When a new financial planning venture collects a thousand accounts and a half million dollars of assets in its first year, it is usually considered a failure.
But ReliaStar Financial Corp. in Minneapolis says its financial planning Web site, which targets mainly younger or single people who have avoided dealing with their finances, is on track for more growth, despite its unimpressive asset-collecting performance.
The ING Group unit says the site aims to sell funds to the 72% of Americans who, it found in a survey, lack any long-term financial plan. The sites name Ihatefinancialplanning.com was inspired by another ReliaStar survey in which 77% of respondents said they hate financial planning.
Ihatefinancialplanning.com features a set of user-friendly guidelines on how and why to make plans. In its first year the site had 1.25 million visitors.
Randall Schuldt, the vice president in charge of the site said that though sales of ReliaStars fund products on the site have been less successful than the company hoped, Ihatefinancialplanning.com has been building loyalty through its education efforts. We arent trying to force anything on anyone, and that goes a long way, Mr. Schuldt said.
The sites users, he said, can e-mail questions to two financial planners (but only once a month) and register to receive weekly no-pressure e-mails with financial planning tips. Other features include advice pages on taxes, retirement, getting out of debt, and budgeting.
Of course, annuity and mutual fund offerings are never far away.
On the sites Instant Investor page, customers can fill out a five-minute questionnaire on their financial picture. The site then presents them with mutual fund options from Pilgrim Funds, ReliaStars proprietary fund family, as well as from AIM and Oppenheimer Funds.
The site also has a term-insurance quote engine that allows users to compare pricing on different annuities.
People who hate financial planning tend to be intimidated by tens of thousands of investment offerings, Mr. Schuldt said. They want guidance and limited choices.
Mr. Schuldt said he believes the sites seemingly contrary user base will be its advantage in the future. These arent people who are being reached by other means they have a negative attitude about financial planning, he said. They are an attitudinal market we can tap.
So far, he said, the Ihatefinancialplanning.com site has opened about 1,000 accounts, with about $500,000 of assets in all. That is not an overwhelming amount of money, but we have built loyalty. People who hate financial planning dont want to be pushed into a sales program, he said.
Mr. Schuldt said the big difference between his site and other financial planning education sites is its humorous tone. One section features an intentionally silly soap opera with situations that could turn up in a financial planning scenario.
The immediate impression we want to give is that this site is a safe place to be, Mr. Schuldt said. The name indicates that this is something a little lighter. We want people to see that financial planning is not scary. Weve seen this has a lasting positive effect in terms of people coming back to the site.
Mr. Schuldt said the site is also taking a slow and steady approach to marketing. It is advertising through Web banner ads as well through television, radio, and newspapers. It is also using viral marketing, by encouraging people to e-mail friends puzzles or games that advertise the site.
Ihatefinancialplanning.com has lingered beneath the radar of most analysts. Jamie Punishill, a technology analyst with Bostons Forrester Research, said he had not heard of it. But, he said, sites that focus on peoples goals rather than losing them in jargon are on the right track.
There is a real problem with the way financial planning is discussed in this country. People hate financial jargon, they dont understand it, Mr. Punishill said. If you add humor and take out the jargon you are heading in the right direction. Let the planner figure out the fine points and lets discuss investors goals. That is what they really care about.