Working with expert teams-private client attorneys, insurance specialists and other professionals-is a way to stand out and provide truly comprehensive service to your clients (see "Team Player," December 2010). Unfortunately advisors sometimes stumble when it comes to choosing their team members. Your goal is to build a close-knit group, team players who work well with your clients and provide all the skills you and your clients need.

Don't worry about getting everything perfect on the first try. Many people have the necessary expertise; you don't need to find the person with the most expertise when you are building your team. Other values-such as their congeniality and openness to working with other professionals-are also important.

 

HOW TO DO IT

Ideally, the experts on the team you assemble will have a strong chemistry with one another-and you. Some advisers believe that the members of their expert teams must also be strategic alliance partners. However, those alliances can take a long time to develop, and you'll need to build your expert team now. Here's a step-by-step process to get started.

Step 1: Determine clients' needs. To choose your experts and which services to offer, you need to know what your affluent clients need today and may need tomorrow. So be aware of "red flags" that often signal the need for solutions provided by an expert:

* An estate plan more than five years old;

* Significant growth in personal net worth since the purchase of life insurance;

* A strong charitable inclination combined with a haphazard giving pattern;

* Concentrated stock positions; and

* The desire to sell a business in the near future.

It's highly likely that your primary need will be a private client lawyer, followed by a life insurance specialist. But always tailor your team to your practice.

For example, Larry Palmer of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Los Angeles serves mainly officers, directors and founders of public and private companies. When his clients started asking for help with mergers and acquisitions and related concerns about five years ago, he began building a team of valuation specialists, M&A attorneys and other experts. "I saw that I should know the top people in all these areas and be a financial concierge for clients," he says.

Step 2: Make a list of candidates. Once you have a clear idea of the expertise your clients need, gather a pool of potential team members. You are most likely looking for one person in each area of expertise, but should consider more than one candidate for each area while building your team.

One good source of referrals is financial firms from which you already obtain services or products. You might ask for names from other advisors who work with clients like yours. Another approach is to ask your clients for experts they trust and approach them for a discussion about the client. Although they may not be available, they have the expertise to know who to trust in their fields.

Palmer found referrals through clients especially helpful. "Say you have a client who loves his accountant. We tell that accountant we'd like to talk about our mutual client's situation and find out more about the accounting practice," he says. "During that meeting, we ask the question, 'If we couldn't hire you, who is the person out there you most respect that you would refer your clients to-someone whom you really admire?' The good guys know who the other good guys are, and they always give you a name."

Step 3: Rank the candidates. Research every candidate online, scrutinize their websites and look up their publications. Check out lawyers through Martindale-Hubbell (www.martindale.com) and CPAs at www.cpadirectory.com. Bear in mind that you want top expertise that is also tailored to your clients-not just top expertise, but the right expertise.

Step 4: Meet the candidates in person. You need to get a sense of your personal rapport and whether each candidate is open to working closely with you and the team as a whole. Seek professionals with high personal integrity and a strong desire to be more financially successful or enhance their lifestyle without decreasing their income.

To probe for these dynamics, start by describing how you work with clients one-on-one and how you will bring together a team of professionals to meet specific client needs. Next, methodically develop a clear picture of the candidate by covering each area on the chart above (see "Choosing Experts for Your Clients").

If you have a specific client challenge in mind, see if the expert has the necessary skills. Cover all the candidate's areas of expertise.

* The practice. Ask about the expert's current clientele, client management practices and practice goals. Look for details on how they work with clients, including compensation arrangements. What financial services and products do they ordinarily use?

* Teamwork. Of course, it's critical to understand the expert's views on working with financial advisors and explore any experiences they've had working with advisors in the past. You are looking for professionals who will see working with you as a real business opportunity.

* The network. Ask the candidate about his or her professional contacts. One of the best ways to expand the services your team can offer will be through the contacts of your team members. How strong is the candidate's professional network?

Cover all the bases on the chart with thorough questioning. That will show you "if potential candidates would actually be good partners, if they have a genuine interest in sending leads your way, and if they're true specialists," Palmer says.

Step 5: Do a trial run. Once you've narrowed the field to one expert with specific skills for each area of expertise, present a current case and explore solutions and ideas together. Assuming the candidate's ideas make sense, move ahead through the process of presenting them to the client and implementing them, if appropriate. This is a true trial run. As you go through the process, you'll have ample opportunity to decide how well you work together and whether to invite the candidate to work with you and your team on future cases.

Finally, don't fall into the traps that keep advisors from moving ahead. Your goal is to be able to deliver comprehensive solutions to your clients. You should not delay building your expert team. Locate people with the expertise you need-and then get to work.

 

John J. Bowen Jr. is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide, a global training, research and consulting firm dedicated to helping advisors and the institutions that serve them become more successful.