Despite the critical bearing financial advisers have on mutual fund sales, fund firms as a whole are negligent when it comes to providing their advisers with business-building and practice management resources and tools. This is according to a new report from Corporate Insight, a New York financial services market research and consulting firm, called "Practice Management: Firms Fall Short, Fail to Address Back Office Issues."
When tracking 14 leading mutual fund companies, Corporate Insight paid close attention to things like accessibility, organization, topics addressed and types of materials offered.
"Only half of the firms we follow provide their adviser base with adequate resources to implement a more effective business model or strategy," said Alan Maginn, a senior analyst with Corporate Insight. "In addition, most firms do not offer delineated sections of their websites devoted explicitly to back-office management resources. Practice management tools are often incorporated within the context of larger business building or prospecting platforms. Making matters more confusing, certain topics traversed the line between front- and back-office issues."
Of the 14 fund companies that Corporate Insight tracked, four offered absolutely no resources to their advisers. Three offered below-average resources. The remaining seven companies had above-average resources, only three of which Corporate Insight deemed to have "excellent" adviser education platforms.
Maginn was not willing to name any of these firms, but he did say that the seven firms with above-average platforms offered such resources as sales strategies and ideas, workshops, seminars, kits and website content that can be downloaded or ordered as hard-copy literature.
An adequate adviser education platform would include client-segmentation tools, referral-gathering and networking strategies, advice for maximizing office efficiency, fee-based business transitions and succession planning, Maginn said.
Maginn advised fund companies to improve these resources. "It only makes sense, since not only does the adviser prosper, but the firm also prospers," he noted.
So much rides on the success of the business in the front offices of a company's adviser network, that all too often, mutual fund companies that do offer adviser support focus most of their attention on the sales process. Rookie advisers, especially, feel that although having sales support is important, attention to back-office business models is just as critical because this is "what will separate mediocre firms from the most efficient and profitable adviser practices," Maginn said.
"Setting a plan of action according to a proven business method inspires creative and productive change, and this is the No. 1 reason why advisers need education platforms," he added.
Although it would be better for a fund company to develop a website devoted to financial advisers, those that don't have the resources could potentially partner with a third party, such as Horsesmouth.com, Maginn suggested. Horsesmouth.com is a New York-based firm made up of writers, producers, learning experts, programmers, designers and analysts, all dedicated to helping financial advisers and financial services firms.
"Horsesmouth.com is an online business development and practice management service for financial advisers. We help advisers every day to increase sales, work with clients and manage their practice," said William T. Nicklin, the firm's chief executive officer. "We have built a vast repository of thousands of business-building resources for advisers over the years, of which at least 1,000 different resources are utilized every day by advisers across the industry."
The Business Plan Builder is Horsesmouth.com's main interactive tool, which helps advisers define their vision, set goals, craft marketing plans and more. It is user-friendly and self-paced.
Besides its Business Plan Builder, Horsesmouth.com offers other online tools, along with a broad selection of e-mail newsletters and discussion groups moderated by experts to help advisers solve individual problems, Nicklin added.
Horsesmouth.com's online practice management tool, for example, offers services to help advisers revamp, revitalize and upgrade their practices. They are designed to help advisers get organized, manage time, work with a sales assistant, build a team and create strategic alliances with other professionals.
This section offers such specific information as how to manage a branch office, the most effective ways to recruit and train staff, how to improve the sales team's performance and tips on running an effective, motivational sales meeting. It also includes current information on markets and investment trends, financial planning and managing money, and ways to better serve clients.
"Leveraging its resources and access to advisers, Horsesmouth works with asset management firms to research, develop and implement custom programs that help wholesalers and their management build profitable ongoing relationships with advisers, branch managers and corporations," Nicklin said.
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