SALT LAKE CITY -- Evolve or perish.
That was the general theme of the opening keynote address here today at the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors' national conference delivered by Doug Lipp, a motivational speaker, author and former head of corporate training at Walt Disney University.
While acknowledging that there are vast differences between maintaining theme park rides and selling Mickey Mouse-inspired apparel and souvenirs and shepherding investors' life savings through the investment labyrinth, Lipp said many of the fundamental principles -- delivering outstanding customer service and meeting both the practical and emotional needs of customers -- readily apply to the financial services industry.
"It's about doing the ordinary in an extraordinary fashion," Lipp said. "And there's no 'magic' to it. Financial planning is more than putting together a financial plan. It's about details and emotion and how you, as an advisor, have to put on a great show for your clients and for your employees."
Lipp used anecdotes from his tenure training and motivating Disney employees during the ups and downs of the entertainment giant's corporate lifespan as analogous to Wall Street, noting that Disney in the early to mid-1980s became arrogant and myopic from its success only to become stagnant and the repeated target of leveraged buyouts when its stock flat-lined and its pipeline of new hit movies dried up.
"Too often people and businesses are unwilling to change," he said. "They're afraid of a drop-off in productivity and quality and miss out on great opportunities to reinvent themselves and create new revenue sources."
"It doesn't matter if you have 10s of clients or 1,000s of clients, the marketplace around you is constantly changing," he added. "No matter how big you are or how long you've been around or how big your brand is, it can disappear overnight."
To avoid that complacency that almost did in Disney -- Lipp said the company had first crack at making the smash hit movie E.T. but passed because it didn't fit Disney's presumed identity and could have picked up animation giant Pixar for "pennies" had it been open to new animation technology -- financial advisors and firms need to embrace new communication mediums like social networking and devise marketing campaigns and strategies that get them in front of different groups of potential clients they might otherwise have ignored during the industry's heyday.
"It's about connecting with people from different backgrounds and seeing beyond the obvious," he said. "You have to take the walls that you might have put up between yourself and potentially lucrative sources of new businesses."
Another key component in any advisory firm's long-term success is succession planning, something that plagued Disney throughout its evolution, Lipp said.
"Every organization has dreamers and doers," he said. "Walt was the dreamer and his brother Roy was the doer. Which one are you? Do you know who the contrarian counterpart in your company is? It's important to identify the next you, the next dreamer or doer, and the next contrarian to take your places when you're gone."
Finally, Lipp said emotion and management of emotions are especially important today in the wake of the financial shenanigans and upheaval that dramatically eroded investor confidence and put severe dents in virtually every investor's portfolio.
"Misunderstandings can and do happen in normal human interactions," he said. "When it comes to someone's fiscal health, they're going to be upset. They're going to be angry at times. That's why it's important to be a professional who not only provides the information, the financial plan, but also actively listens and responds to these emotions."
Lipp suggested individual advisors and firms take the most common complaints from clients -- perhaps it's that it takes too long to hear back an advisor -- and develop one- or two-sentence replies that indicate both the knowledge of the situation and an awareness that advisors understand and empathize with their clients and their concerns.
"It's just like Disneyland," he said. "The moms and dads, they don't care why the ride is broken. They're just upset that it is. To be successful, advisors need to put that aside and put on a good show. Just like Snow White, you can't have a bad day."