Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Know thy consultant...and yes, the earth did move

PAICR wrapped up today with the traditional conference closer: a panel of asset consultants and a question and answer session.

It was an intense session...made slightly more so as the earth, or at least the building literally moved, during the final part of the session.

There was no more powerful example of the permanency and ubiquitous nature of social media as immediately post-tremor ("Are we safe here?") everyone hit the iPhone or Blackberry to find out what happened.

At the time of writing I still don't know whether it was just a very big train, a minor earth tremor or a collective moment of shared excitement about what the consultants had to say to the audience of asset management marketers.

Here are some highlights of the discussion between the PAICR audience and consultants Cynthia Steer (Russell Investments) and Bryan Decker (Clearbrook).

Q: So what of the (almost dreaded white paper)?
Maybe it's dead suggests one senior consultant. Give me, instead, they ask, short briefs. And your view on the implications of market movements - not more commentary on the movement itself. In other words, the condensed and value-added version, of your thought leadership.
Even better, be in the news. You need, says one consultant, to be in the FT. We want to see you, in these uncharted times, in the dialogue between the economists and the fund managers. There may not be a real pathway in this market but the conversation is important.

Q: What do you use manager websites for?
Not as much as we should, came the answer. Webcasts...and some other stuff. In uncertain times make sure your webcasts can deal with a higher number of attendees.

Q: What's your expectation on timing eg the US downgrade?
Bond managers better be fast with their guidance...even if it's not perfect. Same day is good. Two weeks later is probably useless. We don't mind if you get it a bit wrong, according to one panelist. But if it's cogent and clear, get it out regardless.

Q: What sort of communication works?
Update your PowerPoint book every six months in fast changing times. Show us how you've evolved your thinking.

Q: To what extent do the numbers tell a story?
If the qualitative data (team, organization structure, alignment) doesn't 'jive' the data won't get you there alone say the consultants. In other words, we've heard it all before: every new manager has a great track record. But, as just one example, how's the fit (or chemistry) between the fund and the CEO? And what's the full story behind, for example, the revolving door of new hires? Tell us the truth, not the spin. We've heard all manner of BS, so we're listening for the dissonant chord when something in the story doesn't quite match the rest. So don't bother with the glossy version...we'll take warts and all over that any day.

Q: How technical is too technical?
Well some new consultants might need the dumbed down version but if your consultant audience grew up in the swaps and derivatives market then show them the trades.

Q: Ever hired someone on simulated performance?
No. There's nothing like the taste of real money. Good and bad. As a consultant I remember that I'm there for the guy who may never earn more than 70k a year for life. Or an endowment that needs the money to fund their work.

Q: What should we do as we approach capacity?
For the first time we're at capacity constraints in a number of areas says one consultant. Yes, it's a real issue. And yes, we're open to you starting a new strategy. But give us the down and dirty version - the good reasons why it makes sense and why you think it will work. Because we've seen it go wrong plenty of times.
It's an interesting exercise in firm integrity. How you handle it is key. Particularly given we have our notes from the last ten years we've been meeting with you and hearing about your philosophy and what you've been saying about how you're going to manage money...and how much of it.
There's some beauty in staying exactly where you are today.

Q: If you're a manager with only two or three strategies how do you approach asset consultants?
Know exactly how your offer fits their need. Do your due diligence. Emphasize the advantages of being small. With capacity constraints in the market today you may well have an edge. But know who you are marketing to.

This is the final post from BlueChip Communication at the PAICR conference in New York on 22 and 23 August.

Social media breakout: PAICR 2011

Judging by the audience response in this session, most of us are using social media personally, but many are not there as financial services companies or institutions.

Pretty much the same as Australia. And pretty much, I'd suggest, a fleeting moment in time.

Deborah Well of Harbor Capital Advisors chaired the session that Vanguard's Eric Haberacker and I spoke at.

Newsflash...presentations by fund managers aren't watched a lot on YouTube but the eTrade baby is.

The Vanguard YouTube channel is a great one to learn from.

Here are a few things that make it work: videos are engaging, short and well produced.

Stay true to your brand, says Haberacker. Other guiding principles include being authentic, transparent and candid; one size does not fit all; keep in line with regulations; humanize Vanguard through content; be an investor advocate and "experiment-learn-evolve".

Three key considerations for Vanguard in making social media work are these:
1. Social media content impacts brand reputation - make PR a critical partner because they know and manage the company 'story'
2. Speed is critical - expedited turnarounds are the norm
3. Content classifications - static and interactive content can follow different approval processes

And today's inside tip: Do you have to spend $200k to get your own YouTube channel? No. AT least not if you're already doing business with Google.

I'm also tweeting (when coverage allows!) from the 2011 PAICR conference as 'Carden'.

"I have no idea what I'm doing": the marketers' quandry

Welcome to online marketing in financial services. While the industry, for the most part, hasn't been fast to adopt digital marketing or social media, it's still bewildering territory at times.

"No corporate function has evolved more than marketing" said Razorfish's Ryan Alderman, quoting McKinsey (McKinsey Quarterly 09.2009).

It's no wonder marketers in financial services feel lost.

To do justice to the presentation, which was the best I've seen this year on social media, I'd have to share every slide and my own observations ... and will do so over the next few weeks with many of you.

Here is a taste of the insights shared by Alderman in today's opening session.

Financial advisers
An estimated 46 per cent of financial advisers own iPads (which were launched 18 months ago).

What they expect from their interaction with financial institutions says Alderman, is:
  • World class experiences regardless of channel (traditional or virtual)
  • "Always on"
  • Near real time relationships
  • Multi-channel...everything. Communication, service, information. You name it.
We are, according to a Harvard Business Review study, consuming 12 hours of media in a nine hour period - thanks to multi-channel simultaneous consumption.

The way our customers want to engage with us is different - and it's more likely to be about the conversation than the content on the website.

At the same time our norms around financial services are changing...consumers, says Alderman, are morel likely to share previously personal information about finance, including our choices, experiences and, critically, recommendations.

What does that really mean?

It means that thanks to our ownership of multiple devices, and the increasing availability of multiple media across devices we are splitting our attention across devices and using multiple technologies or devices at once. Maybe you're running a phone with email and browser at the same time as watching a webinar...and our customers are doing the same. Think here browsing the Internet or Twitter updates while watching TV.

The cost of attention just went up - massively.

Against this backdrop it's even more important for marketers to understand "context" as well as content.

Why "conversation" trumps broadcast...and paid
Some other numbers thrown out today spell the death, or at least decline, of paid media. I've yet to source these numbers so offer them with a health warning...
  • 75 per cent of people believe companies lie in ads
  • 77 per cent trust financial institutions less than they did last year
  • 38 per cent believe companies will do what's right
  • 15 per cent of people enjoy the ads as much as the program - guessing that's TV only
What hasn't changed?
All that is well and good. But the fundamental goals of marketing haven't changed. How we go about achieving the goals has changed. And will do so, ever faster. So get learning.

And remember this says Alderman: advertising in not marketing - stop confusing them.

Marketing is now about creating brand engagement across media. So find an audience (don't create another destination or website), bring creative and technology together, learn from integrated analytics. And from those who've been before us.

Ones to watch?
At least in the United States, Alderman cites American Express (particularly for their small business digital marketing), Fidelity, Vanguard and Pimco.

How did they get there? Trial and error.

BlueChip Communication , Australia's leading financial services communication firm, is attending the PAICR conference (twitter #PAICR2011)

Earthquake, social media and financial services

Boring picture, interesting moment.

This (uninteresting) picture is of just before a minor earth tremor hit New York today.

PAICR delegates reacted with complete calm. The "after" picture would have looked the same with one big difference - everyone had their phones in ther hand checking twitter for what the hell just happened.

According to nearby tweets some New Yorkers evacuated their buildings.

Maybe so, but we sat tight. There were few native New Yorkers in the room, meaning most had plenty of personal experience from elsewhere in the U.S. of earthquakes.

Regardless, no one was really sure what the trembling tables, clinking glasses and shuddering floor actually meant, in the moment.

Personally I was eyeing the doorways, wondering how many conference goers might fit in each. Not many, the simple mental math suggested.

And then it crossed my mind, as I suspect it did others, for just a moment, that perhaps this wasn't an earthquake but something more frightening.

And at about that point everyone reacted. Some headed for the doorways, others reached for their iPhones or Backberries and some, like me, turned to the person next to them to see if they were thinking the same thing: minor earthquake.

Yes, the earthquake-experienced said, that sure felt like one. But no-one, least of all the conference organisers or asset consultant panel, actually knew. It clearly wasn't a subway-scale shake we'd just felt.

So where did everyone go for the actual answer? Twitter. Email. Google.

And in that lies the answer to an earlier question in the panel session I and others presented on social media.

The question was this: what possible use is twitter for an institutional asset management audience?

And the answer? As an immediate response to news events. With markets making headlines, and news media not alwways able to report the whole story, we're increasingly looking to information (such as twitter) that is direct from the source - and actually bypasses traditional media.

Just as the first reports about today's eathquake did. The Mashable coverage below is a good example of how citizen journalism, or direct reports leave traditional media for dead, in the moment.

The implications for brands are clear: social media gives you a golden opportunity to speak direct to audiences who matter most, WHEN it matters most. In the moment.

Here's how Pete Cashmore saw it on twitter.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Deborah Well, PAICR Social Media Chair

I'm currently attending the PAICR Conference in New York, and today I had the pleasure of interviewing Deborah Well, PAICR Social Media Chair, about the state of social media in US asset management.

In this four minute video she shares:
1. A summary of where social media use is at in the Unite States (early adopters, fast followers and, yes, plenty of laggards)
2. The opportunites for asset managers in using social media (hint: better broadcast of messages!)
3. Major issues for those seeking to use social media in financial services - with regulation taking the number one spot.

Brand, and why it matters (A LOT) in asset management

About three quarters of institutional clients see brand as a critical attribute in deciding which fund manager or asset manager to sekect.

So the message is this: if you're a fund manager and you're not investing in brand, you better. Because it matters a lot to your potential clients.

And yet conventional wisdom is that brand isn't so important in institutional asset management. Time to re-think that one, suggest Cogent Research and Casey Quirk.

Cogent's research, presented today in New York, suggests two relevant brand ideas in asset management: brand equity (are you known and/or liked?)and differentiation (barriers or "table stakes" and drivers or "delighters").

So are you known by your potential clients? And if so do they like you as well? The research suggests that only 10 of the 38 institutional asset management brands assessed were both known and liked - in other words had achieved both high levels of awareness as well as favourable impressions.

Cogent shared some fascinating findings, including:

- fund manager attributes that are either table stakes or differentiators (email me for the list)
- the relative importance of each of the four key table stakes manager attributes
- why thought leadership material doesn't get read
- which five things can build your funds management brand in the new normal (if there is such a thing!)

BlueChip Communication is attending PAICR (twitter #PAICR2011) in New York today and tomorrow.

Bringing new asset management client aboard

Lazard Asset Management, Jennison Associates and MFS Investment Management shared their client on boarding and retention strategies at today's PAICR conference.

One global asset manager's on boarding for institutional asset management clients follows a checklist:

1. Welcoming package email: step-by-step review of funding process including required documentation, standard IMA templates, client profile/contact questionnaire form and more
2. Internal "pit crews": from legal & compliance to portfolio implementation & trading, team representatives hold weekly new account meetings to discuss each new client's on boarding progress and any possible issues
3. "Thank-you letter": a synopsis of funding details, reporting expectations, and relationship contacts post-inception

Another firm calls their client induction "transition management". Clients receive an overview of the transition process complete with pictures of team members, brief role descriptions and an image showing how the team will serve their clients.

A touch I really liked was the list of "next steps" information asked by one manager of their news clients. It includes questions about how the client would prefer the asset manager to communicate with them, and who the main contact will be during transition.

Please email me for full copies of the slides or to hear more about the Q&A.

BlueChip Communication, Australia's leading financial services communication firm, is attending the PAICR conference in New York for the fourth year (twitter #paicr2011)

#PAICR2011: Being the best we can be

The Professional Association for Investment Communications Resources (PAICR) opened today in New York with a 'can do' Englishman exhorting his mostly US audience to stay positive.

What is the new normal? Whatever we think it is, claims Andrew O'Donoghue, the opening speaker.

His bottom line for those in asset management communication is this: look at things differently. Just because we feel we've seen it all before doesn't mean this time IS the same. If our perceptions shape our reality then we'd better take extreme care to get perspective.

Perspective that might enable us to yet again do more, with increasingly less.

Sound familiar?

If current market instability is leading to yet more resourcing cuts, then perhaps it's time to radically rethink how we do what we do.

Certainly the conversations I've had in Sydney, London and New York in the last week strongly suggest global asset managers are shaping up for more cuts - as global markets smash the value of funds under management, revenue also drops. And with revenue under pressure, expenses have to come down.

So yet again those of us in financial services have to do more, with less.

Crushing for some, and not exciting for most. But there's a perception-altering mind game O'Donaghue suggests we play with ourselves.

It's simply to be kind to ourselves. To stay positive. To rise above self-limiting beliefs we've been conditioned to hold - whether through family influence, media, peers or government.

To aim, each day, to be the best we can be.

Not perfect, mind you. Just our best.

What does that feel like?

Motivated. Happy. Confident. Organized. Resilient. Unstoppable. Calm. Enthusiastic. 

So get there, says O'Donaghue. And stay that way.

Because what we do matters immensely to the people who rely on us - our teams, our clients and more importantly our families, our friends and ourselves.

Yes, we are all faced with challenge - personal and professional. But we all have a choice about the attitude we bring to those challenges.

We can choose to be negative, to make excuses, to blame. To see what can't be done. To impose limits.

Or we can choose to be positive. To take responsibility. To challenge our existing beliefs - to ask 'how can I?' and to believe that perhaps more can be achieved.

Our beliefs about our life, regardless of whether they are right or not, will determine our reality.

So give it your best shot, says O'Donaghue. Doing less is simply letting ourselves, and others, down.

BlueChip Communication, Australia's leading financial services communication firm, is attending the PAICR conference in New York for the fourth year.

Friday, August 05, 2011

FSC Wrap Up

The 2011 FSC conference closed today with a Q&A session with former PM John Howard. Here is how BlueChipper Paul Cheal saw it.

Q. What's the outlook for the Australian economy?

A. Everything is relative...certainly Australia is looking good compared to many other economies. That said, our optimism, so important for all businesses, is starting to fray.

Q. Why is optimism fading?

Three reasons (not given as partisan comments but an observation):
  1. We've been living off the 'fat' of past reforms (from both sides of politics) and past successes which has now seemingly stalled
  2. The current political situation (a hung parliament) is unprecedented
  3. The state of the world economy and the feeling that the worse of the North Atlantic Financial Crisis (it wasn't a global financial crisis) may not be behind us. While Howard is optimistic we won't dip into a second crisis, that optimism is not shared by all. 

Q. So should we be pessimistic?

Howard believes the fundamentals of the Australian economy are still sound. His reasoning? We came through the downturn better than most and we did that by going into the blast furnace with a thick coating, thanks to economic reforms.

Q. And on China?

Our best customer. Two very different cultures that have been thrown together by the forces of supply and demand. However two elephants are in the room:
  • China will grow old before it grows rich. It is an ageing society and in the not too distant future the population will peak, then decline and age. 
  • And there will be a time as the Chinese people enjoy economic freedom, they will want similar political freedoms. 
Q. What of the Carbon Tax?

As a self confessed unreliable witness John Howard also says he is agnostic on climate change. While accepting that four years ago when he lost the election to Kevin07 he acknowledges that there was a sense Australians were open to a climate solution.

Q. Finally, this one from the floor: does the tea party make you look like a radical left winger?

Flattery will get you everywhere said Howard.

And that's a wrap from the FSC conference. Now back to navigating the changes ahead.

The price is right

With the background of a 4% fall on Wall Street and a falling local share market as he kicks off the last day of the FSC Conference, US author of 'Myth of a Rational Market' Justin Fox picked a timely day to discuss whether the markets are driven by rational investors or panicked decisions of a few.

To answer the question Justin takes us on a (not so random) walk through the history of financial thought from Irving Fisher (who in 1928 tipped the market would keep rising - oops) to Harry Markowitz (variance and correlation in asset allocation) and Bill Sharpe (coined the concept of beta).

Eugene Farma wrapped up much of the thinking of the time with the efficient market hypothesis stating that the market did a pretty good job given that even smart, professional money managers, with access to alot of information, fail to beat the market.

The explanation - it's hard for these professional managers to beat the market as they are usually managing other people's money and it is usually the moment that there is an opportunity in the market that is the hardest time to get others to invest.

Does the efficient market hypothesis hold up? Yes it is still very hard to beat the market but not necessarily because the market is rational or right but for a host of reasons.

So what financial markets theories didn't hold up?

  • The price is right - we don't know!
  • We can value risk
  • Financial markets are stable
  • Corporations should do what markets say - share price should drive decisions. 
What next for global markets? In the words of J.P. Morgan (the man not the company) - it will fluctuate!

Now back to the "carnage" of todays market - rational or not? 

Guest blogger Paul Cheal is attending the Financial Services Council annual conference on the Gold Coast, along with BlueChip Communication's Carden Calder and Bruce Madden 

Myth of a rational market: Day Three at the FSC

A walk through investing history with Justin Fox (Harvard Business Review Editorial Director) wound up with this: it's really hard to beat the markets.

The index managers may well have been cheering as Fox took delegates through generations of investment thinking.

On the way from Markowitz to Sharpe HBR's Fox says some ideas have stood the test of time, while others have proven to be myths - and less than helpful to investment performance.

So which ideas stand up, post GFC?

1. There is a trade off between risk and return
2. There is merit in diversifying
3. Black Scholes (looking at volatility) works

The myths are these:

1. The price is right
2. Risk can always be quantified
3. Risk is equivalent to historical volatility
4. Financial markets are inherently stable
5. Corporations should do what what markets say they should

Fox defends the value of thinking for ourselves. Many a listed company CEO will be glad to hear it - setting a course they judge to be the right one, rather than leading by the judgement of analysts.

FSC Day Three: Talking Heads

Today's breakfast was well attended - no doubt thanks to the Financial Services Council's sensibly late 9am start. Even the majority of last night's hard partying delegates fronted up for the FSC's Talking Heads session with the ABC's Leigh Sales, MP David Bradbury and Senator David Bushby.

Employer default funds, My Super and more were on the menu.

Why, asked Leigh Sales, is My Super going through Parliament before the Productivity Commission has done it's job? Because we can't wait forever, was the response from David Bradbury. And besides, the Productivity Commission's "to do" list is long enough already.

Does the super industry have blood on it's hands given older investors lost so much of the value of their investments during the GFC, asked Leigh Sales, paraphrasing the Future Fund's Paul Costello.

Those investors who did do well said Senator David Bushby may well have been lucky, rather than clever.

Questions from the floor canvassed whether new, regulated, remuneration arrangements might create new forms of conflicted remuneration, and addressed the role of financial planners in addressing financial literacy.

In response to the latter, said Senator Bushby, not everybody will end up with the expertise needed to make fully informed financial decisions - so the role of planners may become more important than ever.

David Bradbury cited school programs and the governments' Money Smart website, as well as the opportunity to seek advice when it's needed.

Could the government spend part of the Financial Literacy budget advocating people seek financial advice asked the FSC's Brogden? Probably not, or at least not yet responded Bradbury. Basic budgeting is a far higher priority for now.

E is for Advice

E was the letter of the day in this session discussing advice as a profession, which was defined by three e's: education, experience and ethics (which probably should be first).

Industry or profession; a quick straw poll showed that all in the room think financial planning should be a profession, but the FPA's Mark Rantall states you can't just call yourself a profession without backing it up, and with 50% free-riders enjoying the benefits of a professional body without signing up.

Mark says he sees financial planning as the second most important profession behind medicine - health first and finances a close and important second. But Brian Bissaker points out though that this is not necessarily recognized by the wider community.

What is the framework that we need to be a profession? It's threefold:
  • Professional membership 
  • Professional conduct 
  • Professional accountability

Greg Medcraft agreed that in developing this (e)Framework we need to strike a balance between self regulation and legislation.

However, the scale of legislative change facing planners is enormous: banning commissions, banning volume rebates, increased education standards and stronger super among others, and while Bissaker believes this legislation will push us (as an industry) toward professionalism, the risk is that the scope and cost involved of all these reforms will make advice more expensive, and put it out of reach for everyday Australians.

Simply put it's all about doing the right thing - that is the hallmark of a profession.

And the goal of all this: give all Australians access to high quality advice.

It's as simple as eee.

For up to the minute news from FSC sessions follow us on Twitter: @carden, @p_cheal, @BlueChip_Comm

BlueChip Communication's Bruce Madden, Carden Calder and Paul Cheal are attending the Financial Services Council annual conference on the Gold Coast. 

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Who thinks financial planning should be an industry? Or a profession?

The Financial Planning Association's (FPA) Mark Rantall kicked of his remarks with this question in an afternoon session at this week's Financial Services Council Conference.

Session attendees unanimously agreed it's a profession we're after, not a "financial planning industry".

Second only to medicine, said Rantall, is the importance of a strong financial planning profession. If you have your health, and your finances in order, you're in good shape he reasoned.

Key elements of a profession, says Rantall, include professional membership, rules around conduct, and accountability. On that note, from 2013 entry standards to the FPA will step up another notch.

Proof points supporting higher standards in these areas include the fact that recent research showed higher ethical reasoning among CFPs than other advisers.

Build it and they will come? Having built the framework for a profession, Rantall believes they (being planners) will come.

Rantall was clear on this: the FPA is, and will remain, the central professional body for financial advisers.

Colonial First State CEO Brian Bissaker focused on policy settings. The key reforms he reminded attendees of included:

- Increased fiduciary duty
- Ban on commissions and volume rebates
- Ban on soft dollar remuneration
- Increased training and minimum standards
- Increased ethical requirements
- Scaled advice changes
- Stronger Super
- New accountants licensing regime

A long and hard road but a journey worth taking, says Bissaker. In the heat of the debates Bissaker is concerned the totality of change might be missed. In particular he called out opt-in as being potentially a bridge too far at a time of great overall change in financial services.

Bissaker railed against government setting pricing mechanisms for planning, or any other professional service.

Community standards are increasing said Bissaker, and the risk of reputational damage looms large as a result.

Adviser versus adviser columns in media are not helpful he says. A more professional tone would be appropriate - suggesting advisers think about the greater good (overall reputation) and leave adversarial approaches in media at the door.

The end of the journey, according to Bissaker, will be when all universities offer financial planning degrees as part of their commerce faculty.

For up to the minute news from FSC sessions follow us on twitter: @carden @p_cheal @BlueChip_Comm

BlueChip Communication Group's Paul Cheal, Bruce Madden and Carden Calder are attending the Financial Services Council annual conference on the Gold Coast

Connecting our people with customers' experiences

Hearing Joe Jordan today reminded me that good content, delivered well can make ANYthing interesting. Even life insurance. Really.

Yes, Australia is one of the most underinsured nations on the planet - ranking 16th in the world for life insurance penetration and density. 

Because, Joe suggests, people have dogged, ill-informed views of what insurance actually does - or doesn't do.

And we are wrong to focus on the facts, rather than the emotions around insurance.

Buying insurance is more than a numbers game - yes, the odds are you'll never need it. But the reason we want insurance is there's still a chance something will happen...and you have no safety net.

We've spent too much time, in financial services, on the analytics says Joe. What we haven't spent enough time on is understanding how consumers think. Accept this, says Joe...

1. The way people make financial decisions has not changed
2. The way we perceive how people make decisions has changed
3. Expectations matter....perhaps more than actual outcomes.

As we move from accumulation phase to distribution phase, it's reliability of income not return on investment that will matter far more to consumers.

What do we (as consumers) really care about? Well as time goes on, and our population ages and lives longer, investment return matters far less than having an absolutely certain income.

As an insurer Joe says what MetLife does is simply this: help people have certainty around their income. That may be by replacing it if they die or guaranteeing it if they are sick.

Stay away from the facts in the insurance sales process, says Joe. 

Counterintuitive as that sounds, his research shows that finding out people's personal priorities is far more important than presenting rationale, fact based information showing the lump sum amount a policy may deliver. He presents a great case for actually never talking about the 'face' amount of a policy, but rather the income it will deliver, and at what cost.

Having voiced our personal priorities (looking after our family, paying off the mortgage, allowing an income for life if we couldn't work) we are far more able to estimate what we really need from our an income stream, not as a lump sum. 

Few, if any of us, can actually estimate the lump sum we really need.

So, says Joe, if you're going to sell protection products you have to develop a culture that's supportive of understanding people's real needs.

A culture where people are inspired by the great good that comes from insurance...and that passion will translate to better business results.

The simple purpose of insurance is to have the money outlive the people. 

Culture should celebrate the impact these products can have on someone else. Everyone wants to celebrate the significance of what they do. And the significance of what life cover can do is literally life changing.

Focus your own people on that, and the business results should follow.

We saw a MetLife staffer via video crying about her client - the client she sold a policy to, then stayed the course while her client was diagnosed with cancer and ultimately passed away. The insurance payout enabled the client to die the way she wanted to - well cared for, having returned to her family in China and knowing that money wasn't a problem.

It's rare (apologies John Brogden - it's a great gig, just not life changing) for me to feel inspired, and to be almost bought to tears, at an FSC conference. But Joe got me.

Carden Calder attended the Financial Services Council annual conference on behalf of BlueChip Communication Group.

Financial Services Council (FSC) Conference Day 1

BlueChip Communication's Paul Cheal, Bruce Madden and Carden Calder are attending the 2011 FSC Conference on the Gold Coast.

First up at the FSC were Chair Peter Maher, Minister Bill Shorten and new ASIC head honcho Greg Medcraft.

Minister Shorten offered to do "the standard" 20 minutes from Government to industry but instead (and really much more interesting) gave a free ranging talk that started with monks and ended in a jungle...covering opt-in, competition in super and the timing of draft FoFA legislation (September) in between.

Medcraft, just 82 days into the job, talked about how running ASIC is just like running a bank. Give accountability, hold accountable but don't micromanage. It sounds like an approach he'll apply both to the team at ASIC and those he's charged with regulating.

As a former local mayor - of both Box Hill and Woollahra, he knows a thing or two about making change. Having had a foot in each end of the social economic spectrum he's perhaps better placed than many to understand the needs of individuals and the perspective of executives.

Make the pie bigger, Medcraft says of the debates around financial advice.

Instead of one in five Australians seeking financial advice, it should perhaps be more like one in two.

Bickering about whether or not advice is needed isn't helpful, said our newest regulator.

What is needed? Confidence and improved access to advice. Fair and efficient markets.

The end goal, according to Medcraft, is confident, informed investors and financial consumers. Yes, education matters but so too does personal responsibility.

On a personal note he mentioned the frustration, as an individual investor with BoA Merrill Lynch, of placing his investments with them and not being able to have a single view online.

On how to get the biggest band for regulator buck Medcraft talked about aiming to proactively reach every single company ASIC regulates over a number of years - and reactively those where there is due cause for concern.

What will we see next from ASIC? The results of surveillance of each of the top ten businesses giving financial advice.

And on a personal note? New York rather than either Sydney or Melbourne. And favourite five for a dinner party? Nelson Mandela, Leonarda Da Vinci (at least that's how I heard it), Robin Williams. Barack Obama, Warren Buffett.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Day 1 at the FSC: leaders talk challenge & opportunity

A guest post by BlueChip senior Paul Cheal attending the Financial Services Council annual conference.

Day 1 of the FSC out with a relaxed "chinwag" with some of the industry's leaders discussing the challenges and opportunities facing the industry.

From the Insurance industry was Jim Minto of TAL who was joined by John Van Der Wielen of ANZ and fund manager SSGI's Rob Goodlad.

The group kicked talking about regulation, which according to 3/4 of 200 respondents to a delegate survey was singled out as the greatest challenge in the last 18 months.

The panel agreed that while legislation will 'be what it will be', the response should be forward looking - adapting and getting ready to move fast once details are finalized.

Picking up on Minister Shorten's comment that we (as an industry) do tend to talk to ourselves, the speakers identified "consumer-centricity" as a key driver of growth - understanding the consumer, giving them confidence. It's not the process, It's the outcome, speakers suggested. The winners will be the ones who become more consumer centric and adapt to new technologies to interact directly with clients.

According to the delegate survey the opportunities ahead will arise from growth and consolidation. For insurance that opportunity was the issue of underinsurance, for ANZ it was not about predicting the future but being across all distribution channels while State Street saw ETFs as the great democratization product for all investors, especially for SMSFs.

In Navigating this Change (the theme of the conference) the capabilities organisations will need are:
- Lower costs - especially in Super
- Operation efficiency
- Organization memory
- Adapting to new technology to deliver solutions to consumers

The conclusion ? The salad days are over. The days of flash cars in the Macquarie carpark are apparently over. There will be more consolidation, increased pressure on fees and redundancies.

On that sobering note it's off for cocktails.

Monday, August 01, 2011

New financial crisis? "What NOT to do" public relations rules hold true

As Australia reaches the end of the first month of the 2012 financial year, we're feeling the shudders of global financial uncertainty. The US debt challenges appear handled, for now....but who knows what's around the corner?

Uncertainty, for leaders and communicators, makes it far more challenging to set, and communicate, a course. Where do you lead people "to" when the landscape is unknown and only "where we're coming from" is known?

Often the answer is nowhere. In 2007, 2008 and into 2009 some leaders and communicators were frozen into immobility by the (sometimes overwhelming) dangers presented to their businesses by global financial instability.

Yet those who came through best were often those who, despite uncertainty, took careful stock of the known and the unknown. Then acted.

Some leaders led when it was most needed. Some communicators communicated superbly - proactively, and with a strong sense of their duty of care to investors, clients, and the people working for their company.

It's those leaders whose actions are worth reflecting on now as we face another "interesting time".

Knowing what to do is hard - but what NOT to do was clearly evident.

Once Lehmann declared bankruptcy at the end of 2007, Australia's blithe "we're okay Jack" approach to our role in the world economy was somewhat dented.

When I flew into New York at the time of Lehmann's collapse, it was clear that most business people in Australia believed we would never feel any impact. Two short months later, we watched seasoned finance executives go grey almost overnight as all the rules were changed.

Few knew what to do - how to manage a crisis and how to communicate during one.

It's worth revisiting here some of the lessons we learned for communicating in a crisis.

It's all very well to  know how to communicate in a crisis that involves just one organisation, group of organisations or an industry sector. But the ultimate crisis communication lessons surely have come from the days when it looked like much more was at stake.

Here are our top ten things NOT to do.

1. Say nothing
2. Be overly optimistic or "catastrophise"
3. Make promises you can’t keep
4. Imply you know what’s going to happen now
5. Ignore technology such as webcasts, email, Skype or your website
6. Fail to educate your client with what you do know, as soon as you know it
7. Provide only complex information full of disclaimers
8. Fail to respect the intelligence of your audience
9. Self-justify
10. Understand how your audiences feel

Next post, what TO do.