Few things are more frustrating than encountering advisors who consistently provide sound counsel to their clients -- but forget to practice what they preach for their own business and personal plans.
In fact, its safe to say that too many advisors are relinquishing multiple opportunities to build on their professional and personal success by disregarding the very advice they dispense every day.
There reasons why advisors fail to take their own advice can vary. They may be trying to wear too many hats in their business at the same time, or trying to save money in penny wise, pound foolish ways; or it may just be lack of time or the inertia that professional success can sometimes create.
But regardless of the root causes for this phenomenon, advisors most commonly need to start heeding their own advice in the following four areas of their professional and personal lives:
1. SUCCESSION PLANNING
Think back to the top three reasons why financial advisors typically choose to go independent in the first place:
- To have a greater sense of control over their own destiny, which includes having the freedom to best serve clients without conflicting directives or financial product quotas mandated from above.
- To maximize ongoing returns from their books of business by providing an even higher level of client service and support than ever before, while cutting out unnecessary and irrelevant overhead and costs of a larger parent organization.
- To monetize their practices at the end of their careers to provide for a liquidity event that sufficiently recognizes the value they have built in their client relationships.
So any advisor who doesnt have a succession plan in place to allow some recognition of the practice's value will forgo one of the three most compelling reasons for independence.
One crucial element of every independent financial advisory practice, large or small, is providing some value realization event for the departing advisor, along with a sense of clarity for the remaining members of the business. Equally important, clients invariably want -- and deserve -- to know what will happen should their advisor retire, pass away or become incapacitated.
A clear and detailed succession plan puts an end to any fear of service disruption in the future, while offering clients greater confidence in the advisors business. Indeed, in our experience, a succession plan can actually drive increased client referrals and greater wallet share among existing clients, for this very reason.
After years of not having one, a practice affiliated with our firm recently instituted a succession plan that clearly outlined who among the next generation of advisors would be running the firm in the event that the lead and founding advisor retired or passed away. After communicating this new succession plan to the firms clients, the lead advisor found that -- in just a short amount of time -- existing clients were proactively referring the firm to other friends and family, and providing even more of their own assets for the firm to manage. That business is now flourishing.
2. REINVEST FOR SUCCESS
Advisors frequently tell clients in the accumulation phase of their financial lives about the importance of regular contributions to their portfolios. But all too often, advisors fail to reinvest in their business at a sufficient level, particularly in the three areas that most affect an advisory practice's success: people, processes and protocol.
For instance, advisors often bring on board lower-wage or temporary help for certain routine, day-to-day tasks. While this approach may save them some money in the short term, invariably advisors who take this path wind up with a support infrastructure that is unreliable, requiring a great deal of hands-on supervision and diminishing the amount of time the advisor has to focus on client relationships.
Worse yet, low-wage temporary support may not be at the professional caliber to enable future growth, and is never fully integrated into the team -- which keeps the practice from performing at optimum efficiency.
Instead, advisors should be prepared to reinvest in their people, by bringing aboard high-quality professionals at all levels of the organization that are committed to growing and participating in the success of the business. If the staff of the firm cannot see a clear vision for their own success, they are less capable of understanding the clients motivation for working with the firm.
Reinvesting in processes means having the most up-to-date platforms and infrastructure in place so that advisors can operate on a highly scalable basis, delegating most non-client-facing activities to junior staff or outside partners, and fully focusing on relationships and revenue-generative client-facing work.
And reinvesting in protocol means building repeatable and transparent processes for day-to-day business operations -- from the tasks that support staff manages (vs. the advisor) to the way that run-of-the-mill phone calls and client document requests are handled. Advisors must set and then meet the client expectations for consistent, high-level service experience. It is critically important that everybody serviced by an advisory firm know exactly what to expect, and get exactly that, or more, every time they interact with your firm.
3. MANAGE YOUR WEALTH
It surprising how many advisors fail to have their own built-out personal financial plan in place. Our industry is littered with seasoned professionals who have broad exposure to equities and considerable cash holdings in their personal portfolios but no comprehensive wealth management plan that encompasses life insurance coverage, asset protection, and tax and estate planning solutions.
From both a personal and professional standpoint, ignoring the financial planning advice that is dispensed to clients is unacceptable. Why would any advisor not invest their money and protect their wealth the same way their clients do?
4. COMMUNICATE YOUR GOALS
At the beginning of an engagement, advisors usually will ask the client something along the following lines: What do you want to achieve?
The irony is that advisors typically do a very poor job of communication these very same concepts about themselves to a wider audience, usually because they havent thought through the answers to these questions.
The most successful advisors are the ones who do not seek to be all things to all people. Rather, they specify up front the kinds of clients they want to serve, and then stick by that approach in a disciplined way. All advisors can benefit from focusing on the marketplaces where they may be uniquely qualified to serve, or in which the personalities and lifestyle habits are a great match.
If advisors are simply too busy to address these matters themselves, they should do one more thing that they recommend to their clients nearly every day: If critical professional and personal items simply cannot be left undone, and you dont have the time to attend to them yourself, write a check and have a skilled professional do them for you.
For advisors, the stakes otherwise are too high -- for themselves, their businesses and their clients.
John P. Napolitano CFP, CPA is CEO of U.S. Wealth Management, a Greater Boston area-based independent network of experienced wealth managers from across the country. The firm provides the full spectrum of resources necessary for independent wealth managers to leverage their talents to advance their practices.
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