Six months ago, I wrote a post about companies that are sharing their business data via APIs, and the insights that result when others work with those APIs. In the last few weeks, Ameriprise Financial has unveiled a reverse of that—their financial advisor search engine now uses the LinkedIn API to enable prospective clients to tap their social networks as a means of surfacing an Ameriprise financial advisor.
Ah, here’s where this social data stuff gets interesting.
How do investors typically look for financial advisors? Offline, they ask their family and friends for referrals. Online, they have probably used search engines or advisor-finder services. By introducing a search via LinkedIn, Ameriprise is acknowledging what lots of consumer research is pointing to—the increasing influence of and trust in social networks and recommendations. This may be a next-gen way of vetting an advisor.
“Find an advisor who is right for you” is the heading on the search page that offers three kinds of search: by location, advisor or team name and via LinkedIn connections.
"The advisor who is right for you is based on the consumer’s comfort and trust, the advisor’s headshot, the proximity of the advisor, whatever credentials are on the Website,” says Joe Rueckert, director of online marketing. The premise of the LinkedIn search is that the consumer whose LinkedIn connections surface an Ameriprise advisor's name might be further along in the vetting process of finding an advisor who’s “right."
"This is a referral business," Rueckert says, "that’s how advisors get clients. And we’ve been saying for a while now that the Web is moving in their favor. Connections don’t just exist in the ether. They’re articulated, especially on LinkedIn."
I think the Ameriprise site enhancement is worthy of attention for a few reasons.
First, LinkedIn Profiles
This integration is possible only as a result of some smart planning and data architecting. Rueckert and team have been encouraging Ameriprise advisors to create LinkedIn profiles (with Compliance approval and archiving in place) since 2008. Today, more than half of the firm’s 10,000 advisors are on LinkedIn.
The final mile—necessary to be included in the LinkedIn searches—is the inclusion on the LinkedIn profile of a link to the advisor’s personalized (Ameriprise branded and served) Website. Only 20% have taken that step, suggesting that behavior change tends to be more challenging than technology.
“Some advisors don’t see the value, some think that it’s going to take more time, some say their clients aren’t there,” explains Scott Allen, director of interactive marketing.
When I authorized the connection between Ameriprise search and LinkedIn, my results reflected what most mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) marketers might see—dozens of advisors! In Ameriprise usability testing, consumers typically got five or fewer results. As you can see in the screenshot above, the results (you're seeing just the first) are presented in an attractive display, including a modern-day headshot, a list of areas of focus, links to the LinkedIn profile and to the advisor Website. The default is by alphabetical order of the last name, although searches can be sorted by first name.
The screenshot is of the list view of the search results. In the map view, you’ll see that my first alphabetical result lives in San Francisco, which probably wouldn’t be my first choice as a Chicagoan.
ZIP code advisor searches aren’t available using the LinkedIn search. But performing a ZIP code advisor search from the Ameriprise home page provides a better look at how Ameriprise structures the data describing its advisors—note that the results can be filtered by the amount of assets to be invested and by specializations. That's smart and truly raises the bar for broker-dealers still offering "office locators" online.
While Rueckert and Allen say they’ve been interested in LinkedIn for a few years, it was only recently that LinkedIn became sufficiently “flexible” with its API. Even then, the coding was more complex and time and cost-consuming than expected.
What About The ROI?
But the time and expense invested aren’t the only competitive barrier Ameriprise enjoys.
“We have good leadership who understands that things are moving so quickly in this space that we have to be considering how the consumers going to change,” Allen says. Lucky for them because there was no way that the Ameriprise team could build an airtight case for what this investment will do for the company or for its advisors.
Based on this example (and I have no business relationship with Ameriprise), I suspect its digital marketers have an advantage that many of you unfortunately lack. For them, an ROI wasn’t a prerequisite to the development and execution of this “experiment” (my word, not theirs).
Let’s break it down. In order to make use of the LinkedIn tie-in, a prospect needs to land on Ameriprise’s site. The likelihood of that happening? It’s probably a function of the strength of the brand. No marketing has been launched in explicit support of this yet.
Of that group, not everyone has a LinkedIn account. Of the group that does, not everyone will want to see what advisors their LinkedIn connections use.
Ameriprise ability's to measure the search activity is limited. In addition to relying on Web analytics that track traffic to the search page, Rueckert says they’re studying how frequently the LinkedIn search is being used as a percentage of all searches. The percentage of searches that produce zero results should improve over time as more advisors get on board. But no data is collected.
What’s not known is whether this referral interaction will happen. Will one business connection ask another for a perspective on a financial advisor he or she is connected to?
And, the acid test—did this capability produce a lead who materialized and turned into business for an Ameriprise advisor—can’t be proven online. Advisors will have to report that to the Ameriprise team themselves.
Time will tell whether this “works” for Ameriprise. In these early days and based on what Ameriprise has been shared, I’ll offer these observations:
- This is differentiating—and only broker-dealer firms of a certain size could do it.
- Ameriprise has no doubt gained in what they know and understand about LinkedIn, possibly the most important business network for advisors.
- This innovative support for business-building is likely an effective recruiting point for prospective advisors.
- This and their stated interest in communicating via social media ranks Ameriprise as among the social media leaders in the broad investment industry space.
Check it out for yourself. What do you think?