CHALLENGES:

SmartAsset offers consumers an online information resource, “empowering people to make smart financial decisions.” Think of it as HomeAdvisor for the financial services industry. One part of that empowerment is to connect consumer investors to financial advisors through the SmartAdvisor service. SmartAsset asked CRA to engage financial advisors with the goal of understanding their onboarding experience, their expectations of success in meeting with and signing new clients, and their overall reactions to the SmartAdvisor service.

PROCESS/METHODS:

In early 2019, after receiving a SmartAsset-provided list of contacts, we used email outreach to recruit possible financial advisor participants for our research. Advisors were asked to complete a short online survey to aid in our recruiting decisions. Starting with a list of around 200 advisors, we analyzed the 70 returned survey responses (a 35% response rate!) and then invited advisors across a variety of demographic criteria and in two main categories (those who currently used the SmartAdvisor platform and those who had left the service) to participate in an online interview. Using an online platform, we then completed 15 one-hour online interviews with advisors in both categories. Online interviews allowed advisors to participate in our research with a minimal disruption to their daily activities. We were also able to complete the field research, from initial recruitment email to recording of the final of 15 interviews, in under three weeks.

Our goal was to understand why advisors stayed with the program – and why they left. Using open-ended questioning and screen-sharing technology, we tested a number of pricing models to drill down more deeply into the advisor experience. We focused on the guardrails for acceptable pricing and how advisors defined success.

RESULTS:

We learned that financial advisors are willing to pay for quality leads and looked at SmartAdvisor primarily as an ROI decision. They stayed with the program – paying for leads – if their investment generated more revenue than they spent. The biggest challenge related to setting a realistic timeframe expectation during the onboarding process. Many financial advisors expected almost immediate success and were disappointed if their investment did not generate sufficient ROI within a relatively short timeframe. We identified a range of communication messages that SmartAsset could use to set realistic expectations and help advisors succeed. Additionally, we gained valuable information on pricing strategies and expectations, helping SmartAdvisor refine their online service. In our reporting, we presented five opportunity areas to improve the advisor and consumer experience, each with a range of specific and actionable next steps aimed at reducing attrition rates and improving member experience.

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