Proprietary Portals Are A Big Boost to Cross-Sell Financial Services

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Tracking the constant changes of stock prices and the conditions of the securities markets may be one of the most frequently used applications of the Internet. Real-time availability of financial market information is a driving force in the choice of Web portal sites that millions of people use every day on their office screens. Both general usage and proprietary portals are important tools for financial marketers to acquire prospects and to cross-sell to existing customers.


General portals maintain wide viewership.


Most of the major portal sites, including MSN, Yahoo and AOL, provide for easy customization of their portal pages for individual subscribers to view real-time stock prices and history. All three sites are among the most frequently visited and used sites, according to audience measurement firm Alexa Internet, San Francisco, which estimated MSN's page views for September at 9.9 billion. A customer's selection of a portal page creates a major opportunity to present various promotions to that customer during the time he spends logged in each day and to target based on his expressed interest in financial subjects.


Great for lead generation.


Use of the stock-tracking feature is certainly a clue to the portal advertiser that the viewer is a good prospect for promotions of banks, securities companies and insurance offers. Early this year on the MSN portal page, a headline proclaimed, "22 Tech Stocks For the Future." Who could resist this tempting information offer at a time when the Nasdaq was doing well?


From the headline, I was taken to the Salomon Smith Barney site, where I was asked to complete a lengthy registration process in order to receive the brochure. The registration collected enough information to qualify me for recommendations to send with the featured item, as well as to provide a referral to a local sales representative. Certainly this was an effective permission marketing approach for a securities marketer, and a tactic that can be useful for a variety of online and traditional financial marketers.


Proprietary portals are key.


Portal pages presented by most securities firms are a strong example of how to lock in communication with customers and prospects. The key is to provide a combination of customized stock quotations, press releases and product information, while maintaining sufficient general interest content to keep viewers from clicking off to other sources. The proprietary portal can regularly provide cross-sell promotions in a soft-sell manner. If attention is held and viewership is regular, then customers and prospects are less likely to wander to general portals or other sites where competitors' messages might be featured.


Fidelity Investments' proprietary portal site, My Fidelity, provides news, local weather and sports to keep viewers logged in. Customized elements include the ability to track prices of up to 30 individual securities and headlines of news releases about the firms being tracked. The site contains a message center that provides links to articles featuring Fidelity products.


To use the My Fidelity service, a site visitor is asked to register by providing basic profile information and to consider an opt-in check box to receive e-mail promotions. Tiering of service is evident at Fidelity, with Preferred Services for customers with $100,000 or more invested, and a designated financial representative for those who invest at the $500,000-plus Premium Services level.


Direct access to accounts is a "killer application."


A key benefit of proprietary portals is direct access to accounts that the customer maintains at the sponsoring firm. A section of My Fidelity allows pass-coded access to accounts that customers maintain at Fidelity. This is another example of an application that attracts users to the Internet. The provider can combine the features of customized general content with account information such as balances and transaction verification. You might call this "a portal within a portal." Customers who use this service from an office must be conscientious to avoid leaving this window to their personal information open when they are away from their desks.


Can banks keep up?


Internet securities firms are taking the lead among financial service companies based on their customers' need for continual data about their ever-changing investments. Increasingly they are selling bank-like products, including credit cards and bill payment. Banks probably could do more to offer financial portal services to their customers. They have large customer bases to encourage the use of low-cost Internet banking methods to obtain information about their accounts. Banks are also heavily attempting to leverage checking and credit card accounts to cross-sell services such as property loans and insurance. Financial portals also can provide a major advantage in trying to promote the securities companies many banks have purchased.


What about insurers?


Effective Internet portal strategy for insurance companies is still a struggle. For most consumers, insurance purchasing or quote checking is an occasional activity, not a daily task like monitoring securities or monthly balancing of bank statements. Online auto and life insurers do well promoting on major general information portals to draw traffic to their sites.


And agents?


Commission-paid insurance agents are increasingly competing with the constant promotion of discount-oriented insurance offers that their clients see on portal pages. One key strategy for agents is to use the permission relationship they maintain with their customers to keep in close touch with them by e-mail.


Firms that sell through agents can facilitate e-mail communications campaigns by providing them with Web-oriented promotional material to send to their customer and prospect lists. As some agents participate and others do not, this is still an inconsistent approach. The advantages of the Web will push agent-sold insurance companies into distribution alliances similar to the Citigroup model.


• Kenneth G. Kraetzer is a vice president at CBSI, Harrison, NY, and an adjunct professor in the direct marketing master's degree program at Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, NY. His e-mail address is kkraetzer@cardholders.com.
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