The crumbling of giants spells opportunity for advisors

By Jeffery Hoyle

Emphasis Marketing & Communications

It would seem that the seemingly indestructible giants of Wall Street have begun to crumble. Lehman Brothers is no more, Merrill Lynch has been taken down a peg of two, and now, disaster is apparently looming over Morgan-Stanley like the Sword of Damocles. That's not event to mention the looming threat to the consumer banking industry. As industry insiders, we've seen the writing on the wall for quite some time. Now everybody else can see it, too.

With one corporate crash after another, the time is right for the savvy advisor to swing into action. The hopes of many investors in the stock market have been shaken to the core. A number of individuals are suffering the potentially substantial loss (or potential loss) of their hard-earned money in a volatile market. But those who are willing to grab the lifeline thrown to them can be saved -- by you. This is an excellent time to put all of those years of training, knowledge and salesmanship to the test. Consumers need advisors who can guide them toward a safe harbor.

Consumers are fearful, and if they say they aren't, it's probable that they aren't being honest. For most Americans today, a stress-free retirement is looking more and more impossible. But it doesn't have to look that way. As an advisor in the senior market, you know that there are numerous options open to individuals craving a firmer grip on their retirement future. Your job now is to convince them that you are the guy (or gal) for the job.

Cliché as it may sound, presentation can be everything. And this instance is no exception. The time to draw on your wealth of knowledge is now. Take your message to the people, and they will clamor for you and your help.

As previously mentioned, the veil has been pulled back on the stock market's heavy hitters. Consumers now know there is indeed no "wizard" behind the curtain, just a few individuals in designer suits pulling down astronomical sums of money for the advice they send down from on high. Who can forget the images of the Lehman Bros. employees in New York City, emptying their offices into boxes and carrying them down 7th Avenue? As sad as a sight it was to see, it was a day we all had the feeling was coming, right? But now that it's here, why don't we feel any better?

In a word... we feel compassion. I know, to many in this industry, that is an incredibly dirty word. But we all feel it to some degree; be it for the out-of-work traders and brokers, or the investors who are wondering what is going to happen to their future, we all feel some concern. But when it comes to who will receive most of our compassion, my money is on the investors. We hate to have an "I told you so" attitude, but at times it is hard to avoid. But rather than dwell on this compassion, why not capitalize on it? Now is the time to circle the wagons around those struggling consumers, and save the day after all.

First, prepare a letter to your clients. All of them -- even folks with whom you have had minimal contact. Explain your thoughts on the current market downturn, your concern for their future financial solvency, and make them an offer. Offer to help them wade through the mire that the stock market has become. Let them know that you will be contacting them in the coming days to speak to them personally, in an attempt to help them make sense of it all. Now, again, the "I told you so" approach will be tempting, but do not take that route. Go in as the hero atop the white horse that you essentially are at this point. Consumers are feeling vulnerable as it is and need your professional help -- not your personal judgment.

Schedule a time to meet with as many of these clients as possible. Chances are they are more than willing to speak to someone who can make sense of it all. Whatever your typical process is with a client will work; gathering statements, running proposals, whatever. Offer to give the client a complete overview of where they are now, where they have been, and where they are headed. Then, white hat firmly in place, offer them the solutions they have been looking for: market-like gains without the risk. Voila, you are truly their hero.

If you aren't already doing so, now might be a good time to take your message to a larger market. If you still have funds in your annual marketing budget, consider running a print or radio ad... or both. Market yourself as a "life preserver helping consumers save themselves from the whirlpool that is the stock market," or something similar to that. A bit schmaltzy? Yes, I would agree. But the bottom line is this; these are emotional times, and emotion is an approach advisors should take to be successful.

Explain to your client that you share their concerns -- go so far as to divulge a few of your own concerns with them, as well. You're only human, and you, like your client, are a consumer that is affected by the stock market downturn. Whether directly or indirectly, you feel the pinch as everyone else does.

Don't avoid the elephant in the room, either. Rule 151A is still looming on the horizon, and could one day have a profound effect on how you do business. Let your client in on what's going on with this proposal; explain that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is about to drop the hammer on your ability to provide the service you are offering your client right now. Remind them that the SEC is inextricably tied to the market downturn. That should certainly get them thinking.

Opportunity is everywhere if you choose to look for it. In this instance, the very industry that is looking to bring the hammer down on annuities has proven once again that their way may not be the best way. Yet on the flip side of that are the consumers. They are feeling vulnerable, alone and scared. You have the know-how to help. Why not use it?