This is the headline for today, and it will likely be the same one in 2025.  According to this year’s Kehrer Bielan benchmarking surveys, branch referrals fell 27% to 29% last year.  And participants in the fall meeting of the Kehrer Bielan Leadership Study Group in Chapel Hill reported that referrals are down even further this year.

In addition to branch referrals being down, studies show that consumer behavior has changed. The majority of Millennials and Gen Z no longer leverage branches to do their banking. And Gen X and Boomer consumers are moving toward mobile solutions at faster rates, especially since the pandemic.

These changes will require firms to develop other ways to reach clients and prospects to generate new business. The quality of referrals may be up, but advisors shouldn’t limit their ability to source new business to only clients that visit the branches.  Enter digital marketing.

Denise Tognarina helped study group participants understand the changes that have occurred in the referral journey, and how these changes have accelerated during the pandemic. Historically, advisors received most of their referrals directly through the branch system. Today, consumers will check up to seven different online sources to identify and select business partners—making it critical for institutions and advisors to have an online presence.

Yesterday's referral journey flowed from Trusted Associate to Friend/Member to the branch and then to the Advisor


Today's referral journey may start with a trusted associate,, but now the Friend/Member will use up to 7 different sources before choosing an advisor


Lacey Taplin shared her perspective on best digital marketing practices, including website design, digital content, email, and leveraging social media.  Bottom line: every firm needs a marketing point person, outsourced if necessary. Dedicate the resources you would have spent cultivating branch referrals into marketing resources and meet today’s clients and prospects where they are.

The Kehrer Bielan Leadership Study Group brings the top executives responsible for managing investment services in leading banks and credit unions to share experience and insights and interact with the latest Kehrer Bielan research.  The fall meeting of the study group was held in Chapel Hill September 29-30.  Download Denise and Lacey’s presentation here.