financial advisor marketing

#ItzOnWealthTech Ep. 90: How Merrill Lynch Drives Digital Adoption with April Rudin

“I think that Merrill embraces that opportunity which has multiple entry points, Merrill Edge, Merrill One. They have something that they announced last year called the customer experience workstation. So in other words, they’re thinking about it from a more client centric point of view, which is what needs to happen instead of from the advisor point of view. And I think that that’s been a real sea change and all of that is led by Kabir Sethi so under him and his teams. He’s been a leader in recognizing that it’s all about the client, and it’s not so much about the advisor. Everything they do is more about serving clients better, developing stickier relationships, and hyper personalizing as much as they can their offerings to clients rather than going with a one size fits all. So, I think some firms are still stuck in that, but I think you’re right, Merrill’s done a great job of breaking that down with the multiple entry points.”

— April Rudin, Founder & CEO, The Rudin Group

This episode is an interview with April Rudin, the founder and CEO of The Rudin Group.  April is widely acknowledged as a top marketing strategist for the financial-services and wealth-management sectors.  She has been recognized by Onalytica as the #1 “Influencer” in wealth management, and regularly-featured source of expert commentary to international news and business outlets, trade publications, and broadcast media.

Click here and schedule a free Discovery Session to find out how Ezra Group can help your fintech firm grow revenue in the wealth management space.

Topics Mentioned:

  • The New Digital Thundering Herd
  • Resistance to Digital Adoption
  • Hyper Personalization
  • Why People Are Sick of Webinars

Complete Episode Transcript:

Craig: I’m happy to introduce my guest for this episode is April Rudin, the founder and CEO of the Rudin Group. April, welcome.

April: Craig so good to be here, long time no see. And even though we’re not in person, it’s great to see you and hear your voice.

Craig: Likewise, it’s wonderful to see you. We used to spend a lot more time in the same place in the past. And now, we hardly get to see each other.

April: I know. I used to call you my follower number when you were sitting behind me on different flights.

Craig: We’d be on the same plane, we were always traveling around together to conferences.

April: Yes.

Craig: So I just wanted to put out there that you are widely acknowledged as a top marketing strategist for the financial services and wealth management sectors, and you’re recognized by onalytica as the number one influencer in wealth management, congratulations.

April: Well thank you. I’m really proud of that accomplishment because I think what it does is it validates the use of social and digital in financial services. My kids might laugh and say it’s my most Kardashian moment. But I think it’s something that advisors need to really think about, raising their own profile, raising their own personal brand, and what that means to their firm. People can’t really interact with corporate brands, but they can interact with people. So, always important to have a great personal brand.

Craig: At least your kids understand what you do, or know what you do for a living. My kids I had to hire them for them to figure out what it is that I do for a living.

April: And do they know what you do?

Craig: They do now but it took a while. They used to think I made PowerPoint slides for a living.

April: Don’t you?

The New Digital Thundering Herd

Craig: Well yeah kind of in a way, but it’s a little more than that. Great. So let’s jump in, we were brainstorming ideas for what we’re going to talk about and you’ve got so much content out there, and you’ve got so many thought leadership pieces, and people look to you for where the market is going in the direction of a lot of things. So you you had written something on one of your many, many content distribution platforms. I think it was Forbes, where you were talking about The New Digital Thundering Herd – High Net Worth Baby Boomers, and why advisors and wealth managers are over focusing on Millennials, you want to expand on that?financial advisor marketing

April: Sure Craig. So this is one of my very favorite topics because I founded my firm almost 13 years ago, around the idea of Millennial-izing your brand. The idea there was that there’s so many old tired management brands whether they’re bank brands, RIA brands, technology brands everyone in the ecosystem, a lot of really old brands that didn’t resonate with younger investors. And so the idea there I think is still relevant to appeal to a wide range of investors and buyers because certainly today, even tech vendors are selling to a younger aged person so the idea that your brand needs to resonate across multi generations is still really valid.

April: But where I think this whole idea really went awry was in terms of over segmentation. In other words, people thinking these products or these services are for Millennials. So, you know, enter robo advisor, for example. Millennials are digital, Millennials want online trading, Millennials when online portfolios, Millennial Millennial Millennial. Well, when you dig down into it you can find out that it’s really not about Millennials. So for example, the Capgemini World Wealth Report year after year produces statistics saying that the highest digital adoption is really among ultra high net worth Baby Boomers, and it stands to reason why, because they are generally, formerly mobile, global, and who thinks that they are not really digitally savvy. Of course they are. And so, it’s no surprise to me. I think that people miss an opportunity by over segmenting and thinking too narrowly about digital offerings.

April: Similarly, the piece that you’re talking about, with our friend Kabir Sethi, Merrill Lynch says that 85% of their clients in the 10 million plus cohort were the fastest and quickest to digital adoption. So I think that, you know, it really flies in the face of what people are thinking, so there’s no reason to over segment. You want to have a lot of different entry points but no reason to say, this product or this service really is for Millennials, this fun you know ahead of International Women’s Day is for women, for example, this one is for this other narrow cohort or segment. It’s better to just have multiple entry points, and let the people choose.

Craig: You’ve said this numerous times and it’s not just their age that defines what an investor is looking for from their wealth manager.

April: No, it’s really about behavior. You and I could be Gen X could be Baby Boomer but we’re really more digital leaning. You brought up your kids so I have two sons, one of my kids is very digitally oriented when it comes to financial advice, and the other one’s not. So, over segmenting based on age, really doesn’t work. It reminds me sort of Chinese astrology, how you’re born in the Year of the Dog, and that means that everyone in that year is the same and we know that that’s not true. And I’m sure, much of your audience, men and women, both realize that women are not all the same. And so women cannot be a niche and having products oriented to women especially when they represent 51% of the population doesn’t really work either.

Craig: That was lost on a lot of firms that started up their female-only targeted robo advisors or other firms that just didn’t get a lot of traction, because they didn’t realize that that’s not a thing.

April: It’s not a thing, it’s not a niche, right? I’ve been writing about that for a lot of years also. I mean, how can there be products that go to, not only a niche but you know a greater percentage of the population than even men. And, you know, reaching women, women are an important segment, but there are certain behaviors and not certain products that you need to focus in on and certain lifecycle events I mean, for example if you want to go to women for a minute, the statistics on women are really crazy. Something like 75% of widows change financial advisors within the first year of their husband’s death. And it’s probably no surprise to us but it might be a surprise to some, advisors really haven’t taken the time to develop a relationship with both pieces of a couple. A couple should be thought of as to different units, even though they’re one household.

Craig: Exactly and oftentimes in relationships that are functional the husband and wife work together on these things and they’re a team, so why not approach them that way rather than pitting one against the other. I find the best firms are the ones that help the spouses collaborate and help the spouses learn rather than trying to tear them apart saying well you want this and you want that. What do you want together? You’re living together, you’ve got children together, if you do, or you know in laws and parents together, so how are you going to solve these problems together?

April: Yes, and also women outlive men generally, and so women are becoming the inheritors. Women are also creating wealth themselves, a large number of women are trying entrepreneurship for the first time so women are a really important cohort for financial advisors to think about, but not to over segment. You want to think about behavior and lifecycle events like I just mentioned, for example, living longer than men. These are statistics that advisors should pay attention to, but it doesn’t mean that they should come up with pink products or a pink website.

Craig: How about a pink ETF?

April: Ugh. I was just talking to somebody yesterday, who was talking about how to recruit female advisors because they wanted to really expand their practice so even knocking down the long held thought that women want to work with women. Well, I think, you know, all of these axioms really can’t come true, some women might want to work with women. Other women don’t want to work with women because you can’t generalize about what all women want to do. So hiring female advisors, doesn’t mean that you’re going to be able to attract female clients, people just need to add a little thought to this and they would come to these conclusions themselves.

Craig: I think you when you said multiple entry points, there’s no one right or wrong way to approach a particular group of people because as you said, they’re all different and then they sub segment out in many different ways. And just like some people get along with other people better. I know men who get along with men better, and men who get along with women better, all the people who work for me, all my direct reports are women. And so you could say, well maybe I work better with women, that’s a different topic but everyone’s different.

April: I’d have to ask the women.

Resistance to Digital Adoption

Craig: You’d have to ask them, they’re still there, they haven’t quit yet, so they must be appreciative of something, but yeah everyone’s different everyone approaches their lives differently, approaches their wealth differently, everyone approaches the use of technology differently. And one thing you mentioned in your article was resistance to digital adoption. Can you keep talking about that, how you’re overcoming that? It’s the opposite of which ones are doing the best. which ones are resisting and how to overcome advisor marketing

April: So I think that the resistance to digital adoption really has come from the financial advisory world, and come from the enterprise firms rather than from the end users. In this article we really explore that it was the clients pushing up on the firms to really gain access to their accounts online, because they wanted to have real time information. And I think the pandemic really drove a lot of that also in terms of adoption. It’s unfortunate that of course the pandemic has been so awful and a tragedy for so many people around the world, but it took a pandemic to actually drive digital adoption and for firms to actually get over their security concerns, get over some of the concerns that they might have in terms of digital and really just embrace it because there was no other alternative. So, you know, you could be just as insecure as people say, you can have a bunch of files and leave them in a taxi, right, files can come from all over. But I think now that we’ve taken this big strong leap to digital I don’t think there’s ever going to be any going back. Even those financial advisors and firms that believe that it’s a relationship business which of course it is, they can just think about digital as freeing them up from routine and repetitive tasks so they have more time to build relationships. I think the resistance has really been a part of the industry, not on the part of clients.

Craig: The article is something we’ve been talking about for a while, it’s how Merrill Lynch seems to be leading the industry and they’re one of the largest firms that’s a wirehouse and usually the largest firms tend to be slower and sluggish and can’t innovate. Yet Merrill with their Merrill One product, and other technology first initiatives, seems to be doing the opposite. Do you have any insight into how they’re doing that and how they’re beating what’s called the innovator’s dilemma?

April: I think that Merrill embraces that opportunity which has multiple entry points, Merrill Edge, Merrill One. They have something that they announced last year called the customer experience workstation. So in other words, they’re thinking about it from a more client centric point of view, which is what needs to happen instead of from the advisor point of view. And I think that that’s been a real sea change and all of that is led by Kabir Sethi so under him and his teams. He’s been a leader in recognizing that it’s all about the client, and it’s not so much about the advisor. Everything they do is more about serving clients better, developing stickier relationships, and hyper personalizing as much as they can their offerings to clients rather than going with a one size fits all. So, I think some firms are still stuck in that, but I think you’re right, Merrill’s done a great job of breaking that down with the multiple entry points.

Invest In Others


Craig: Hyper personalization I hear is a buzzword a lot. Who do you think is doing it well besides Merrill?financial advisor marketing

April: Well, I mean, that’s a great question. There are a lot of people doing it well. But I think that the definition and the thought behind hyper personalization, hyper personalization of what? Hyper personalization can begin with marketing right, thinking about which segments, and who you want to market to. Thinking more about what is your value prop and what do you offer to different people and how can you offer be targeted to each of these different clients so that they can understand what you offer, and how it benefits them and how it solves for pain points. Some of the firms we work with, all of their marketing is all about them. and nothing about who their customers are.

For example some of the wealthtech firms that we work with, we try to get them to see that they need to have messaging, and they need to put out materials that talk about the pain points that they sell for, rather than how they work. People become, vendors particularly, become obsessed with themselves by saying things like we use AI or we use machine based learning or we use this technology, or we use that when really to end clients, all they care about is this is my pain point this is broken, how can you fix it. And then similarly on the part of banks and wealth management firms, they sometimes put out messages, we’ve been in business for 100 years, we have X number of branches, we have X amount of clients satisfaction, when all of those things are all about them and nothing about the pain points or things that they do to solve and work with clients. I think that this idea of hyper personalization is just beginning, and I think it’s one that we’ll see over the next 5-10 years really come to fruition as data informs people about different behaviors and they can create a customized experience for clients.

Craig: So your advice to large wealth management firms would be, they’re not that into you. Don’t be so into yourself. You’re obsessed with yourself, focus more on what your clients problems are.

April: Exactly I mean people are obsessed with themselves. Of course they are. But they shouldn’t be exactly because nobody cares about you, what you really want to show is empathy and care about your client. So that’s one of the reasons why sometimes marketing that’s done in house seems very insular and all about us because people get used to repeating all of those same messages, without thinking about this very important point that we’re talking about right now.

I find a lot of technology companies also are very into themselves like I was mentioning before you know we use AI, we use machine based learning, we use NLP, we use whatever it is that we were using and we do it for this many clients over this many years over this many whatever, is more about eating their own chess that about what pain points they solve for. And it doesn’t get very granular so firms also have a tendency to talk more about what they do in a general way, rather than saying specifically these are the pain points we solve for. Everybody wants to pretend like they can do everything, and what’s more important is to be best in class in your field and offer narrow services, rather than wide services, so that people can really understand what it is that you’re offering and buy your services.

Craig: That reminds me of a video I saw at a conference where they were talking about how every wealth management firm seems to be the same and they’re all using the same images the same graphics, and they’re saying we’re specialized, we focus on women, men, retirees, new business stole business, young, old, basically everybody, and you can’t do that and basically you’re saying you don’t really focus anything at all.

April: Exactly. And then we have stock photos right, here’s a couple on a beach, in retirement. Here’s a yacht, here’s what retirement means to us. And all of that really just glazes over in people’s eyes and it really is meaningless. Drilling down and figuring out what specialties you on purpose, but really communicating in a way of solving pain points, whether that’s for more retail clients and a robo advisor, whether that’s for family office clients, higher end clients, regardless of the services that you’re offering, it’s just so important to figure out what it is that you offer, and use plain language to describe it.

One thing I don’t miss about trade shows is all of the booths and all of the talk that uses the same words over and over again, we’re digital wealth management, we’re digital transformation, we’re a data provider, we’re this where that I mean, all of these things become meaningless about what you do. Again, I probably repeated it ad nauseum on this podcast, but it’s really critical to say why you do it. What is the point of doing it or how can you help people just by performing these functions? I grew up in Detroit which you know, I always tell people, no one wants to look under the hood. They just want to get in the car and drive from point A to point B and that’s it. They don’t need to know how it works.

Craig: It’s a Simon Sinek, you know, the why question, why are you in business versus what, and you’re always going to sell more if you explain the Why and again your customers understand the why versus the water the how.

April: Exactly, yes I’ve heard him speak also and I think the Why is really important and but then eliminating the how right sometimes in the first round, it’s just the why and telling your story. If you want to talk about that a little bit also, storytelling is a really effective way of communicating with end clients but I think again sometimes advisors and firms take storytelling to the nth degree. I get it that everybody’s excited about the fintech or wealthtech firm that they’ve started or they’re growing. But if the name of the firm is something that is your in laws name times your city you were born in or some esoteric meaning and like nobody really cares about that. Right, so you don’t need to add that part of your story. I think that what people really need to do in terms of storytelling is to talk about their process. The process in terms of, how did they get to where they are today and what qualifies them uniquely to solve those pain points again really just a narrow focus. And then, less is always more in client communications also. People tend to overly communicate, websites are unnecessarily long, and so on. The idea is that you want people to call you and get more information.

Why People Are Sick of Webinars

Craig: Exactly. And so I wanted to shift gears one second into something you mentioned earlier about going to conferences and that’s where we spend a lot of time at conferences now everyone’s on webinars. But you wrote an article about why no one wants to go to your webinar. Why is that? Why don’t why do people want to go to webinars? Aren’t they the thing to do now everyone’s everyone’s on Zoom all day.

April: Well, you just answered your own question right there. If everybody’s on Zoom all day, why would anybody want to go to a webinar? What some of the event companies and some of the sponsors and some of the firms have done is to spend too much time thinking about recreating events, but recreating events, with only one track. So, if you and I were at a conference together, Craig, we may or may not be at the keynote, we may or may not be at the sessions, we would probably more likely be in the hallway having conversations with people. And I think that’s really the greatest benefit or one of the best benefits of conferences is from a networking standpoint, but what happened with the pandemic is that most conference companies and many firms, just focused in on putting out more and more content, and then putting it out over Zoom so how can people absorb, or why would they absorb so much content when they really are busy because work from home can be very busy, right, in terms of taking care of your family homeschooling all of that.

And also people might register for these webinars to give you a false sense of hope. But then they don’t really show up because it’s the same thing over and over again so it needs to be really compelling. They can’t be long. No, I think that content that’s focusing in on pain points could be effective, but I just think that there’s an oversaturation since the pandemic of webinars and content that people cannot possibly absorb, most of it gets ignored.

Craig: So what do you recommend for firms that still want to reach out to prospective clients and present information to them, share information up with the obvious goal of gathering leads. What other what other tools are out there for them besides webinars?

April: I think that there are a lot of tools out there now, we’ve been running quite a few events that are just online networking, so it can be networking, without content. You don’t need to have content to invite people to meet and communicate so that’s one thing. I think email marketing is having a resurgence and a renaissance, people are reaching with email marketing but again short, sweet punchy subject lines giving people a reason to open. I think LinkedIn Live has been a great platform, highly engaging, interactive, allowing people to meet and greet, and even see screens, do product demos. But again, it really has to be on the short side. I think people, not only have webinar fatigue, but also the length of content is kind of crazy, why would you want to go to a one hour webinar that’s the standard 45 minutes and then 15 minutes of questions. So, I think people aren’t thinking creatively about it, they’re just taking something that worked offline and bringing it online. And I think it just doesn’t really work well.

Craig: It reminds me of firms that when we first started digitizing things in general, they were just copying offline processes and moving them completely online. Like forms, you’d have a form to fill out, well let’s do the form online. Well why? Why does that look like a form? Just because we had a piece of paper, you don’t have to show me a virtual piece of paper. You can do it any other way. A long time ago with earlier computer technology they showed actual desk on the screen with a picture of a Rolodex, and you click on the picture of the Rolodex to get your contacts. There’s no reason to have that virtual little desk on your screen, it took a lot of move away from that so we’re probably doing the same thing when it comes to online communication. We’re trying to recreate our physical world in the virtual world when you shouldn’t have to do that.

April: Exactly. If you think about it, all of the content the networking, all that can be hyper personalized now. So that’s why I pause when you ask me about hyper personalization and instead of having a webinar and thinking and aiming for having many people join, I completely agree that’s taking this old offline thinking and moving in online. You do not need to have 200 people attend your webinar for success, the measure of success is having two people who end up becoming buyers so I think all of these old measures are going to go by the wayside as people do some deep thinking around what their goals are. It’s not about the quantity it’s all about the quality.

Craig: It reminds me of the .com bubble in 2000 where everyone was was paying millions of dollars for companies that had eyeballs. How many eyeballs do you have, yes. Well eyeballs don’t convert into dollars they’re just people looking at your website. The same thing with people looking at your webinar, if they’re not buyers if they’re not qualified they’re not warm leads they don’t convert into a sale. It’s useless.

April: Exactly. All these old measures people come all the time but how many followers do you have, how many clicks did you get, how many this, how many that. You can get a lot of clicks, you can have a lot of eyeballs, but at some point in time. It’s all about the quality of the people, the level of the people. Being hyper personalized hyper targeted to the people that you really want to see your product or service are the people that you really want to meet. And sometimes, you know, people want a silver bullet like I’m going to have a webinar and invite all these people and do it all in one shot. When, think about being hyper personalized, maybe it’s better to just do a product demo and go one by one by one. This way you’re able to give someone your full attention, their full attention, they can ask questions in the privacy of just one phone call and one chat, rather than showing up for a webinar that’s clearly targeted to sell a product. So no matter what people think, everyone knows the reason you’re doing a webinar is to sell your product.

Craig: Don’t try to sugarcoat it. We know you’re selling a product.

April: Everybody knows that.

Craig: And speaking of selling, we’re out of time. I want to thank you for being on the program April, it’s always a pleasure. I’m glad we could work this out, I know you’re very busy, have a lot going on as the number one digital influencer in our space, so thank you for sharing your time with us.

April: Craig It’s so nice to see you online. I look forward to seeing you in person, very soon.

Craig: One day soon I promise. We will be together again.

April: Alright, cue the music.

Craig: Thanks April.

Click here and schedule a free Discovery Session to find out how Ezra Group can help your fintech firm grow revenue in the wealth management space.



The Wealth Tech Today blog is published by Craig Iskowitz, founder and CEO of Ezra Group, a boutique consulting firm that caters to banks, broker-dealers, RIA’s, asset managers and the leading vendors in the surrounding #fintech space. He can be reached at