Cameron Fleming is a strategist who ain’t afraid of no online investing.

BMO SmartFolio. Invest online. Not alone.

Confronting the deepest fears about online investing


  • Our first campaign for BMO SmartFolio, which focused on the effortlessness of using it, didn’t work.
  • So strategy, creative, and client pulled together to figure out why, embarking on a new round of qualitative research.
  • We found that many investors find the idea of investing online genuinely terrifying.
  • By reassuring investors that they could invest for themselves without investing by themselves, we doubled new accounts and quadrupled assets under management.

Case study


BMO SmartFolio was the first “roboadvisor” from a Canadian big bank. Using a roboadvisor is like putting your investments on autopilot. Your portfolio is automatically rebalanced so you don’t need to worry about it, but you still avoid the high fees of a traditional investment advisor.

I worked on both of these campaigns as a copywriter. When the launch campaign flopped, the planner, Susan Meisels, and I worked together closely on the new strategy. It was a revelation to see how much the work can improve when planners and creatives come together. This campaign, more than any other, convinced me to make the move to strategy.

Launch campaign

Surveys had revealed one thing very clearly: people wanted investing to be effortless. Low-fees? An easy-to-use app? Hands-free investing? What’s not to love? BMO SmartFolio seemed like a slam dunk. Most people don’t want to think about their money all the time, and the notion that they wouldn’t have to was appealing.

It was also appealing to us creatives. When the message is that simple, you can have much more fun with it. Our idea: “Let your money do the hard work.” The TV spot we produced is still one of my favourite pieces of creative work (although if I could do it over again, we would have featured Laurier.)

The spot tested pretty well. It drove good traffic to BMO’s Web site. It even picked up a few award shortlists and mentions in the advertising press. People seemed to like it.

But it didn’t work. Investors weren’t opening accounts. The slam dunk bounced off the rim and fell to the ground. We needed to figure out why.

The missing link

Years later, I would learn about a framework used in Jobs To Be Done theory called the Four Forces of Progress. We weren’t thinking in these terms at the time, but I now realize this framework reveals a lot about the problem.

The Four Forces of Progress
The forces at play when a consumer has a choice to make

Push: The aspects of the current situation that aren’t working. For BMO SmartFolio, these included high fees and mistrusting advisors.

Pull: The aspects of the the new situation that are appealing. For BMO SmartFolio, these included the effortless app and low fees.

Habit: The aspects of the current situation that are comfortable for the consumer.

Anxiety: The aspects of the new situation that the consumer worries about.

The surveys had revealed a lot about what might cause someone to open a SmartFolio account (the “push” and the “pull”) but very little about what might hold them back (“habit” and “anxiety.”) Indeed, surveys are very bad at revealing that part of the equation. To dig that deep, you need qualitative research.

Susan, the planner, organized a series of focus groups with investors and the results were eye-opening.

First, on the subject of habits, the participants talked about what a chore it is to open and fund a new account. At the time, BMO SmartFolio had a $5,000 account minimum. That meant you couldn’t just take it for a spin to see how it works; opening an account required a serious commitment.

But the real killer was anxiety. While a few people love online trading, most of us are freaked out by it. Nobody wants to lose money investing, but what would be even worse is to lose money and feel like an idiot because it’s all your fault. Online investing seemed hard and lacked the safety net of an advisor.

When asked what came to mind when they thought of online investing, the investors responded with shockingly vivid nightmare scenarios: being thrown into the lion’s den, being lost at sea, or being naked in public. Clearly these fears needed to be addressed.

Key insight

No matter how easy or cheap BMO SmartFolio made online investing, unless people could get over their fears of investing by themselves, they would never sign up.


Reassure investors that with BMO SmartFolio, they can invest online without having to invest alone.


Armed with this insight, we sent Sir John A. packing and created a new campaign with the tagline “Invest online, not alone.” Our work drew from — and sometimes shamelessly stole — the vivid imagery captured in the focus groups. Our new television spot dramatized a common nightmare: the test you haven’t studied for.

We developed an inexpensive format for social advertising that allowed us to generate dozens of concepts and optimize the ones that resonated most. With different social versions, we were able to address different dimensions of online investing anxiety, such as complexity, difficulty, or danger.

BMO logo
bmocanada With BMO SmartFolio, investing online doesn’t have to feel like swimming upstream. #InvestOnlineNotAlone
BMO logo
bmocanada It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to invest online with BMO SmartFolio — our rocket scientists do the investing for you. #InvestOnlineNotAlone
BMO logo
bmocanada Online investing that doesn’t feel like homework. That’s BMO SmartFolio. #InvestOnlineNotAlone
BMO logo
bmocanada You’re going to need a bigger portfolio. #InvestOnlineNotAlone

In contrast to the previous campaign — which featured Sir John A. Macdonald only in the TV spot — this iteration was extended through the entire funnel. Tactical advertising presented special offers and messaging around the RRSP deadline.

And last but not least, BMO lowered the account minimum, making SmartFolio less daunting to people who wanted to give it a shot but weren’t prepared to hand over all their assets.


The empathetic approach of the new campaign led to a dramatic improvement in BMO SmartFolio’s business.

Invest online. Not alone.
July 2017 vs. July 2016
Total assets under management
Traffic to
landing page
New account

Traffic to the landing page more than doubled, and once there, more people were signing up — BMO also nearly doubled its number of new account registrations.

Even more importantly, BMO SmartFolio’s assets under management (AUM) nearly quadrupled during the campaign, which had a direct impact on revenue.


BMO Nesbitt Burns
KBS, Toronto
Executive Creative Directors
Ian Mackenzie and Laura Kim
Associate Creative Director/Copywriter
Cameron Fleming
Senior Art Director
Ryan Walton
VP, Head of Strategy
Susan Meisels
VP, Account Service
Lorri MacDonald
Account Director
David Lineros
Account Executive
Jimmy Pun