There are many ways financial advisors can seek greater success, but how many of them will actually make a meaningful impact?

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A survey our firm conducted of nearly 2,200 advisors about their practices, concerns and activities sheds some light on specific factors that drive success, independent of the characteristics of the advisors themselves.

Some of the findings reinforce what many of us intuitively believe. Others turn conventional wisdom on its head.

Before revealing the results, it’s important to mention that we view success as excelling in three main areas:

1. Client impact. Providing an outstanding client experience and helping clients maximize their chances of achieving their most important financial goals.

2. Economic value. Factors such as higher net income, a steady stream of ideal prospective clients and significant equity in the business.

3. Quality of life. Building a great quality of life for advisors, their partners, teams, families and, most important, clients, goes hand-in-hand with reaching financial goals.

Obviously, not all activities yield the same results in terms of building a business and boosting success. While some strategies can help catapult advisors to the next level, others will hold them back.

Consider various actions that can be taken in the four areas: Existing client service, practice strategy, practice management and new-client attraction.

Our analysis shows that, with all other factors in the model held constant, focusing more heavily on client service can yield an $8,256 annual increase in income, on average.

The most important things an advisor can do to generate that increase are:

  • Better understand clients’ needs.
  • Maintain effective communication.
  • Improve clients’ satisfaction.
  • Build stronger relationships.

Practice strategy is about thoughtfully and deliberately building the business and ultimately moving toward an exit strategy.
Surprisingly, increasing an advisor’s focus on practice-strategy issues actually decreases income, by an average of $8,792 annually.

Although taking a strategic approach is part of the foundation of any successful business, advisors who devote too much energy to strategy often succumb to “analysis paralysis,” continually gathering information but deferring decisions and making no progress.

Practice management consists of activities related to business operations and team management. Again, we found that, for the advisors in our study, each additional step up the practice management ladder yielded an average decrease in income of $13,567 annually.

As in the practice strategy area, we have seen a tendency for advisors to overthink these activities and spend too much time on them. That said, the right amount of focus in the right areas of practice management can have an impact. Our estimates show that, when advisors focus on actions that increase the efficiency of the business and retain high-quality team members, those practice management elements have the greatest impact on success and income.

New-client attraction is all about attracting a steady stream of new, ideal prospective clients. As with existing client service, more focus in this area is rewarded by higher income: On average, among surveyed advisors, this yielded an estimated increase of $10,441 in annual net income.

It is key to find clients who are more affluent, significantly increasing assets and attracting a larger number of qualified prospective clients. We see that top advisors first focus on becoming great at delivering the client experience. Armed with that competency, they can then turn their attention to new-client attraction.

I like to call this approach “nail it, then scale it.” Advisors focus on actions that pull qualified prospective clients to them. By establishing their expertise in serving select niche markets of affluent clients, they create a value proposition that competitors find difficult to beat.

ACTIONS TO TAKE NOW

Based on our findings, we recommend advisors take three main actions. One is to communicate with clients systematically and about the topics that matter most to them.

For each week of increased contact that advisors had with their top 20 clients, their net income rose by an estimated average of $209. When advisors have regular and meaningful interaction with clients, those clients will be much more inclined to hand over more assets to manage.

Here are some strategies for contacting top clients:

• Make the contact personal. Pick up the phone or send a personal email. Use a smartphone to record and send a quick video greeting to clients on their birthdays. Send interesting magazine or newspaper articles to them.

• Make client contact a systematic part of everyday work. Affluent clients prefer, on average, 28 contacts per year from their advisors, according to our past research. Leverage customer relationship management technology to prompt regular contact.

• Make the contact about more than just money. Talk with clients about other issues that are important to them, such as family, sports, hobbies and current events.

Another strategy is to ask for additional assets. All else being equal, advisors in our survey added an estimated average of $797 in net income for each additional percentage point they managed of their clients’ total assets.

Although clients may occasionally shift assets to an advisor entirely on their own initiative, it is far more effective for the advisor to proactively request those assets.
Maximize the asset-capture potential by taking these steps:

• Know clients and their assets. Conduct a thorough discovery process with clients to get a complete picture of each one’s total assets and who is managing them.

• Be alert to money-in-motion moments that suggest a transfer of assets such as divorce, remarriage, an inheritance or changes in estate taxes.

• Offer, don’t ask. Offer to conduct a complimentary, no-obligation diagnostic review of all accounts, including those held at other firms, to determine whether the overall portfolio is working optimally. Few clients turn down this offer.

The key to this strategy is to identify ideal clients for your practice and release any inappropriate clients who would be better-served by other advisors.

Advisors who are able to build their client base can expect to boost annual net income by $12,906 on average. But those who reduce the number of clients can boost income by an average of $42,463.

By knowing which actions further success and which actions block it, advisors can devote their time and energy to the areas of the business that really count.  

John J. Bowen Jr., a Financial Planning columnist, is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide, a global training, research and consulting firm for advisors in San Martin, Calif.

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