(The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)
By Robyn Post
CHICAGO, April 25 (Reuters) - Alan Moore, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin, financial planner, no longer experiences that awkward moment when new clients walk in and are surprised to see he is in his 20s, doesn't wear a suit and tie, and speaks with a Southern drawl.
These days, by the time a prospective client calls or meets Moore, they are likely to have seen him in the finance-themed videos he has uploaded to YouTube.com.
Moore and other advisers who post videos online are seeing benefits that go beyond attracting new clients. The strategy also cuts out a lot of time- and energy-wasting activities such as meeting clients with whom they don't have a rapport, or who aren't ready to move forward, or who may be looking for a different investing approach or type of adviser.
Still, most advisers shy away from YouTube; a 2013 survey of 403 financial advisers by Aite Group found only 5 percent used it professionally, up from 3 percent in 2011. Many say they fear compliance hurdles or a lack of tech prowess. But YouTube-savvy advisers say those issues can be easily overcome.
A WIDE-OPEN PLATFORM
Advisers who use YouTube tend to be self-employed registered investment advisers, says Sophie Louvel Schmitt, a senior analylst at Aite Group. They have fewer restrictions than broker-dealers, who are more heavily regulated.
Larger firms often don't allow advisers to deliver content via YouTube, she says. Some require that a compliance office vet a transcript before a video is posted.
For self-employed advisers or those willing to get script approval, a video can mean a lot of exposure for little cost. That's because YouTube videos can garner coveted slots in Google search results, says Bill Winterberg, a certified financial planner and financial services technology consultant in Atlanta.
VIDEO INFLUENCES DECISION MAKING
A video won't by itself win you a new client, but it can hasten the getting-to-know-you phase, says Kristin C. Harad, a certified financial planner in San Francisco who is a marketing coach for financial planners. Clients can learn your communication style and philosophy, and come to trust you, before they make that first call, says Harad, who calls video her favorite marketing tactic. Moore says the 35-plus videos he has posted on YouTube have brought in at least a half-dozen clients this year, even though he hasn't made a video in over a year.
Moore and Harad say videos save time, allowing them to answer a question for dozens of clients and hundreds of consumers at once.
"I had a client ask, 'What is umbrella insurance?' so I made a video and sent her a link," says Moore. He then put a link to the video in the insurance section of financial plans for new clients, believing that if one client asks a question, others wonder the same thing but may not ask.
Moore covers topics in his videos such as "How does your adviser get paid?" and "3 things to know before buying an annuity."
Dave Grant started creating videos nine months ago for his Cary, Illinois, advisory firm, Finance for Teachers. They use language teachers use, he says, and are tagged specifically for them. He answers questions such as "What happens to my 403(b) when I leave the district?"
Grant says some clients say they have chosen him because of his videos, which have boosted his business in more than one way. When he includes links to his videos in his newsletters, clients share them with friends and he gets more referrals.
Catering to a more formal "mahogany table" crowd might warrant hiring a production company. Otherwise, videos can be done for free or for a small amount of money, says Moore, the Wisconsin-based planner.
For his videos, Moore sits in front of a webcam in his office. He chooses a topic based on client questions, narrows it down to five bullet points, and chats.
Harad suggests starting out simple before investing in better equipment. She shot her first video on a Kodak handheld video camera.
It doesn't cost a lot to create your own studio, says Winterberg, whose tech blog FPPad Bits and Bytes covers video extensively. You can get started using a digital SLR camera and a microphone. But don't scrimp on the microphone: It's key to a good video, he says.
One error advisers commonly make, according to Winterberg: They don't put their name in the title, description and tag area on YouTube, and don't add a link to their site in the description. Another tip: Upload your own thumbnail image - the still shot that will represent your video for your video instead of allowing YouTube to pick one.
Harad notes another mistake she sees: advisers promoting their firms rather than addressing the concerns of their target audience.
"Focus on them," she says, referring to potential clients. "Share something helpful, introduce a free white paper you're offering, point viewers to content on your site. That's better than, 'Hi, come have a consult with me,'" she says. Also, limit videos to two to six minutes, she advises.
Harad says posting a video is a little like planting a seed; you shouldn't expect immediate results. "If you start something now, it might pay off next January," she says. (Editing by Linda Stern and Douglas Royalty)