How did your program do this year? That's what we asked a lot of advisors, program managers and pundits for the 2011 Outlook. We found the responses to be a mixed bag—but generally more positive than the year before. While some programs are still struggling, others are moving full steam ahead. What made the difference?

A key ingredient was support from top management. As Marc Vosen, president of the Bank Insurance and Securities Association and head of Key Investment Services, told me, "If you have a best practice model and didn't have support of the depository institution, you've got nothing. But even if you have mediocre models, as long as you have the support of the institution, you've got a lot."

Then, of course, you have to implement on a number of different levels, which include good technology, a wide variety of products and quality staff. Where banks are still working with outdated or clunky technology and it seems many out there still are, they will have a hard time supporting their reps who face clients. That can undermine the efforts of even the most ingenious and concerned advisor.

Second, if you are still pushing products, you are playing a losing game. Increasingly, financial services is more about the service. That doesn't mean that selling an annuity isn't the proper way to serve a client, but it's no longer what most platform reps, and certainly most advisors, should lead with.

Of course, not every client needs an individualized interview or financial plan. But clients need to feel that you are offering something they can't get at the next bank down the block or the next number they call. That means establishing a relationship, regardless of how brief, where customers feel that you care about them more than your own—or the bank's—bottom line. Even if you're just talking to them on the phone or chatting over the web, the main thing is that the client doesn't walk away neutral, but feeling good.

Here's hoping for a lot more warm and fuzzy feelings in 2011!

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