My Top 3 Challenges Impacting Financial Services Sales Today

By Robert Conlon, Global Head of Leadership, Alpha Development

For over twenty years I have worked with relationship managers within global financial services organisations to develop their client skills. There are certain challenges that consistently present themselves when relationship managers try to demonstrate the advantages of their solutions compared to the offerings of their competitors.

The common thread running through all these challenges I encounter is the inability to pre-design value into the client conversation. A car salesperson has a car they can test drive, a pharma salesperson has a drug to demonstrate – the relationship manager often has nothing but a brochure.

This means that the relationship manager must have the skills to be able to design value through their communication of the solution; the differentiation is not pre-designed.

The 2021 McKinsey Global Banking Annual Review 1 indicates that “the banking industry now faces a great divergence. The gap in market-to-book ratio between top and bottom performers has widened. Today the spectrum runs from seven to well below 0.5 times.’

Further that, “traditional banks that wish to join this elite group have only a limited window. About two-thirds of the value generated during an entire economic recovery cycle is created during the first two years after a crisis.”

Therefore, the following are the top 3 challenges I see:

1) Finance can be too black and white

I’m fortunate to have visited the Middle East several times. If I were to be asked to describe my time there, I evoke memories of the evening call to prayer, the setting sun, and the feeling of relief at the coolness of the evening when compared to the heat of the day. I would recall the taste of baba ganoush, followed by lamb and herbs – delicious. My travel experience was a fully sensory, an experience that continues to induce emotional responses.

In contrast, a financial services relationship manager does not, from the outset at least, have a product that can be engaged with at this deep emotional and memorable level. And it’s at this emotional level that relationships are formed and products become memorable. But unfortunately, an investment fund is not a sensory entity.

Forrester2, too, make this point in their report, “Retention Is Not Enough: Banks Must Build Emotion-Rich Relationships To Grow”.

2) Products don’t differentiate

Certain products can elicit strong emotions based upon their branding or design. For example, Apple can charge a premium price because of the brand loyalty it has driven through its products’ quality, functionality and design. For manufactured goods, a product’s functionality can often sell itself.

In contrast, financial services products are intangible, look similar to each other, and relatively easy to copy.

According to Statista 3 in 2022 there were over a thousand capital markets services licensees in Singapore, and 207 insurance companies. This includes 131 banks and 21 Merchant banks. Differentiation in such a crowded marketplace is crucial.

Within financial services, value is elicited from the relationship manager’s client conversations. It is during these interactions where the relationship manager can develop a deeper understanding of the client’s needs, motivations and challenges – the drivers for change that really matter.

3) You can’t take a financial solution for a test drive

When pitching a new solution to a new client it’s not always possible for the client to trial products.

Generally, the nature of financial solutions is that they are future-orientated. This inability to demonstrate a product in operation can lead to high levels of incumbency bias within financial services: it’s difficult for a buyer to validate the performance of a product that they haven’t used before ̶ yet another barrier to financial services sales.

For financial services relationship managers, having the skills to overcome these challenges is crucial if they are to stay competitive and responsive. Being informed with a deep understanding of their clients’ requirements enables and supports successful outcomes for all parties.

I will be deep diving into the three challenges outlined above, and discussing strategies to address them, at the Ramada By Wyndham Hotel in Singapore on October 12th.

Please do register your attendance for what promises to be a lively and thought-provoking event.


1 The Great Divergence, McKinsey & Company

2 Forrester

3 Statista Research


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