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Make Every Shareholder Vote Count with a Better User Experience

Four ways the broker-dealer transformation of proxy voting can build customer loyalty.

Make Every Shareholder Vote Count with a Better User Experience

When McDonald's announced its phased elimination of plastic straws earlier last June, it also generated front-page coverage around the power of environmentally minded retail proxy voters. Such investors hold approximately one-third of U.S. stocks. As highly publicized as the vote was, the fact is the vast majority of retail shareholders don’t exercise their voting rights. Retail shareholders vote just under 30 percent of their shares, and they hold approximately one-third of U.S. stocks. Many reasons contribute to low turnout, including competing priorities and unfamiliarity with the issues.

For broker-dealers and financial advisors, the consequences of missing opportunities to communicate with their shareholders sends a message, too: Engaging with and educating clients aren’t top priorities. Shareholders who favor a greater level of digital customer services have a choice: accept the relationship as is or become influenced by the electronic drumbeat from alternate resources. 

Growth-minded broker-dealers shouldn’t let lackluster turnouts set the stage for missed opportunities. After all, these retail stalwarts easily fit the model profile of desirable long-term customers focused on long-term objectives. 

As president of Broadridge’s bank broker-dealer business, my team and I tackle the challenges of proxy voting every day. We find that motivating investors is similar to motivating consumers. We must decode the behaviors that draw them to the “moment of truth” – that point where they pivot toward making the decision we want. Take the following examples from my own background:

  • Concentrating consumer’s attention at the point of sale. My marketing education began after high school at New Zealand’s CookieTime franchise, where I analyzed consumer behavior when buying a cookie. What could we do to motivate busy shoppers to buy on impulse? We found our answer in oversized glass cookie jars that sat right next to a store’s cash register. Our conclusion: Motivating customers to take action, in this case make an additional purchase, is easier when you make it clear what action you want them to take. Sales of our cookies increased 300 percent with the supersized cookie jar.
  • Eliminating friction facilitates adoption – and sales. After co-founding Cameron Systems in 2001, I developed a way to make it easier and more efficient for asset managers to send trades electronically to broker-dealers and exchanges. Here we learned the importance of eliminating friction in the decision-making process by enabling potential users to sample the software first. While our competitors would arrange meetings in advance before presenting a new product, we’d tell prospects: “Why not download our software now and try it before our meeting?” That way prospects arrived at the moment of truth we desired with our software first: using our technology was simply easier than their other choices. 

Whether buying cookies or software – or voting on a proposal – everyone takes or avoids an action based on such moments of truth. In the case of a proxy proposal, broker-dealers are confronted with distracted shareholders who wonder, “Should I read this communication now? Or am I too busy doing other things?” The answers to such questions can lead to meaningful governance or choices by disengaged investors. 

Here are four ways to help nudge shareholders toward the moments of truth that inspire the customer loyalty you want while giving them the engagement experience they need:

  1. Bring the vote to where they are – not where you wish they were. By integrating proxy communication tools into your company’s mobile app, for example, shareholders save time and effort. Recently, Raymond James implemented Broadridge’s API Web Services on their mobile app to make it easier and more convenient for shareholders to vote.
  2. Address the user experience as part of an escalating challenge driven by higher expectations on the part of Main street investors. Most won’t accept financial firms that provide apps with limited functionality or wait a week to establish an account. Firms like Betterment, Stash and Wealthfront are looking to reinvent the investor experience and capture more of those clients who increasingly demand access to services on an “anytime, anywhere, any device” basis. Digital laggards, in contrast, may face a fate worse than lost business – sudden irrelevance.
  3. View proxy communications as a bulwark to your broader client communications strategy. Shareholders receive a continuous stream of proxy materials over the course of a year. They should integrate with your broader client communications plan. The investor who has 10 equity and five fund positions can expect up to 25 regulatory messages over the course of 12 months, often outpacing other communications. Each one of these messages represents an additional opportunity to engage the investor, improve their experience and strengthen the relationship.
  4. Customize and structure your messages to help clients engage with your brand more meaningfully. Better advisor-to-client communications can transform legalistic-sounding messages to educational experiences involving the issues of the day.

There are extensive benefits to broker-dealers who implement smarter digital ways to “get out the vote.” In the past year alone, the number of retail shareholders who voted using mobile devices rose 51 percent to over 1.8 million. By adding a better proxy voting user experience to your business goals, you’ll find you can keep pace with your emerging competitors while broadening the type of shareholder engagement that builds greater loyalty to your brand.