questions he threw as challenges to the panel and the audience included:

"What happens when the money going out (how everyone in the room currently gets paid) is greater than the money coming in?" and "Do we really have a world class retirement savings and income system?"

The short answers from a panel of industry leaders were "no, we haven't reached peak super" and "we can always improve, but yes, we think it is a world class system both for retirement savings and incomes".

Panel members Steve Bracks (United Super / CBUS), Sue Dahn (ESSSuper and AGEST), Michael Dwyer (FSS) and Nicolette Rubinsztein (CFS) also addressed the previous day's comments by Dr David Morgan in relation to superannuation industry reform, the Henry Report and the balance between retail bank deposits and savings inside super.

Panel comments:
On the banks versus super
"Ken Henry is more focused on bank funding than super adequacy."

"Morgan said 'I'm from the bank and I'm here to help you'. You have to worry when the bankers start to offer us with the super system. A trillion dollars attracts a lot of attention."

Is our super system world class?
"The Deloitte fee study & other research about performance relative to other nation's pension funds gives evidence for (the case our system is) world class."

"The Mercer study said we have the best super system bar the Dutch - measured in terms of adequacy, integrity & sustainability."

"Can we do it better? Yes, but the Auspoll research shows 80 per cent of Australians are confident in their super - you don't want to change that."

"We've had the biggest shock to the system in GFC and yet members stayed put."

On media coverage of super
"The super system has had a 'going over' by the media. The easiest point to describe the GFC was to focus on people's retirement investments - media could relate the GFC to the public and bring it back to them. Despite the enormous amount of negative media that started with the GFC, you can see with the Auspoll results that people are still behind and supporting the super system. I defy you to find a piece of public policy with that kind of support in any country."

On legislative risk to super
"Too frequently we've seen super be a political football and source of votes with popular measures put through."

"Political changes have impacted confidence - we know people are not putting any more money in because you keep changing the rules."

And finally, this comment: "The same amount of thought went into the recent budget changes to super that went into the changes to the employee share scheme changes" to spontaneous applause from an audience not given to overreaction.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Trustees urged to look longer term than the nation's leaders - ASFA Day 1 closing

In closing the day's proceedings, Dr Keith Suter countenanced three scenarios for the future world order - "business as usual", "break-up", "break-down" or "breakthrough".

In the "breakthrough" scenario, Australia is poised to make the most of a world in which both the economy and how we manage scarce resources are reinvented - to see the globe become both economically and environmentally more sustainable.

Speaking directly to those in the industry, Dr Suter argued that politicians in power, subject to the very short-term and immediate pressures of the 24/7 media cycle and electoral expediency, are unlikely to bring about longer term solutions or responses to these scenarios.  With politicians focused on the short-term issues that dominate the news cycle, at the expense of future-defining issues, then other decision makers must pay more attention to the less urgent but more important "bigger" issues.

The most dominant of these bigger issues is the start, for good or ill, of a new global economic era.

Against this dramatic backdrop, Dr Suter urged fund trustees to take the longer term, and arguably braver, view.  To look beyond existing paradigms to see what is, and what may be, and to plan for a number of very different scenarios.  

While the future may not be certain, the obligations of those in the industry are - to safeguard the long-term wealth of Australians.

Carden Calder is attending ASFA 2009 for BlueChip Communication Group. BlueChip is Australia’s leading financial services communication firm. We help “tell your story” through media, online pr, compelling content and other forms of communication - so the people who matter most want to do business with you.

Member research - Super? What super? ASFA Day 1

On an individual member level, ASFA research conducted by Auspoll shows what superannuation members really think about it all. And the short answer is they don't really think.

At least they don't think much about their super.

When asked which superannuation issues caught their attention recently, the largest portion of respondents (47 per cent) could not think of any - and answered "none".  Only some (29 per cent) offered losses or a decrease in the value of their investment, and a very small number (6 per cent) suggested fees.

Have people changed their investment options in response to market movements?  Most (87 per cent) have not.

Which are the two most widely-held funds?  Australian Super and AMP, by a considerable margin.

In terms of split between industry and retail, the survey found some 48 per cent were in industry funds, 29 per cent in retail and a far smaller proportion (3 per cent in each) were invested in a corporate or self-managed fund.

It seems members, in the wake of one of the worst years on record for returns, are largely satisfied (79 per cent of respondent) with their super funds - consistent with past findings.

Interestingly, those in the public sector and industry funds show far stronger satisfaction ratings than retail fund members.

Of the small number not happy, why is that?  Most said it was about performance and / or fees. 

For those who are happy with their fund, it's down to low or reasonable fees, performance and communication.

And finally, what do members looks for in a fund?  Performance, reasonable fees, safety or security, and consistency and stability.

Five mega-trends & financial planning - ASFA Day 1

Graham Rich of brillient! and Portfolio Construction Forum spoke in the morning about his pick of the top five mega-trends affecting future portfolio construction outcomes.

The "mega-trends" may sound familiar, and were in fact echoed by other speakers: reformation of regulation, turbo of technology, movement of markets – particularly global emerging markets, the ETA of ESG, and retirement of retirement.

The one thing super funds should be doing over the next five years to respond to these trends?

Provide members with quality financial planning as a core service.

Rich threw out the challenge to trustees to choose just one of the five megatrends and commit to learning about it and collaborating with industry peers.

Bank deposits versus super? ASFA Day 1

Dr David Morgan's view of the new global economic era is bank-centric, with both threats and opportunities for the superannuation industry. 

The GFC revealed an inherent vulnerability within the local banking system, says Dr Morgan. 

This Achilles heel is the low level of retail deposits which in turn leaves our banks dependant on foreign wholesale funding. 

It was this foreign wholesale funding market that closed down completely at the height of the GFC. Were it not for the Government lending its AAA rating to local banks, they too would have closed down, says Dr Morgan.

The solution, according to Dr Morgan, involves changing the end destination of national savings – perhaps turning back the trend that has seen superannuation balances grow at the expense of bank deposits. 

One potential way to do this is for tax reform to make bank deposits more attractive - and superannuation less attractive.

Dr David Morgan & Dr Keith Suter - ASFA Conference Day 1

Global Financial Crisis, and the rise of China and India, were the twin themes that dominated the first day of ASFA's annual conference in Melbourne today.

Dr David Morgan, former Westpac CEO provided his perspective on these key issues in the opening plenary, and Dr Keith Suter, social and political commentator and Sunrise regular, closed with them this afternoon.

The common threads? That while the GFC may be over, the aftershocks will be felt for a long time. As we congratulate ourselves on how Australia has escaped the worst of the GFC, a new era is upon us.

BlueChip Communication MD Carden Calder is attending ASFA.