Market Your Firm through Consumer Education

Journal of Financial Planning: July 2015


You may not immediately think of educating consumers as a meaningful marketing strategy, but at our financial planning firm, consumer education is our primary marketing focus. The firm’s co-founder and CEO, Nathan Bachrach, spends most of his time speaking and writing about personal finance. His goal is to explain what clients need to know in everyday English—in keeping with our firm’s name, Simply Money.

We have turned our focus on consumer education into the identity of our firm; it is at the center of what we do every day. Our staff lives out our brand message: straight talk and clear strategies that make sense of the financial world, serve financial futures, and contribute comfort and security to our community. And along the way, Bachrach and firm co-founder Ed Finke have turned their exuberance for simplicity, straight talk, and advocacy on behalf of consumers into an integrated media company that reaches thousands of consumers daily. The result: a thriving financial planning firm with nearly $750 million under management. And we’re actively planning to expand.

Keep It Simple

Bachrach recalls: “Our ‘Simply Money’ concept was sparked when Ed Finke and I were guests on a financial radio show years ago. When we came out of the studio, we agreed that no one could understand anything the hosts had talked about without a master’s degree. We thought, what if we suggest to this radio station a show that might get everybody smart about the basics, because if you take what you do and make it simple and easy to understand, your message comes through loud and clear. It’s like Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson—we took a page from these great astronomers and we kept it simple.”

From that concept, our firm has focused on steadily building our communication efforts. Bachrach and Finke have a daily radio show on our local Cincinnati iHeartMedia radio station called, of course, “Simply Money.” Bachrach also appears as a guest on other radio shows, makes frequent appearances on CNBC, and publishes a weekly newspaper column in The Cincinnati Enquirer. Bachrach has also begun speaking to local groups on financial topics twice weekly.

To help make all this possible, our firm built radio and television studios in our office building. The co-founders can broadcast the radio show right here, and Bachrach can do television appearances from here as well. Without this capability, we couldn’t perform this level of outreach.

Marketing and Growth Equal Success

Marketing has to be disciplined and constant. Marketing works when you do. It’s the engine that enables the firm to grow, and growth is essential to have a healthy business. It’s about more than profits; growth makes it possible to attract and retain high-quality professionals. For instance, a long-time media executive heads up our media efforts; the woman who leads our compliance process used to work for a large wirehouse. Growth makes it possible for staff to take on greater responsibilities and ascend along a career path. Growth makes it possible for us to invest in our firm, contribute to the community, and build a secure future for our own families as well as those of our clients.

When it comes to marketing, our firm’s educational focus has done an amazing thing for us: we don’t have to do seminar campaigns or other outbound marketing. We think of Simply Money media as our client magnet.

People hear the co-founders on the radio, read the column in the newspaper, or see Bachrach on television and they like the message. They’re explaining—not selling—and people understand the value of education and advice. Prospects don’t necessarily have a conversation with Bachrach or Finke—and they don’t expect one. When prospects contact us, staff responds immediately, creating a connection with the firm. We can then serve them with a team approach.

Focus on Fundamentals

Every client of our firm gets a financial plan, and success is measured by whether the client is progressing according to plan. We want to live up to the Simply Money message. It truly is an expression of our core values.

As head of financial planning services, I like talking straight to people, making sure that they understand what I’m saying and what their options are. That’s often difficult, because there are so many what-ifs. I want to be thorough, but not overwhelming. If I get too technical, peoples’ eyes start to glaze over and I know I have to take a step back. I like to use stories and examples to help make things more down-to-earth. But talking the people’s language is not so easy to do. Nevertheless, it’s essential. You have to distill all the information, but not talk down to people.

When we’re creating a plan, there may be 17 options. Typically, we’ll narrow that down to the best two, discuss the options, and work with our clients to decide which is best. It’s about being as kind and compassionate as possible. Everybody has their story and you have to learn it and help them implement it.

At our firm we have a way we like to talk about money and it’s not about financial terminology. It’s about aspirations and feelings and our clients’ life stories. It does not revolve around asset allocation or income-distribution plans. Instead, it centers on stories and emotions. We think that focusing on the meaning of money to clients’ lives—the “why”—will forge a stronger bond than focusing on the “how."

Getting to simplicity is a challenge. As Steve Jobs said, “Simple can be harder than complex; you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Ten years ago, a typical planning firm would put out its marketing and bring clients in the door. Then the planner would make and sell the plan, and do the servicing, outreach, and appointments. With this system, a typical planner could maintain about 150 relationships before he or she was maxed out.

Instead of a silo approach that overwhelms planners, we have a team approach that empowers us. I like to plan and that’s what I do—I’m not responsible for marketing. Our media efforts and personal appearances do the marketing for me, and I can focus on ensuring that every client gets a meaningful, achievable financial plan we can follow with them over time. All of us on staff do what we do best, and the firm has benefited.

We also are very involved in the community. The Simply Money Foundation sponsors several charitable programs, but the main focus for our support is Honor Flight Tri-State, an organization that provides veterans with all-expenses-paid day trips to visit the war memorials in Washington, D.C.

A Virtuous Cycle

Marketing has its own virtuous cycle. Successful, meaningful marketing builds credibility and trust, and that brings clients, enabling us to serve more people, build great careers for our staff, and contribute to our community. Each step brings more power and value to the next.

Simply Money is more than a radio show, and we’re more than a financial planning firm—we have earned consumers’ trust even before they walk in the door. We have used our ability to communicate and educate to create strong bonds with our clients, listeners, viewers, and readers. People come to us for help because they believe in us. We don’t have to “sell” them—we serve them. And people see the value and respond.

Deanna Purvis, CFP®, is director of advisory services at Simply Money, and president of FPA of Southwestern Ohio.


Professional role
Marketing & Communications