Friday, June 16, 2017

New Marketing System from Snappy Kraken Creates a Consistent “Wow” Experience for Financial Advisor’s Clients and Prospects

Snappy Kraken ( is a SaaS marketing solution that helps financial advisors personalize, automate, and track marketing campaigns and business processes. Users can choose from a number of ready¬-made campaigns, each containing combinations of professionally designed and written email drip series, social media posts, ads and more. Clicks, opens, and shares are managed and tracked from within a single dashboard. Snappy Kraken, which took first place in the FinTech Startup Competition hosted by the XY Planning Network in September 2016, is lead by industry veteran and practice management consultant Robert Sofia (

I had the pleasure of speaking with Robert Sofia in May 2017.

Read the transcript below or click here to listen to the audio interview.

MARIE SWIFT: Welcome to “Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry.” This is your host, Marie Swift. I'm joined today by Robert Sofia. I'm super excited to have him here today to talk about marketing and building your business as a financial advisor. If you are listening as an enterprise that supports advisors I think there are going to be some really good ideas for you here as well.

Robert is a marketing expert. He has personally worked with 2,000 advisors on their marketing plans. He has a ton of practice management experience. He's worked in a billion-dollar RIA. He's worked with solos and ensembles, with financial offices, custodians and insurance companies. Today, through that long journey in the industry, he is the CEO of a cool little company – but I don't think it will be little for very long. It's called Snappy Kraken.

Robert, I love your logo. It's a little red octopus with sunglasses. Tell us about Snappy Kraken’s vision and how you think about pain points in the industry. What should advisors and enterprises be thinking about today to be getting over that next hurdle?

ROBERT SOFIA: Boy, that's a nice introduction Marie. Thank you! That's a big question too. I think there are a few vital questions in there. One, related to the hurdles advisors face. How we see overcoming those hurdles and then how we fit into that. If I may, I'd like to take those one at a time. Is that alright?

SWIFT: Absolutely, jump in!


SOFIA: Really, the reason we started Snappy Kraken is because of the problems we see advisors facing. They are related to a variety of factors. So are the external forces they cannot control. Advisors have stress over the regulatory environment, the market environment and the economy, and the geo-political issues but those things for the most part are out of their control.

But when you get into the things they can control, they still have challenges. It's hard to be an advisor today because you have to differentiate from a tremendous amount of competition both from advisors next door to online brokerages which are expanding more and more into financial planning and into wealth management. So, there is that and then you have to manage the myriad technology tools. When you look at the combination of portfolio management, marketing and all the different components of that where you have your email, your compliance, your website and your social presence and everything you use for trading, client account management, and file sharing it gets really hard to serve your clients well and run your business.

That's what today's advisor has to be. They have to be an entrepreneur, a business owner, and at the same time serve other people – being that it's a service business. Those things are always at odds with each other because the time you want to devote to your clients is often times being dragged by all the infestimal little things you have to deal with. So, basically, we understand those pains and we decided we wanted to make it easier with technology. That is what we set out to do.

SWIFT: I've seen the recent product you just rolled out for advisors; I believe it's called Visional Marketing Insights. Am I correct?

SOFIA: Yes, that's one of our products.




SWIFT: It occurs to me that technology is just part of the solution because what Snappy Kraken has brought through is the communication aspects -- the technology is “just” the delivery mechanism. So, could you talk a little bit about communicating appropriately from the advisor’s point of view out to the general public and how to engage people visually?

SOFIA: I'm happy to do that – but I’d like to note that Visual Marketing Insights is really just a small part of what Snappy Kraken is doing. In fact, you mentioned our octopus logo. The idea behind that is of course to have a little fun but it's also because there are a myriad of tentacles that go out from our API junction, which is our system that can connect to any system. So, we can connect not only on the marketing a communication side but also on the practice management side, and also through CRM and other tools that advisors may use. So, the idea is to create a junction where everything can be managed from one place. And, that includes the communications.

Visual Marketing Insights is just an example of one form of communication that is designed to help the advisors engage their clients more effectively – which should be part of an overall omni-channel fully integrated client approach to client service. When you think about today's consumer they are used to engaging with brands and with companies that they patronize on a number of levels. They will visit their website, visit their social profile, come into their office, talk to them on the phone, use appointment scheduling software, they will login and check their accounts, they will do all types of things and they expect the experience to be constant across every channel. That's something that builds trust and that's something people expect from their relationships with companies.

So, when you engage with a company on one channel, you expect the experience to be the same as how you engage with them on another channel. Advisors struggle with that because they end up using all these different tools that are disconnected so their clients have different experiences. The problem is, it creates confusion and undermines trust.

If you go to an advisor’s website and there are all these different services and products but they all feel different because their experience logging into their accounts is different than their experience they have with social media versus on the website. That's a problem. So, what we're doing just with our Visual Marketing Insights product is that we are creating campaigns. Single campaigns so the clients experience it the same on every channel. What that does is it actually builds trust and reinforces that relationship with prospects in a way to lead them to a desired outcome. So, if they enter a campaign from a social media channel or from your website or from an email or from any method that is used to promote that campaign, they will enter and stay inside that campaign while the messages they initially expressed interest in are continually reinforced until they are ready to make a decision to meet with the advisor or to further the relationship in some way. So, the Visual Marketing Insights product is just a component of just that concept.

I know I digressed a little to explain the concept but it really explains how we think about the marketing and the client service we are helping advisors perform. So, this pre-launched product is highly visual. It's very interesting, it touches on current issues of concern in the marketplace from consumer perspectives. We look at what's trending. We look at what's happening in either the political environment, economic environment in the markets or just with people's lifestyles. We build entire campaigns around a theme and we give the advisors the ability to personalize and deploy those campaigns from one source easily. And, to track and measure those effectiveness of those campaigns so they know the marketing dollars they are spending and the technology dollars they are spending are returning on their investment.


SWIFT: I'm looking at your most recent news release where you announce the Visual Marketing Insights system. It's an ongoing turnkey subscription and the introductory price is just stunning – just $39/month if advisors sign up during this initial launch period. There is also a 60-day free trial.

Let’s also talk about “snackable” content. I love that term. I'm just going to read this, a couple of sentences:

To increase the shareability, each visual is just one piece of a larger campaign meant to dazzle clients and prospects while informing them quickly. Each communication is paired with a related stand-alone webpage, also known as a landing page, and this serves as another source of traffic, readership and email list building route for financial professionals while also making it easy for people to link to and share the content via social media.

Could you talk about the value of that landing page?

SOFIA: Well, a lot of marketing content out there is just noise to people who receive it. You have the constant barrage of emails, social media posts, and mailers. People drive down the road and are hit with billboards, radio advertisements, and so forth. It's just non-stop. So, people tend to tune out. When they actually tune-in, and that's the key to the snackable content, they need to see something that is visually appealing and easy to access and hopefully interesting enough to motivate somebody to click through. When that happens, you need to make sure you're maximizing the impact of that communication, that chance. It's like a little window, a rare glimpse, that somebody is getting into your business and they've just expressed interest. And if you merely broadcast content for the sake of content then you are missing opportunities.

So, what we do is we create content that is designed to capture interest and then we always have a purpose for that content. There is an objective or goal on every place where that content is featured. In this case with this product, if it's an infographic for example, then below that infographic there will be a call-to-action and it will be designed to capture information. That landing page allows you to have a little bit of introductory text, perhaps a financial lesson. Perhaps a bit of credibility that you can build into the content so it's just not content, its content and business building with lead captures so the effort really pays off. That's a big part of our focus with the landing page. It has a purpose and it's designed to grow business.

SWIFT: I love everything about this campaign-driven approach you are taking. I've seen some of the creative work and it's stunning. It's looks like the kind of content that comes out of a big New York advertising agency but the only thing is it's better because it's specifically for advisors. It's from people who really know what advisors need – all the compliance and language issues and so forth.

I love that in your dashboard the advisor can actually go in and customize to an extent that I really never seen before – and it's still stunning and beautiful visually.

I want to take you a little higher level now. I know we've been talking a lot about this current product but I'd like to hear how it fits into everything else that you doing. This is just one thing that the Snappy Kraken is doing in the industry, right?


SOFIA: Yes. So, there is a lot that is still in store. We are just getting started. This product is one to collaborate with our early users and gather their feedback and work with them as we continue to build out our feature set because what we really envision, Marie, is a time when advisors will be able to access one place and conduct business from one place online and their clients will have one experience and access their advisor in one place online. So, we want everything integrated.

For example, we are working on integration with trackable phone numbers. So, phone numbers can be run through the system and be monitored and measured for retargeting pixels so that anybody that visits these sites can be retargeted online through advertising. We are working with integrations with key CRMs, key website providers, etc. so that everything that happens on their website and the marketing through our system and the activity in their CRM are linked. So even activities such as when a client is about to turn 70. Our system will recognize that and automatically begin to send them a campaign if they have qualified money in an account that talks about how they can use their RMDs – and it will also notify the advisor. Or if the client has an anniversary and been with the advisor for a year automatically our system could trigger a gift to be sent to the client based on their preferences and based on the budget that is set for that client based how they are segmented in the CRM.

So, with an automated omni-channel marketing and business management platform, which is what we've set out to build, the goal is to take everything out of the hands of the advisor except what he is really uniquely qualified to do: meeting with clients, gathering assets, speaking to them face-to-face and over the phone; we want everything else to be automated. You can with technology today because there are thousands of tools – but we are not out to build another tool. What we've actually built is in conjunction … something that leverages tools. In fact, we have over thirty integrations in our system with outside tools yet you would never know that within our system. It feels like it's only one tool.

So, as we build out integrations and extend our tentacles to other services and products we aim to become "the hub" for advisors to conduct business and marketing so that practice management and everything that they have to do has been automated as much as possible. That is our vision. Visual Marketing Insights is a way to demonstrate the potential because it covers email and social and landing pages and personalization and other things all from one place. It's just a start but there are only five or six channels integrated into it. Potentially there will be hundreds in the future and that's our vision.

Some of our enterprise clients who are going to be deploying this will have more of this functionality and we are working with them on custom content. So, a company that has a specific product set or advisors with a specific profile can actually have their own library with their own custom campaigns. Their own custom workflows, business processes and forms all can be personalized by that advisor, stored securely and help those enterprises to build relationships with the advisors and help them serve their clients better. These are just a few of the things and I could go on all day but we have a lot of exciting things in store.


SWIFT: I love everything about what you've shared today Robert. It's no surprise that you won the Fintech startup competition last year hosted by the XY Planning Network.

Click to watch a cool video interview that Snappy Kraken’s founding team did with fpPad’s Bill Winterberg:

So, congratulations on all your success. It's really exciting to peel back the curtain and hear more about what you have in store because just this one product, the Visual Marketing Insights, is exciting enough. Everything else you've shared about one place and online and the customization and retargeting is really exciting. As a marketing professional myself I get super excited about this because it does address so many pain points for advisors and the enterprises that support them. So, with that, will you tell us how people can learn more about the latest and greatest at Snappy Kraken?


SOFIA: Sure, so we want collaborators right now. I'll be candid: we are not looking for 10,000 users to come onto our system tomorrow. We are happy to have a couple of thousand really engaged advisors who want to give their feedback and tell us what they need. Anybody that is interested in being that kind of user – a power user, a collaborator – and wants to work with us to help build something that is great for their business, those are the kind of people that should go to and sign up for updates or register for our Visual Marketing Insights products just to try it out.

On every page, there is a feedback link. Start giving us your feedback. You'll find we are very responsive and we want to get to know you and your business. Again, just go to We'd love to get acquainted.

SWIFT: It's been great talking with you today, Robert. Thanks so much for being here.

SOFIA: It was a pleasure Marie. Thank you for having me.

Friday, June 2, 2017

On Becoming an Elite Advisor: Insights from Tony D’Amico of Fidato Wealth

Working with top advisors like Tony D’Amico, founder and chief executive of Fidato Wealth (, is a real joy. I spoke with Tony to uncover some of his secrets to success. Tony provides some great insights for fellow financial advisors. There are lots of great ideas and much to emulate here.

Click here to listen to the audio recording.

A transcript of the interview is posted below.

MARIE SWIFT: Well hello and welcome back to Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry. This is your host, Marie Swift, and I'm joined today by Tony D'Amico from Fidato Wealth, a fee-only firm that provides comprehensive fiduciary advice. Tony has just crossed some very interesting milestones and is now in what I call the “elite advisor group.” I wanted to have Tony today on the show to talk a little bit about his career progression and how he's built his team and why he is now in this elite category. According one of the industry’s top coaching organizations, he's meeting the standards that the top 1% of all advisory firms who are in this category are meeting. So, it has to do with growth, but not just growth for new growth’s sake, but also expanding relationships with existing clients and retaining the clients you have. It also has to do with, of course, growing the team so that there is not just the same client experience, but maybe even a better client experience. So, Tony, welcome.

TONY D’AMICO: Hi, great to be with you today Marie. 

SWIFT: Thank you so much for spending a few minutes with me here this morning. Maybe you could just start by telling us about how you got started in the business, how long you've been an advisor and take us through where you are today.

D’AMICO: Sure, that's great. I first started in personal finance in 1999. I first started out in life insurance, long-term care insurance and disability insurance. I started in that avenue of personal finance and things kind of grew very gradually from there. In early 2010, I obtained my series 65 and basically, I started my own RA and began working with clients in a much more comprehensive manner. It's been a great journey. I started off in one aspect with personal finance and just grew very gradually over the years to now be providing comprehensive financial planning and wealth management.


SWIFT: So, you've recently crossed over a certain threshold of assets, you've added new team members, a new position and improving the client experience. Maybe you could talk a little bit about how you begin with that client focus and how's that helped with the business success.

Sure, when I started off, I started off as a solo practitioner, which I really enjoyed. Our focus has always been to help clients achieve their financial goals in a proactive manner and, with that focus, forged some really good relationships with clients and enjoyed providing that comprehensive planning experience. As things grew as we attracted more clients and expanded relationships with existing clients, there was the need to add staff members to make the client experience consistent and also to continue to improve each step of the way. That's kind of the nice benefit of growing as a firm and adding the team members, support financial advisors and administrative support to ensure that client experience continues to be successful and improve. Part of that improvement is having multiple team members that allow for multiple perspectives and also allow for more services to be provided. I think we are able to go a little bit wider in the service offering as far as what we are doing and the standards of care we are providing. It's been a very nice and important part of this process for us to continue, not only in growing new clients but more importantly expanding existing client relationships.


SWIFT: In this report I was referring to it says that the elite advisors, based on their research and opinion, have lost fewer than three clients over the past year. I believe your retention is quite remarkable and maybe you can address that in your next little bit of commentary as well as talking about your marketplace. You're not in Chicago or Orange County. You're not in a big metropolitan area. If you could, please address the retention factor and growth in a smaller marketplace.

D’AMICO: I'll start with the growth piece. I read in the report that the top 1% of advisors attract about twenty-five million in new assets each year. We are proud of the fact that in 2016, we greatly exceeded that. We are humbled by that fact. I work with one of the leading industry consultants for registered investment advisors and he has knowledge of our marketplace. He says it's very common that the top advisors are in about the fifteen-million to twenty-million-dollar mark in what they are about to achieve in new client assets each year. I'm just very happy to be well above those benchmarks. That's an affirmation to me that some of the things we've implemented along the way have worked. It's a sign that things are going well and the client experience is good, which has translated into growth.

Equally important, if not more important to me, is the retention rate for our customers. We do meet those benchmarks, as well as, far as retention and how many clients are lost in a year. We are happy that we are meeting those benchmarks, because we’re not only keeping a client relationship but most importantly expanding client-based relationships by providing more services and helping with more aspects of their financial plan. Maybe we help by going deeper into their estate plan, tax planning or strategic Roth conversions or perhaps other different types of financial planning. I wish there was a metric out there that measured client expansion and not just the retention because we’re certainly surpassing it. Nonetheless we are extremely humbled and happy that we are on the right track on the growth, but more importantly retention and expansion with existing clients.


SWIFT: One of the things I heard you say earlier when we were talking offline was attracting the right team members in a smaller marketplace Its not like the sky is the limit in your smaller markets. So maybe you can talk about how do you attract such good people to join your firm? Is it incentives? Is it vision? Is it leadership? Maybe all of that?

D’AMICO: The recipe for a good company is having the right talent. We are in northeast Ohio and our headquarters are in Strongsville, OH. There isn't as much talent here as there is in, let's say, Chicago or Dallas or California. The talent pool is smaller and I think it makes it challenging. It takes more time to find the right person. You really have to know who you are looking for, which is the key, and making sure there is very good cultural alignment. So my focus has always been people's character, culture set, maturity and direction. I think those are some of the key ingredients that are a good indication that you have the right person. If you have the right person, I believe you can train people on perhaps on certain aspects of financial planning or investment management. But I don't think you can train cultural fit.

So, I think that it's been great for us that we do have a strong corporate cultural identity. We have a clear mission of exceeding client expectations, being a fiduciary, and providing comprehensive financial planning. We help clients achieve their financial life goals in a proactive manner by not being afraid to do the work that's needed to really make that happen and form some good relationships along the way. As a result, we've looked for people that have that same sort of internal drive and that same motivation for wanting to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives. We look for people who want to be in the fiduciary model, whether or not they used that model previously or were with a firm that wasn't providing as much of a comprehensive planning experience. So those are some of the key things we look at, but that's just the starting point.

From there you have to nourish that ongoing relationship. It's just like a client relationship. What you put into it is what you're going to get out of it. Really knowing your team members and in my case, being the leader, knowing where your team members are professionally and personally is key. You should be aware of what their goals are, since everyone has different goals. You need to really understanding where they are in meeting their goals and what their strengths are and the areas in which they need to grow. Just having a positive and ongoing collaboration with them in a good relationship is really key, especially when you are working within a team where there are five or so team members that are working in cooperation for the benefit of a shared client.


SWIFT: So, you are a registered SEC investment advisory firm. I also read in a recent announcement from your firm that you've also achieved the CFP designation, the marks of distinction. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about your own commitment to ongoing education and professional development.

D’AMICO: Thank you for bringing that up. Achieving both of those milestones has been a great accomplishment. We believe that achieving those milestones again signifies that we are doing the right thing as a firm. As far as obtaining the CFP marks, I'm definitely very proud of that and humbled by the response I’ve received. Since I started in personal finance in 1999, I have always had that lifelong learner bug, so I love to learn something new every day. I love to read articles pretty much every morning. I think it's really important. Whatever somebody does in their career – whether they are a financial planner, or a doctor or a carpenter – it is important always to be learning and growing. Things change, new information comes out, new laws happen. So it's really important to continue with that ongoing learning and development and apply that knowledge, as well, for the benefit of your client.

I'm really happy to earn those marks. That achievement was important to me to continue to that progression of learning on an ongoing basis.

SWIFT: Tony, congratulations. Thanks so much for being here today. I'm impressed by your ongoing success. Could you tell people how to learn more if they are hearing this audio and would like to check out your firm?

D’AMICO: Sure, our website is a great place to find information about Fidato Wealth and the services we provide. You can also inquire about employment opportunities. Our website is

SWIFT: Well, Tony, thank you so much. Congratulations on your ongoing success. It's been a pleasure talking with you.

D’AMICO: Thank you, Marie. It's been great catching up with you today.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Financial Advisors / Plan Advisors: Are You Asking the Wrong Questions? Retirement Planning Expert Ed Dressel Says You Might Just Be

I met Ed Dressel, CEO of the firm that makes TRAK retirement planning software for financial advisors, through a mutual acquaintance. I have since taken a deep dive into the financial planning software and listened to Ed tell his story a couple times. What he says makes a ton of sense to me, so I invited him to record a Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry interview.

A transcript of the interview is posted below.

MARIE SWIFT: Well hello everybody and welcome back to Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry. This is your host, Marie Swift. I'm joined today by Ed Dressel, who is President and CEO of Retirement Readiness Solutions (formerly known as Trust Builders, Inc.).

Ed’s company produces transformational retirement planning software for advisors. The desktop version is called TRAK and the cloud-based version is called TRAK-Online. Details are available at

Ed, welcome to the show.

ED DRESSEL: Nice to be here, Marie.

SWIFT: So, one of the things we were dialoging before the show was about 401(k) advisors and the things they get wrong and participant engagement success with their clients. So, could you talk a little bit about this? I think you know a thing or two about how engagement and participation can make a big difference for 401(k) advisors.

DRESSEL: Yes, we've been focusing on this area for 30 years, partly in the performance area review world and for the last 10-15 years in the 401(k) world. In participant meetings there are a lot of things that could be done differently, if we say it nicely. If you look at one of the umbrella aspects: advisors are not providing effective motivation and we can put details under these umbrellas.

Number one is that they are answering the wrong questions. If an advisor walks into a room and asks the participants, "What are they key questions that you need answered today?"

Often, they are going to hear about fees, funds, allocations. Those don't engage anybody. Those don't get anybody leaning forward. Those don't get people excited to talk about retirement. Those are very academic. They are important, but they don't get people saying, “I'm looking forward to this meeting.” Rather they create meetings people don't want to be in. But if you say, “I'm going to answer a question for you today. In this meeting, I'm going to tell you if you can retire.” People are going to perk up and say, “That's really about me.” They answer the question: Can I retire today? If you can provide that in the room, rather than taking a passive approach and saying, “Today, in this session, we are going to talk about fees, funds, allocations. Afterwards, I want you to go to a web portal, learn how to log into it and figure it out. And figure out if you can retire.” Instead, if you can say, “I'm going to tell you if you can retire today” and bring that answer into the room, we are going to take a different approach rather than a passive approach to the retirement planning. We can take it into the room.


We also talk abstractly to a participant about what it means to increase their contributions. Let me give you an example. If I ask an advisor, I'd like you to increase your contributions from 3% to 5%. Advisors don't know what that means as far as take home pay, which is the number everyone cares about. How does it impact what I'm taking home? It's very abstract to say go from a contribution of 2% to 5% or 2% to 4%. But if we could show a participant the small steps they can take, they would be much more ready to say, "Oh, I can afford $50.00 a paycheck."

Another part is we expect a big step from them rather than showing them the small steps. We can show them and show them from a gap analysis, needs analysis that they need to go from 2% to 12%. That will cause most people to say, “I can't retire.” But if we can show them they can go from 2% to 4% or 6% this year, and next year we will revisit it. If it costs them $50.00 a paycheck to increase their contributions we can come back next year and say, “can you afford $50.00 more?” So, we can spend it over time, increase it and get to the goal, rather than saying we need to swallow the whole chunk today.

Delaying action is easy to show using our tools, and this is especially important for younger people - and younger people may be the hardest people in the room to get engaged. Younger people don't understand the cost of delayed action. They say, “Well, I can start next year.” For a younger person, the longer the delay, the bigger the cost. It doesn't affect the people closer to retirement, but the further they are from retirement, the steeper the cost is on delayed action. We motivate young people by saying, "you should start today because even waiting a year going from 2% to 4% can costs you thousands of dollars over time.” So, that is really helping the participant engage and look at retirement as a practical, meaningful aspect.

The other one is a little bit different: the metrics advisors talk about. They only focus on how many people in the room are participating. The more important metric is how many people are participating in a way that allows them to have a successful retirement? Being able to answer the second question, by saying everybody is participating, but only at 2% or 3% contribution, then that's not success. Success is when participants can anticipate having enough money for retirement, based on the metrics of saving correctly. That's a much more meaningful metric to provide to the plan sponsor than saying, “Well, I got everybody participating at 3%.”

It's really helping people motivate participants and providing good information to the plan sponsor that proper metrics are related to real world data.


SWIFT: You know, you bring up so many good points. One of the things I hear is your mission to help advisors help more people retire successfully. I imagine there are a host of other benefits for the plan sponsor, as well as the advisor. Could you touch on those other benefits?

DRESSEL: One of the key benefits is employee satisfaction, especially amongst the millennials. Studies have come out that showed millennials really want to be able to retire successfully. They are going to appreciate any plan sponsor, any employer that says, “I'm providing you more than just a retirement plan. I'm going to show you that you can retire successfully.” It's been a lot of fun. Even at the advisor level, I was talking to an advisor the other day and showed him the reports we provided. He said, “I want somebody to provide this for me.” Well, that's advisors saying that – and just think what it will do to the participants when they understand it. It becomes meaningful information. The plan sponsor isn't just providing a plan but providing information on what it means to retire successfully and people are engaged in the process, so they appreciate more of what the plan sponsor is doing and hopefully will help cut down on some of the turnover rate that employers are experiencing.


SWIFT: Indeed. So, you mentioned the reports that you provide. Can you talk a little bit about the tools and the reports and the TRAK? What's that stand for?

DRESSEL: Yes, TRAK, stands for The Retirement Analysis Kit. Our branding is AskTRAK, which means Ask The Retirement Analysis Kit for retirement planning questions. We can work in a group level with census data that has a few more data points than people are used to asking, but we can import that and provide a customized report for each individual in the room. Each member of the plan and the participants get to see where they are at. They can see a gap analysis statement on the first page, which allows them to see where they are in retirement planning. If they are fully funded or if they need to go from their 3% or 4% to 8% or 9% or 12%, there are some options in there to configure. A lot of configuration options work with a Roth, because there is a lot of detail there.

We also show them how that affects their take home pay. That's the number they care about. If going from 3% to 12% only costs me fifty cents a paycheck, no big deal. But if it's going to cost $400, then it becomes a talking point. Down below there are other actions on whether they want to wait a year before they start saving more, or if they want to retire a year later.

The third item is if you have outside assets that are not included in this plan, an advisor can talk to them at the group level. If you have outside assets, you may want to consider rolling them into the plan. The plan may have lower fees. The plan is easier to manage and to talk to the advisor one-on-one. That helps the participant to start thinking about, “what about my outside assets?” Now a lot of them won't have it, but the few that do can result in a significant increase in the plan assets. There is a one-on-one tool that an advisor can use with participants that might say, “You know, the one-page isn't as complicated as I want,” or “I do have outside assets that I’d like to add to see what it does for my retirement goals.” You can customize it.

Once you have the basic data in there, you can sit down with the participant and, in 5-10 minutes, provide a decent retirement needs analysis, add those outside assets and show them where they are at and what they need to be doing. This provides a very easy way of engaging each individual in the plan. The other part is that somebody can't go from 3% to 13% contributions. We can show them another report that you can attach that shows small steps going from 3% to 5% to 7% to 9% and what those increased deferrals do to their take home pay, and what the future holds for that at different rates or returns. You've got a lot of information in these reports. Some advisors say, “That's way too much information.” But I've watched participants in meetings really enjoy seeing their information presented in a report in a way that is tangible to them. That leads them back to talking in a very concrete way. “What are the fees? What are the funds? What are the allocations?” Those become a lot more meaningful when somebody is engaged in the plan and increasing their savings and starting to really think about, “I'm really going to be able to retire.”


SWIFT: Yes, that is really exciting. Does TRAK, The Retirement Analysis Kit, also work in reverse? Let's say I have clients and am an advisor and clients come into my office and they are not really there for the plan so much as their outside assets?

ED: Yes, we have a lot of advisors (that's the world we come out of, it's the 403b world). I call it the retail-advising world. A lot of advisors use their software in that context. People may say, “Well, I use e-Money.” If you are doing a full financial plan, and you want the complications of e-Money, we are not trying to compete with them. We work in a world with Middle America where we can answer questions very quickly. You can do a full retirement plan with somebody in 10-15 minutes, without having any data in the software, and show them where they are at, where they need to be and talk to them about their other assets. It's a very engaging tool, as it can be used interactively with a person and it's not intimidating like, “Oh, I missed that data point.” It's very self-explanatory. Most of our user base uses the software interactively with their clients in that context.


SWIFT: You know we were just down at the T3 advisor conference and you had an advisor who was co-presenting with you talking about how he uses The Retirement Analysis Kit to build relationships and serve more people. What is his name? Wade?

DRESSEL: Wade Murphy.

SWIFT: Could you talk a little bit about Wade?

DRESSEL: Wade is an advisor in Southern California, mostly on the 403(b) side, but works some 401(k) plans as well. He's been using our product forever and is a big advocate of AskTRAK because he gets people leaning forward at his desk. He gets 401(k) participants looking at the reports. He can be efficient. He doesn't have to tell the lower income America, “I can't afford to work with you,” because he can provide the reports very effectively in an engaging way, where the people appreciate the amount of information they are getting and are able to take action. The key aspect in retirement planning in individuals is to provide them enough information, enough analysis, where they take action. If we provide too much and go away saying, "let me think about it," that's going to cause them not to take action.

Wade is a fun presenter, a well-informed advisor and it's been a pleasure working with him. He's been an advocate for us for twenty-five years now, almost thirty years of using our software and helping people retire successfully.


SWIFT: Wow, that's really something. Recently you had some news releases that came out. I think one of them was sequence of return planning. Could you talk a little bit about that and anything else you have on your product roadmap?

DRESSEL: Yes, we introduced sequence of return planning recently. We want to do a quick retirement plan with somebody. So, with just 5 or 10 minutes with a 401(k) plan, we can do a quick retirement plan. If an advisor wants to do a little bit more sophisticated tool, we can grab the sequence of return tool and select the historical assets that we want and look at what would happen if they selected a historical market index and how would that have done in retirement. How would they have succeeded and/or failed? It's kind of like a really quick Monte Carlo without having to spend all the time explaining Monte Carlo. It literally can be done in 2 minutes, rather than say, “I'm going to start with college 400 series in retirement planning.” We started with college level 101 and then moved it up to 201 really quickly. If you are selling annuities or indexed annuities and you a want to illustrate annuity limits on the product, whether it be point-to-point or caps or spreads you can add that to the historical index, and say, “Here's how the annuity would have helped or hurt you in retirement.” You can provide a quick analysis for them. For some people, you cannot justify the time and/or it just doesn't make sense - maybe it's a younger person. You don't want to get into sequence of returns with them yet. That's beyond the scope of the conversation. You just never go to that tab, you just focus on the tabs that you want.

So, we are constantly adding new features to the software. The next major set feature will be an asset allocation or a bucket strategy where you can allocate different buckets, which is a popular model, also called a “ladder strategy.” Let's start with a five-year bucket, then we will do five to ten, ten to twenty etc. We are working on a very elegant solution. Our goal in our design in our software is not to illustrate the nuance of the products or the world, we are trying to illustrate it so a person understands what you are doing. They understand what an advisor is trying to say in a way that makes sense to them. It will make sense to the advisor because they are around it all day long. But a client doesn't come in thinking, “I really want to know about retirement,” and studying about it hard. They often come in flat-footed and our tools and methodologies are a little bit different than others. Where we are helping people connect to what they need to do and why they should take action today.

SWIFT: Wow, it sounds great. So, tell us how we can learn more.

DRESSEL: We have a web portal, website at: You can download our windows version and there is also a web portal version at

You can try a two-week demo there and take a look at the tools. Now, if you are getting into the 401(k) tools, I'll tell you right off the bat that they are not self-explanatory. They are a little bit complicated in importing census data. Give us a call. We have a sales staff and a support staff that can answer your questions. We are not just here to sell you products. We have people in-house that will help work through your issues and get you going with it. It will really help you understand, and moving forward, get engaged. We not only want to sell you our product but we want good word of mouth from your experience.

SWIFT: Ed Dressel, thank you for your time today. It's been a pleasure

DRESSEL: Thank you, Marie.



TRAK-Online, is a transformational retirement planning solution for advisors. By changing the focus of retirement planning conversations from sales to education, TRAK-Online helps educate clients and engages them in the retirement planning process, resulting in them understanding your value as a financial advisor. With TRAK-Online, you can be there when your clients need you. With only an Internet connection and a standard browser, you can support more collaborative retirement planning meetings.

Take the guesswork out of financial planning. Many individuals who are nearing retirement are filled with fear, doubt, and confusion. With TRAK, you can show your clients’ options in form of a report, chart, or graph. Powerful visuals engage clients and easily illustrate how factors such as retirement age, life expectancy and inflation affect the likelihood of success or failure.

These visuals will give your clients peace of mind about their retirement plans and financial future. Advisors can use the Retirement Analysis feature in the Sequence of Returns calculator to analyze a client's retirement plan against historical rates of return.

Bottom line: TRAK might just be the only financial planning software you really need.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Client Attraction, Fiduciary Standards and Business Outsourcing Ideas: New Insights from Industry Insightfuls

These three subject matter experts spent some time conversing with me about the challenges and opportunities they see in the financial services profession. Don't miss these audio interviews (linked below) or scroll down to read the transcripts.

In this trilogy:

Wealth advisor Bill Keen ( talks about marketing in the digital world and why the right clientele are perpetually drawn to his RIA.
Download link | Stream online

Fintech executive Daniel Satchkov ( shares his thinking on the future of the DOL fiduciary rule and ways to earn new business even if the new administration delays or derails it.
Download link | Stream online

Practice management expert Nicole Newlin ( talks about overcoming the three big challenges advisors face and how partnering with the right business partners can help.
Download link | Stream online

Take a few minutes and listen now!

As seen in NAPFA Advisor magazine
February 2017 print edition

Friday, March 10, 2017

Wealth Manager Bill Keen Shares Business Strategy and Client Service Insights with Best Practice Advisors

Sometimes you meet a person and you just know there’s something special about the way they do business and live life. Bill Keen, founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors in Overland Park, Kansas, is one of those people. Over the years that I have known and worked with Bill, I’ve had a good opportunity to see what makes him tick – but this interview really peels back the curtain to reveal his formula for life, living and business success. 

A transcript of the interview is posted below.

MARIE SWIFT: Hello and welcome back to Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry. This is your host, Marie Swift. I'm joined today by Bill Keen. Bill is the founder and CEO of an awesome wealth management practice, Keen Wealth Advisors, which happens to be based here in Kansas City. I've known Bill for a number of years and I'm just so delighted that you decided to join the show to talk about your clients, your business, and why you are growing and doing so well and attracting attention in the community.
BILL KEEN: Well it's a pleasure to be with you Marie. I've appreciated your help over the years and it is an honor to be on your program.

SWIFT: I know a couple of things that I'll just throw out to get the conversation going. So, recently you had a very cool event. Why don't you tell us a little bit about that and why you think that was so exciting and helpful to your business and community?


KEEN: We hosted a regional cyclo-cross race Marie. It was a race on bicycles but not on the road – on grass, a hilly terrain. You might know in our prior talks that I sponsor a cycling team. Approximately five years ago, I had a client come to me and asked if I would be involved as the title sponsor of his competitive cycling team. He just retired after a long career in engineering and he got back into something he really loved doing when he was younger. Within about six months to a year, he lost 90 pounds, got his health back and was very engaged in the cycling community. When he asked me to get involved, I had never cycled before. I never had a "passion" in that area but after looking at the community and the outstanding opportunity, I agreed to sponsor the cycling team.

Fast forward now five years and I’ve been asked by the Kansas Cycling Association to sponsor a Total Team Trophy that will go to the best team in Kansas each year. So, that engenders participation from all these teams coming up, as well as encourages youth to participate. So, part of my sponsorship for the Kansas Cycling Association is to sponsor every junior entry for every child in Kansas that enters a race. That sponsorship led to this race this past weekend. We had people from all over the Midwest and nearly 160 participants. I was there handing out trophies and putting the awards around people's neck.

I've learned a lot about the cycling community in the last five years. It's just a really wonderful community of folks. There is a lot of fellowship and camaraderie involved with cycling. I just appreciate that, with the divided world we live in today, it’s great to be involved in a community like that. It's easy for me to get behind it and allocate resources towards type of event. Some might say, “How does it work with clients?” or “did you do it to promote Keen Wealth Advisors?” Not really. I did it to support my client. I did it to support him with no expectation of his immediately coming back to our firm. For me it's about getting behind things that I can see or that make a difference in the community. If you do it with that intention upfront and expect nothing in return, things come back naturally. As a result of being involved in these things, we've had folks come our way, but it’s more about attraction than promotion, if you will. It was a great day and I sure appreciate your helping make the public aware of that event.


SWIFT: Bill, I love what you just said about it's about attraction, not promotion. You and I are cut from the same cloth as far as that goes – it's about finding the people and having them drawn naturally to you and your solutions where you are not pushing your agenda. They come to you because they see the character, the quality of the human being you are first and foremost. So maybe you could talk about your educational initiatives. I was able to attend one recently and was impressed with the caliber of the event, the guest speaker you had and also the presence your team brought.

KEEN: It's important for me to step back and look at the key components that make a client successful. What makes them successful? What are the key components? For me it's about clients being educated and being engaged in the process. We also speak to a whole specific type of client, a client that understands relationships, a client that understands the need for consulting in areas outside of their own specific expertise. I always say our client base is made up of people that have already naturally lived within their means over time. They've saved. They've invested. They’ve had that intuitive nature about them. It's important for me to bring the very best information to those folks.

In the 24/7 news that we live in today, there are so many messages bombarding us that it's nearly impossible to sift through what we should be paying attention to and what we shouldn't. For me, it's about a commitment and an investment back into our clients to bring them the information that they should be focusing on.

We brought Greg Valliere in this summer. You were in attendance and I was so grateful you were able to be there along with several hundred clients. He spoke very candidly about what was happening in Washington and what we were going through in this election process. As a Registered Investment Advisor, I want to avoid any conflicts. I don't take money from any outside vendors. So, anything we do education-wise, I’m making a decision to invest the money, the firm’s capital, back into the client. That's exactly how I look at it. If you are committed to that, that creates a real barrier to entry for competitors who aren't willing to make those investments back into their clients.

That event was just one of many that we do. It was a commitment but it came off very well. You know, Marie, the video is on my blog so that folks can still go back and watch it. It's very professionally done and came out very well.


SWIFT: It sure did. To your point about investing back into the client relationship, I'm going to tie over to your blog and your podcast series because not only does this help perspective clients get a sense of who you are and the expertise you and your team bring to your clients, but I would say it also helps educate and enrich your clients’ lives as well. So, could you talk a little about the motivation and your commitment to this blog and podcast series Keen on Retirement?

KEEN: It speaks to understanding what you believe as an advisor. What are you about? What are your core values and what do you believe about how people are successful over time? Then it’s about putting your resources behind that belief and not being afraid to have a voice. Some people will like your voice and be attracted to your voice and your beliefs. Other people will not be, and you have to be okay with that. The things you say are not going to appeal to everybody. But the energy that comes from identifying your belief system as an advisor is based on experience and what has worked, and then not being afraid to voice that in the forums available today is very powerful. It makes getting up and coming to work and talking about what you believe very effective and energizing. Again, in this median we live in today with technology, we are able to promote our beliefs via our blogs and our podcasts.

Talking about commitments, I committed over a year ago to hosting a podcast. It comes out every two weeks so there is a fresh episode every two weeks. It's out on iTunes and can also been accessed through our website

Having a podcast always pending keeps you engaged. I can speak from my personal experience, because I don't want to put something out online that hasn't been well thought through and that isn't relevant. If I'm asking a client or prospect to listen to this, I want them to say, "that was a good use of my time." Maybe they were on the treadmill or driving in traffic and it was something to listen to and fill the time, but I want it to be meaningful, relevant and impactful. As an advisor, doing the podcast keeps me on my game and up in stride about what I believe about what works for people.

Again, in this world of technology that we live in, we all have choices. I realize my clients have many choices. They could choose to go somewhere else. The prospects we talk to, the friends of the firm we talk to, they all have choices. In a world where 25 years ago, the brokerage firms owned all the information, you couldn't even get information without going through your broker. Today those walls have come completely down. We are in a position where we have to provide relevant value out there into the marketplace for free just to compete. Again, education and engagement help people understand who and what we are about and help them to that effect.

SWIFT: One of the things you do really well on your podcast series is you keep the conversation going through a couple of neat tactics. So, could you talk about your strategy and some of the famous guests that you've had on your show? How do you keep the show interesting for you as well as for the listeners?


KEEN: One thing I realized right off the bat was that I'm going to be authentic. I'm not going to try and be anything I'm not or something more than I am or anything of that nature. I'm not going to worry about what people think about what I'm saying. I respect everybody, but realize that I need to be authentic first. That requires some soul searching when you are going to put things online that are going to exist and stay out there forever. My co-host, Steve Sanduski (, who has been around the industry for years and is a well-respected gentleman, does a great job co-hosting the show for me.

It's just Steve and me. We will talk about a topic that is of relevance and of importance. A lot of times it's things I've just gone through in the practice. I'm still a practicing financial advisor, although I have 5 advisors at the firm in total at this time. I still stay in the business and in the client meetings with a certain group of clients that I handle. So, it keeps me really focused on the issues that are happening out there.

In the podcast, we talk about things that I'm seeing in the practice weekly and then we'll rotate other experts in. I brought in Dr. Daniel Crosby, a behavioral psychologist, as a guest recently. I brought Mitch Anthony on the program. He's talked for years about retirement planning and thinking. That was a great show. We actually had to break that up into two episodes because it went so long. I have also brought on the managing director at my firm, Matt Wilson, who is a CFP®. Joel Hamilton, who’s a wealth advisor and CFA at my firm, has come on in the past. Also, I even had one of the younger gentlemen who joined the firm on the show one day. It allows clients to hear the depth of the firm, the thinking of the firm, but also provides information that is relevant.

One last thing, Marie – if you haven't listened to this you should. Two episodes ago I had my very close personal friend and mentor on the podcast who is also an expert in the cruise industry. He specializes in river cruises. My wife and I just returned from a European cruise, which sparked a thought. Yes, we like to talk about taxes and social security, estate planning and what's going to happen with our new administration. But, why not have one about taking a cruise to Europe? So, that was a good one where people related. I had an elder law attorney on recently talking about making sure our grandparents are taken care of and are safe as they age You can probably tell I have a good time with it. It is a little stressful because I do have to be prepared and think through things, but I have a great time with it.

Energy comes from being in this business. So many things are coming at us as business owners and financial advisors that we try and navigate for our clients and be out in front of. It's important to get in touch with what we believe works for people. By having to blog and podcast, in addition to the educational events that we do each year, it keeps you up in stride. You just don't want to wing that type of stuff.


SWIFT: You mentioned having a younger staff member on your podcast. One of the things I've learned, having been in conversation with you for a couple of years now, is that you do have a really good career path. Recently you were profiled in InvestmentNews, one of the top industry publications, about what you do and don't do to attract the right talent. So, could you talk a little bit about how you attract all these great people to your firm and how you've grown over the past couple of years?

KEEN: I started in the industry over 25 years ago when you had to walk into a brokerage firm and you were required to hire a certain number of people every year. The brokerage firm manager literally handed you a phone book and said, “Start making calls.” The pep talk from the manager was basically telegraphing: “You're not going to make it, but we are required to hire x number of trainees every year.” That was an interesting time to start in the business back in the early 90s.

Today for an advisor to come into their own in this business, they face so much competition out there. I mean right here in Overland Park or Kansas City we have some pretty heavy-hitting wealth management firms what with Mariner, Creative Planning, us and others. The Mutual Fund Store was founded here within a 5-mile radius. So, a young person trying to come into the business and compete would have a difficult time.

To create a firm that is able to attract good quality young people, I start that with having an intern. Right now I have five interns at the firm. It allows the interns to get a sense for what the business is like. Some of the interns end up going on working behind the scenes in accounting or finance. I have had several go on to work on Wall Street and investment banking. I've had others go off and work in their own practices or become financial advisors in other firms, which is wonderful.

Matt Wilson, who I mentioned earlier, has 15 years with the firm as managing director and wealth advisor is pretty much my right-hand person. Matt started as an intern 15 years ago and he's been with me the entire time.

For me it's about exposing the young people to all aspects of the business, evaluating what part of the business speaks to them and really giving them the experience. Letting them see what we have to do to analyze portfolios, asset allocation, and what it means in the real world, not just in finance class. What does it mean in the real world to have real clients going through these emotional things we go through, giving them a chance to see that. Letting them sit in on seminars we deliver, learn how the business functions and seeing if there is potentially a position that could make sense to them in the long term at the firm. Eric Savio has been with me two years. He was an intern for a year. Now he's been fulltime with me for a year and taking his investment exams. He's an Investment Advisor Rep and he's making his way.

For me it's about providing an environment for young people to get an understanding of the industry as a whole, and see if there is a fit for them to come work in the practice. I tell the younger people here that it's a privilege that you have to earn to sit across the table from a client. A client comes in and they have their life savings. That's the client we are talking to: people that are going to be living on their assets for the rest of their lives. This isn't some speculation here.

This is something that is very serious. It's a privilege to be able to sit across from a client and help them think through the issues and problems they are going to be dealing with. To sit across the table from someone that’s just lost their spouse and is asking our advise because of the relationship is an honor. I drive home to my advisors that it is a true honor to be in that position and you have to earn that right. Earning that right doesn't mean you have to make a thousand cold calls a day. Earning that right means you have to be focused; you have to be attentive; you have to be willing to be a continuous learner; you have to be willing to get advanced degrees and you have to be committed. You can tell I'm passionate about that.

I believe if you look at the demographics of the advisors out there that, at age 48, I'm kind of in the middle, but there are a lot of advisors that are somewhat older than me. We have a missing piece here. We need to seed good young men and women who need to be able to provide this service that folks so desperately need.


SWIFT: Here’s another question that I just can't resist asking you about. It's about this checklist driven process and I know we are getting a little long on this podcast so I want to give you that last opportunity to tell us about the checklist driven process and then just give me a final word of wisdom to the advisors who are listening that would like to take a page out of your playbook and emulate some of your success.

KEEN: I’m a pilot, Marie, and I'm not afraid to talk about that on my podcast and blogs. So much of what we do in the financial services business is helping people contemplate holistic wealth management and planning to make sure money lasts. We also deal with the dynamics of the family and all the things that go into the taxes, estate planning and insurance. The decisions that are made are life and death. It's very similar to being up in the air for me. It's a life and death matter. It's serious business. I use a checklist in my airplane before lift off every single time because there are so many things that you could miss. You can't keep track of it all, even though you've done it many times. As a result of my experience as a pilot, I implemented a checklist in our practice and use it very single time.

We talk about the fiduciary standard and the things we want to accomplish for clients. There is no way you can sit down and have a cursory conversation with somebody even if you did it every year or six months or so. Could you remember all the issues that need attention? We've created a very detailed checklist and we ensure we run through that checklist every single year for every client. Many of the items on the checklist don't apply every time, but you will see things that do apply to certain folks. For instance, do we want to convert to a Roth one year because of a huge deduction? We had a client move into a retirement community and a lot of the buy-in that year was considered a medical expense. So, they had this one-off deduction year where they could convert a substantial amount, six figures, from their IRA to a Roth and have it be a virtually tax free event. If you are not walking through a checklist like that, you are missing things and most clients don't even know they are missing opportunities.

We have an 80-point checklist for the client review meeting. As tax laws change, you change your checklist. I don't want to be using a checklist from a 1940s airplane in the airplane I fly today. I want the updated checklist, of course. It's about execution. I make the assumption when I talk to advisor groups that we are all experts at what we do and we do what we say we do. We execute for people very efficiently, so we are fundamentally sound. Our planning and investing is excellent or outstanding. That checklist is such a key to it. I hope that makes some sense to you with respect to making sure that nothing gets missed.


SWIFT: I'm looking at your website,, where your tagline is, "Perceptive, Personalized, Precise." From everything I know about you and your firm, Bill, I’d say those three words are totally on the mark. Any final words of wisdom for our listeners today?

KEEN: The two things I would have to close with would simply be, first, know what you believe. Really get serious and conscious and take time away from the office to figure out what you really believe about this business and then go do what you believe. I'd share with our listeners that, Marie, you helped me come up with our tagline, “Perceptive, personalized, precise.” You spent an entire day with me, vetting what we are and were about. Those 3 P's mean the world to us and I can articulate what they mean to clients when they ask. It wasn't just some marketing thing to come up with something catchy. It means everything to us. I on-boarded a couple of new employees here this week, new team members, and one of the first things I cover is what the 3 P's mean to us as a firm.

Second, I would just encourage our listeners to listen to the podcasts that are out there. Be continuous learners and step out of the business to be open and willing to try new thinking, new perspectives. Go to the Barron's conference, go to your custodian conferences, listen and have an open mind. Look for things that could work for you. I always think I never have all the answers. I'm always looking for answers. I want to expand my belief system, hang out with people that bring me up and be willing to grow in this endeavor.

SWIFT: It's been delightful talking with you Bill, as always. Thank you for all your kind words on the work that we've done together, but I want to shine the spotlight back on you. You are a shining star and it's an honor to work with you. In closing, I will steer our listeners to the Keen Wealth Advisors website where you can find a link to the blog, podcast and just to get a better sense of what Bill and his team are all about. Thank you again, Bill, for being here today and I look forward to seeing you again soon.

KEEN: Thank you so much, Marie.