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Even Cowboys Need Financial Advisers: What We Can Learn from Songwriters

I recently spent time with seasoned financial advisers at a business development conference in Nashville. We had a lot of fun sampling Tennessee whiskey and biscuits, walking around and, of course, enjoying the vibrant music scene.

Also learning. One of the keynote topics was a discussion and music session with some famous songwriters, Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin, who have written music for Tim McGraw, Miranda Lambert and many other stars. Also on the panel was the president of Sony/ATV, Troy Tomlinson, who discussed the business aspects of the music arena.

It was a fascinating conversation for many reasons—not least because the music industry is facing challenges and transitions that parallel those in the financial services industry. I thought I’d share some of the panel’s insights with you, as well as the key takeaways for advisers looking to grow their practices.

Stay True to Your Voice

In songwriting, that means writing songs for and about the people you most value. Songwriters bring their own experiences, history and expertise to the music—and that’s what shapes their songs.

For financial advisers, there’s an obvious parallel. In the beginning, when you’re building your business, you tend to work with everyone who is willing to become a client. But as you mature, you start to think more carefully about who you take on. You realize that there are people you can really help a lot—who can benefit from working with you—and there are others who would be better served working with someone else. That’s where segmenting and finding a niche can really come into play.

Your business philosophy, mission and even the experiences you create for clients are other ways you show your voice. At its core, your business should reflect your convictions about taking care of people and doing what’s best for them. Does your value proposition accurately reflect your mission and voice?

Be the Guide

The songwriters discussed how important “positioning” is when writing country music. The best songs, they said, allow someone else to be the hero—the singer is merely the guide. That’s a great takeaway for financial advisers because, in most cases, you really are the guide.

Your clients come to you with worries, issues or anxieties about their finances. They can’t resolve their concerns on their own. They need someone they can trust and depend upon to help them make sense of the complexity. And you do that.

Whether it’s advising them as they accumulate money for retirement, setting up a plan to fund their children’s (or grandchildren’s) college education or preparing a retirement income plan for them, advisers guide clients every step of the way. You help them be the hero to their families. How often do your clients tell you that they feel so much better when they leave your office? It’s because you, and the work you do, help relieve them of their financial burdens.

Think about your role as a guide and work this concept into your conversations with clients. If you’ve been hesitant to ask for referrals or to be introduced to prospects, see if it’s easier to discuss your services in terms of the guidance you offer. You might say something like, “As you know, I act as a guide for my clients to help them make smart decisions with their finances. Is there a colleague at your company whom you think could benefit from sitting down with someone to make sense of the company’s stock option program or retirement plan?”

Be Creative to Connect with People

The music folks on the panel discussed the power of video and Instagram to enhance the music experience, as well as concerts and social media. The more the listeners know about the artists, their music and the stories behind the songs, the larger the artists’ following and the more enjoyable the fans’ experience.

It’s the same for you. Your clients love to hear the personal stories about what you and your family are doing, just as you delight in hearing what’s going on in their lives. The people, and their stories, come first, and that’s how you forge deeper connections.

It also pays to leverage technology and new marketing approaches. Your clients don’t have to live near you anymore. Technology allows them access to their accounts anytime, and you can interact with them via Skype or FaceTime with ease. One adviser I work with wanted to start spending a few months each year in Florida but was nervous about doing so. She worried about what her clients would think—but it turned out to be a nonevent. Her clients didn’t really care where she was physically because they knew that they could get access to her when needed. She discovered that many of her clients also wanted to escape the winter weather, and she was able to add insights to their discussions.

Even local clients and prospects might not want to travel to your office, especially if it means a nasty commute to get there. You can still reach them through newsletters and social media and engage them digitally.

How often do you post? And do you reply to your clients’ posts? Webinars, podcasts and videos are all inexpensive ways to reach clients and prospects and to convey your brand, messaging and expertise. Have you tried any of these new methods of communication? A little creativity could have a big impact on the growth of your practice.

Find New Opportunities to Monetize Your Businesses

The musicians discussed how their industry has been greatly stressed by streaming and video services. As a result, their business models and bottom lines have suffered. They said that they had been slow to react to the new competition. And they realized that they had to be creative and look for other opportunities to showcase their music and value.

The same is true for us. The financial services industry has experienced fee compression for years, and robo-advisers and others seem to arrive regularly and to take clients away. I work with advisers on growing their revenue and I see and hear the impact of so many new entrants to our arena. Here are a few key points to keep in mind:

  • Have you priced your services appropriately? Many advisers haven’t looked at their fees in years. Consider what a blended vs. breakpoint fee structure could do or look carefully at what you charge. Your operational costs have probably climbed, but you may not have realized that it’s been many years since you increased fees.

You should also keep a careful eye on the competitive landscape. As an example, Charles Schwab’s recent announcement about offering subscription models is bound to affect pricing across the board. You might do well to consider a subscription option in your own practice to help high earners who don’t yet have considerable assets to manage.

  • Are there opportunities to charge for additional services? A good place to start might be with the financial plan itself. Some advisers charge separately for creating a financial plan, while others roll it in as part of their service offering. What makes sense for your practice?
  • Can you charge fees for consulting? There may be times when it makes sense to charge an additional fee for out-of-the-ordinary services you provide. Perhaps you helped a business owner with valuations for pricing the sale of her business or may you have done some retirement consulting for a 401(k) plan. There could be additional revenue waiting to be garnered from existing clients, as well as prospects.

At the end of the panel session, the consensus from participants was that it’s crucial to let people know who you are and what you’re all about. Sound familiar? It’s nice to know there’s one constant, no matter what industry you work in!

Often, we can’t see changes in our own industry because they evolve over time and we’ve been living and working in the throes of those changes. Yet the trends and changes in a different industry can be very apparent to us. There’s a lot we can learn from the music industry and to share with our staff and colleagues to help us in achieving future growth.

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Kristine McManus is chief business development officer, practice management, at Commonwealth Financial Network®, member FINRA/SIPC, the nation’s largest privately held Registered Investment Adviser—independent broker/dealer. Since joining the firm in April 2014, she has been working with affiliated advisers to grow their top line through the introduction of various programs, tools and coaching. Kristine holds the Chartered Retirement Planning CounselorSM designation, a master’s degree from Pennsylvania State University, and a BFA from Adelphi University. 


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Conferences for Women Advisers on the Rise: Attend One

Over the past decade, the number of conferences geared toward the female adviser has grown. I’m proud to say that my own company, Commonwealth Financial Network®, will be holding its first Summit for Women Advisers in June. Further, broker/dealers, industry publications and industry organizations are focusing in on the female adviser to a much greater extent than ever before. So, what does this trend tell you?

For me, it means that many likely share my opinion that women will play a much greater role the industry at some point in the future. But I also believe that conferences for women advisers are on the rise in more ways than one.

Better Than Ever

It’s not just the quantity of conferences that has increased. It’s also the quality. The speakers are engaging, articulate, and, in some cases, well-known. Other presenters are delightful surprises, showcasing the inspiring new talent within the industry. And then there are the audiences! Audience members are well-spoken, asking insightful questions that everyone in the room can learn from.

The feeling of these events is also changing. Women seem to have gotten better at networking, evidenced by the constant exchange of business cards. And they’re branching out. You no longer see women sticking with the three or four people they came to the conference with. Instead, everyone is eager to put out a hand to meet new people.

Finally, those organizations creating these conferences are to be commended for taking a stand to help develop an adviser segment vital to the future of the industry. Organizers of successful events carefully include female advisers in designing events and diligently seek input from all attendees—so a round of enhancements can be made for the next conference.

Still Room for Improvement

Of course, some may say that we don’t need conferences for women advisers since there aren’t conferences just for men (that I know of). So, what’s with the focus on women? Well, the reality is that almost all conferences are dominated by men. Women advisers are still, by far, the minority at 17 percent, with the number of CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM practitioners a bit higher at 23 percent. The female contingent has been far from top of mind over the years at industry conferences. If you need proof of that, just look at the standard gifts that advisers receive: the XXL T-shirt or golf tees. Those do work for some—but not for the majority—of women.

Sometimes, women are surprised to see men at a women’s conference. At one conference I attended, a couple of women commented on the number of men there. I had not paid attention and assumed they were from sponsoring organizations. But then I gave it some thought. Why didn’t the sponsor organizations send their female executives? Did those sponsor organizations even have female executives to send? As an industry, we are increasingly interested in ESG (environment, social and governance) investing. How might “governance” be playing out right in front of our eyes? Now, I’m sure some of those male attendees were sincerely interested in meeting the needs of female advisers on their staff. But for me, this experience highlighted the importance of increasing not just the number of female advisers, but also the number of woman-owned advisory firms. I believe conferences focused on women will help get us there.

Worth Your Time

The key takeaway here? If you attended a women’s conference once or twice years ago and weren’t overly impressed, I encourage you to give it another try. The quality of conferences for women has been greatly enhanced. I think you will find attending one an experience that is worth your time and energy. It might even boost your career.

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Joni Youngwirth is managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network in Waltham, Mass.


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5 Lessons from the Godfather: LeCount Davis, Sr. Shares Wisdom from a 40-Plus Year Career

LeCount Davis Sr., CFP®, has been making history since he first received his CFP certification in 1978. He was the first African American CFP® professional. He founded the Association of African American Financial Advisors (Quad-A) in 2001. And he’s always focused on making an impact in his community and profession. All reasons why he is a winner of a Lifetime Achievement in Diversity and Inclusion from InvestmentNews.

The next generation of history makers have much to learn from him, said 2050 TrailBlazers host Rianka R. Dorsainvil, CFP®, in a recent episode highlighting an industry trailblazer in celebration of Black History Month.

Lesson No. 1: Find Your Champions and Allies

Davis knew that if people had more knowledge about their wealth and finances, it would have a ripple effect of good on their financial lives. That’s what led him to financial planning and to founding his first company, LeCount R. Davis and Associates. In doing research for how to realize his vision of providing planning for all aspects of a person’s financial life, he found the International Association for Financial Planning (one of the organizations that merged to form FPA in 2000. The other was the Institute of Certified Financial Planners). He went to a few meetings and met several people who shared his vision, including then IAFP president Alexandra Armstrong, CFP®.

Armstrong did not engage in what Davis described as “benign neglect” of him when he was the only person of color in the room, she welcomed him and he started volunteering on several committees within the IAFP.

Another person Davis recalled as being an ally was Robert Ginsburg, who after Davis got his CFP® certification told him that would get him to the table, but it wouldn’t get him anything off the table. Ginsburg invited him into the inner circle, showing him the inner workings of the financial planning profession.

Lesson No. 2: Be the Champion to Bring People into the Profession

In 2001, Davis founded the Association of African American Financial Advisors, or Quad-A.

“I knew that if we didn’t have that type of group, [we had to] put the group together that would be able to approach the industry in certain numbers,” Davis said. This would ensure that black financial planners had the numbers to generate the respect of the industry and make progress.

His company underwrote all the expenses for the organization in those initial years, so Davis knew the organization had to grow—both because his pockets were not that deep and because he wanted to reach more black planners.

But credit is due all around, Davis said.

“I was the first president of the association, but you got a lot of people who came after me who did wonders for Quad-A,” Davis said, giving praise to Lazetta Rainey Braxton, CFP®, in particular. “If they had not put in the sweat and tears and blood they did, Quad-A … would not have gotten to where it is right now.”

Lesson No. 3: Stick to Your Goals

In your profession and your life, there are always going to be trials, but you have to press on. Identify your goals and stick to them.

“There are going to be tough times, but you’ve got to tough it out,” Davis said. “Joy and pain are just like sunshine and rain. You have to first have the ability to withstand the hard times.”

Lesson No. 4: Always Learn

Strive to always learn about your profession.

“You must be students of your profession,” Davis said. “You can never stop learning.”

Lesson No. 5: Practice What You Preach

Some articles out there show financial planners don’t always follow their own advice. Doing that affects your credibility, Davis said.

“People see what we do, they don’t just listen to what we say,” Davis said. “So if we’re going to tell them to do certain things, they’re going to wonder why we are not doing the same thing that we’re telling them to do.”

The next generation of planners should take these lessons from one of the profession’s history makers.

“My generation and me, I’m able to do what I do because of advisers like you,” Dorsainvil said to Davis. “I’m able to do what I do very easily. It’s not the easiest but it’s easier than maybe you’ve had it.”  

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Ana Trujillo Limón is senior editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AnaT_Edits.