How clients find you is changing – an interview with GuideVine’s Raghav Sharma


No question – the Internet is dramatically changing how clients find advisors and how advisors can get introduced to clients. The days of getting introduced to people because a client shared your card to someone else are by and large gone. Consumers have access to more information and advisors over a broader geography than they ever have before. If you are not getting your information out there, you are missing the opportunity to be introduced to people you would like to have his clients.

One of the most interesting new platforms for advisors and clients to meet is GuideVine. It is a service that enables advisors to post videos of themselves describing their services and their philosophy on a platform that prospective clients can search based on multiple criteria. A consumer visiting the site can select a few categories that describe themselves and what they are looking for and will be presented with a selection of advisors’ videos to view. For the ones they would like to learn more about or get introduced to, the system provides a means for clients to contact the advisor.

What follows is an interview with GuideVine’s creator Raghav Sharma. Sharma is a former consultant with McKinsey who recognized a large unmet need for a service to help consumers find an advisor who provides the services they seek and a personality they connect with. Our discussion included his observations about what is wrong with advisor marketing, some mind blowing statistics about how consumers are utilizing the Internet search for advisors, and the experience that gave him the idea to create GuideVine. I hope you’ll find it as interesting and as much fun to read as it was for me to do.

What do you think about his predictions and his observations of the advisor business? What have been your experiences in connecting with prospective clients online? Have you had success using some of these concepts on your own website? I would love to hear your comments in the area following our interview.

Steve:  How would you describe GuideVine and what it is and what it can do for an advisor?

Raghav: So for a financial advisor, GuideVine is a digital marketing platform. We help an advisor put their best foot forward with today’s consumers who are searching for advisors – whether it’s someone new or they’re looking at referrals – in a completely different way, which starts online. What we want to do is help the advisors craft their messages to, one, resonate with the right type of audience, and, two, give them the platform that is present in the way that these folks are searching. There are a lot of advisors who say that I could do this, or I could get active in social media. But what we bring to firms, even medium and large-sized firms, is the singular focus, and the resources that we can bring to bear on pushing out the message, whether it’s through our digital marketing skill, spending marketing dollars on getting GuideVine’s message out there to the consumer, and also to giving consumers a little bit more transparency, a lot more personalization, and a lot more control over their choice of who they talk to. We believe that will translate into materially better conversations and prospects for an advisor, because these people made a conscious choice out of their matches, out of everything that they’ve been seen, watched, read. They’ve already made a choice of some sort to talk to that advisor. So they’re coming in much more positively inclined and much more prepared.

Steve: You have described it as sort of a for advisors.

Raghav: Well, Bloomberg called us that, and then CNBC called us that, so we’re not fighting it.

It’s a way for advisors and consumers who are seeking each other to find the right fit for them. So helping consumers find an advisor who is going to fit their that consumer’s circumstances, offer the services they’re looking for, and has the personality and the presence that’s going to build comfort and trust. It’s the basis of any intimate relationship, and that’s what your relationship with an advisor is.

And for an advisor, it’s a very efficient way to get your message out. GuideVine’s had by early Dec, 2015 close to 25,000 advisor videos viewed. Those are 25,000 consumers that the advisor wouldn’t have gotten a chance to even get in front of. They wouldn’t have had the time to speak to that many people over the course of a year and a half. So, it’s a very efficient way to put out a compelling message through the types of media that people are consuming. We’re never going to convince someone to sign up with an advisor just on the basis of a video. But what we want to do is we want to get the advisor out there so that people feel comfortable and want to pick up the phone and talk to them.

Steve: You had mentioned referrals a couple of minutes ago. What’s the tie-in between GuideVine and referrals?

Raghav: It’s something we’d never thought about when we started the service. We know people Google advisors when they hear about them. What we didn’t realize is that because of the power of our SEO [search engine optimization] for individual advisors, oftentimes the first things that come up when you Google their name is their GuideVine profile or their GuideVine videos. There was one advisor in DC who signed two clients because they were referrals. The first thing they did when they heard his name is they Googled him. They saw the GuideVine videos. They decided that they actually thought he was an interesting advisor and someone they could work with, called him and said, we’ve seen your videos on GuideVine, and we want to come in and talk to you, and by the way, we’re a referral from Bob.

Steve: So they never actually went through the GuideVine site. They just turned up the videos on Google.

Raghav: Exactly.

Steve: It’s something in my talks I refer to as the Google Effect. The way that referrals are happening now is different than it used to be. It used to be that, oh you should call my guy. Here’s his number. Now it’s, you should call my guy, and they go home and Google him.

Raghav: Exactly. And your online presence, whether it’s on GuideVine or it’s your Twitter account or your LinkedIn profile, certainly your firm website, is all fair game in the impression that people form of you as an advisor. You’re probably losing a lot of referrals that you never even knew were out there because people are looking at your on-line presence and saying, I’m not so sure about this one. Let me go ask someone else.

Steve: It’s something that I suspect has been going on. But advisors don’t know about it necessarily unless the number of referrals who are calling in has dropped off dramatically, and I haven’t heard that from too many advisors yet. Do you have any data around that?


Raghav: We don’t have hard data, but I think, just through first principles, – I don’t know that the volume is necessarily declining – but I would suspect that, among younger generations, a lot more of the casual referrals aren’t following through because they’re not impressed with what they see.

McKinsey [& Company] has this data that about 70% of the consumer’s decision journey in financial services and a few other relationship-based services comes through online impressions before they even walk in the proverbial door. So they’re 70% of the way to a yes or a no.

Steve: I have read that conclusion in the book The Invisible Sale. They say that the sales funnel, that old traditional approach to attracting people, is dead because something like 70% or 80% of people have already done their due diligence and know basically what they want to know about a company before they ever contact the company. So if you’re counting on the old sales funnel of put your message out to a lot of people and gradually whittle them down a little bit at each stage of the funnel, that’s dead because people are doing their own research now that they’ve got the internet.

Raghav: When we started GuideVine, what we realized within about six or seven months is that we spoke really well to people who are down the funnel, knowing that they needed a financial advisor and were now in the process of looking for one. And we weren’t speaking as well to people who were about six to twelve months away from the realization that they could benefit from a financial advisor. So very quickly, what we did with our YouTube channel is we turned it into “How-Tos”, where we took 50 of the most common questions around finance. Not things like how do I pay down my debt or how do I consolidate credit cards. But questions more of the order of how do I roll over a 401K, or I’m 50, I haven’t saved for retirement, what are the first three things I should do to get going? And we worked with our advisors to shoot videos which were a minute or a minute and a half, answering the question, and not pitching their particular service. All to make an impression on the person, to obviously answer their question or point them in the right direction to get their question answered, so that when they hit that tipping point, they either remember the advisor – and of course we have links to their profiles in those videos – or they remember GuideVine as a place to go to find financial advisors. That is another way that we’re trying to extend our reach into a consumer’s decision journey in the financial advisory space.

Steve: Interesting. Besides that McKinsey report, do you have any data around how the way people are looking for advisors has changed over the past few years?

Raghav: I talked to several hundred consumers and got a sense of how they were finding financial advisors. And overwhelmingly people were looking for things online. They were putting in the search, “find a financial advisor, XYZ city” and were getting lost in the results because websites aren’t differentiated enough and everyone says the same buzzwords. I wish I had a buck for every time I heard “I’m a holistic fiduciary.”

Advisors weren’t differentiating themselves enough in the eyes of the consumer, and they weren’t creating compelling enough messages to instill action on the part of the person looking. So people were just hunting but not finding. They were saying, look, I can’t figure this out, I can’t tell them apart. So they weren’t doing anything. Among the consumers that we interviewed, our folks were typically in their late 30s through late 40s, all young professionals on their way up. They were moving out of middle management into senior management or had already made it there. They were well versed, well educated, and they were frankly clueless about how to go about finding a financial advisor because their instincts of how to find anything weren’t working. One memorable quote for me was, “I can find more about plumbers on Angie’s List than I can find about financial advisors anywhere.”

When Fidelity Institutional did their research in conjunction with their announcement with us, they found that 640,000 people a month are using Google to search for financial advisors.

Steve: Wow.

Raghav: Yeah, it was more than we expected – almost double or triple what we expected.

Steve: You had mentioned that when people search for advisors what they find is just not differentiated it’s meaningless because everybody says the same thing. I see that you allow for a limited number of target markets that people can choose. How do you determine which categories appear for consumers to choose from?

Raghav: We looked at different industry sources to see how they classify things. We looked at the CFP Board and they have 70 choices. We talked to advisors to see how they bracketed themselves. We also talked to consumers to understand what things actually make sense to them. What we found is that you could get more and more tailored obviously the deeper you went, but at some point consumers got very confused. We almost had to reign ourselves back, and started with a list that was smaller than what we currently have, and then we added more services like in LGBT services, socially responsible investing. We split out investment consulting and asset allocation from investment management because we realized that investment management was too broad a category for the underlying advisors. We also looked at what were typical investable asset breaks in the advisor community and also how people define consumers. For the questions “below the fold” in our questionnaire, when you expand it, in terms of life stage, life events, we tried to make those tied to different needs of a consumer, really focusing on life events that typically trigger thoughts around financial advice.

Then what we do is we ask the same questions to our advisors so that we can do a pairing between them. But I still don’t think these types of questions get you all the way to a differentiated answer, and that’s where the videos come in. So for our advisors, we spend time with them talking through their backgrounds, their stories, why they do what they do, what are they experts in, what would it feel like if you’re a client. And we put those together. We listen to everything, and go off and group it together into what we believe would be a compelling series of videos. These are the bullets that, acting as consumers, would position this advisor in the best light, and also make them different from other advisors that people might be considering. Advisors are free to disregard this, but they don’t have to use what we send them. But I would say almost probably 95% of them say, okay, this is actually good. And they take those bullets and they may work with a communications consultant, they may do it for themselves, but they turn those bullets into their own voice. The advisors use them almost as the skeleton or the scaffolding and they flesh out how they would actually talk about and tell that story so that it is them talking and not us. Because that’s important, it should be the advisor.

For example, of the 50 things you told us, here are the 10 most interesting things, and we’ve grouped them into three videos with three to four bullet points. Then you, the advisor, tell the story the way you tell it. And that’s how we help those matches stand out from the others. When you watch the videos and you hear them, you get the differences in the way the advisors like to talk about themselves, how they like to talk about their clients and experience, and that’s where we think the true differentiation between advisors stands out.

Putting that in a succinct way, the matching, the filtering, the questionnaires are kind of table stakes. And then the videos are to really help the advisor stand out from everyone else.

Steve: Okay. So what do you think makes a compelling message? When somebody narrows it down enough through your criteria and then watches one of those videos, what do you think are the things that make those the most compelling?

Raghav: One, I think is they have to be unique. I don’t care as a consumer to hear where you went to school, where you worked. I can read that on your bio. What I want to understand is the things that don’t come out from the printed page. So if I was a client, tell me what would it feel like to work with you? A concrete example of this is when I was working with an advisor who said “I work with business owners” and then continued, and just continued on. I said, hold on, let’s stop. If I’m a business owner, I’d love to hear that you understand my situation. Tell me what are the three or four things that you would do day one if I signed up as a client, and then what would we do long term. And then they made that concrete. So it’s really demonstrating an understanding of the person that they’re trying to reach, so that potential client can feel that you’re not learning about them on the fly or their situation on the fly, that you’ve seen it before. The other thing is setting expectations around your services and how your practice operates. So are you a team-based practice and the advisor is more of say the quarterback versus someone who’s going to do it all and be there with you the whole time. So people understand what they’re getting in to. Some people really want that advisor that’s going to be with them all the time and some people understand I’m getting into a practice. I might talk to you every couple of weeks, but I’m going to interact with your team on a daily basis to get things done.

If you say that you’re a retirement income planning specialist, talk to me about those steps. And don’t talk to me in jargon, but talk to me in plain speak about what that means and what you do and why you’re an expert and how you understand it. So show me the underlying depth, I think is what it boils down to. And then some people just have compelling personalities. We have one gentleman in New Jersey whose target client is parents in New Jersey. So one of his videos is about how he’s coached all three of his daughter’s lacrosse teams. It’s a way to let his personal side show through.

Steve: So when an advisor signs up on your site, how many of these different things can they sign up for under “what are you looking for help with” and “what are your investable assets,” how many of these things can they check off for themselves?

Raghav: They can check off anything they want.

Now, we talk to them if someone goes a little bit crazy because, really, do you do everything here? Advisors are often optimistic. They think they can help everyone. But that’s not necessarily placing someone in the right situation. For us, as we see matches being made, as we see people clicking on advisors, then we can pair up what they were looking for with who they’re looking at. It’s allowed us to change the algorithm. So the algorithm behind the matches is not static and it has different weights against different things. So let’s say you, a consumer, were looking for financial planning and real estate mortgage advisory, and you were also looking for personal lending. If there’s an advisor who does real estate mortgage advisory and personal lending and financial planning, and there’s someone who just does financial planning and real estate mortgage advisory, you’re going to be a more relevant match to the person who does all three or maybe even to the person who does personal lending and real estate mortgage advisory because those are rarer services.

Steve: So how can an advisor really set themselves apart?

Raghav: I think it’s, one, knowing what you provide, and then building your digital presence or building your overall marketing presence around emphasizing those services, emphasizing that expertise, so that you do stand out from the advisor who says, “yeah, yeah I do that” or “I do everything.” The second is understanding your audience and knowing what – and I’m sure I’m not saying anything revolutionary that you probably don’t tell your clients as well – but it’s knowing your audience and using the channels that are most effective for them. So if you’re working with retirees in your church, use the church circular. Show up on Sunday, volunteer, etc. But if you’re one of the XY Planning Network folks, get on the blogs, be active on social media, think about what type of events can you get to where maybe you sign up for Mass Mutual’s Society of Grown Ups, and you’re one of the planners who goes in on Monday evening and over a glass of wine, give some by the hour financial advice. It’s really being in the channels that your audience is in, then making sure that you’re using that channel appropriately. So if you’re going to be on Twitter, don’t tweet once a month, look like you actually use it. Things like that. This is probably the hardest part for advisors, sitting down with someone, and I think this is where we do a good job and where folks like Marie Swift and yourself do a good job, folks who can help advisors hold up the mirror and figure out what they’re good at and how should they talk about it. Because most advisors say things and it goes over the client’s head or they feel like they’re being patronized. So it’s helping people connect to the consumer, and I think that’s something that a lot of advisors haven’t focused on historically.

Steve: How do you think GuideVine is going to change the landscape for advisors? What do you think the future is going to look like in terms of marketing your services?

Raghav: Hopefully, we get to the point where the question isn’t, are you on GuideVine, the question is, why aren’t you on GuideVine. That’s a little ways away. But for us, we want to continue focusing on working with innovative advisors who understand the changing needs of consumers in terms of connecting with them. We’re really pleased to have partnered with Fidelity Institutional where they share a belief in the way that interactions are evolving with consumers and the way that people are going to find advisors. We want to continue to grow our national footprint so that we’re more and more relevant to consumers in different parts of the country, and our focus is providing a great service to our advisors, and of course providing a great service to the consumers.  That’s really our short term and medium term focus.

Steve: Okay. So I went on the site just to see how it worked, and I put into the system that I lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and I had two to five million to invest. I don’t think I put in it much else. I checked off, I don’t care whether or not my advisor is local, and the first two matches I got were in California. Why do you suppose that would be?

Raghav: There are increasingly a set of consumers that do not care if their advisor is local. They just want someone who is the best match for them. Now, if you just say I’m looking for investment management, two to five million, there are a lot of advisors who meet that criteria. So at some point, its randomizing. But as you go deeper and as you add more things, then you would get to advisors who are more specialists. We find about 20 percent of traffic are the folks who say, hey, I’ve got Skype, as long as my advisor is registered in my state – and consumers don’t even know that, that’s for us to worry about – I just want to work with someone who is the best fit for me.

Now we haven’t reached that tipping point. A lot of people talk about how the virtual advisor can be anywhere. We still see between 15 to 20 percent of traffic are people who really don’t care about distance. 30 percent are the “I want my advisor right next to me” and then the remaining 50 percent or so are people who say it’s nice to have, but all things being equal, I prefer the advisor that I can drive to.

Steve: Anything else that I have not asked you about that you think is important?

Raghav: People ask about our consumers. We typically get about 2,000 investors to the site every week. Our typical profile is 40 to 45, married with children. About 40 percent of them have a million plus that they’re looking to put to work. And about 60 percent of them are 250K a year in household income, but as you know, we don’t know what someone’s built up based on household income. But typically we are getting high profile professionals who I think the common thing is that they’ve reached a point in their lives that their finances are too complex for them to do it themselves, and they’re looking for professional help. Someone who can kind of take it over or at least do a lot of the heavy lifting in conjunction with that. So far to date [early December 2015] we have about 25,000 advisor videos watched on the site. Another 150,000 of our “how to” videos have been watched on YouTube and Facebook, and our total consumer users are up over about 60,000 I’d say at this point. And we are working with advisors nationwide, and the front of our site has changed to reflect that we’re not just confined to our initial six areas. We charge advisors a flat fee for a year of service, and that doesn’t vary based on how many clients you get or how many meetings you set up. We want to focus on quality over just throwing a bunch of leads at advisors that they have to go then chase, who may not even be interested in that advisor. If you signed one client every 18 to 24 months, you would be ROI positive on the service based on year one client fees alone.

Steve: You just recently said that the people that tend to come to this site are people who have reached a point where their finances are complex enough that they realize that they need help. What proportion of people who search advisors on GuideVine are looking for specifically investment related stuff, and what proportion are looking for financial planning?

Raghav: Only 20 percent of our traffic is looking only for investment management. The vast majority of our traffic, I’d say 60 percent, are looking for someone who can do planning, but then also execute the plan as well. So they’re looking for someone to set the baseline and then actually do that management. About 50 percent are looking for people who can help them with retirement planning. And then the rest of the services are the bigger services, whether it’s estate planning or it’s college prep – those are about 30 percent of people. On average, people are looking for three or four services. They’re not looking for the best person to help them beat the stock market.

It’s a needed service. It’s something which is resonating with people. And we just look forward to seeing it grow and help more and more people get secure in their finances and help advisors grow their practices. My cofounder says there’s so much money sitting on the sidelines because people don’t know what to do with it, and they don’t know who to turn to for help. He was the inspiration for how we got founded. He and his then fiancée were getting married – both partners at McKinsey – and she actually ran the asset management practice for McKinsey in North America, and they had not a clue how to find a financial advisor.

I gave them a referral, it didn’t work out, to my RIA up in Boston. Then I watched as they Googled it and as they set up meetings since they could not tell the difference between advisors. And they said, wow, 10 out of 10 of those meetings they would not have even held if they had any inkling of what the advisor was like. And it was really their experience and my having this front row seat to their search that gave us the idea behind GuideVine that there might be something like GuideVine needed.


You can find out more about GuideVine at their website here.

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