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Back when I was a financial consultant at Merrill Lynch in our typically crowded “bull pen” I remember how much we looked forward to meeting with the senior advisors of the firm. They would freely share the insights gained from their network of clients, colleagues and other influencers to help us improve our own customer interactions. We felt the camaraderie of belonging to a valuable network of associates that expanded over time. But the challenges broker-dealers face have grown more complex since then. And, as the idea of the “sale” has evolved — from a simple product transaction to “relationship-based consultation”— the network effect has grown more sophisticated. In an increasingly customer-centric universe, firms must balance client expectations with the need to grow revenue. The key to that balance may be leveraging the kind of network effect my colleagues and I shared years ago.
To grasp the power of the network effect, consider the workings of popular navigational app Waze. Users contribute information to help alert other drivers about traffic conditions (even speed traps) in their immediate area. Information is input in real time and the app is continuously refreshed. So, the more drivers join the network, the better, more accurate the view of driving conditions. The result: faster travel times and fewer speeding tickets from an app that produces increasing value for busy motorists.
In my more than 15 years as an account management executive for Broadridge, I have sometimes felt like a human Waze for the broker-dealer world. Our vast client base (1,100+) and extensive communications (6 billion+) provide me with a unique view into industry challenges. I’m continually gaining insights to share with clients and colleagues about consumer preferences, technology, regulatory and industry trends and operational best practices.
Like Waze, my view evolves every day as I discover best practices to adopt and pitfalls to avoid. I have a front-row seat to the challenges firms face as they work to improve the consumer experience while growing revenue.
We recently helped a wealth management client increase email engagement and paperless enrollment. Leveraging internal benchmarking data, we were able to give the firm insight into where they ranked versus their peers and zero in on key areas of their email communication process that needed to be addressed. This unique insight enabled us to establish realistic engagement and enrollment goals for the firm and focus on the areas that needed improvement, specifically the design/layout of their emails. Leveraging industry best practices and our own internal research, we revamped their email templates, which directly resulted in a 71% increase in engagement with key regulatory communications.
The education process works both ways. I can also bring something back to the Broadridge product development team that I learned from clients or fellow innovators. Whether QR codes, e-adoption or something else, I’m learning firsthand how new technology and trends can expand the network effect. They energize other decision makers to try new ways to make their brands more personal and engaging as well as open up dialog on the topics investors care about most.
My clients helped me realize the importance of proceeding at your own pace. I’ve seen what happens to those who prematurely rush — they tend to stumble. Whether I’m working for a broker-dealer in pursuit of rapid growth or a more cautious firm looking to test innovation before making a major commitment, my goal is the same: Provide the insights they need at a pace they can tolerate.
For bank broker-dealers, accessing the network effect improves investor engagement, contributes to growth and mitigates risk. The right strategic partnership can open access to a broader network to enhance these benefits. Tapping into the network, no matter how gradually, has another benefit: It keeps you from being sidelined in the breakdown lane with an outmoded Waze competitor.