Making the right support staff hires can improve the overall efficiency of a financial advisory firm and make it easier for top advisors to seek out and serve new clients, says Dan Davis, president and co-founder of ADK Wealth Advisory Group in St. Louis, a firm with $120 million in assets.

Many financial advisors, including him,  “were trained to develop a business model with support staff that was more administrative in nature,” Davis said.

Under that model, most of the financial planning was conducted on the front-end, when clients were first acquired, he said. “After you did the financial plan it became an investment relationship where you were managing money.”

This type of relationship is not as beneficial to the client as constantly using the financial planning process to help guide the investment strategy, Davis said. However, ongoing proactive financial planning takes a lot of time, and expertise, as Davis and his colleagues discovered.  After completing the Dan Sullivan Strategy Coach program, the partners at ADK realized the firm needed to make some significant staff changes.

“When we had the epiphany that we needed to be doing more ongoing planning,” Davis said, the firm realized that they had to depend more on the support staff.  And so, over the past five years as people retired, ADK made a conscious decision to hire people with a stronger financial background, including business school graduates and people with financial planning degrees – even for support staff positions.

And now, Davis says, they are able to handle a lot more clients, and do ongoing planning for those clients, with the same number of staff as they had before.

By hiring employees with financial backgrounds Davis and his partner were able to pass along the work for basic ongoing planning and questions to their experienced and knowledgeable support team – something he says that not enough of his fellow advisors are able to do.

“I’m the president of my local FPA chapter, and talking with many of my peers, most of them have administrative support staff,” he said.  
By this he means people who can change addresses on accounts, for example, or fix problems behind the scenes, but not do any of the higher-end planning.

In firms like those, the financial advisors are unable to delegate smaller tasks and often must take on a lot more day-to-day maintenance for the accounts of current clients.

Davis said that at his firm, the support staff is able to both handle behind-the-scenes issues and interact with clients, freeing up the financial advisors for larger responsibilities.

“As a result of all that, combined with a better marketing plan, we’re probably bringing in three times as much new money,” he said. Training support staff to work more closely with clients frees up capacity for new ones, he said. “I’m able to do a lot more direct stuff with client acquisition,” he said.

He compared a financial advisory firm to a dentist office, where there are trained technical people such as nurses or dental hygienists who handle a good portion of the work, freeing up the dentist to see more patients. He cautions fellow advisors that “if you walk into your office and don’t see equivalents of all those other people around, then you’re probably doing too many tasks and it’s going to kill your productivity.”

Some of the new support staff may eventually grow into being financial advisors themselves, Davis said, but that’s not necessarily the goal for everyone. One of the more recent hires has already been working with new clients and will likely take on a larger financial advisory role in the future. Others may not have the interest level or the skill set for client acquisition but “they are still very involved in the financial planning work and ongoing client service.”

“It’s all about building a team that has a group of different skill sets,” he said. Davis says he was able to dramatically increase the number of client appointments he can make each week because of all the technical work that his support staff is able to handle back at the office.

The best advice Davis can give his fellow advisors who want to build a strong support team is to take real care in the recruiting and hiring process.  “You have to learn how to find the right people, and you have to be patient,” he said. “If you’ve got an opening and you need to have it filled then you are already in trouble, because you are going to be desperate.”