Finance firms like TD Ameritrade say flash briefings on Amazon's Alexa have opened up new ways for them to communicate with advisors and potential clients


amazon alexa app

  • Financial institutions like TD Ameritrade are investing in voice to connect with an array of clients and build out their marketing strategies.
  • Amazon’s flash briefings on Alexa have proven to be a popular alternative to email blasts in recent years, and the finance flash briefing category is filling up fast. 
  • Companies like TD Ameritrade and Ritholtz Wealth Management got in on the trend early. Their audio strategists spoke to Business Insider about what they learned after more than a year producing flash briefings. 
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Email blasts have a new competitor in the finance world: flash briefings on Amazon Alexa.

Flash briefings are a skill — or a voice app on Alexa — that last for only a minute or two and usually provide news on a specific topic.

For financial institutions that are used to communicating with clients via email, flash briefings can be a more natural, frictionless way to get in touch every day, said Dani Fava, the director of innovations at TD Ameritrade, who oversees voice initiatives like flash briefings and the use of conversational AI to communicate with advisors.

TD Ameritrade first started looking into voice in 2018 and launched its flash briefing in early 2019 as a way to connect with its thousands of advisors.

Ritholtz Wealth Management also decided to invest in voice to reach a broader audience in 2018, and found success with its flash briefing “Market Moment” right away, according to voice marketing expert Emily Binder, who designed the briefing and tracked its implementation on Alexa.

They aren’t the only companies to get in the game. BlackRock’s weekly flash briefing features strategists breaking down news that impacts the markets, and Morgan Stanley produces two flash briefings providing commentary and analysis from industry thought leaders. 

Many financial institutions have blogs and podcasts for internal and external communications, but as the adoption of smart speakers heats up, many more are looking to establish a presence on Alexa and other voice assistants. Amazon and Google restrict advertising opportunities on their smart speakers, so flash briefings have become one of few workarounds. 

What TD Ameritrade learned after a year of producing its flash briefing

About 7,000 independent registered investment advisors (RIAs) keep their client assets with TD Ameritrade, so the company designed its daily flash briefing, “TD Ameritrade for Advisors,” to reach those people in particular.

The flash briefing provides information like updates on technology and innovation, practice management tips, and reminders about upcoming events for RIAs. Before the flash briefing, that sort of information was shared via email, Fava said, but many clients were either not opening the messages, losing them in a spam filter, or unsubscribing.

“We wanted to come up with a way to be in our clients’ ears for just two minutes a day,” Fava said. “It’s a way to build relationships through this channel.”

In the year since the flash briefing went live, Fava said she and her team have worked to hone it based on anecdotal feedback. Fava and a few other TD Ameritrade employees started out voicing the briefing, but eventually they tried to offload the voice work to a professional. But listeners preferred the original voices, Fava said, so they kept the work internal. 

“One of the things we learned is that familiarity is key when it comes to voice,” Fava said. “It’s not the kind of thing that you want to be perfect and polished.”

In the earlier days of TD Ameritrade’s voice work, Fava said the most challenging thing about developing the briefing was overcoming compliance barriers. Amazon certifies all flash briefings, and because of TD Ameritrade’s status as a broker dealer, the company holds itself to equally high standards of review. 

In order to speed up its internal review process, TD Ameritrade built a workflow system that checks to make sure every MP3 file complies with its own requirements, as well as Amazon’s, before it moves to production, Fava said. 

The audio files are designed to be short — about 90 seconds to two minutes tops — and consistent to encourage listeners to return to the briefing daily, Fava said. 

While “TD Ameritrade for Advisors” is specific to RIAs with the company, other financial institutions use flash briefings to increase brand awareness more broadly.

Flash briefings work for smaller financial institutions, too

Ritholtz Wealth Management CEO Josh Brown has been known online for his blog, the Reformed Broker, since 2008. With a preexisting following of industry insiders and newcomers alike, in 2018, the registered investment advisory firm was looking to expand its marketing strategy into audio.

Ritholtz enlisted the help of Binder’s company, Beetle Moment Marketing, which helps businesses establish their presence on voice assistants.

While flash briefings have become more popular for financial institutions recently, Binder said when she first looked into designing a skill for the company in 2018, she couldn’t find much precedent for voice use in finance. 

At that point, Brown was ahead of the game even outside of his blog, with a podcast, YouTube channel, and active Twitter account that now has more than one million followers. 

“His whole team was excellent at creating content, so I wanted to give them a way to do that on a daily basis with short-form audio,” Binder said.

The “Market Moment” flash briefing became the fastest grower in the business and finance category in its first month, without a media budget to promote it, Binder said. After eight weeks, it went from No. 75 to No. 20 on the Alexa skill search page for the term “investing,” and from No. 24 to No. 8 for “stock market.”

Since working on “Market Moment,” Binder said she’s been approached by several other finance-focused companies like Citywire and Liberty Group to help with their voice strategies, although she doesn’t always recommend a flash briefing. The strategy works best for those who have niche specializations like estate planning or retirement, time to commit to recording daily sound bites, and an existing digital or social media marketing presence. 

“Voice is not a silo,” Binder said. “You have to promote it and explain it in your existing marketing channels to bring people to it. View voice as another part of the marketing mix.”

SEE ALSO: The executive producer of NYT podcast ‘The Daily’ describes how she came up with the idea and how the show found its footing

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