I admit I didn't start out going after the younger demographic. In fact, my early years at Morgan Stanley taught me to build a book of business based on investable assets, so if a potential client didn't have a healthy six-figure investment account, they weren't a fit. To no surprise, the individuals with sizeable assets were typically older, and my client base followed suit.
At the time, I was fresh out of college, just six months shy of the impending recession and, as trained, I took on older clients to meet my sales goals. While this practice continues to work for many, I soon learned it wasn't going to be a viable long-term solution for me.
After five years battling through the Great Recession with the brokerage giant, I transitioned into the independent world, taking a job with a boutique registered investment advisor firm. It was then that I started to notice a concerning trend — my book of business was aging. I had more clients taking money out than putting it in.
Given my age and expected time left in the business, I recognized that I needed to start injecting youth into my practice. In 2014, I left the RIA and launched my own firm, Define Financial — an independent, fee-only practice in San Diego. Now it was up to me to build a firm that could resonate with younger successful professionals and attract lifelong clients. To create a compelling offering and appeal to this demographic, I chose to focus on technology, fee structure, branding, marketing and a strong online presence.
Technology was a given. I knew that if I wanted to appeal to the younger demographic and differentiate my practice, I needed to implement the right tools. So, I invested in the best financial planning, customer relationship management and performance reporting software. I also implemented a digital newsfeed on my site to create a single location for our clients to access articles we think are worth their while.
To attract younger clients with healthy incomes but fewer investible assets, I favored a monthly retainer fee over a traditional asset-based fee model. This enabled me to turn the conversation from "How much money do you have?" to "Are we a good fit to work together?"
INVESTING IN BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
I also saw an opportunity to connect with younger clients through branding and a compelling online presence. As branding wasn't my strength, I invested a sizeable sum into a branding agency to bring the vision to life. This began with a logo and business cards, and a common look and feel for our office, website and corresponding social media outlets.
It's been noted that a typical advisory firm spends a mere 2% of revenue on all marketing and business development activity. But according to a 2014 Fidelity study on clearing and custody, advisors who outspend other advisors on business development see substantially more client growth.
To differentiate my practice and grow brand awareness, I implemented content marketing strategies, such as hosting a regular blog and publishing videos on our site. I also invested in public relations and advertising and discovered ways to leverage SEO and social media to increase visibility and capture targeted leads along the way.
Today, Define Financial is over a year old and, while we don't focus solely on young professionals, our approach has enabled us to significantly grow our Gen X and Gen Y client base. In fact, this demographic has been the fastest growing source of clients for Define Financial to date.
Taylor Schulte, CFP, is founder and CEO of Define Financial of San Diego.
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