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Collaborating Through a Holistic Lens to Communicate the Conscience of the Financial Services Industry

by Darby Hobbs

The financial services industry, from my vantage point, has not done a very good job at engaging the consumer in realizing that they control and should control the destiny of their investments. There generally is no brand appeal or understanding of the preferences of the consumer as an investor.

Today's consumer looks towards an intermediary (an advisor) to assist with assessing what is important to invest in and where are the best returns. Some blindly allow these relationships to exist by saying 'I trust you, pick where I should invest' and 'I'm happy with that.'

We've heard it a million times, it's all about performance. Investments are bought, not sold, meaning it's based on returns. But returns to fund what?

Money is made for us all to live, to protect our families, to enjoy and be happy in life; it is how we define our well being, but as consumers we don't define it in those terms. We go about our daily decisions taking our purchasing power into Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts, visiting stores and making purchases that embody the perceptions of ourselves.

Yet, the center of all those purchases, our financial freedom, we engage the least and thus are missing out on a huge opportunity to link our passions and direction in our individual lives with our investment choices and plans.

Thinking of it another way, the decisions we make are all driven by money (do we have it to spend) and what brand should we spend it on with very little time engaging in the holistic view of our financial plan that this instrument is not separate in our life but is at the core of who we are and how we live. It's understanding what makes us excited as consumers, what drives our passions, and linking our investment decisions to those areas so that we produce a holistic plan for our life.

Does an investment firm really know what drives the consumer and their preferences for investment choices? Not really. Do consumers understand what drives their investment choices? Not really. But that is more in line with not having the ability to see the connecting points of their life passion and goals with their investment choices.

But that is changing through investment options such as Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG), Impact Investing and recognizing that companies should act responsibly and be much more deliberate about the transparency and communication around their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs.

So, how do we change the engagement with the consumer when it comes to financial services options? We need to consumerize the process and approach and this is done by a term I use called the Triple P's.

True market engagement is about three things: Performance, Personal Choice and Principles of a firm offering sustainable and reputational management. In terms of financial services, it's not just about Performance of the investment any more.

Today's consumer is all about personal choice and more importantly personal performance. It's all about what's in it for them. What is the perceived value? So, when a consumer cannot see that connection to a company their market engagement wanes.

There's a 'New Normal' in terms of company value and leadership and what the expectations are from consumers on that leadership. It is working towards a Greater Global Good and Stakeholder Engagement versus just producing Shareholder returns. It's a new way of doing business that looks at all Stakeholders in the supply chain (including employees) and making sure each are taken care of with integrity and good sound business judgment. If done, returns will prevail.

This shift in mindset is a cultural change which is driven from the top of the organization. What is embodied at the top of the organization seeps directly into and develops the culture of the firm. The DNA ecosystem represents a delicate balance of sustainable thinking. It's looking at the Triple Bottom Line (People, Planet, Profits) of a company and what they are doing in each area to effect change and offer global sustainability. Taking a holistic view on how management teams engage with their stakeholders thus drives a holistic view for consumers in how they engage with these companies both from a purchasing power standpoint, but also from an investment opportunity.

Trust is a major factor for a consumer to engage with any brand. It's the consistency of that product to produce time and time again in the same manner and fashion the consumer expects it to.

Overlay this into financial services and the questions asked, 'Will the investment choice I made give me the return I'm expecting? Does the service model meet or exceed my expectations, what new products and services is this firm going to provide for me as my needs grow and change, and how stable is the organization?'

According to Edelman's Trust Barometer 13th Annual Survey, the Financial Services industry scored 46% globally in terms of trust; this was the lowest score out of 18 industries surveyed.

In 2013, the Financial Times in their Global Reputation study documented that 39% of consumers gauge the reputation of a firm based on their products/services, the rest of the categories consist of: governance, innovation, citizenship, investment value, leadership, global effectiveness, workplace and financial performance.

Outside of products/services the drivers for reputation and thus brand engagement consist of elements directly tied to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Trust is engaged through consistency, for the product, its performance, and the organization behind the product.

Overlaying Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG), Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) and Impact Investing strategies towards investment choices are more likely to develop brand engagement with a consumer/investor because it allows the consumer to invest with a platform for engagement. Invest in what they believe in. Further, companies that deploy ESG into the framework of organizations are more forward thinking in terms of risk, systems, operations and innovation.

1In the U.S. 85% of investment managers cite 'client demand' as the main reason for integrating ESG into their investment decisions. And as we look at inter-generational transfer of assets, the Millennials are estimated to receive $41 trillion between 1998-2052 and ESG stands to influence at least 50% of those assets.

Investment management firms are increasingly seeing sustainable investment as an opportunity to grow their practices by staying ahead of the curve, differentiating themselves from their competitors and most importantly better meeting the needs of their clients.

SOCIAL3 believes that:
Innovation = Growth
Growth = Value
Consistent Value = Trust

If a firm can create value they create trust. It then leads to initiating and sustaining brand engagement. According to Cone Communications (October, 2012), 69% of U.S. consumers are more likely to buy from a brand that talks publicly about its CSR results versus 31% who would purchase from a brand that talks about its CSR mission and purpose.

Telling the story that defines the value proposition to the marketplace is an art and it is comprised of many facets. Applying ESG is not a standalone activity or a new fad. It represents a holistic way of thinking about how businesses operate in today's global marketplace. It's overlaying sustainability principles to the operations of the business.

Being a good corporate citizen and acting responsibly are the hierarchy of elements under the ESG umbrella. Educating the consumer on investment choices that have a 'Greater Good' for all stakeholders involved increases the value derived from those investments both holistically through the Triple P's platform, and also monetarily.

Investing with firms that have a conscience and communicate this openly and consistently leads to greater value around People, Planet and Profits.

As a consumer making brand choices on a daily basis, having your money working for you in a Greater Good capacity connects your Individual Impact Plan (IIP) more closely to what you value as a person - what is important to you and what you feel passionately about. The IIP is then rooted at the core of what defines you as a person.

A symbiotic flow of passions, ideals, hopes, wishes, desires and financial returns. A mosaic for success. To learn more visit,

1Source:; Business of a Better World,"Trends in ESG Integration in Investments" (Aug. 2012).

Illustrations published courtesy of Darby Hobbs

Ms. Darby Hobbs is Founder & President, SOCIAL3®, a media/production firm focused on fusing brand and sustainability principles for asset growth by cultivating the ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) storyline and ensuring the firm's vision and strategy align with its marketplace engagement.

Ms. Hobbs received her certification in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in 2009. Ms. Hobbs was most recently SVP, Global Head of Marketing, Brown Brothers Harriman (BBH), SVP Fidelity Investments (Fidelity Consulting), Managing Director, PNC Bank, and senior leader at Financial Research Corporation, First Data Corporation and AMEX.

She presents at many financial services conferences on the subjects of SRI/ESG/Impact Investing, Brand, Innovation, Creative Thinking and Strategic Vision.

Ms. Hobbs has been a mentor for the Boston College Graduate course on Entrepreneurship and Business Planning and serves on a number of philanthropic boards and advisory committees for start-up companies.

She is also a member of The Boston Club for Women and serves on the membership committee of the Financial Communications Society.