A visit to the online magazine of Canadian robo-adviser Wealthsimple can send a reader on a trajectory far beyond the usual tips and tricks that customers have come to expect from a bank or asset management company. Wealthsimple’s articles are targeted and edgy, with headlines such as “How to work in the gig economy and still save like a corporate lifer” or “How to blow your holiday bonus.” The articles go beyond just advice — interviews with popular personalities such as Anthony Bourdain and Kevin Bacon on personal struggles with money help humanize the personal finance experience.
“We don’t talk to people about oil prices and interest rates, we talk to people about interesting stories about money — we do a series of money diaries where we interview celebrities and interesting people to help break down the taboo of talking about money,” said CEO Mike Katchen.
Wealthsimple joins a league of brands that tell stories without the need to constantly link to a line of products and services. Other finance companies have also opted for organic storytelling, including Charles Schwab, whose magazines focus less on the nitty gritty of finance than the “shared values” that the brand has with its customers’ lifestyles. It’s an approach that’s worked for Wealthsimple, whose content has been cited as a credible source by mainstream media outlets, including stories from Business Insider, Money, CNBC and MarketWatch. The site gets 300,000 page views a month, according to the company.
Wealthsimple’s branded content shop is an in-house operation run by 10 full-time employees and headed by former GQ editorial director Devin Friedman. The team also includes two Wieden+Kennedy alumni, the agency known for its work for Nike. As Tearsheet reported in February, Wealthsimple’s move to bring in design talent is a trend among financial advisory companies seeking to add a human touch to customers’ experience with money. Katchen said the target audience is professionals between 30 and 45.
“It’s about how to create a brand that resonates with a younger audience and speaks to them in terms they understand,” he said. “The classic example is the person who knows investing is something they should be doing, but they don’t have the time or interest in doing it themselves.”
To marketers who develop branded content for banks and finance companies, Wealthsimple may be onto something.
“When you go there [Wealthsimple’s website], there’s a cohesive editorial feel to it, which I think really helps them as they are expanding to a new market,” said Michael Grimes, svp of editorial strategy at Hill Holliday, the lead creative agency for Bank of America. “If you look at their imagery, they could have taken stock photos, but a lot of them are hand-drawn illustrations or treated photos — everything feels like it’s coming from same place editorially, and it has the same visual identity as a magazine.”
Grimes said customers are less likely to shy away from branded content if it’s seen as useful and the information is accurate.
“People want solid, accurate information,” he said. “If brands have the bench and the access to expertise to give that information, that gives them a leg up.”
In the competitive market for millennial investors, content that’s not seen as useful can easily turn off customers, said one analyst.
“We see a saturated market of ‘tips and tricks,’ ‘five things you need to know about,'” said Jeff Baker, director of digital marketing for content marketing agency Brafton. “People want to read in-depth pieces of actual use cases of things that worked and things that didn’t.”
Wealthsimple, founded in 2014, hopes its approach to digital marketing, combined with traditional advertising and Facebook ads, will give it a needed push as it expands to new markets. The company, which is backed by a CA$100 million ($77 million) investment from Power Financial, expanded to the U.S. in February of this year and plans to launch in the U.K. this fall. Despite the challenges of growing the company’s reach in new markets, Katchen said there’s room for more players.
“We’re not building a business to solve the problem for early adopters only — we’re in the business to solve the problem that investing is complicated for the average person,” he said. “We’re trying to create a lifestyle brand around financial services that’s broadly relevant to the masses out there, and that’s informed our strategy and given us confidence that the market is wide open for a player like us.”
Image: Money Diaries series from Wealthsimple’s online magazine, courtesy of Wealthsimple