Organization and communication are key components of both how a financial advisory firm should be run and the work that firm does for its clients, according to Grant Rawdin, president and chief executive officer of Wescott Financial Advisory Group, which has offices in Philadelphia, Miami, Boca Raton and Washington, D.C.
Both of these traits are on display in the firm’s “Client Services Handbook.” Everything from phone numbers, answers to frequently asked questions, instructions on how to read and understand reports, and photos of Wescott employees are included in the book, which is given to every new client. “It’s a nice introduction,” Rawdin said, and it helps new clients understand the firm and feel confident in the choice of Wescott.
The firm is “very, very detail-oriented, and that comes out in our materials,” Rawdin said.
Rawdin got his start as an attorney but eventually decided he wanted to use his advocacy skills as a fee-only financial planner. The law firm he worked for, Duane Morris, LLP, remains a minority shareholder in Westcott.
Rawdin said that in his advisory firm, teams are key, and each client works with two advisors.
“When you’re planning for a client it’s better to have a dialogue than a monologue,” he said. Having multiple advisors in meetings and working for clients improves communication and allows for more ideas and oversight. It also helps train new advisors, who can sit in on meetings with more experienced people to learn the planning process.
The firm has a very clear career ladder to develop new, younger, staff, taking them from just out of school through several layers of training until they become full-fledged advisors. Rawdin said that the training program is very structured, with clearly delineated steps along the way, and is designed to provide a pipeline of advisors for the firm. Because of this, the firm also has a robust hiring process, even developing relationships with local college professors to pinpoint prospective employees.
Wescott has a strong marketing and business development function, Rawdin said, with regular meetings to discuss new prospects, and a system in place to keep in contact with centers of influence that may refer clients. Rawdin said that he thinks sales and marketing is often neglected at many financial advisory firms, but he believes that even one-person firms can really help their business by devoting a few hours a month to these tasks.
Rawdin said Wescott has an active interest in the structure and value of other firms, since it has actually been looking at other businesses to acquire for about four years but has not been able to find a match.
With many of the possible acquisition targets they have looked at, “from the outside, they may look like really nice firms, and they are nice firms. They’re smart people who do a great job with their clients,” he said. But inside they don’t have a lot of value, he said, because they don’t have succession plan, or a pipeline of management, or a strategic approach to finding and developing new clients. These types of advisors “end up aging with their client base,” he said, and do not have a real business they can sell when they retire.
“How you plan for your company is really just a wonderfully ironic sort of corollary to how you plan for your clients,” Rawdin said. Just as clients need to think about the future, including retirement and estate planning, financial advisors need to plan for the future of their firm as well. That is why, he said, Wescott puts so much effort into developing advisors and prospects for the future.