“Apparently every good-looking, successful, young working woman in Manhattan is at [LearnVest Live] right now…In case guys were wondering,” attendee Alana Taylor, tweeted from the Oct. 9 event in New York.
The start-up’s first event, LearnVest Live, attended by nearly 1,000 women, was a client appreciation event, a referral event and an educational event all in one.
Whether the newly approved RIA LearnVest (or other online discount advice services) will shake up the financial planning industry and grab younger, potential clients from traditional advisors remains to be seen. But LearnVest seems to be enjoying a good start.
It was clear from the recent event that these attendees, some of them current clients, some prospective clients and some merely fans, aren’t just excited about LearnVest. They’re fired up about financial planning, too.
“We’re going to talk about something very sexy –budgeting!” Stephany Kirkpatrick, CFP and director of financial planning for LearnVest, said as she kicked off a session co-led by Marge Hannum, head of consumer practices for Chase who partnered with LearnVest for the event. And though it was decidedly unsexy, there was a full house.
The big hits of the evening included a session on fashion by designer Cynthia Rowley, one on food by “Top Chef” star and author Gail Simmons, another by Cosmopolitan editor in chief Joanna Coles and, of course, several sessions led by LearnVest founder Alexa von Tobel.
Despite the celebrity appeal, networking opportunity and the free drinks to attract attendees, some had real questions about their finances and were eager to get answers.
Helen Hwang, a 31 year old who works in business development at Deloitte, said she was first introduced to LearnVest’s email newsletter by a friend, and the relevant content kept her reading and eventually brought her to the live event.
Hwang has money rolled over from a 401K that she’s not quite sure what to do with. “I want to start investing, but I’m on the fence about it. I’m not sure if it’s the way to go,” Hwang said.
So is there anything for advisors to take away from this event? According to Robert Sofia, co-founder and chief operating officer of Platinum Advisor Marketing Strategies, it’s simply that they can duplicate the effort on a smaller scale for their own clients.
Of course there are different types and purposes of events, but if advisors want to do something like this, he suggested inviting a local celebrity who can speak about something interesting and relevant to the prospects they’d like to attract.
“Every advisor can do that. There’s a celebrity effect in our business too,” Sofia said. “There’s a time for those fun things, too and I wouldn’t discourage that. Advisors can do this on a smaller scale.”
Sofia warned however, that it’s important that advisors be sure to headline the event. While it can be a great idea to include other experts and possibly even a celebrity, it’s important that the advisor has a “majority of the face time,” he said.
Advisor Michael Fein, managing partner with CIC Wealth Management, agreed that it’s okay to have fun client events.
“I like my clients,” Fein said. “A lot of them have become friends. I want to hang out with clients, and duplicate clients that I like.”
From golfing lessons, to Orioles games, to an annual paper shredding event (before it was so common, he noted), Fein said he likes doing fun things with his clients. So what’s the next client event on his agenda? Skeet shooting, followed by some drinks. He’s never tried it before, but it sounds like fun, Fein said.
To make the most out of client events, Sofia says, it’s crucial to find a way to funnel attendees through so you can actually get their contact information, whether it’s a registration, a raffle or something else.
This is something LearnVest has down pat. Most attendees were likely already in LearnVest’s system since the event was announced online in July and much of what the company does is provide online editorial content and newsletters about personal finance. Even so, at the event, all attendees were given free online access to LearnVest’s Budget Starter program, normally $89. It’s a small step, but potentially fruitful.
Does this mean they will manage to transform these fans into paying planning clients for the long haul? That part’s not so certain.