Lead generation is one of the biggest challenges financial advisors face when trying to grow their business. But one advisor found the sweet spot – bringing in roughly 50 families and $50 million in AUM in just a few years.
SmartAsset CEO Michael Carvin sat down with Michael Collins, CFA® to get a better understanding of his success.
Collins has been in wealth management since 2012. Seeing the potential in SmartAsset’s lead generation platform, he opened his own firm, WinCap Financial, in 2018. Since, Collins has built 80% of his business through SmartAsset.
After trying a slew of other available lead generation approaches, Collins found the best ROI in SmartAsset. Every dollar spent on the platform has led to double that in recurring revenue: “It’s been a game changer for us,” Collins says.
But in the lead generation business, building trust among prospects is a big part of the equation. Collins’ secret? Offering two hours of financial services to potential clients. While the upfront investment may seem high, the payout has been even higher.
What advice would he give advisors looking to grow their books? “You have to invest in yourself to grow your practice, and SmartAsset provides a turnkey solution for growth.”
Read more about what Collins is doing to capture business in the interview transcript below.
Learn more about the SmartAdvisor platform and how you can generate more leads.
Michael Carvin, CEO of SmartAsset: Michael, thank you for joining me today. I’m excited to discuss your experience with SmartAsset and the SmartAdvisor lead-matching platform.
Michael Collins, CFA® and founder of WinCap Financial: Likewise, thanks for having me Michael.
Carvin: What marketing activities have you tried in addition to SmartAsset?
Collins: We’ve tried other lead-generation services and marketing on Facebook and Instagram in the past. I’ve talked to countless other potential lead sources too. Some of them have been cost effective but the quality of the lead flow was low. Others seemed very fly-by-night, or had too much of an ambulance-chaser approach.
Carvin: What are your most important acquisition channels currently?
Collins: The most important client acquisition strategy for us has been SmartAsset. The quality and ROI of SmartAsset leads has been much higher than other services we have tried. It’s been a game changer for us. SmartAsset and organic leads have been our highest quality lead sources. Our organic referrals come from mostly existing clients, including former SmartAsset leads. I have received four clients who were referrals from SmartAsset clients.
Carvin: Have you tried paid social media marketing or Google Adwords, or hosting seminars?
Collins: No I haven’t really experimented too much with that. I feel like the kind of social media advertising is not a good spend for me in terms of driving engagement. I could do more work on that front in terms of having a landing page and offering something like a pdf of a 10-point retirement plan. But you know I’ve really been focused on my time on what works best: So far that’s been you guys.
Carvin: Do you employ a content strategy?
Collins: I think our marketing drip that we surround all prospects and clients with is pretty powerful, so we have a Substack blog. The blog basically summarizes what happened last week and what happens next week – like if there’s a threat of a government shutdown and how it would impact clients. It’s drafted by AI for time efficiency and then I add color around all of that stuff. It goes out to clients and prospects once a week.
It keeps me front of mind. I have about a thousand people on the blog. Readership rate is about 50% which is pretty high. I pay attention to the blog stats. It lets me see who my biggest readers are. If I see a prospect that I haven’t talked to in three years reads our blog twice a week, that’s an indicator that I should follow up with this guy.
Carvin: That’s really interesting. Would love to jump into your experience working with SmartAsset and our SmartAdvisor marketplace. What’s your history working with us?
Collins: I discovered SmartAsset at an eMoney conference around 2018 and I started using the platform promptly after I got an experimental budget from my prior firm – about a $10,000 annual spend. I remember my exact first success on the platform: It was a million dollar client and that gave the organization I was working for at the time the confidence to continue funding.
My proposition to the firm at the time was what I heard from SmartAsset reps: We’ll close about one out of 20 leads. So, let me buy 40 leads to get a reasonable sample size and see if it works. Worst case scenario: We wasted money on marketing, which people do all the time. Best case scenario: It drives revenue.
Carvin: And how is your account set up today?
Collins: One of the big factors in me going out on my own was that I could amplify my own budget on SmartAsset significantly to drive growth. We currently spend about $4,000 a month. I probably increase my budget every year by 25 to 50% depending on my available cash flow. But you know the model’s really still been the same: For every $1 I put in, I earn $2 in recurring revenue.
Carvin: Those are great metrics. Maybe we can jump into how you’re achieving that. Can you talk a little bit about the number of leads you’re receiving each month and what your meeting and close rates look like?
Collins: Right now I’m getting between about 15 to 20 leads a month. My contact rate – which is just when someone replies to an email, answers a call, or replies to a text – shows some sign of life from about 62% of leads. Over two years, my meeting rate is about 15%. So for every 20 leads I get I’m booking about three meetings. And then my meeting-to-close ratio is about 33%, so basically for every three meetings I get a client.
That seems to be like clockwork, though I never know which one of the three it’s going to be. I’m always an optimist but the metrics have stayed really tight. My overall close rate is about 4%, and it takes me 98 days to close the average client. My quickest close on SmartAsset was eight days, and the longest close was 249 days – mostly because they were waiting for a liquidity event to happen.
Carvin: That’s great. In terms of the kinds of clients that you’re getting, it sounds like you’re targeting the $1 million plus category. What are the average investable assets that you’re seeing?
Collins: Usually $1 million and up. Originally I did start with the $250k to $1 million category. Sometimes I would get to the finish line with someone in that range to find out they only have $100k of assets available to invest, with the other $600k tied up in a 401(k). So when I target $1 million and up, even if half the money’s in a 401(k), I still have $500k of investment opportunity. And then on average I’m seeing potential clients with around $2 million come through. Sometimes you see a whale with $5 million plus, but those are harder to capture.
Carvin: We usually see a contact rate closer to 50% across the platform, so a 60% contact rate is great. What are you doing to achieve that?
Collins: So you know first it always starts out with speed to lead right? If you’re first to call, you’re more likely to get someone who’s interested. So I always treat it like an old school radio call-in contest. Then after I call, I have an email template that I can customize to the individual person. I’ll go on Linkedin just to do a little quick due diligence on the prospect and then I’ll send that email template that basically says, ‘This is who we are. We’re fiduciary.’
But the response rate on emails is not as good as a call. I’m more likely to book a meeting from a phone call than someone following up from the meeting by about 4x, so getting them on the phone is always the most powerful. So, I’ll follow up if I don’t hear back.
What I really believe drives the next step – meetings – is that we give all potential clients 2 hours of complimentary advice. That’s what really drives the engagement. And most clients I see opting for the complimentary financial planning services are in the $2 to $3 million range.
Carvin: I’d imagine a lot of advisors reading this are thinking: Jeeze, a two-hour free consultation. That could add up to a lot of time that doesn’t turn into revenue. Can you talk a little bit more about what your advice might be to skeptical advisors?
Collins: Some advisors I’ve spoken to who never used the platform are like, ‘Wow you’re giving away a lot of time.’ My response is that I’m already giving away a lot of time sending emails and making calls, so following it up with an extra two-hours for each prospect to make the conversion is a good ROI. And really, I’m giving away 6 hours of time based on my 33% meeting-to-close rate – three 2-hour complimentary meetings. But that turns into $10k of recurring revenue at a minimum. So you know I think it’s a pretty powerful use of my time.
One time, a prospect with $3 million in assets wanted me to meet him at his office in Rhode Island. It was a two-hour drive, so sometimes the hours are a bit more than the two hours of financial planning.
Let’s say traveling takes double the donated time. Yeah, I’m giving away 12 hours to get $10,000 in recurring revenue. But it’s a real value add, and in this business, most of the work is upfront. Once we’ve done the plan, the heavy lift is already done if they onboard. That’s the easy part, right? Because everything’s already mapped out.
Carvin: That all makes perfect sense. Okay so 60% contact rate, 15% meeting rate and then you’re closing one in three of those meetings. Tell me about the meetings and what you’re doing to turn those meetings into new clients.
Collins: I do offer to most prospects that I’ll come to their home or take them out to eat, and I let them decide what’s best. I treat them like a client. I go there, and we use eMoney as a financial planning tool. We’ll do an asset inventory, I’ll get an idea of their spending or what they want that to look like.
Most people I connect with are $1 million plus. They tend to be people in their late fifties, early sixties, and I’m giving them the roadmap at the horizon of their retirement. We’re figuring out the asset allocation, what their withdrawal rate in retirement should look like if they’re honest about their spending number, and then kind of some of the ABCs of financial planning. We discuss things regular people don’t think about in the day-to-day to add value.
A lot of people I come across also need just good housekeeping. Another prospect I met in New York had eight different orphan 401(k) accounts, and I said, let’s work together for a year because you’ll just benefit from a cleanup. You have assets over there that don’t know what the assets on the other side are doing, and you could just be more organized. Also, if something were to happen to you, you don’t want your spouse having to look through seven different accounts and then wonder if there’s still more out there.
Carvin: Can you tell us a little bit about how you staff this? Michael, are you doing this all yourself, or do you have help?
Collins: I have two analysts that are mostly focused on assisting in research, handling onboarding paperwork, maintaining the websites and helping me transfer assets. My custodial partners Fidelity and Schwab make things very easy. Most paperwork is done electronically. I think the biggest thing is just being available to your clients when they need you. Is someone going to be there to respond? I, or someone on my team, typically respond within 24 hours and I think that’s important.
Carvin: Absolutely. And are they helping at all with the outreach – the calling and emailing – or is that all you?
Collins: They help with outreach. I won’t have them do first outreach but, for example, a good exercise I had one of my analysts do last week was to call people from a year ago, starting in January of 2022 and going down the list to just repeat the offer. We’ve had some success there too, where we book meetings from what most would consider stale prospects.
Carvin: That’s great. I would love to hear any thoughts or recommendations you have for us for how we can improve our advisor platform.
Collins: Well you guys have been great. But I think removing the 90-day threshold on duplicate leads would help. If it’s not a great match the first time around, time is unlikely to change that. Something else you’ll always hear me say is improving lead quality, but again, compared to peers SmartAsset has been the best. But that’s something I’d always like to see no matter what.
Carvin: A hundred percent. And we’ve got some really exciting things that we’re working on. Our data science team is really helping us understand how to promote more of the good referrals and limit more of the less-good ones. You know this better than anyone, Michael, but it’s a numbers game. It’s not really possible to take the bad leads to zero, but we can do a lot more to make sure the lead quality mix is always improving. We get a huge amount of data back from our partners, and we now have the highest lead quality the platform has ever seen.
Collins: Another thing to focus on is that while I was getting some sign of life from 60% of leads, I never hear from the other 40%. I’ve talked to some people who have not had great success on the platform, and I think it’s because they start slow or don’t have enough volume. If you buy five leads a month, and you close one out of 20 and it takes a hundred days to close, you could have six months before you see your first success. Some might want to give up before they let the numbers play out. I think that’s important, and I feel like my quality has improved as I’ve increased the leads.
It’s like golf or any other sport: If I’m doing five per month I’m not going to be ready to go as quickly in terms of contacting people and following up. But if I’m getting 20 leads per month, I’m getting a lead a day. So I know it’s coming. Sometimes they come in several times in one day, but the point is you need enough volume to find success.
Carvin: It’s why we say that the strongest indicator of whether an advisor is going to stick with the platform or not is the number of leads they get per month. Ten seems to be that tipping point.
Collins: That makes sense based on what I’ve seen.
Carvin: Below 10, and you’re getting five or six at-bats per month. It’s just not enough to really get a feel for whether or not this can impact your business – and you know what? You shared with us that you’ve generated $50 million in assets and you’re getting 15 to 20 leads per month.
Collins: You know, at the pace I spend, I think about it in terms of my lifestyle and time. Getting about 20 leads per month means I’m probably gonna have a prospect meeting about once a week. So you know you have to have the capacity.
And I think I have a better hit rate because I’ve readjusted since the pandemic. You can just offer everyone a Zoom meeting but I think you know now that we’ve returned to a more normal environment, I make myself available. But I get to choose my geography, too. I’m in Boston so I also target New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.
Carvin: One thing I’ll share with you that one of our largest partners told us: Close to half their closes come after the six-month mark. So I’d wager that a lot of those free consultations – the two of three that don’t turn into new business within the first hundred days – will be good potential clients down the road. I’d keep circling back with those people.
I’d love to hear about your aspirations for WinCap. You’re $65 million in AUM today – where do you want to take this?
Collins: I’m kind of at an interesting inflection point based on the growth we had this year. We’re on pace to hit $100 million in AUM either late next year or early in 2025. Then I have to decide if I want to kind of close the doors on the new clients and have a lifestyle practice with about a hundred clients. Or, do I onboard other advisors? In this environment more and more advisors have been reaching out to me. So it’s a little bit of a mystery at the moment in terms of which direction I’ll go in.
I imagine I’ll probably onboard three or four advisors within the next six months. I think having a little bit of depth will increase my close rate on some of the business I haven’t won. Some potential clients I’ve talked to have been pretty frank: ‘We like you a lot. But we went with someone who had a team of three people.’ You know if I come across a $5 million prospect as a solo practitioner, I’ll probably always lose to a team at JP Morgan or Goldman, but it’s still great to have those opportunities.
Carvin: What advice would you give to advisors early in their career who want to build a large book of business?
Collins: You have to invest in yourself to grow your practice. We have seen many advisors struggle to grow their book and SmartAsset provides a turnkey solution for building our practice. I would not have had the confidence to start my own firm without SmartAsset.
Carvin: Well, your close rates are fantastic Michael. This has been a great conversation. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us.
Collins: Thanks so much.
Learn more about generating leads with the SmartAdvisor platform.
*Michael Collins, CFA®, is a client of the SmartAdvisor Platform and has not been compensated for his participation in this interview. Michael’s experience and metrics regarding SmartAdvisor are his own. Results may not be the same for everyone who uses SmartAdvisor.
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