As a Financial Advisor, your time is valuable, but whether you’re at a wirehouse, a regional firm or have an independent practice, you’re being asked to do more every year. With the continuing uncertainty of the DOL rule, compliance has to be a constant focus. I hear from many advisors that their firm is continuing to ask more and more of them while also raising production and payout thresholds, which means growth has to be a constant concern too.
The problem is – most of the things you’re being asked to do aren’t productive and don’t move the needle for your practice. You have three primary responsibilities – spend time with clients, develop new business and lead your team. Learning to streamline your back office functions can create the freedom you need to focus more of your time on what matters.
When many advisors think of their back office, the image that comes to mind is a call center in their corporate headquarters. As much as you might like to change operations there, you can’t, but you can make changes in YOUR back office – the things that go on behind the scenes in your practice. While these aren’t typically client-facing activities, they are crucial to your client experience, referability, and growth.
In my practice, I’m continually pushing our team to make things more efficient. By spending some time focused on developing stable back office systems, and teaching your team to do the same, you can drastically improve performance and free your time to focus on clients. The three key areas where most practices can improve are human resources, operations, and marketing.
Human Resources – Nurture Your People
Human Resources (HR) functions are the core of your business’ culture. We’re in a people business where your team members have direct relationships with your clients, so how you hire, train and treat your team matters – a lot! In our business, turn over means starting over and that can lead to lost productivity and relationships. It’s important to be intentional about how you decide who’ll be a part of your team, both from a philosophical and process perspective.
I recommend a hiring philosophy that centers on creating well-rounded teams. Early in my career as a solo advisor in 1998, I realized that – outside my friends and family members – no one was ready to trust a twenty-two-year-old advisor with his or her life savings. Fortunately for me, I was able to convince my partner and his dad, who both focused on investment management, to let me team up with them to serve as the financial planner for their clients.
Their investment acumen (and a few gray hairs) combined with my focus on strategic planning were a great match that’s lasted for almost twenty years. We recognized the importance of combining talents allowed us to multiply our success. As we’ve added team members over the years, our focus has always been on adding complementary skills that help make everyone better. It’s also a focus when we add Associate Advisors to service teams. We want each team member to make the others better.
You may have heard the expression, hire slow and fire fast. While it sounds harsh, it’s been my experience that it makes for good practice. In my opinion, the key is the first part of the expression – hire slow. That’s why you need a hiring process that makes sure you take your time and get adequate feedback from your team.
My wife used to be in television and on one interview, she was left waiting on a station manager so long that, in addition to spending an hour talking to the receptionist, she also met most of the other team members. She even went out into the field with a reporter. By the time the station manager was able to see her, she’d already spent time with everyone else in the station. During the meeting with the manager, he revealed that this “test” was part of their hiring process. They used it to see if a new reporter had the tenacity to stick with a story and to let the rest of the team get to know (and have input on) the new recruit.
While we don’t leave someone waiting for hours and keep our motives a secret, we do have anyone who’s interviewing spend a few minutes with several team members BEFORE they interview. Our receptionist intentionally engages them while they wait and one of our Client Service Associates shows them to our conference room and asks them a few basic questions to get a feel for the candidate before I arrive. If I feel that the candidate is a potential fit, I’ll introduce them to additional team members who are serving in a similar role. It gives the prospective team member the opportunity to ask questions about the job and allows someone to assess the candidate’s ability and temperament for the position who’s already doing it.
Develop A Staffing Model For Your Practice
Financial advisory teams come together for all sorts of reasons, whether it’s a function of a junior advisor trying to survive or two smaller advisors combining practices to boost their payout. Regardless of how your team came together, the only way to grow and scale is to be more systematic in your approach going forward. When developing a staffing model for your practice, it’s crucial that you focus on roles and responsibilities, rather than individual people.
Have you ever written out job descriptions for your team members? While it may not sound like fun, there are three key benefits to doing this exercise that can dramatically improve your practice – a learning list, a gap analysis and a shopping list. Each of these is important, but together they create the foundation for growth into a multimillion-dollar practice.
Building job descriptions for your current team members can provide some key motivation for their personal development. The key isn’t just to list the things that your Client Service Associate does, but rather to list the things that an ideal candidate for a Client Service Associate position COULD do. If your current CSA can’t do all of those things, that’s ok. Now they have a list of key things to learn (which can serve as part of your goal setting and bonus structure for them.)
Developing a staffing structure will also let you look at all of your current positions to determine where there are gaps in the services that you provide. Are there things that need to be done that aren’t really in anyone’s job description? That might be a sign that you need to consider expanding your team.
Once you’ve compiled a list of things that are currently falling through the cracks, spend some time considering the type of position that would need to be created to “fill the gaps.” Spend some time considering all of the characteristics that the ideal team member would need to thrive in this role. You’ve created a shopping list – ideal skills and character traits for your next team member. I personally keep a list of people that I’d like to hire if we ever have the right position. Do you know of anyone who fits the bill? If not, you have a head start in your search just by identifying what your team needs.
In his book “Good to Great,” author Jim Collins talks about getting the right people on the right seats on the bus.
“You are a bus driver. The bus, your company, is at a standstill, and it’s your job to get it going. You have to decide where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and who’s going with you.
Most people assume that great bus drivers (read: business leaders) immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where they’re going—by setting a new direction or by articulating a fresh corporate vision.
In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.”
I couldn’t agree more, but if ever you realize you’ve let the wrong people on the bus to begin with, please quickly let them off at the next stop. Having followed these steps, you’ll already have a philosophy and process for finding someone else to fill the seat.
Use Testing Measures For New Hires
As I mentioned, I keep a list of people on my desk that I think would be great team members. Whether we’ve met at a local event or I’ve had a colleague refer me, I never want to have to look far to find the right kind of people. As important as it is to know the sort of person you want to work with, it’s also imperative that they have the skills for the job. That’s why we use some basic tests with anyone we’re looking to bring on board.
We use two primary assessments, Kolbe and Strengthsfinder, in our practice. Kolbe is conative and measures “what you naturally do.” Strengthsfinder measures how you’re psychologically wired to act. We work hard to line team members up so that they can focus on work that’s in line with their unique ability. Using these assessments allows team members to spend the majority of their time doing what they’re naturally good at – which leads to happy clients and an engaged team.
Establish an Intentional Company Culture
Just as important as hiring a team of people who excel in their strengths, is hiring team members who are a great fit for your company. The filter I use for this process is our company culture. I’ve worked intentionally over the years to be a mindful team leader who ‘walks his talk.’ I strive to set a standard for those who choose to work alongside me.
I would define company culture as the way our company makes us and others feel. We want to leave anyone who comes in contact with our company and brand feeling valued, heard and understood. This applies to our team, our clients, and our community. While the culture may seem like an intangible piece of the overall company, it is essential to understand that it is very real and is embedded in every word we speak and every interaction we have – in and out of the office.
With our company, we intentionally create a culture that is very team driven, with a ‘better-together’ attitude. If you want a happy team that works well together and always delivers a superb service to your clients, be intentional with your company culture. For us, it is essential that each one of our team members focus on three things:
- what they are good at / have a unique ability in
- what they genuinely enjoy doing
- what is for the good of the group – not the individual
We are a family-first organization that sees each team member as a person. As important as it is to meet our professional goals and move our company forward, the reason we come to work every day is to support our families and our lifestyle. We work to live; we don’t live to work. Not only do we understand, but we encourage our team to live fulfilled lives, just as we encourage our clients.
We believe that company culture comes second only to a company’s vision. First, there’s your vision. What do you want to do as a company? Where are you headed?
Second is your company culture. I like to think of it like this – your vision is the roadmap to success, but your company culture is the engine that’s going to get you there. Both are essential to the future, and you can’t have one without the other.
I want to be really clear about one thing: You have a company culture no matter what. Regardless of the amount of effort (or lack thereof) you put into your culture, one will take shape based on the people you hire, the service you deliver and the decisions you make as a company. Be proactive and intentional when establishing a culture for your financial practice – and like everything else, document it and use it as a filter for your day to day operations.
Operations – Develop Your Systems
If you’re going to do something more than once, you need to develop a process for how it’s done. There is simply no better way to develop a consistent, duplicable client experience. Establishing efficient systems and processes can reduce the likelihood of errors and create documentation of your meetings and discussions with your clients. It’s unnecessary to ‘recreate the wheel’ each time you hire a new team member, onboard a new client, or execute a financial plan.
The first 90 days are crucial to building authentic client relationships. This period sets the client’s expectations for the service that they’ll receive and can eliminate the potential for buyer’s remorse. Using a comprehensive onboarding process for each new client can help you take advantage of this critical stage of the client relationship.
When developing your onboarding experience, it’s crucial that you think things through from the client’s perspective. What information would be important for them to know? Who should they talk to, when and about what? Answering these fundamental questions can help you design the ideal introduction to your practice and your team. In our client onboarding, we focus on three key factors: the personal introduction of all service team members, establishment of service schedule expectation and proactive set up of relevant client-facing technology.
Our onboarding process includes specific touch points for each member of our client’s service team. There are hand-written notes and letters from the Senior Advisor, a call from the Associate Advisor to help the client establish online access, and a statement review call from the Client Service Associate. We want the client to understand early on that there’s an entire team to serve them, not just a Senior Advisor.
Another part of our onboarding process is the Client Welcome Packet. We include several pieces of information in the packet, but the most important is the outline of their Client Service Standard. This document lists each team member on the client’s service team, along with the role that they’ll play for the client. It serves to reinforce the team concept, but also to let the client know who’s responsible for what on their team. This saves our advisors time because they know, for example, to address administrative concerns directly with the Client Service Associate.
Finally, a call from our Associate Advisor makes sure that all of our clients are set up with any technology solutions that they want. This includes account access, goal tracking, and a digital vault. We also use this opportunity to explain the firm’s digital document delivery and how it works. By making this call as part of our client onboarding, not only are we providing excellent client service at the outset of the relationship, we’re also streamlining our delivery systems at the same time!
Utilizing a CRM
A core component of any advisory practice is the client relationship management (CRM) system. A good CRM system can be the backbone of your communication strategy and can facilitate the development of strong client relationships. It can also help you streamline office procedures and boost efficiency.
The CRM is the primary receptacle for client information and documentation. If information comes into the practice, it should be in the CRM as quickly as possible. Many CRMs will automatically route and archive emails to and from clients – saving you time and keeping you compliant.
You can also use the CRM to keep records of meeting notes and client interactions. With the average advisor having over 150 clients, it’s tough to remember all of the particulars of every family at a moment’s notice. If you’ve made notes in your CRM, however, you can pull all of the family’s relevant information in seconds.
It’s also helpful to have information stored digitally if you want to be able to tailor your communication to different subsets of clients. You can include custom fields to congratulate all of your clients who are Astros fans on their World Series victory or email all of your clients who golf if you host a swing clinic. Information is power, and the CRM is where you store it for later use.
Finally, a CRM can help you with keeping your centers of influence informed and engaged. Custom fields for clients’ other professional advisors, such as accountants or attorneys, can become prospecting tools. Performing a query to see which person from each profession your clients are already using can give you a readymade networking list. Whether you’re wanting to do a continuing education workshop or have extra tickets to a community event, it’ll be easy to find qualified professionals to fill the empty seats.
Compliance – Manage Your Risk
I don’t need to tell you that compliance is a big deal. With the Fiduciary Standard looming large, not to mention internal policies and procedures, there are few advisors that I speak to that don’t find keeping up with compliance tasks burdensome sometimes. Compliance can be particularly difficult for smaller practices.
It’s not that they mind adhering to the rules at all, but making sure that you have systems in place to make sure you’ve documented your adherence can make or break your practice. It’s important to have the right technology in place – and that often begins with choosing your partner firm or broker-dealer carefully. Everyone wants the flexibility to be able to market and communicate with clients and prospects, but without a good way to monitor and record these interactions, you’re in danger of running afoul with the regulators.
One key thing to remember is the timeframe required for keeping your records – seven years. I get roughly 120 emails a day. That’s 600 per work week. After 7 years, that’s over 200,000 emails (give or take a few thousand,) not to mention social media posts, blogs or advertisements. Making sure you have the right technology and systems in place can save you a huge headache.
The key to compliance, in my view, is simple: don’t try to keep up with it manually. Utilize email and social media technology to archive information for you – whether it’s through your company or on your own. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Set It and Forget It…
Ok, maybe you can’t actually set it and forget it, but you see my point, right? If you want your practice to run smooth and efficiently, you have to create and document systems around everything you do. Your team should all be onboarded and nurtured using proven HR systems. Your clients should be serviced and managed using your own proven operations systems. Your marketing and prospecting should be done using smart systems. And yes, even your compliance should be managed with archiving systems.
Learning to streamline your back office is less about finding a new way or the ‘right way’ to run your practice and more about documenting what works best for you and creating a system around that. Leveraging systems in every part of your business will result in a successful, stress-free and proactive practice, rather than a hair-on-fire reactive one.
Pick one place to start and document your first system today… if you’d like some guidance on how to get these systems up and running in your business, reach out to us for support!
Opinions expressed are those of Signature Wealth Group and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. All opinions are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete.