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Commonwealth Taps Managers for Advisor Library

SuperUser Account posted on October 30, 2012

By Mark Gerlach October 30, 2012 

In a maneuver meant to help its advisors build their practices and provide market insight to clients quickly,Commonwealth Financial Network has produced an online stockpile of pre-approved marketing materials.

In addition to helping their own advisors, the new program offers asset managers a chance to provide content and, ultimately, better position their brand in front of the Waltham, Mass.-based independent broker-dealer’s network of more than 1,400 advisors.

“There are materials that are included in the tool that come from our product partners, and there is opportunity for them to help us with the endeavor,” says Todd Estabrook, chief marketing officer at Commonwealth, which represented about $71 billion in client assets as of the end of September.

The new Four-Corner Marketing program provides Commonwealth advisors with 1,200 client-ready ads, brochures, announcements and social media status updates. The materials include data designed to help advisors welcome new clients, conduct annual reviews and ask for client referrals.

Advisors can tag their favorite documents and see which items are most popular among their peers. Files can also be filtered by material type, topic and the audience for which the information is geared.

Out of more than 1,000 pieces of marketing materials, about 100 are authored by asset managers and insurance firms. Approximately 18 firms, which currently work with Commonwealth, have contributed materials to the Four-Corner Marketing program, according to Estabrook. The firm declined to name specific companies involved with the program.

Such materials can offer the independent advisors affiliated with Commonwealth perspectives that complement those of Commonwealth’s own home-office research group, which consists of 10 analysts led by chief investment officer W. Bradford McMillan. Such materials can also help provide the advisor a broader array of experts to choose from when preparing to talk to their own clients.

“Really, at the end of the day, it isn’t just about telling the advisors a story; it’s about empowering [advisors],” saysDave Swanson, founder and managing partner at SwanDog Marketing.

Commonwealth seeks materials that are “topical” that could help focus discussions advisors might have with their clients, such as the impact of the upcoming presidential election, a guide to explaining required minimum distribution, and using alternative products to meet a particular investment objective, Estabrook says.

Product manufacturers involved in the new marketing tool currently have slots within Commonwealth investment programs, although it is not required that those managers have a spot on their recommended list in order to participate, according to Estabrook. The firm would be open to “investigating a partnership” with managers that would like to offer research but do not currently have a relationship with Commonwealth, he says.

Manager submissions must first be approved by Commonwealth’s compliance department, which reviews materials within 48 hours. The marketing materials are then added to the online content library. There is no charge to have materials included in the marketing engine.

For asset managers, such programs are “all about access and opportunity for asset managers,” says SwanDog’s Swanson, who warns that talking to a distributor about the value of their own marketing materials is “tricky.” Managers have to gracefully balance a value-add approach and a product conversation. The conversation should not be an “overt product push,” he says, and should consist of 80% value-add and 20% product.

“I think the advisors understand that there has to be some discussion of product at the tail end,” Swanson says. “But it better not dominate the discussion.”

Brand is also a factor, according to Swanson. A manager should have a brand that has an acknowledged expertise within a particular subject area. “If I were Commonwealth, I’d be looking to those providers who bring some natural expertise to the topic,” he says.

Major macroeconomic concerns for advisors today include the global debt crisis, recession risk, inflation risk and a potential tax increase, according to recent research conducted for the SwanDog Independent Advisor Dig, which will be released in November.

Offering these materials will also help Commonwealth attract new advisors to its network, says Rick Rummage, CEO of The Rummage Group.

“It’s things like [the marketing engine] that make such a compelling argument for advisors to leave traditional firms,”Rummage says. Advisors want to be able to respond quickly with relevant research and perspectives when they learn of a specific client concern or to assure investors in the case of a sudden market jolt. Getting marketing materials approved by compliance can be a “nightmare,” so having a compliance-approved batch right at advisors' fingertips helps assuage frustration, Rummage says.

Offering pre-approved marketing materials is common among broker-dealers of all sizes, according to Pat Allen, founder of Rock the Boat Marketing. For example, Morgan Stanley announced about a year ago that the firm would be arming its advisors with pre-approved tweets.

More recently, UBS launched a partnership program through which the firm partners with eight managers, each with a particular specialty. The aim is to complement the message from the home office while providing advisors with more information to take to clients.

Regardless of what channel, advisors are always seeking greater marketing support and investment perspectives that they can share with clients to help validate portfolio changes or other recommendations the advisor may make on the clients’ behalf. That provides an opportunity for asset managers, Allen says.

“Many firms offer this kind of value-added content and would be eager to have ‘shelf space.’ But I’d suspect that the opportunity will not be open to all,” says Allen. Managers should have a unique angle to help catch home-office attention and get included. “Likely, it will be metered to the managers with whom the firm has a business interest and/or relationship.”