Increasing Survey Participation of Financial Advisors
- Posted by Alex Brooks
- On May 10, 2022
One of the largest challenges facing the market research industry is decreasing online survey participation from financial advisors, brokers, and RIAs. These declining responses rates continue to make it more and more difficult to complete studies.
The truth is this highly coveted audience is overused and mistreated. With only a few ‘good’ resources available, most financial institutions find themselves using the same industry databases repeatedly. As a result, the same contacts are constantly being asked for their time and find themselves less willing to give it.
To get a clear understanding of the issue from their point of view, Brookmark contacted several financial advisors in the Boston area and requested interviews to discuss their experiences with online surveys. Our expectations were low, as we did not honestly expect anyone to speak to us because this group is tired of interacting with researchers. And while it did prove to be a significant challenge that required creative thinking to break down barriers, we did finally have the opportunity to speak with some advisors. To our surprise, this group was candid and freely shared their views, concerns and dislikes about online survey research.
What We Learned
It was eye-opening to say the least. Our working hypothesis was true: brokers and advisors are not happy with us, and market researchers have a major credibility issue caused in part by:
- Lying (or the perception of lying)
- Inadequate compensation
- Irrelevant research
Let’s take a deep dive into each area to see what they said, what the issue could be, and how to overcome.
Every person we interviewed received no fewer than four to six survey invitations per month. That’s too much. Even the consumer panel houses, notorious for pushing contact limits, try to keep their monthly numbers below six among their proprietary panelists.
Perhaps even worse, most respondents said they have unsubscribed multiple times yet continue to receive emails, causing them to get increasingly frustrated. This is because even though they unsubscribe from one survey, it doesn’t remove them from the next research firm who’s using the same database, causing them to be invited to participate again and unsubscribe again. And the cycle continues.
Key takeaway: We are hammering a highly prized target population when they’ve made it clear they don’t want us to.
Potential Solution: This situation is difficult to fix, as the root cause of the issue is that research vendors are not sharing their opt out lists. Clients should be asking their vendors for the unsubscribes from every study they complete and share this with each vendor they use. Otherwise, this respondent pool will continue to shrink.
The brokers and advisors we spoke to complained that surveys almost always take longer to complete than what is promised in the invitation.
As a researcher, we’re often hopeful the content will be so interesting the respondent will think it took less time, or we timed the survey using completion paths requiring less time. At the very worst, we are willing to say anything to get people to participate.
Key takeaway: We have a credibility gap. Our audience thinks we are intentionally misleading them.
Potential solution: We can begin to address the perception of lying by simply applying the five-minute rule. For every study, add five minutes to the approximate completion time and present it as a range. If the survey is going to take 10 minutes to complete, tell the respondent it should be between 10 and 15 minutes. If the survey is going to take 15 minutes to complete, tell the respondent it’s likely to take between 15 and 20 minutes. It’s all about how you communicate and set expectations.
Respondents said that the incentives being offered can be laughable. For example, a $5 Starbucks gift card presented for a 15-minute survey. This compensation does not take into account how busy the advisors are in their workday. For them in particular, time is literally money, so this money-saving tactic actually comes across as the research company failing to understand their audience.
Key takeaway: We need to get serious about fair, adequate, and appropriate compensation. From my experience in the industry over 20 years, anything less than $25 for a 10-to-15-minute survey for this audience in particular is unacceptable.
Potential solution: Value your respondent and they will value your research. At Brookmark, our recommended minimum is $35 for a 10-to-15-minute survey. It’s important to understand that while offering appropriate compensation requires clients to increase their research budgets, a lower incentive can have lasting ramifications, such as causing the survey to take longer to field because of low participation, or, even worse, causing more people to unsubscribe from this and future research endeavors.
Many of the advisors we spoke to said they were presented with questions and topics that are either of no interest to them or asked about something an advisor can’t act upon in their current situation. For example, asking an advisor about the likelihood of switching their custody or clearing provider does not take into account the amount of effort or approvals involved. Some advisors then view this as not knowing or understanding their business.
Key takeaway: We need to emphasize how the research is going to be used to help advisors.
Potential solution: Be it growing their business, improving services, or providing better products – there needs to be a crystal-clear explanation as to why the research is going to benefit this audience for them to remain engaged and open-minded. If the survey invitation and questionnaire introduction fails to address this, they are immediately less inclined to participate and/or complete.
Let’s Move Forward!
While this situation might feel like cause for alarm, the potential fixes require that we as researchers be thoughtful, courteous, and respectful of our research audiences. Most importantly, be thoughtful in how you choose a research vendor. Make sure you find one that has both your best interests and that of the target audience.
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