Personalize Your Technology

Journal of Financial Planning: February 2015


Bill Winterberg, CFP®, is founder of FP Pad, a technology publication and news resource for financial advisers. He hosts FP Pad Bits and Bytes, a weekly video recap of news for advisers.

Technology continues to play an important role in the foundation of a successful financial planning business. Technology allows you to streamline your business processes, increase efficiency, and enforce consistency in the way you deliver planning advice.

But there are crucial activities you perform that are lacking in technology. Technology can’t make a judgment call, hold a client’s hand, empathize with clients in challenging times, celebrate client milestones, juggle priorities, or offer a compromise. So how do you embrace the benefits of technology yet still emphasize the powerful human elements of your business? 

It’s time to add personal qualities to your technology.

Personalize Your Website

For me, the most conspicuous place you can begin to personalize your technology is your website. What do clients and prospects see when they land on your homepage? Do they see stock photography of boats, bridges, and beaches? Are they overwhelmed with navigation menus with six drop-down selections identifying the various services you provide?

If you’re not trumpeting the personal qualities of your business in the forefront of your website, you’re not giving visitors an opportunity to learn anything about you. Instead, visitors will likely default to identifying your business by its metrics, such as the number of advisers available, the levels of financial planning services offered, and fees charged, and use them to compare your business with other firms.

But if you use compelling photos of yourself, your planners, and your office staff, you are inviting website visitors to learn more about you and begin to form a personal connection with you.

Your Competition’s Tactics

For a comparison, take one minute to visit the websites of the online investment services like Wealthfront, Betterment, and LearnVest. (For this column, I looked at these websites in early December 2014.)

Start with Betterment. The company chooses to generate interest in its services by using images of laptops, a computer monitor, various icons, and text describing its technology. This makes sense for a company that doesn’t employ financial planners to offer advice.

How about Wealthfront? The company uses a background video of someone using a mobile phone, followed by images of computer monitors with charts and graphs, a hypothetical performance chart, and a fee calculator.

But wait! There are profile photos from a partial list of Wealthfront clients employed at companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google (followed by a lengthily disclaimer that aims to clarify that client profile photos should not be interpreted as a recommendation or endorsement of the Wealthfront service).

However, Wealthfront’s website has no photos of advisers, because once again, the company doesn’t offer advice beyond automated investment recommendations.

LearnVest comes the closest in terms of personalization. The home-
page shows a woman dressed in athletic apparel, stretching as if she is getting ready to begin a workout. Scroll down and the site emphasizes that customers will be matched with a “dedicated financial planner,” immediately followed by a photo of a real person. The person pictured could be a LearnVest employee, or perhaps a “dedicated financial planner,” but it’s hard to tell. There’s no name listed for this person. For all we know, this could be a stock photo of someone wearing a telephone headset. So close.

Are You Any Different?

Here’s the point of this exercise. The online investment services and financial planning providers have raised hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital to bring their services to the market, yet their marketing approach is totally impersonal, removing the adviser from the value proposition.

You know you—and the services your firm offers—are different from the online providers. But not all prospects know that. Many assume that the services you offer are essentially the same as those offered by the online providers. After all, your website probably doesn’t do much to communicate otherwise.

This is your opportunity to make your business, your services, and your value to clients personal. Use your technology to show your team, your advisers, and your support staff, and highlight the people who work hard to contribute to the success and well-being of your clients.

Personalize Your Emails

Next, consider the email newsletter you send to clients. Are you using mail merge features to personally address the emails you send? Newsletter services like MailChimp, AWeber, Constant Contact, and more all support email newsletter personalization, and Outlook users can leverage the built-in mail merge feature. Email personalization might seem like low-hanging fruit to many, but there are still plenty of “Dear Valued Client” emails being sent by planners today.

Also, take the time to include photos of planners or employees who contribute content in your newsletter. When I know the content I’m receiving was written by a real person, versus content regurgitated from mainstream websites, I’m much more likely to read it.

These are not difficult tactics, but once again, these elements add a personal touch to the technology you use to connect with clients.

Be Bold with Video

One of the most challenging, yet most important techniques to add personalization to your technology is the use of video content. Videos allow clients and prospects to see and hear you talk about how your firm works to bring clarity to your clients’ financial lives.

Videos can be used to describe what new clients can expect when they engage you as their new financial planner. The opportunities to use video are endless, but that is why this medium presents so many challenges.

If you’re not comfortable on camera, it’s time to get trained, or perhaps identify the person you want on camera and train them. Practice speaking on camera. Film yourself, watch it, allow others to watch it, and gather feedback and recommendations on areas that can be improved. Consider hiring a coach who can train you to “be yourself” on camera. I suspect any planner who has been on camera before will admit it’s a lot easier said than done.

Make It Compelling

It’s time for your firm to invest in the technology and human capital required to produce compelling video content. Whether you hire internally or choose to outsource to a production agency, your resources need to be familiar with cameras, microphones, and lighting needed to capture high-quality video and audio.

Knowledge of video editing and motion graphics software is also essential to enhance your content in the post-production process. And finally, your videos should be published, distributed, and easily sharable across a variety of online and digital locations, as readers learned in the Journal’s July 2014 article, “7 Tips to Enhance Your Online Videos.” Mastering this use of technology allows you to deliver updates and education to clients and prospects in a scalable and efficient manner, all with a personal touch. Examples of planners using video to connect with clients include:

Andy Millard:
Dan Moisand:
Pinnacle Advisory Group:

Failing to communicate what you do on a personal level and hiding the human element from the services you provide precludes your firm from being remarkable. Without personal differentiation, your business is too easily lumped together with the rest of the online investment service providers.

Use technology to give clients and prospects something to which they can relate that differentiates your business from all the rest. Be human. Show clients and prospects the empathetic side of your business, and make the personal characteristics of your business known through the clever use of technology.

Practice Management