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Make Your Practice Stand Out: Don’t Let Contentment Become Complacency

What kinds of experiences do your clients have with you? Would they say that you’re reliable and that they’re satisfied with your services? If so, watch out. In a highly competitive industry, keeping a client “satisfied” may not be enough. Lack of conflict or complaints doesn’t necessarily equal loyalty. It could just mean the relationship is forgettable, and thus, vulnerable to disruption.

According to a study by Russ Alan Prince and David A. Geracioti, only 33.5 percent of “satisfied” clients and 13.4 percent of “moderately satisfied” clients said they would give their primary financial advisers additional investable assets. Yet 94.5 percent of those who identified as “loyal” said they were extremely or very likely to stick with their advisers. This study was published in 2005 in Cultivating the Middle-Class Millionaire; Why Financial Advisors Are Failing Their Wealthy Clients and What They Can Do About It.

Think of your own experiences as a customer at a luxury restaurant, hotel or department store. Chances are your mind jumped to interactions that were either extraordinarily good or extremely bad. But experiences that are just okay? Those typically rank low on recall.

What Are Your Clients “Saying” About You?

The quality of your relationship to each individual client matters more than ever. Today, 72 percent of online adults use social networking sites, with the 65-plus population tripling in the last four years to 43 percent, according to Pew Research Center. Your clients talk, and now they can talk to hundreds and thousands of their peers at once. What do you want them saying about you?

Sending your client a signed holiday or birthday card is a nice gesture. But it’s also a predictable one—the “go-to” for any service professional. So think about your practice from the perspective of an outsider and consider creative and consistent ways to make positive impressions.

The Difference Between You and Everyone Else

According to Thomas Fross of Fross & Fross Wealth Management, one of the most successful independent financial planning firms in the nation, there is no silver bullet for client management and retention. Key to your success is varying your strategy based on how your client likes to be engaged.

“Just as a balanced investment portfolio should include a variety of investments, a balanced practice management strategy needs to include multiple ways to engage clients and prospects,” Fross says. “Different clients will respond to different actions.”

However you choose to engage, there are three underlying principles that Fross recommends to help your practice stand out above the rest:

  1. Image is (almost) everything. It isn’t everything, but it matters more than you might think. Think about how your image would be perceived by current and prospective clients. Do you exude professionalism? Having an office, wearing a tie and taking the time to craft a consistent personal brand are all important to your bottom line.
  2. Talk to your clients. Your clients need information and reassurance on an ongoing basis, especially in a volatile market. Make it a priority to engage in frequent and meaningful communication with investors. If you don’t, studies show that they will move on to an adviser who will.
  3. WOW them. Do you make your clients feel special? Do you acknowledge them in unique ways? Average isn’t good enough. But when clients feel valued and important, they are more loyal and more likely to refer you.

Providing extraordinary service can also expand your client roster. According to the Prince and Geracioti study, those “loyal” clients provided nearly 12 referrals to their primary advisers, compared to just 2.1 from “satisfied” clients and 1 or fewer from “moderately satisfied.” So that time and effort spent going above and beyond truly pays off in more ways than one.

John L. Evans

John L. Evans Jr., Ed.D., is executive director, Knowledge Labs™ Professional Development at Janus Henderson Investors. In this role, Dr. Evans works with the Professional Development Team and provides extensive consulting, training and practice management expertise. He is a sought-after expert and keynote speaker. He regularly contributes to The Orlando Sentinel newspaper on business and politics and is featured in the Advisor Center section of Barron’s magazine. Dr. Evans has authored books on client retention and client acquisition, including The Book of WOW and “A Genuine Persuasion System.” He also serves on the board of advisers for the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Florida, and Elevate USA in Denver, Colorado. Prior to joining the financial services industry, Dr. Evans was special assistant to former U.S. Senator Connie Mack and director of business development for the state of Florida’s No. 1 registered investment advisory firm, according to Wealth Manager Magazine, for 2007. Dr. Evans holds an MBA from the University of Miami and an Ed.D. in organizational leadership from Pepperdine University. 

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5 Things About Becoming the Employer of Choice for Women and People of Color with Mark Tibergien

TibergianMark Tibergien, CEO of Advisor Solutions at BNY Mellon Pershing, has prioritized being an employer of choice for minority groups—and wants to inspire other advisers and leaders in the financial planning profession to do the same.

Fifty-one percent of his employees at Advisor Solutions are women, and 42 percent of his Advisor Solutions team are people who come from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds. 

Firms part of the Pershing network are generally transitioning from practice to business to enterprise, but are still facing the challenge that within the financial planning profession, only 23 percent of advisers are women, and only 8 percent of advisers are people of color. 

Tibergien’s goal is to help others who may be unsure of how to help support diversity, equity and inclusion. He recently sat down with me on my podcast to discuss how advisory businesses can support a more diverse financial planning culture, why being committed to elevating others is critical and how to do that.

Why do you think your company is the employer of choice for women and people of color?

There are a number of reasons that drive it in. Frankly, this is part of the culture of BNY Mellon. As an organization we’ve long thought about the diversity of views as being critical. We try to think about how people are attentive to the ways in which we contemplate our strategy and execute our plans. And it happens that Pershing itself is an 80-year-old company that just has a very community-centric orientation about it. 

I think the fact that we’re present where we are helps us to attract many people of color. I think the fact that we have a conscious attitude about the slate of candidates we want to recruit to our business also makes us compelling—our leadership reflects that makeup. So, a big part of our attitude is let’s make sure that we are recruiting and developing the right types of people.

When people start interviewing here, they say, “There are individuals who share my experiences, who look like me, who talk like me, who experienced things like me.” And that just makes a big difference in becoming the right kind of company.

For firms that may have a very small HR department—or no HR department—what are best practices that can increase their level of diversity from a gender perspective and a racial and ethnic perspective?

Your very best employee is as important as your very best client. So, the question is how do you create that attitude where not only do you hire the right people, but you come to rely on them as critical to your growth and you value them in the same way.

The way we tend to look at human capital is there really are three things that we’re trying to be conscious of. First is the nature of the work. Can we be clear on what the type of role it is? Is it an extraordinarily detailed role or is it more of a general role? The nature of work is critical and being conscious of how we define excellence within it.

Once we’re clear on the nature of the work in business, then we can become more direct and more obvious in defining the nature of the worker. What kinds of individuals or what kinds of background or orientation might fit within that job? And that has nothing to do with ethnicity or gender—it has everything to do with the capabilities of the individual. In fact, I’d argue that it doesn’t even have to do with education. Education helps—but that’s not necessarily the definition of success.

The third, which is also critical for small businesses just as it is in large businesses, is to be clear on the nature of the workplace. If you can define the nature of the work, then you can define the nature of the worker. And then you have to think about what kind of environment are you creating in order for both to function at an optimal level.

How can firms better show they value employees?

What typically happens within every firm—but it’s especially noticeable in small firms—is that we tend to forget that the people we hire are no longer new to the business after a few years. They are no longer inexperienced or young or not connected to our clients. All those excuses that we tend to make. There was a great quote that I tend to live by now, by a woman by the name of Jean Harris—who has kind of a checkered history but was a brilliant leader of a school— “The greatest indignity that one person can commit against another is to underestimate them.” And we do this by expecting little of them. 

This is where small business owners have to change their mindset from looking at people as a cost to be managed to thinking of them as an asset on which to get a return.

You penned an article, “What Will Become of Us,” where you interviewed Simon Sinek, author of the Infinite Game. Sinek explained that leaders with the infinite mindset realize that the goal is not to beat your opponent, but to stay in the game as long as possible. In terms of our profession, how are you playing the infinite game?

I’m not a technologist, but having a home in Seattle, I’ve always been conscious of Microsoft. I remember meeting Bill Gates when he was just starting out and I had moved to Seattle. When he wisely transitioned leadership to a professional manager because he realized that his greatest impact was on innovation, the person he put in charge tended to think in terms of the competitors and how do we beat the competitors.

The obsession with beating Apple was kind of futile because Apple was only concerned about serving their clients and improving education of students. So one [company] was antagonistic and competitive and the other was focused on creating the ultimate client experience.

When we look at financial services, I think that we have the same challenge. We have many people who tend to denigrate other competitors in the business. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard RIAs speak ill of their brethren on the brokerage side, not recognizing that there are creeps and victors on both sides of the platform. The registration is not what’s significant, it’s the behavior of the individuals. And that throughout financial services, there are those who are deciding to serve people who don’t have any money at all, who are just trying to make planning choices, and those who serve the ultra-wealthy.

Simon Sinek said that we don’t really have competitors—we have worthy opponents. And by their nature, they reveal our weaknesses. And that’s probably true in life too, isn’t it? When we think of individuals who can make us stronger or make us better or expose weaknesses, the question is, what are we going to do with that? Rather than, why are we going to be defensive about it? And that becomes our opportunity to think about what this business will become.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are important to companies in a bull market. Unfortunately, when a bear market comes, DEI programs get slashed, underfunded or unfunded. Can you share what BNY Advisor Solutions will do with your DEI initiatives when we hit the inevitable bear market?

Diversity and inclusion is fundamental to our beliefs.

As a company, you have to take a longer view about people being critical to your future success. If you have the attitude that human capital is as important as financial capital, then you just have to recognize that diversity and inclusion is one of the cornerstones of that strategy and commit to it. I’m less concerned about in our company it becoming a casualty of a down market because I think we’ve already experienced enough vibration, and that if that had been an issue, we would’ve dealt with it. At some point, I’m hoping for a transition where diversity and inclusion becomes obsolete as a strategy and it just becomes obvious that when we look at how we’re going to drive success, that having a broader slate of candidates—regardless of their ethnicity or religion or country of origin, or gender even—makes a difference. 

 

Rianka Dorsainvil

Rianka R. Dorsainvil, CFP® professional, is the founder and president of Your Greatest Contribution (YGC), a virtual, fee-only comprehensive financial planning firm dedicated to serving entrepreneurs, first-generation wealth builders and thriving professionals in their late 20s, 30s and 40s. She also hosts 2050 TrailBlazers, a podcast aimed to address the lack of diversity in the financial planning profession by engaging industry experts and leaders in conversation.

 

 

 


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Setting Your OOO Message: Best Practices

Your out-of-office (OOO) message is a simple communication tool that’s essential to use every time you won’t be answering calls or emails promptly. Whether your normal response time is a few hours or a business day, you need to alert those who contact you when that time has changed. If there’s an unexplained delay, clients may wonder what’s wrong, asking themselves, “Is he sick?” or “Did something bad happen?” After all, you’re usually so attentive. By immediately informing callers and emailers that you’re unavailable, you’ll prevent any confusion or disappointment when you don’t respond as quickly as expected.

Whether your OOO message is received by clients, prospects, business associates or others, it’s always a great opportunity to reinforce your image as a highly responsive and attentive adviser. But what exactly should you say? Your message should represent your authentic self, while keeping the following best practices in mind.

What Should You Say?

The best messages are clear, short and simple. Here’s a good example:

Hi, this is <NAME>. I’m out of the office until <MONTH DATE> and will be responding to messages on <MONTH DATE>. If you have an urgent need, please contact <NAME> at <XXX.XXX.XXXX> or <EMAIL ADDRESS>. Thank you for your message. I look forward to connecting soon.

A straightforward response like this works well for callers and emailers who have a business need. And, remember, if you’re recording a message for phone calls, speak articulately so those contacting you don’t have to replay your message. If necessary, spell out the email address of your contact person.

If you’d like to elaborate on your message, here are several options, along with some caveats, to consider:

  • Conveying your personality. Perhaps you’d like to mention where you’ll be (e.g., I’m hiking Mount Kilimanjaro!) or add a clever tie-in regarding an upcoming marketing event or newsletter distribution. If that’s in character, it can work. But if a “cute” message isn’t you, just keep things simple and authentic.
  • Adding industry info. If you’re away at an industry conference to keep up with the latest regulations, investment ideas or trends, a brief explanation may be useful. By doing so, you’ll let clients know that your unavailability is for their benefit.
  • Giving advance notice. If you’re going on “sabbatical” of four or more weeks, it’s best to tell clients well in advance. Let your clients know when you’ll be gone and whether you’ll be in communication or not. Ask them to think about any issue that may come up, so you can handle it proactively or alert your team to be ready. And, of course, you’ll want to reassure clients that someone will always be in the office to help them and be in touch as needed.
  • Working from a different location. This situation is increasingly common for advisers, given that technology typically permits seamless communication. If, however, your location does present technological challenges and/or a time difference is in play, it’s best to prepare clients. Use your OOO to convey the reality of when you’ll be responding to messages or not answering calls.

And while I’m on the subject, if you’re taking a vacation, take a vacation! If you answer phone calls and return messages while on vacation or don’t want clients to know you’re gone, think twice. That’s not a great long-term strategy for either you or your clients.

Remember Your OOO!

Your OOO message is a courtesy to clients—and even your staff members (who will need to respond to client queries). It’s also an opportunity to prevent any dings to your credibility. When you’re back in the office, make returning messages your top priority even if your staff assures you that all issues have been resolved. And, finally, remember to turn off your OOO and change the message on your phone as needed.

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