Tips for advisor teams looking to grow in unprecedented times

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The financial services industry has faced many challenges this year: uncertainty due to COVID-19, the fastest transition to a bear market in U.S. history, new regulations and adjusting to doing business virtually.

Amid so much change, it’s more important than ever for financial advisors and programs to continue to grow. And the more I speak with financial advisors and program managers, the more they confirm: This is the perfect time to do so.

I recently spoke with two of Bank Investment Consultant’s 2020 Top 10 Program Managers: Mike George of Fulton Financial Advisors, who ranked No. 1 this year and leads a program of 55 financial advisors across five states; and clocking in at No. 6, Scott Jenner of Addison Avenue Investments, whose team includes more than 30 financial advisors. They shared some insights on how financial advisors can stay motivated, even amid unprecedented challenges in their industry.

Build a culture of collaboration, with an emphasis on autonomy

If you ask premier program managers their secret of success, many humbly cite their team. Now look closer: The most successful managers are able to continually motivate by building and maintaining a culture of collaboration and autonomy.

“What resonates with my financial advisors — a catalyst for them to be more productive — is that I ask them to help me run the program,” says Jenner. “I want them to take a vested interest in how it’s run, how it’s managed. I’ll provide them with every tool they need. … I want them to know it’s their program too.”

Financial advisors at Addison have an average tenure of 12 years.

Fulton Financial Advisors also relies on collaboration and empowering its financial advisors. For example, Fulton gives its advisors full pricing discretion. It trusts them to discount where needed to win the business. When financial advisors are respected and heard they feel welcome to bring their ideas. They feel valued, and that is key to retention.

Get creative with support

The fallout from COVID-19 has presented new challenges — especially for programs with junior financial advisors or those in growth mode that, pre-crisis, relied on in-person, retail client traffic for new business.

Building relationships via screen requires a new approach. George and Jenner not only encourage financial advisors to look to their broker-dealer firms for practice management and operational support, but also to look to one another.

Jenner’s team found support in its long-established centers of excellence program. Throughout the year, financial advisors work on four key pillars: enhancing a high performance culture, development and execution of client and asset retention, growing new relationships in any environment and finding efficiencies through new tools and resources to create more capacity for financial advisors to grow. The four pillars are an ongoing part of Addison’s long-term plan.

George motivates and supports financial advisors by highlighting a couple of team members on monthly calls and asking them to share best practices gleaned from recent successes.

“When we have team members share, we get some really unique ideas,” he says. “Financial advisors get inspired by each other and put ideas into action quicker because they can follow up with their peers versus reading a case study. We have found that people desire getting together to share ideas, instead of a formal agenda.”

Anticipate and embrace trends

Unnerving as it has been, the massive shift to virtual business has been beneficial as well: it has propelled financial advisors’ ability to work efficiently with clients. Nearly every financial advisor has been forced to learn how to leverage technology, and those embracing it are well positioned for the future. Jenner says his program had been moving to all-electronic before the pandemic, which has only accelerated its ability to deliver a fully digital experience.

Another big shift in our industry has been the move from a transactional experience for clients to holistic financial planning. Years ago, Jenner’s team implemented two strategies:

1) leveraging client-facing financial planning software like Raymond James’ Goal Planning & Monitoring and sharing monthly reporting and sales manager score cards so financial advisors are incentivized; and

2) adjusting deferred compensation so financial advisors see the benefits of doing more advisory business. Putting newer recruits on a two- to three-year deal designed for them to have a runway to convert their book motivates them to think long term. Addison also has adapted its compensation so financial advisors feel comfortable becoming more fee-based at the onset, rather than relying on commissions.

Even in difficult times, programs can grow and improve. Unsurprisingly, collaboration, support, foresight and a willingness to adapt remain as important as ever.

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Top program managers Professional development Practice management Coronavirus Work from home Practice management software Compensation Holistic financial planning