Listen, Then Deliver the Best Customer Experience
Alan Giancaterino is the Co-founder of Finlocity, an online community that delivers high-quality presentations from the most innovative leaders in the industry and virtual solutions showcasing the latest financial technology. He is a seasoned sales and marketing professional with over 30 years in financial services.
Alan began his career as an advisor and became the youngest recipient of the CLU, RHU, and ChFC professional designations. Before Finlocity, Alan established several FinTech firms in the retail brokerage and wealth management marketplace.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
Alan Giancaterino talks about Finlocity and how they help people
Why Alan got into the FinTech industry
The different clients of Finlocty
Creating high-quality experiences at conferences
Alan talks about their transition back to in-person events
How AI is impacting the customer experience in financial services
The secret to winning more customers
In this episode…
Would you like to be making well-informed financial decisions? Where can you learn about the latest and greatest solutions in the fintech world to make that a reality?
According to Alan Giancaterino, many people struggle with making strategic financial choices. He co-founded Finlocity to level the playing field for everybody via online summits and in-person forums. They believe in getting out best practices and exposing emerging solutions, be they financial products or technology, to the marketplace on an equal footing.
In this episode of The Customer Wins, Richard Walker sits down with Alan Giancaterino, Co-founder of Finlocity, to discuss how they are helping people in the FinTech industry through conferences. Alan talks about Finlocity and how it helps people, the importance of creating high-quality experiences at conferences, their transition back to in-person events, and their secret to winning more customers.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
Alan Giancaterino’s Email: email@example.com
Sponsor for this episode...
This is brought to you by Quik!
At Quik!, we provide forms automation and management solutions for companies seeking to maximize their potential productivity.
Our vision is to become the leading forms automation company by making paperwork the easiest part of every transaction.
Meanwhile, our mission is to help the top firms in the financial industry raise their bottom line by streamlining the customer experience with automated, convenient solutions.
Go to www.quickforms.com to learn more, or contact us with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to The Customer Wins podcast where business leaders discuss their secrets and techniques for helping their customers succeed and in turn grow their business.
Richard Walker 0:16
Hi, I'm Rich Walker, the host of The Customer Wins where I talk to business leaders about how they help their customers win and how their focus on customer experience leads to growth. Our past guests have included Philipp Hecker of Bento Engine and Gerry Murphy of Arcus Partners. Today I'm speaking with Alan Giancaterino, better known as Alan G. Co-founder of Finlocity. Today's episode is brought to you by Quik! the leader in enterprise forms automation, when the last step to earning your clients business requires filling out paperwork. Don't ruin your relationship with a bad experience. Instead, get Quik! Forms to make filling out forms a great experience and the easiest part of your transaction yet, visit quikforms.com to get started. All right, I'm really excited to introduce Alan to someone I've known in our industry for the past 20 years. Alan is a seasoned sales and marketing professional with 30 plus years of financial services. He began his career as an advisor and became the youngest recipient ever of the CLU, RHU, and the CHFC professional designations. This early success as an advisor propelled him to several senior level home office sales and marketing management positions. At some of the largest financial service companies. Alan helped launch two new broker dealers and was also involved in some of the industry's earliest deployments of technologies to advisors. In 2000, Alan fell in love with the FinTech side of the business. And over the next 15 years, he firmly established several FinTech firms in the retail brokerage and wealth management marketplace. From there, he went on to found Finlocity, an online community dedicated providing both online and in person content to its members and followers via its virtual Summit Series and the q4 forums. Alan, welcome to The Customer Wins.
Alan Giancaterino 1:59
Thank you, Rich, it's a pleasure to be here. Thank you to everybody in the Quik! family for thinking of us and having us on your podcast.
Richard Walker 2:07
Yeah, I'm really excited to talk to you. If you haven't heard this podcast before I talk with business leaders about what they're doing to help their customers win, how they built and deliver a great customer experience and the challenge to grow in their own company. Alan, I want myself and our audience to understand Finlocity a little bit better, literally, how does your company help people?
Alan Giancaterino 2:27
Sure, I think it goes back to kind of our founding story. My partner and I were experienced in the sales and marketing realm within FinTech and financial services, as well as financial services proper, and had done a multitude of conferences, both as organizers, sponsors, and as attendees. And invariably, whether you're the individual that's heading up sales and marketing and a FinTech, that decides you want to go to a conference, or you're an attendee, that decides to take time out of your busy practice to attend with the hope of gleaning new information or learning about the latest greatest solutions that are out there. Ultimately, when we saw folks at these meetings, or we were at these meetings, we didn't come away with that return on the investment that we were looking for, whether it was having spent money and looking for a little return on the investment, or sacrificing because that's really what it is when you take time away from your practice, to be out of office away from your clients, right, because that's what makes them the revenue meter run. It's there's an expense to that, even if it's a soft expense. And many advisors we talked to over the years would go away from conferences, feeling dissatisfied. The other thing we noticed from a sponsorship standpoint is that not all sponsors are created equally. When you look at what takes place at a conference, there's a definite skill. And it's more of an art than a science in terms of working the conference to get an ROI, whether you're an attendee or a sponsor, and we just took a step back and said, you know what, it shouldn't be that, if two vendors pay the same fees, or two attendees incur the same cost to attend that they should have a different experience simply because they have different experience levels, in terms of their professional experience. And as a result, we tried to level the playing field for everybody, we kind of picked up on that theme of the democratization that has taken place in the financial markets. And we'd like to extend that to the whole conference. Whether it's virtual or live experience, we also offer a ton of content, at no cost. We believe in getting out best practices and exposing emerging solutions, be they financial products and services or technology to the marketplace on an equal footing.
Richard Walker 4:51
Man, that is awesome. And I really want to talk a lot more about that. But I got to go backwards now and ask you what even led you to this path. I mean, you're an advisor. Not that many visors switched to FinTech. What made you decide to do that?
Alan Giancaterino 5:03
I think I was always a little bit of a techie at heart. Even way back when before the turn of the century, if we could use that terminology. My wife often called me a geek, because I was obsessed with spreadsheets and was involved with using the early iterations of desktop publishing, having grown up in the old, classic way of publishing material, and then transition to doing things digitally or electronically. So I just took to it kind of like a duck to water and instantly saw, because I was jumping in and out of home office positions and back into personal practice, I saw how technology at a very early point in my career, can make a big difference for me personally, helping me stay organized, helped me be more efficient, helped me be more competitive and more successful at the end of the day.
Richard Walker 5:51
Yeah. It's a pain that I think we all feel. And we want I mean, when I became a financial adviser, the tools that just were not available is incredible. So fast forward, you've spent a really great career in tech, starting Finlocity is a very different style of business when it comes down to it. I mean, you're still working with the same type of people. But what made you want to bring that group together in this format? And I mean, I guess I'm also asking an entrepreneur, why did you take that risk? You didn't need to did you?
Alan Giancaterino 6:20
Well, I think, you know, you're fortunate when you get to a certain point in your career that you can do the things you'd like to do versus the things that you have to do. When we're younger, we have families, we have different financial responsibilities, different things that consume our time. And I was no different in that. I always had a passion for wanting to solve problems or do something that benefited everybody, not just me. And I finally reached a point in my career, where I'm an empty nester, I'm financially secure. And now it's about having fun and giving back. And that's ultimately what we're doing, and to get paid for doing what you love in the process. In my mind, that's one of the greatest forms of compliment.
Richard Walker 7:08
Yeah. So what was the first thing that Finlocity did? Was it a in person conference? Was it webinar series? What was it?
Alan Giancaterino 7:15
Well, we felt that we needed to establish the virtual conferences first. And this was all pre pandemic, I remind everyone back in 2015. So first observing how, again, traditional conferences, again, very expensive, very inefficient. We also looked at the dearth of virtual meetings that were out there, and how poorly they were orchestrated, produced, right, because there's obviously a production elements in it when you're doing something that involves videotaping and communicating like this. And we felt that we could do a better job. And again, on that democratization theme, it was a quick and relatively easy way to level the playing field for all the vendors out there that wanted to get their message out. At the same time, it gave us a tremendous amount of, if you will, cycles, pre-pandemic, to perfect doing webcasts, so that when the pandemic hit, it was a boon to business as you can imagine. And we had a two and a half to three year head start on the competition, and perfecting the production, marketing and distribution of the video and virtual Summit Series.
Richard Walker 8:26
Now, if I'm not wrong, and tell me if this is correct, you have multiple types of customers, right? I mean, you have the sponsors who want to get their message out, but you also have the people watching that message or attending the show. That's two different customer bases. Am I right? Correct. Correct. So how do you distinguish between the two who you serve first?
Alan Giancaterino 8:47
Well, honestly, you can kill two birds with one stone, if I could use that term. It doesn't have to be an either or. And that's part of the problem Rich that, most organizers of events, they're either too focused on the attendee, and they forget the sponsor experience, or they're too focused on the sponsor. It's about both, they're both going there to meet each other. But you don't want to have inefficient meetings. So when you look at the traditional conference format, what is it that makes meetings inefficient? It's the fact that no one is pre-qualified. And I mean, really qualified. So if you think of the traditional, let's say, conference experience, particularly in exhibit hall, right, you're out there hoping to as a sponsor, say, or do a couple of things that cause that attendee to say, yeah, I want to learn more, and make an appointment after the fact. But as we all know, you come away with 20, 30 business cards, if you're lucky from a big conference and the theme is always bigger is better. We disagree. And that lack of intimacy becomes all too real when you pick up the phone to do your follow up those 15 or 20 people don't even remember you maybe one or two that have a sense of urgency remember you and have them, maybe one will move forward and actually purchase your product or service or take it to the next level. And it's from that experience that we looked at it and said, well, it doesn't have to be that way. If I as the advisor, which I'm the attendee, know what it is, and express what it is, I'm looking for, and hope to gain and somebody listens. That's the most important thing. It's not about putting on a spectacle. And I think too many conference organizers have gotten caught up in that you're not doing a Cecil B DeMille, Hollywood production. And it's easy to get caught up in that what impresses people isn't a flashy, light show, or a flashy diner around. That's all fun. And it serves a very necessary function. But what impresses people and makes people really want to come back to any type of meeting, be it virtual or live, if they walk away with what it is they hope to gain from participating in the first place. And the only way that you'll figure out right, it no one's clairvoyant, no one has ESP, we're not going to figure out by sitting here and going, well, we've been doing this for 30 plus years, I have all the answers. No, I don't, I listen better now than I did when I was younger. Because now I have the experience. And you have to be careful not to let your experience cause you to not listen, sometimes we think we're too smart. Because we have all this extra experience. That doesn't change, the world is still evolving around us. It's a melding of the feedback you get from listening to sponsors and attendees, and then coupling with your experience, and then kind of gelling it all together to come back with an offering, whereby upfront, we say Rich, what do you hope to accomplish as a sponsor? Who do you want to meet specifically, and then we go out and find those attendees. And then we qualify those attendees, based upon a number of criteria. At the same time, we're doing the same thing with the attendees in terms of the solutions that they want to learn about. And through a combination of making the meeting format, unique, we're big believers and keeping people moving, right? The old saying the mind can only absorb what the backside can endure is very, very true, even though it's a very old saying, it's still as applicable. And we try to keep people moving. We don't try to keep them in any one spot for more than an hour, sometimes even a half an hour. So it's about not only different speakers and different subject matter coming through the delivery of information changes. We mix it up between general platform presentations, breakout sessions, panels. And we feel that by constantly moving things around, that we're appealing to everybody's learning senses, right? Everybody learns differently. Everybody consumes information differently. A lot of folks ask, well, where did you come up with the name q4? That's kind of peculiar, what q4 is if they all take place in the fourth quarter of the year? The answer is no. q4 has to deal with the four quadrants of our minds. And the four primary methods that people consume information by, whether it's through touch, through field, through sound, in auditory, etc, we try to incorporate enough differences in the format and the agenda and the experience. So we're hitting each of those four buttons, so that people come away truly enrich.
Richard Walker 13:34
And I actually really appreciate the problems that you're solving. Because when I was an advisor, one of the reasons I didn't want to be an advisor anymore is because at conferences. I hated continuing education credits, I hated sitting through long presentations, I hated not actually engaging with people. So I was one of the rare guys who went to the exhibit hall and was always there meeting every single vendor because I wanted to form relationships. And the same thing is true as a sponsor, as a tech company, if I want to go to a show, I want to build relationships, so I'm really glad that you're focused on it from this perspective of what is your attendee want? What is your sponsor want? How do you make the match and bring them together, so everybody gets value? Now, I also want to ask you this, because if I recall, you're also building a very high quality experience, right? You're not cheeping out on food or location. And it's not necessarily that you're trying to make it the Ritz but you don't want the hotel or the venue to be the thing that sticks out in somebody's mind. Right.
Alan Giancaterino 14:30
Yeah, again, back on experience, where not only do you hear comments from people who've gone to conferences where the hotel has been subpar, or the accommodations to the food, if you've gone to enough conferences, you can see where corners are being cut. That's number one, and it tends to cheapen the overall experience in your mind. But more importantly, if I have a bad experience with anything, right, if I go out to a restaurant to eat a meal, and I see above, that's gonna change my perception of that place, no matter how good that food was. I may have waited six months to get into that restaurant, it may have been a premier restaurant, where the world famous chef, and a menu to die for, and the food was exquisite. But if that one little thing sticks out in my memory, then it spoils the whole experience. And now I don't want to go back. I don't even want to think about it. Because I don't think about the great food experience. I think about the book. I think conferences are the same way if you have a bad experience, not necessarily when you're at the conference. But once you go back and life kicks back in and takes over, and you're back into your daily routine. Now you think about the conference. And it's like, yeah, that was the one where they had a big flood. And I had to leave the room at four o'clock in the morning, or, yeah, breakfast, they served toast and burnt sausage. And these were all live experience real live experiences that I've actually been through not just making things up. And ultimately, you may or may not consciously able to put your finger on it. But something in your belly says, yeah, that wasn't a good experience. And unfortunately it endorse to the deficit of anybody who organized or sponsored that event. Can I help your cause as a sponsor?
Richard Walker 16:20
Now, how are you shifting back to in-person events from pandemic, everybody went virtual? You guys were virtual to begin with too but how is this transition going back to live events go on for him.
Alan Giancaterino 16:31
Excellent. Our plan was to do live meetings. In fact, I tell the story about I had the hotel contract for us getting back into doing live meetings on my desk, in the beginning of January, the year that the pandemic hit, and I literally dragged my feet on signing it. And I'm not quite sure if I can even put my finger on why it was just something in my gut, I don't know. But I was dragging my feet and knew nothing about the pandemic. We didn't even hear that word. It wasn't in the lexicon anymore, or at that time. And I hesitated and next thing you know, the pandemic broke. And it turned out to be a godsend in more ways than one. Because early on hotels were pretty rough on organizations that were hosting meetings, they didn't adequate to deal with it. As time went on, we saw as hotels being more accommodating, because they realized that everybody was in the same boat, all business, it's either we sink, or we sail together. So in 2022, we blew off the dust from all the hard work that we did in preparing for that conference several years earlier, made some modifications, updated some things, and we moved forward. In May of last year, we held the first inaugural q4 Top RA Forum between I think it was May 25th and 27th, at the Green Valley Ranch Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. And we did the same thing with our q4 Broker Dealer Executive Forum at the same location the end of October of 2022. Both were rousing successes in that, number one, we have numerous repeat attendees now that we're launching the 2023 meeting this May, which you can learn more about if you go to finlocity.com. And it's spelt just like you see it on the screen behind you. And you can learn all about either of the two meetings, whether you're an RIA, an independent RIA, or a broker-dealer. And it's been a really fun ride over the last year and the interest level and in people wanting to come, the proof is in the pudding. People who came last year, if they can't come this year, first of all, we have a line of people that already want to come even before we announced the meeting. So the day we announced the meaning of open registration, we were half-full on attendees. And the same with sponsors. And we hadn't even really begun marketing it. And what was also nice was a lot of folks that came last year that couldn't come this year for conflicts are asking you if they can send someone else from their firm. Or if they can send a peer if they can refer a peer in that would qualify to come to the meeting. And we're also getting calls now this year from sponsors. Whereas last year, it was all outbound. Nobody knew what the q4 forum was. So it was a lot of pounding the pavement, good old-fashioned dial and smile. Now, our phones are ringing with, hey, we just heard from one of our peer companies that we respect your colleague in the industry that you've got something unique, we want to learn more about it.
Richard Walker 19:44
Yeah. Well then I'm excited for your success with this because you didn't take on a very hard thing, another conference or another industry thing but you're doing a great job with it. I want to switch gears a little bit. One of the topics that is come up a lot, especially in the last month but for me, the last six months is artificial intelligence. And I don't want to go too far into this, because it's a big, big conversation. But from your perspective, especially in conferences and working with tech companies and your whole industry perspective, how do you see artificial intelligence changing either what you do are impacting the customer experience? Or maybe the industry as a whole? What's your view on it?
Alan Giancaterino 20:23
Well, I think if you look at AI hit the scene, and was the talk of the town here back in the, probably around 2015, early 2000 10s. And it's obviously, the topics been around the subjects been around for a while. But it really started to get traction in the mid like 2010s. But then it kind of faded a little bit. And we don't hear a ton about it in financial services. We hear about it with artificially driven cars, self-driving cars, and things like that. But the applications of it within financial services are a little bit obscure, are few and far between. And we're actually exploring using it now we've hired a data scientist to come in, right. So imagine now what I explained earlier, the volume of data that we have to manually work for it. And again, we use technology, but it's not a completely automated process. So we spent hours and hours and hours on that matching exercise, which, at a high level, sounds real easy. Ask Rich when he likes, talk to Mary, the sponsor, Mary wants to meet somebody like Rich and we put them together. Well, it's not quite that simple. There's a ton of push-up that go on behind the scenes, and we're looking at AI and exploring AI to take that over, so that we can grow the conference without losing the intimacy of the one-to-one matches.
Richard Walker 21:51
Nice. That's a great application for it. Given 30 years of experience, and yeah, I mean, your seasons, you figured out so many different things, what is one secret or a key lesson that you'd share with other business leaders on how they can win more customers?
Alan Giancaterino 22:07
I think it goes back to something I said earlier in the interview, Rich, and that is listen, we all hear things like you were born with two ears and one mouth for a reason. You're supposed to listen twice as much, and especially a sales and marketing folks, we're out there promoting. And as much as we think we're listening, sometimes we're not the best listeners. So I think, over time, you become a better listener. But then also, as you gain a tremendous amount of experience, and learn all that wisdom and experience sometimes clogs your ear canal, your brain doesn't want to take in any more information, because you think you kind of got it figured all out. And I would encourage any business owner, to be careful of not falling into that trap, I have to remind myself of it daily on virtually every interaction, because it's really easy to overwhelm someone who maybe is coming at it from a different perspective, who hasn't had all of your experiences, right. I like to jump around and say my best sales candidate for someone to pitch is someone who's walked in my shoes, and this hasn't much experience. Because it's a five-minute conversation, where we just boil the ocean down and get to the point, I don't have to explain each point, they get it, they lived through it. They bear the scars like we do. Whereas, someone that doesn't have that experience, it might approach it differently. But again, I think it's really listening to your customers, and not passively listening. Passive listening is important. But how do you actively listen to your customers in a day and age where there's just being bombarded by so many sound bites, visually, auditorily it's coming from every which what direction in the home, outside of the home, in business, at work outside of business and work? And being able to get your message through clearly, I think depends upon how carefully you've listened to your customer. Because even at a subconscious level, when someone says something back to you, in response to a question, they can tell whether or not you're really listened and pay attention. And that's where it comes down to the quintal set essential elements of people buy from people that they like, they want to do business with people that they like, people don't do business with people they don't like. And it's not because necessarily they don't like them. But if I don't like you, I also don't want to trust you. If I like you, I'm more inclined to trust you. And if I trust you, I'm more receptive and open to listening to your message. And the message will get through. And if you listen to me, you as a provider of a service or a product, can custom-tailor that message to get through all of my filters. And the older we get, I like to say there's like layers of layers of layers over your ears. We're not as affected by marketing and advertising at this age or at this point in our careers, as we were when we were younger. And it's because you build up all these biases, and you stop listening, and your mind has a nasty little habit of thinking, it's hearing what's coming. And then it stops listening. And really, what was coming wasn't what you thought, but you never know the difference, because you stopped listening too soon. So it's really listen, listen, listen, and do it actively. Get your clients to communicate with you, survey your clients, talk to them, but go back out, don't just do an electronic survey, reach out to them, get them engaged, reward your customers for sharing is another thing that we like to do.
Richard Walker 25:48
Yeah, man, thank you for saying this. This is actually one of my favorite topics, because it's in the form of communication. And I think as humans, we have communication skills from birth till death. So it's one of those skills that you can always improve upon. But communication being that two-way street, the other side of that street is listening. And so I've so appreciate what you just said.
Alan Giancaterino 26:08
The pandemic, if I could just add on another point here, the pandemic really, really brought that into acute focus for us. Because I think, the human condition is we want to deal with people. And we were deprived of that, we were deprived of even just contact from some of our closest loved ones, let alone friends and business associates. And everybody was working remote, everything was done virtually like this. And there's something magical that happens when two people press the flesh, when two people can smell each other, and look into each other's eyes, and feel and see the emotion versus I think as great as things are virtually, there's still that human element missing. And ultimately, live conferences, listening to your clients having a high touch, being personable, that's really where it's at. And that explains, by the way, why a lot of firms struggled to get an ROI or return on their investment from any of their virtual sales and marketing efforts during the pandemic, you talk to most firms and you say webcast webinar, nowadays, and unless they're one of the few that had great success, most of them are like this, stay away. And I think it's just a case of the pendulum swinging, and then it'll settle back. And people's appetite for virtual meetings will return. Because you can't beat the convenience of it. You can't go to every conference, you can't be everywhere that you want to be you have to pick and choose and make sacrifices. So there's bound to be an event that you want to attend, and that you can't because of either family or other commitments, virtual event is a great way to participate. But again, just like I said, we're changing up and improving our game. I think everybody that's out there, whether it's virtual or live, needs to do a better job listening and paying attention to what people want.
Richard Walker 28:02
Yeah, for sure. Great advice. Great guidance. Alan, as we wrap this up, I do have another question. But before I get to that question, what is the best way for people to connect with you?