Awareness and interest in socially responsible investing (SRI) are on the rise, but it doesn't mean prospective clients are pounding on the doors of SRI financial advisors.
"You'd think social investing would constitute a niche all by itself, and that's true to a certain extent ... but it's both an opportunity and a challenge at the same time," says Gary Matthews, a New York City-based CPA and Personal Financial Specialist who works exclusively with SRI clients.
While there aren't as many advisors who specialize in SRI, there are also far fewer social investors to market to. SRI advisors also tend to have small practices and be independent, so they have to work hard to get the word out to clients, says Matthews, who manages just under $40 million for about 100 clients.
His big advice: "Put yourself on the Internet where people are most likely to trip over you." A CPA for about 30 years, Matthews began working as an SRI advisor ten years ago after obtaining a Ph.D. in social ethics from the Union Theological Seminary in New York. He spent a couple of years with an established SRI practice before venturing out as a sole practitioner. He originally landed most of his clients through Internet-based marketing, though now roughly half come from referrals.
Matthews has been an Investment Advisory Representative with the First Affirmative Financial Network, which supports a nationwide network of advisors serving socially conscious clients, since his early days in SRI. His listings on the Social Investment Forum, SocialFunds.com, the Calvert Investments Web site, and nonprofit Green America's National Green Pages have also brought him a number of clients, he says.
Matthews is in the process of revising his Web site and is considering offering visitors who provide contact information a free gift, such as a report about green companies. He's looking at programs offered by MailChimp and other email marketing services to facilitate a series of follow-up emails for these visitors. He also shares articles he writes and has spoken about SRI to church groups.
Cross-referral relationships with other professionals, which provide exposure to a much wider range of potential clients, have been the biggest strategy embraced lately by San Diego-based Blue Summit Wealth Management. The firm, which manages about $75 million for roughly 200 clients, recently developed a continuing education program for CPAs and tax preparers. It also has cross-referral relationships with estate planning attorneys, mortgage brokers, and real estate professionals. "A little bit of everything is good," says president and founder Judith Seid, CFP.
A few years ago, Blue Summit started buying blocks of tickets at a local theater a couple of times a year to distribute to clients and potential clients. The firm sponsors pre-show mixers with food and advertises in the theater program. "We've gotten a couple of clients from that," says Seid. The theater invited Blue Summit to put together a mixer one evening when four Asian professional organizations (lawyers, accountants and business people) attended an Asian-themed show. This spring it'll host a mixer when an African-American women's organization attends an African-themed show.
Blue Summit advisors also participate in televisions news interviews. "It's not like we get phone calls because people saw us on TV, but it's a very important addition to our overall image," says Seid. Her firm has also held outdoor education hikes, which she says have been a lot of fun.
Krista Strohoffer, who runs Principled Investing LLC in Boulder, Colo., says she has acquired approximately 20% of her clients through green events where she's exhibited. "There's so much focus on spending money to make life green and sustainable but there's little on investing ... it's a eureka moment for a lot of green consumers," she says. She also likes participating in panel discussions that enable small-group participation and has joined a local leads group that includes one member from every industry.