Updated Wednesday, July 30, 2014 as of 3:16 PM ET
Blogs - The Smart Advisor
How Efficient Are You? 4 Questions to Ask
Commonwealth Financial Network
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
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Everyone wants an efficient practice. But what most advisors really love is meeting with clients and pursuing business development activities -- not managing the day-to-day operations of the firm.

You may want an efficient organization, but you must be willing to take the necessary steps to attain and sustain it.

GET A BASELINE

Start by getting a baseline reading of your firm's efficiency. To do so, answer these four questions:

1. How integrated is your technology?

Most advisors today rely on technology to streamline functions such as performance reporting, creating financial plans, and monitoring client issues and touches. In your office, how well do these applications integrate with one another? Do you have to update multiple systems every time a client's situation changes?

When it comes to technology: The greater the integration, the greater the efficiency.

2. Have you documented your key processes?

Documenting your firm's frequently used processes -- and following them -- is critical. Do you have step-by-step written procedures for the firm's most common activities, such as review meeting preparation and follow-up, or converting a prospect to a client? What about customer service issues that support staff handle with little direct involvement from the advisor -- such as paperwork processing?

One of advisors' biggest misconceptions is that support staff are the only team members who need to be concerned with operational efficiency. In fact, everyone in the office should be involved in mapping out key processes.

The checklist approach to documenting processes promotes consistency across the firm. That's especially important in multi-advisor practices and when workflows involve multiple people.

3. Do your systems support scale and efficiency?

A client classification system and corresponding service matrix -- which allows you to plan your interactions with clients throughout the year -- is one of the most practical ways to promote efficiency.

This type of systemization makes it easy for staff members to see, for example, how many appointments a client will have each year. And it can help advisors focus their time and attention on the clients who most need their support.

4. Do staff and advisors actively manage their time?

Even if you've documented your firm's processes, you may wind up with significant variations in the time required to get work done. Much of that boils down to the efficiency of various individuals: A task or project that takes one person an hour to finish -- whether it's preparing for a review meeting, handling a service request or completing paperwork -- may take another colleague twice as long.

In terms of time management, staff members and advisors should adopt the same mantra: Make a list, prioritize it, block out time for the most critical tasks, and then review and revise the list.

It's not rocket science, but for many people, good time management skills don't come naturally.

ONGOING EFFORT

Of course, your answers to these questions will be affected by related business areas. Think about these factors, which could affect firmwide efficiency:

  • Do job descriptions exist for all the players in the firm, so everyone knows who's responsible for what?
  • Do you have a written business plan that clearly defines where the organization is now, where it's going, and how it's going to get there? 
  • Does the firm's culture emphasize efficiency? 
  • Do hiring decisions factor in candidates' personal efficiency and time management capabilities? 

You can't turn your practice into a model of efficiency overnight. In fact, the most efficient organizations continually target areas of relative inefficiency and work to improve them.

The well-oiled practice renews its focus on enhancing efficiency every day.

Joni Youngwirth is managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network.

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