The financial services industry might want to take a cue from Domino’s Pizza before declaring “mission accomplished” on the economic crisis.
Sallie Krawcheck, the president of Bank of America’s global wealth and investment management unit, said during her keynote address Thursday at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association private client conference that the attitude that what happened in the financial industry is “not our fault” won’t do the industry any good.
She said that only by looking at the mistakes of the past and doing better next time will the industry repair the damage done. This includes accepting pending regulatory reform: “We have a real problem in the eyes of our clients and the public.”
She used the example of Domino’s, which had lost its allure since the 1980’s. Focus groups told the company that their pizza was boring and bland. Instead of hiding from the criticism Domino’s took it head on. “We too should face our criticism head on,” she said. “We are a client service business. We need to give clients what they want, which is ‘listen to me, do right by me and fight for me.’”
Krawcheck said executives from Merrill Lynch, a unit of Bank of America [BAC], have taken a lesson from Domino’s playbook and are traveling the country doing focus groups with clients.
What they have learned through these focus groups is that although those in the financial industry focus on investment performance, clients say that the trustworthiness of advisors is their top priority. Clients also want advisors to charge a fair price for services, to be upfront, and keep them informed.
The key is not to assume what clients want, Krawcheck said.
At the end of the day, she said, the financial services industry offers a unique value to clients. The winning components of this value proposition are people and technology.
“Hopefully the events of 2008 taught us lessons we won’t forget,” she said. “If we have short attention spans we are in the wrong business.”
Krawcheck said everyone wants to believe the financial crisis is over because “if we squint the world almost looks back to normal,” but there is a long climb ahead.
The media keeps calling it a “muted upturn,” said Krawcheck, who joined BofA last year, “But it looks like an un-muted upturn.”
“New realities are staring us in the face and tectonic shifts are taking place,” in the economy, in terms of regulation, demographically, and in the financial markets.
Krawcheck, who was formerly CEO of Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., LLC and a senior executive at Citigroup, said that the United States is being questioned financially and as a global leader.
This year, she said, 70 cents of every dollar of new growth will come from emerging markets. Only 16 cents will come from the United States. Krawcheck said that Asia-Pacific will have more high net worth clients than the United States by 2013.
“People are worried and the anxiety is palpable,” she added.
One of the ways to ease investor concern, suggested Krawcheck, is for the industry to redefine retirement.
With 76 million baby boomers heading into retirement there are many worries over the fact that people are living longer and whether they will have enough money to last the rest of their lives. Yet financial advisors are speaking a different language than clients, sprinkling their conversations with “jargon” that clients do not understand.
When an advisor says, “managed account,” she said, often clients don’t know what they are talking about and their eyes glaze over. Customers’ ideas of what they need are very different than what advisors feel the clients’ needs.
Another piece of advice: don't only focus on the baby boomers, but younger clients as well.
And although men have felt the economic pain of the last 18 months, “it is acutely felt by women.”