Not afraid to toss a sport's analogy into the mix, Joseph P. Davis is confident he and his team of three advisors act as true financial quarterbacks for their family of clients.
"The concept of team has gotten to a point where you've got three producers and two assistants and that's considered a team," says Davis, who founded Durham, N.C.-based DWM Advisors (www.dwmadvisorsllc.com) just last year as a family-styled office. "That's a distribution team but not an advisory team. They may have specialized knowledge, but they're not representing the client first."
For Davis, it's crucial that every member of his firm understand they're there for one goal-to serve the investors who come to DWM Advisors for proactive, qualitative management, not just for advice on the latest financial product. That approach means thorough engagement with clients, a deep understanding of their particular fiscal requirements and the confidence that the firm can help them reach the end zone (aka, their life goals).
Clients meet with DWM three times a year and are also referred to outside specialists who are fully screened by Davis and his crew. These specialists may have expertise in investment banking or international accounting, whatever might be required in Davis' eyes to
ensure his clients' financial needs are being met.
To Davis, this team setup is ideal, particularly for high-net-worth clients who may have spent the past 10 to 15 years building portfolios with cookie-cutter brokers, but now need more sophisticated management. "People come to us when they've graduated from a sales-time transactional business," he says. "They come to us when they've grown up."
In recent years, the idea of wealth management teams has taken The Street by storm. While financial advisors will often double-up to work with a group of clients, those who work in true teams tend to have clients who flow seamlessly between everyone in the firm. According to financial professionals who have chosen this path, this structure offers multiple viewpoints to help investors not just reach goals, but help them better understand what their goals might be.
The New Year can be the ideal time for advisors to assess their own practice and see how they can apply a team-like environment to their plans. Those who have adopted this approach believe it offers the best outcome for all, especially clients.
Creating a Better Client Experience
"You're building a plan on someone else's core values not just how much has accrued in his or her 401(k) plan," says Michael Kay, a certified financial planner and president of Livingston, N.J.-based Financial Focus (www.financial-focus.net). He recently penned The Business of Life, a guide to a team approach in financial planning. "The vision I created is about giving the client the best possible experience. What is a client going to see and feel as an end product? That ideal is what would make a client experience really worthwhile."
For Kay, that process starts with the team of advisors and support staff he's carefully cultivated during the past nine years. The team now manages $170 million collectively. Kay curates people around him, searching for those with differing yet complementary skill sets, such as analytics and life planning expertise. He also hones in on different generations. Kay recently hired a 23-year-old advisor, for example, because he felt it was crucial for the firm to be able to understand the life phases of all his clients.
Together, the 10-member firm is focused on the same goal: Supporting their clients' life dreams, and not just their portfolio balance. To that end, Kay has his team run assessments of their own strengths and weaknesses as each year culminates, looking at what they could have done differently and how they can meet new goals in the new year.
"This winter we're even bringing in a social worker to work with our team and come to client meetings," he says. "The social worker is not
going to do therapy but give us insight into our
own people, their openness and if they're sending signals of confusion or even shutting down.
Because if you have an area that's not working, then everything shuts down."
Of course a wealth management team doesn't require a psychological read of each member to set a family-like practice in motion. Although an
in-depth approach like Kays' can help ensure that
everyone stays focused on the same end point, teams can be simpler in structure and execution, and still serve their clients in a comprehensive fashion.
"I think people do use the term 'team' in different contexts," says Jason Archambault, co-owner of SK Wealth Management (www.skmwealth.com) in Providence, R.I., which he helped launch 10 years ago. "We talk about how we're a team here with our prospective clients, who have a lead financial planner as well as a registered para planner. They also have a director of investments. And typically, they'd meet with all of us."
To manage the team process, regular meetings between team members are almost a necessity. Beside the fact that the entire company needs to stay up to date on each client's current financial affairs, teams often have subspecialties that need to be realigned as practices grow and as clients' requirements change.
Dean J. Catino and his three partners at Monument Wealth Management (www.monumentwealthmanagement.com) in Alexandria, Va., meet at the beginning and end of each week with every staff member to address business developments as well as the administrative tasks that need to be coordinated. Although two of the partners primarily focus on financial planning and two on asset management, all are charged with bringing in new business and treating clients as if they're members of one large family.
"Every client is a client of the firm, even my own father," says Catino. "If he calls he's obviously speaking with me, but that relationship is a firm relationship. Even if we have separate areas of responsibility, we feel we can do more as a team than as solo practitioners."
Catino believes that the tightly knit bond between the members of his firm could stem from the fact that he and his partners have known each other for 10 years. All four came from Merrill Lynch in Washington, D.C., and as close friends they carefully plotted how to not just survive but thrive as their own entity. Every detail from the financial planning platform they would use to technology was investigated, and after two years the firm now manages about $250 million.
"We made a collective decision to do a mutiny," he says. "We took about a year, and we would never go back."
Finding Common Ground
Yet making a team work smoothly need not require a long trail of friendship. Instead, that kind of cohesiveness can come when everyone adheres to the same work ethic and goals. And for some that doesn't mean working 60 hours a week, to the exclusion of other activities.
For example, Kay says, "Before we hired our youngest member, he came in for an interview and I drew a circle on the conference room white board and told him to show me how he spends his life today with a certain amount of time for work, friends and family. He did that, and also added the time he gives to Big Brothers and his exercise time. I realized that he is someone whose life is not just work and not just play, but friends, family, community and giving back."
To Kay, the success of his firm lies deeply in this kind of holistic approach to life planning. He's well aware that any decent advisor can craft a 30-page financial plan and talk to clients about target-savings goals. But he believes this style of planning is fair weather only.
"You can go to a website and create a portfolio," says Kay. "And then clients love you when markets are up and hate you when markets are down. Building a relationship based on how
clients build their life dreams actually seems more sensible than building one on just how we're
going to invest their money."
Davis agrees that the ultimate goal for an advisory team should be to help clients craft the life they want to live and implement strategies to get there. And his team of seven managers, analysts and business development people work seamlessly to that end.
But Davis understands this style of management doesn't work for everyone, especially advisors more comfortable with numbers and balances than a more nuanced approach. And so he puts prospective hires through his own unique test, confident that the ones who eventually pass will truly fit in the team space.
"My philosophy is to run people off," says
Davis. "And the ones who really want to stay? They'll stay."
Fashioning Your Own Financial Team
Creating a financial team requires more than just calling the advisor down the block. Michael Kay, author of The Business of Life, believes that clear planning, strong follow-through and discipline are the ingredients for a well-honed financial team.
But how do you start?
Step One: Create a vision of what you want the firm to look like. You can't know where you want it to go, if you don't start with a clear vision.
Step Two: Overlay your current work on this new vision and find out what needs to change to get you from here to there. Even if that vision shifts, you need to start taking steps in your current reality to get you going in the right direction.
Step Three: Do an assessment program to find out what you could do better or differently and start testing the vision. What is working well? What do you not yet understand?
Step Four: Develop a team of outside references and support from attorneys, even mentors. Find out who might have resources you can draw on for these kinds of experts. Even clients can offer recommendations.
Step Five: Understand that failure is good. As you start to put this new vision into action, know that trying something new and having it not work is better than not trying. You can learn from what doesn't work and refine the process.
Step Six: Build a niche of people with whom you enjoy working. Make sure the people on your team, as well as the clients you cultivate, are people who make your life positive. It should not be just about how much money they have in their pot.