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A Unique Marketing Opportunity

Here's a completely unique way to attract new clients.

David J. Drucker, 12/30/2008

Boulevard R (www.boulevardr.com) didn't start out as a marketing platform for financial advisors; it started as a consumer-oriented financial planning platform.

Created by Matt Iverson and his father, Jon Iverson, Boulevard R is a Web site that creates a "Starter Roadmap," or blueprint for the middle-income client, that gives him the benefits of an independent financial plan for free. "This is a very high-level planning document that serves as a basis for a discussion around a planning engagement," Matt Iverson said. Not a planner himself, but having a strong background in consumer rights work, Iverson wanted to create something that would benefit millions of Americans. "With the Roadmap, we can show people how to move forward -- where to start and what to do next," he said.

Available since October 2007, Iverson said that Boulevard R is built on best practices in the planning industry as well as extensive input from high-profile advisors like Michael Kitces (director of financial planning for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Inc. in Columbia, Md.) and Aaron Coates (a founding member of both his advisory firm--Relevant Financial Planning LLC in Elkhart, Ind.--and the FPA's NexGen Group).

Here's how Boulevard R works: In the first step, the consumer visits the Web site and, free of charge, begins by selecting goals, which are represented as different icons to be clicked on (such as save for college, buy a home, pay for a wedding, max out retirement account, etc.). As each goal icon is clicked, it jumps down the page to a timeline where it can be dragged to the point on the timeline when the client wants to accomplish the goal. Clicking "next" takes users to a series of behind-each-goal tables where further information is input, often by using graphical "sliders" to indicate dollar amounts. In other words, the site is highly visual and user-friendly, even for the least tech-savvy of consumers.

Once the consumer has worked through goal selection and data input, he or she proceeds to create a "Starter Roadmap" that gives a bigger picture of his finances than anything he's probably ever assembled on his own. This part of the process queries the user with more detailed questions, some of which overlap the earlier goal-setting process. "It's intentionally redundant," Iverson said, "though it's easy for the user because redundant questions are automatically prepopulated from the user's earlier answers. And the redundancy is helpful in verifying the accuracy of data previously entered. Also, the consumer may want to adjust some of his earlier answers as he reaches this point in the process." The completed road map includes tips for reaching financial goals and for gaining financial protection, as well as a net-worth assessment and basic investment advice.

Consumers like Boulevard R, according to feedback Iverson's received.

"They particularly like the ease of use," he said, "because the site doesn't feel like a big calculator and it's not at all cumbersome like some other sites."

Under Boulevard R's current business model, when consumers have completed the goal setting and data input process, they are faced with a choice: Starter Roadmap or Professional Roadmap. Those who pick Professional Roadmap  work directly with Boulevard R for $79 to get a more detailed picture than the Starter Roadmap provides. The Starter Roadmap includes a free analysis of one goal, an expanded calculation of the "your numbers" section of the interim results achieved after completing the goals exercise, and limited access to the online "Dashboard" with step-by-step expert advice. The Dashboard includes things like steps needed to reach the consumer's goals, articles and other, more passive, forms of assistance. The Professional Roadmap includes an analysis of the rest of the goals, unlimited access to the online Dashboard, and other benefits.

Everything I've described thus far is background: Boulevard R is retooling its business model to address consumers by way of independent advisors. By focusing on advisors, what Boulevard R will be offering is a deluxe marketing platform in the form of an advisor-branded starter questionnaire, an advisor-branded dashboard, and a management interface that allows the advisor to qualify prospects by reviewing their data. This won't be a referral site but, rather, a matter of helping advisors better market their services by incorporating a number of different strategies, like custom presentations, etc., in order to make all of their marketing efforts more effective. Boulevard R will be designed to drive prospects through the advisor-branded marketing platform so the advisor can either capture them immediately, or capture them later when the prospect becomes more qualified.

Kitces said of the soon-to-be Boulevard R service: "The true value is the marketing ... over time ... a large reservoir of prospects [who] regularly use and update the Dashboard, and therefore update and reveal to [the advisor] business and planning opportunities that [he] otherwise wouldn't have discovered... so, from a marketing and practice value perspective, it's the site's ability to help [the advisor] find new prospects, and to find out when old prospects who weren't qualified suddenly become qualified."

A further benefit of the new business model, Iverson said, will be that advisors who set up a branded Web site can work with smaller prospects than they might have worked with in the past because Boulevard R's process is so efficient, it makes it possible for the advisor to serve less-wealthy clients profitably. Qualifying of the prospect happens before the first meeting with the advisor so, if the advisor chooses to not bring on the prospect as a client, he can still offer the prospect the Dashboard and then drip market to him until the client becomes qualified.

There is a cost to the advisor for all of this, of course. In return for the branded Web site and the exposure to all of Boulevard R's users, you pay a fee (still being worked out by Iverson)--probably in the range of several hundred dollars a month. Still, if you land one good client a month, the fee could be insignificant.

Part of the Iverson vision was to leverage the Roadmap process with technology so, says Iverson, it will take the advisor less than an hour to review a client's information, once the client has entered it online, to pull out of them any info they might have left out, and to deliver the plan. "The planner logs onto our Web site, downloads the client's Starter Roadmap as a PDF, and in 10 minutes gets a good idea of who the client is," Iverson said. In short, he said, Boulevard R aspires to help planners understand clients' issues and then streamline the process of interacting with and educating them.

If Boulevard R sounds like a service you'd like to pursue, visit http://www.boulevardr.com/press.jsf .

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