RIA firms: Crypto-proof your business

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“I don’t need you. I can just do it myself.” That’s the phrase advisors have feared since the first online discount brokerages started marketing to the average investor. The same feeling that empowered a generation of day-traders, inspired the dawn of the robo-advisor and spurred on the optimism of alternative currency pioneers. And, it’s a sentiment that can’t be ignored, particularly as it is currently embodied in the cryptocurrency mania.

In this season of disruption, the concept of tech-driven disintermediation coupled with the race to zero in fees has forced financial advisors to take a long, hard look at what they want to be when the dust settles. Advisors have become quick studies on technology, looking to make sure that their tech stack gives them the required bells and whistles to both run their practice and enhance the client experience. Fintech innovation has moved to center stage, and conference organizers have created entire corridors devoted to tech solutions. The reality is that as quickly as advisors and their firms have moved to adapt and adopt advanced technology, they are still running hard to keep up with the pace of change.

Complicating matters, even more so, has been the arrival of cryptocurrency and blockchain into mainstream consciousness.

I’m sure if your families and friend circles are anything like mine, discussion about Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple and Litecoin have populated dinner discussions and cocktail parties over the past few months. For some, the chatter came with eye rolls and skepticism. For others, it was just a reminder of 1999, when adding a “dot com” to any business name seemed to triple its valuation.

Some might’ve been hoping that the hype was given the wet blanket treatment after the “cryptopocalypse” brought the price of BTC and LTC back (somewhat) to earth. But, with all things crypto trending in pop culture, it’s a glaring reminder that disruptive forces are still at work in our financial system.

Removing governments and central banks as principal parties from the currency equation may be the biggest disruption a financial system could fathom. The collateral damage of this movement could be the obsolescence of the current financial product system and the total revision of how advisors justify their professional existence. No big deal…

Where does this disruptive train take us? To the fact that the client experience and an advisor’s marketing are the only two areas that an advisor can separate himself or herself from the pack.

From a marketer’s perspective, the pace of change demands that advisors become responsive to the issues today. The concept of focusing solely on long-range planning comes across as tone-deaf when the system on which you are basing that long-range planning might not exist as we know it in 35 years, when that retirement happens or the grandkids need college funding. Instead, advisors need to insert themselves in financial life decision-making, and not just for “concierge” or family office clients. You aren’t a fan of Bitcoin? That doesn’t excuse you from making sure your clients have the best guidance or advice as it relates to that, fad or not. Reviewing mortgage rates isn’t what you get paid to do? There’s certainly another financial advisor who’ll do it, if you won’t.

The point is that the market has shifted to the point where if the consumer doesn’t like the experience and the value they are getting, they will simply move elsewhere or look to do it themselves. If some gamer can raise $20 million in an ICO, why can’t I do my own IRA asset allocation?

You can no longer afford to not market yourself and skip the opening to differentiate yourself. You can no longer deny that the client experience is the main stage of your marketing program. And, more than ever, your willingness to form relationships, coach, coax and even say “no” to your clients could be the difference between relevance and obsolescence when this latest wave of disruption crashes to shore.