We live in an era of digital Darwinism, a time when technology innovation is accelerating market evolution faster than most financial institutions can keep up. But technology is only part of the disruption story. People are changing too as a result of the innovative devices and services they use every day. Financial institutions that do not understand the balance between innovation and the evolving behaviors and demands of consumers are setting themselves up for irrelevance.
At the same time, this disruption creates real opportunities for those institutions that innovate with their products, services, and business and operational models. In fact, brands themselves must transform. To be successful, financial brands must exemplify innovation and personalization to attract consumers now and into the future. Even fintech companies face this challenge because change now is a constant.
One example of a brand evolution is Personal Capital, a digital wealth management company that I’ve recently started to advise. At only 10 years “new,” the company announced a brand transformation to get closer to modern customers and to better set itself apart from robo advisors and brokerage competitors.
A new brand design reflects Personal Capital’s focus on simple and transparent advice, intentionally excluding jargon in favor of direct, clear language. A new logo uses modern, electric blue branding, emphasizing “personal.”
Personal Capital’s brand promise is also the company’s true North Star: “financial clarity and confidence for families through personalized advice from advisors and personalized insights from our technology.” The company has more than 2 million registered users and manages more than $11 billion in assets.
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The Strategy Behind Personal Capital’s New Branding
To better understand the company’s brand transformation, I sat down with Jay Shah, the chief executive of Personal Capital.
Personal Capital is undergoing an important metamorphosis after a decade of impressive growth. What’s the strategy behind the new Personal Capital?
Jay Shah: Our focus at Personal Capital has always been on empowering and championing the rights of the everyday investor. Our new brand, which is focused on “unlocking personalization” and “doing the right thing, always,” reflects our core beliefs that got us to where we are today. Because of our hybrid approach to wealth management where we combine powerful technology with human advice, we’re uniquely positioned to put the “personal” back in “personal finance” in a way that many other financial services companies can’t.
Personal Capital advisors are also fiduciaries, meaning they are legally obligated to act in our clients’ best interests. It’s core to our brand that the client always comes first. We’ve always lived these values, so I think this is less of a “new” Personal Capital and more of uncovering and bringing the “true” Personal Capital to more people.
Personal finances, planning and wealth strategies are often difficult for consumers to think and talk about. How does Personal Capital approach the conversation differently?
Jay Shah: There’s no doubt about it, talking about money can be intimidating, It’s one of the very few things that’s still taboo to discuss. A big reason that people struggle to think about or talk about their finances is because they can be so overwhelming — many people have multiple bank accounts, investment accounts, old 401ks. It’s easy for people to ignore. We believe that one of the best ways to make financial conversations easier is by simply providing visibility into, and de-mystifying, people’s money.
Making it easy for consumers to see all their accounts in one place, which is what our tools do, helps them plan for and visualize their future. That’s a very powerful and financially empowering experience.
Another way to break down people’s hang-ups about money is to involve a person they can trust to give them honest advice. We hire registered advisors to work collaboratively with consumers to help them set financial goals and form strategies to help meet them, tailored to their personal situation.
Innovation and the Evolution of Financial Services
Why is it that finance, banking and wealth management generally have been so slow to move in terms of innovation?
Jay Shah: I think some of the reasons the industry has been so slow to innovate is because legacy companies often face architectural challenges of “spackled-over” technology, costly brick-and-mortar infrastructure, and outdated compensation models. One of the reasons Personal Capital was founded was because we saw an opportunity to start with a clean slate to bring a technology-centric, innovative approach to an industry steeped in obsolete and opaque practices. We believe consumers deserve more both from technology that can improve the way they approach their money, and from the professionals that help them manage it.
As fintechs take center stage, disrupting traditional players, what does the future of the industry look like and where does Personal Capital fit into the market’s evolution?
Jay Shah: We believe the hybrid model of pairing technology with human expertise is the future of the industry. In terms of where we fit into the market, innovation and customer-centricity is at the core of everything we do and we will grow our business with our client’s best interests in mind. Our intention is also to add more financial services and offerings so that we can be a true “trusted money advisor” to our clients.
How have smartphones, social media and on-demand services changed the consumer mindset, and do you see the impact across all demographics?
“Financial empowerment through technology is no longer just for early adopters or people with large accounts.”— Jay Shah, Personal Capital
Jay Shah: As social media and digitally connected living transform consumer behavior, many people expect more immediate access to and information about their money. Rather than waiting for a paper statement to show up in their mailbox, consumers now can connect to their personal financial data on-demand, giving the everyday investor much greater clarity and flexibility.
The biggest users of our financial tools tend to be in their 30s and 40s, but we’re seeing engagement with all segments. Financial empowerment through technology is no longer just for early adopters or people with large accounts, it’s a way for everyone to lead a life of financial connectedness.
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How is this new generation of connected customers thinking about finances and how is that shaping how you serve them?
Jay Shah: Being digitally connected has shaped many of the behaviors and expectations in the industry. For example, connected consumers may be channel agnostic but will expect immediacy and on-demand communication from service providers.
The new generation of consumers is growing up with digital wallets and Venmo and is less likely to be brand loyal to a traditional financial institution. Needing or having a local branch office to visit is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.
What we hope is that connected consumers can become more financially aware and be proactive and actively engaged in their financial and retirement planning.
What are some of the challenges you face as you continue to grow?
Jay Shah: We look at the challenges as opportunities. So one opportunity is to scale the company at an even faster rate, and to introduce more people to our wealth management services.
Like with other companies, we need to recruit and add great talent. Thankfully, we’ve found many financial advisors are drawn to our company based on our approach of putting the customer first and our tech-forward model. But, with growth there will also be a need to add engineers, product, and marketing talent, and more.
Beyond that, we are laser-focused on reshaping the world of financial advice from one that is reactive and time consuming to one that is connected, proactive, and efficient in all the right ways. We’re on a mission to rebuild the industry so that being tech-forward, data-aware, and trustworthy are table stakes in the new world of financial advice.
About the author:
Brian Solis is an analyst, advisor and keynote speaker.