Schwab Advisor Services is launching a multi-million dollar marketing and education campaign aimed at promoting the registered investment advisor (RIA) sector in an effort to differentiate the channel from other, more traditional models in the eyes of affluent investors.
The campaign, dubbed "RIA Stands for You," comes in response to the widely held perception in the industry that the advisement services RIAs provide are not generally well understood as distinct from those investors receive from wirehouse brokers and independent broker-dealers, according to Bernie Clark, executive vice president and head of Schwab Advisor Services.
"What we have seen is that in the marketplace there is sort of a lack of understanding about the different models that are available," Clark said in a telephone interview.
In that spirit, the campaign highlights the prime selling points of the RIA model, amplifying the message that the advisors' incentives are properly aligned with those of their clients. Schwab, the largest custodian of RIA-client assets, is playing up aspects of the model such as personalized advice, independence from prepackaged financial products and a fee-based payment model, rather than commission.
"What we really want them to understand is that when you're dealing with an independent relationship like this you're on a fee basis," Clark said. "They have no alliances with products like the traditional models," he added. "There's no conflict."
Schwab is targeting high-wealth investors, focusing on households with $1 million or more in investable assets.
The new campaign continues Schwab's advocacy on behalf of the RIA industry, a market in which it holds a roughly 25 percent share, with nearly 7,000 clients and some $700 billion in assets in custody. Most recently, the firm launched a new suite of resources to help advisors navigate the regulatory and legal issues that arise when making the transition to an independent RIA practice.
The campaign, which Schwab developed in-house, is heavily concentrated on digital media, with a dedicated website and interactive banner ads planned for leading financial publications such as Forbes.com and the Wall Street Journal's site. Both the ads and the campaign website feature videos of various RIAs in Schwab's network discussing the industry, their focus on clients and approach to investing.
The goal, Clark explained, is to put a human face behind the industry and promote the unique aspects of the channel -- with particular emphasis on the independence of RIAs -- rather than simply running ads for Schwab or any individual RIA practice. Additionally, Schwab plans to run a full-page ad in the print edition of the Journal on Oct. 22.
The focus on digital media provides more granular metrics about audience engagement than traditional ad segments, and gives Schwab the agility to tweak the campaign if, for instance, a particular creative is failing to garner attention. In the interest of consistency, however, the different creatives Schwab is rolling out at the launch of the campaign will be fairly similar, each containing the "RIA Stands for You" logo and a similar definitional message about the industry.
"Everything that we're trying to convey is contained within the banner," said Susan Forman, a company spokeswoman.
The digital medium is integral to another aspect of the endeavor. Schwab is actively looking to push the campaign out to its RIA partners, inviting them to post the logo and video placements on their own websites, provided they adhere to certain design specifications. Schwab saw a brisk turnout in a webinar Clark co-hosted this week on the subject, with around 1,000 RIAs expressing interest in promoting the campaign.
"The campaign is not for Schwab; it's for the advisors," Clark said. "Our expectation is that advisors will bring this information into their websites."