Seemingly in the middle of the night, FMG Suite made two significant “competitor” acquisitions last quarter. According to their website, the mission of FMG Suite is as follows:
“At FMG Suite, our business centers on helping you build yours. Through lead-generation websites and digital marketing tools, we help you accomplish more with your marketing, from retaining current clients to gaining more referrals.”
Their first acquisition was that of Platinum Advisor Strategies. This company was established in 2009 by brothers Robert and Thomas Fross. According to their website, their mission statement is “to create the financial industry’s finest branding, practice management, and marketing materials, while adhering to uncompromising levels of professionalism and service, both inside and outside our organization.”
FMG Suite’s second acquisition, which took place approximately a month after acquiring Platinum Advisor Strategies, was that of long time financial advisor marketing “guru” Peter Montoya’s company, MarketingPro. This company had two primary services, a library of marketing content for financial advisors (known as MarketingLibrary) and then a print/email automation solution that helped distribute that conent (known as the MarketingPro upgrade.)
I’ve spend the past 15 years involved with financial advisor marketing, and have seen each of these companies evolve their business models, especially as the digital age has made its way into the financial services industry. Here’s my take on what this acquisition means to the industry and individual advisors (from the good and the bad to the ugly).
Setting the stage:
- I don’t know anything about the financial details of the transactions. However, it’s safe to say that the two entities that were acquired are worth more to FMG Suite as a result of cross-selling possibilities than they would to entities that weren’t already entrenched in that space. More on the later
- Interesting observation – I’ve seen Peter Montoya speak a few times over the years. I’ve always found his talks informative with some good ideas presented. There was, however, one thing that I always questioned about his philosophy (and now I find it extremely ironic). One of the central themes to his talk and his branding approach was “the brand called you.” His main point was that your clients do business with you (a true statement). As as a result, he was a huge proponent of you naming your firm after yourself. If your last name was “Maple,” then your company should be named “Maple Financial Services” or something to that effect. When Montoya named his company, it followed this same thought pattern: Peter Montoya was the brand. A few years back, he slowly faded away from using his name in the brand. He did an initial transition where it was “Marketing Library-Peter Montoya,” and then shifted entirely to “MarketingLibrary,” and then “MarketingPro.” I found a whole lot of irony in it while I watched the brand changes slowly take place. It’s long been my belief that a company is worth more to a buyer when the seller’s name isn’t embedded within it. Who knows how long Montoya had been staging an exit. It begs the question – if asked today, would he give different advice to the hundreds of advisors who he encouraged to use their name in the branding of their firm?
- I don’t know a whole lot about Platinum Advisor Strategies. I’ve not heard much positive or negative about them, so my review of the impact of the acquisition takes this into account.
- I’ve had extensive experience with MarketingLibrary and MarketingPro. They’ve been an entity that has been tied into our technology offering for years.
- My knowledge about FMG Suite comes from a handful of interactions I’ve had with their team, my review of dozens of videos they’ve created, and feedback I’ve received from advisors over the years.
Let’s get to it:
Each of these three entities bring complementary services to the table. In theory, this should provide for a more comprehensive offering made available to advisors. Each of the three entities has certain strengths; if each of these strengths can be harnessed and integrated effectively, it could be an impressive offering for advisors.
Each of the entities likely has relationships and connections with an extensive network of broker-dealers. As a result, this could provide access to new services to an a larger number of broker-dealer affiliated representatives. With that said, it could present new challenges (covered in a bit).
With FMG Suite’s service offering lineup being enhanced, it likely means that competitors will look to step up their games. Regardless of what provider(s) you select for websites, marketing content, and/or marketing automation services, this is a good thing.
Too much : with the higher volume of services being made available, this could invite confusion as to what services make the most sense for you to invest in for your practice. In addition, it will be interesting to see how the merging of three firm’s services and user interfaces come together. Change is difficult, and there’s no doubt the user interface will change soon.
Compliance issues: Our firm owns and operates three RIAs in addition to an independent broker-dealer. Compliance is a big deal to us, and finding marketing tools that are easy for our compliance department to work with make the lives of our advisors easier. MarketingPro’s compliance interface was a tool that was very compliance/advisor friendly system. FMG Suite’s compliance interface leaves A LOT to be desired. Our sense has always been that FMG Suite was built more for the advisor that didn’t have an active entity operating in a compliance review capacity. If they can take a queue from the user interface of MarketingPro, this could be a boon for advisors working with an entity that reviews content from a compliance standpoint (broker-dealers and/or corporate RIAs).
Isolating integrations: Software tools like FMG Suite, MarketingPro, and Platinum Advisor Strategies rely upon their ability to integrate with other software platforms that are used by its customers. One example of this is AdvisorWebsites, one of the leading providers of websites for financial advisors. Prior to the acquisition, there was an integration in place between MarketingLibrary/Pro and AdvisorWebsites. This made the lives of advisors’ easier. Since FMG Suite offers websites, this integration will undoubtedly be shut off. Who knows what other integrations may be discontinued as a result of this acquisition. Advisors lose here.
Volume isn’t always a good thing: typically speaking, volume is a good thing. It can result in lower costs and improved services. My suspicion is that the increased volume could water down the website offering, forcing a more cookie-cutter approach in order to keep up with the higher numbers. As of today, it’s not hard to tell what is an FMG Suite website. That’s not necessarily a knock on them, as they are professionally done, but the amount of unique content vs. “universal” content is pretty limited. In order to differentiate ourselves in the financial services space, unique content is critical.
Cost: If I were a betting man, costs will go up. Costs for MarketingPro services and Platinum Advisor Services. The’ll also likely be pushing hard to sway advisors who don’t have an FMG website over to use their services, arguing that they need to “bundle” their services. I’ll be curious to see what services they’ll continue to offer a la carte.
Questionable business practices: As an independent broker-dealer and three corporate RIAs, we were shocked that we were given no heads up that this acquisition was taking place. In fact, we didn’t even find out until an advisor of ours brought it to our attention. We immediately worked to have a call with our contacts at the company. We had a conversation with the President of FMG Suite, and were promised that we would be notified in advance before they started to make changes in their offerings. Within two weeks of that phone call, two things took place:
- One of the critical integrations our advisors relied upon was eliminated, despite us being told that it would take place until 2019. There was no warning or communication made about this.
- We heard from multiple advisors that FMG Suite’s sales representatives were targeting our advisors pitching them to change their website platforms. To be honest, we expected that. Why else would FMG make the acquisition? However, we didn’t expect them to use our compliance person’s name as a part of their sales pitch, stating that “NAME HERE approved the transition to FMG” and basically implying that it was going to happen anyways. To say that it was a deceptive sales practice is probably being kind. This is the sort of thing that other firms will have a difficult time accepting when they are seeking partners they can trust.
There’s a lot that we’ll want to keep an eye on in the months to come with this acquisition. My personal opinion is that it could be a good thing for the industry, but has been poorly executed thus far, and there’s a long way to go before trust and confidence can be restored.