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Two Ways Planners Can Increase Their Value Proposition

A recent study by Capgemini revealed that, despite robust portfolio returns, only 55.5 percent of high-net-worth investors feel a strong connection to their planners. If returns are on the rise, then where are planners falling flat?

We have recently experienced one of the longest bull markets in history (which despite recent market events, experts say is not yet at its end), and not only have investors been used to steady returns, they have continued to move toward indexing to get those returns at a lower cost. The reality is that investor satisfaction is less about market returns and more about the entire value the financial planner provides. The financial services profession is as impacted by technology, demographics and value provided as any other economic sector.

If you don’t continue to evolve your business model by creating more value for customers, you won’t sustain growth or even achieve the same level of success. However, some planners are resistant to making the changes necessary to enhance their business model and increase the loyalty of their clients because their existing model is what made them successful in the first place.

Our profession continues to be dominated by baby boomer planners, who are generally more resistant to adopting integrated technologies that can provide scale to their business and greater freedom to focus on client acquisition and relationships. Generation X and millennial planners, on the other hand, are proactively seeking out new technologies and ways to achieve stronger connections with their clients.

Planners who focus only on asset allocation as a core competency are most likely falling short of the broader value clients now expect and are willing to pay for. To improve their business models, planners should consider the following:

1.) Emphasize financial planning aimed at providing economic wellness, fulfillment and confidence—and the risk-adjusted strategies that can help clients get there.

While asset allocation is a key component of the wealth management process, it shouldn’t stand on its own as a planner’s core value proposition. Planners must shift their perspective and offer clients what they’re really looking for.

The need for value-add services, such as estate and tax planning, is being driven by the impending “Great Wealth Transfer,” as roughly $30 trillion is expected to switch hands from baby boomers to their heirs over the next 30 to 40 years, according to Accenture. Right now, most of these assets still rest with baby boomers but they are increasingly transitioning to spouses, Generation X and millennials.

Getting younger investors in the doors of your business starts with understanding how they view money. Remember that since many newer investors acutely felt the impact of the Great Recession at a formative period in their lives, they may have a greater emotional attachment to money than their parents. This has manifested as a strong tendency toward risk avoidance and a desire to focus on maintaining wealth rather than growing it.

Planners should therefore offer services and counsel that cater to this mindset, relating to clients on a personal level rather than just finding an appropriate asset allocation.

2.) Adopt and implement the types of financial technologies that investors are demanding in order to track their wealth.

As predicted, the advent of robo-advisers did not put financial planners out of business, but this technology has opened an important dialogue about the value a planner provides to the modern investor.

We live in an age when on-demand services like Amazon Prime and Uber have become the new normal, and financial services are no exception. Investors today want constant access to their accounts, so planners risk extinction if they continue to manage client relationships with a yellow pad and quarterly phone calls. Modern clients demand a digital portal where they can easily access their money and your advice 24-7.

Many planners are hesitant to adopt this technology because they fear it will diminish the need for their role, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Clients might enjoy the ease of access a portal provides for quickly updating beneficiary designations, but when faced with a significant event like a death in the family, they will turn to you for professional guidance. No computer will ever be able to provide trusted counsel for complicated personal scenarios.

As a planner, understand that your greatest value-add may not be having a hand in every single touchpoint of your business. In fact, planners who focus on listening and serving the overall financial well-being of their clients, while delegating non-essential tasks to technology, will build the stronger connections necessary to increase client satisfaction.

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As president and chief executive officer of Kestra Financial, James Poer is dedicated to helping independent financial advisers fulfill client goals through a unique integration of technology and service. Kestra Financial serves independent financial advisory firms with varying business affiliations, including independent registered investment advisers (RIAs) and hybrid advisers.


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Connecting with Clients Who Aren’t Tech Savvy

Many of us tend to stereotype clients of a certain age as “too old” to be tech savvy. After all, the average age in terms of tech savviness gets younger every day. But what if you take a different perspective? Perhaps clients are never too old. Indeed, maybe they would even welcome the opportunity to step up their use of technology!

Let’s start with this scenario: You want your clients to be knowledgeable and comfortable using technology for a review meeting. That way, if they relocate to a warmer climate or are no longer physically able to come to the office, for example, you can still stay connected. Plus, you may believe (as some planners do) that technology-based review meetings are not only more concise but also higher quality. So, what does it take to prepare clients who may not seem tech savvy for a technology-based review meeting?

Beta Best Practices

A good place to start is with a beta approach. Here, there are a few best practices to keep in mind. First, brainstorm a list of two to five clients who you think would be good candidates for a beta test. Reach out to them, explaining to each one the value of conducting a remote review meeting using technology. Then, simply ask them if they would like to participate. If no, end of story. If yes, it’s time to get started.

For this example, we’ll use the iPad as our technology of choice, although there are certainly other options that could work. You’ll need to set up your iPads using the appropriate links so they provide a secure connection. Remember, less is more. The goal is to make it easy for clients by having only the essentials available on the iPad.

Once the iPads have everything they need for clients to connect to a meeting, send them to beta users for the sole purpose of the review meeting. To help familiarize clients with how to use it, include easy-to-understand instructions either with the iPad or directly on it. You might also schedule a phone call to provide a short training session. Now, it’s time to put it to the test.

Try the iPads for one meeting shortly after the training—maybe even the next day. Ask for feedback! If your clients like it, plan on using the iPad for the next review meeting. If not? Simply have them return the iPads to you.

Hidden Benefits and Risks

Of course, there are some clients who don’t even own a computer. You might find that these individuals are the ones who may ask you to talk with their tech-savvy kids. That’s a good thing—and a great opportunity. The kids may see you as taking a novel approach to supporting their parents. On the other hand, what if this strategy is so wildly successful that clients start contacting you 10 times a day? As mentioned above, be sure to establish that the iPad is for review meetings only. Any communication in between meetings can be handled the traditional way—a phone call.

Finally, what if your clients talk to others about how they have reviews with their planner via iPad and from the comfort of their own homes? Positive word of mouth is always a good thing. Plus, innovation presents your firm as young and vital.

Technology Supports Human Connection

Individuals born with technology in hand will be more sophisticated than those who adopt it in their 40s. But millennials are actually the ones who have the most to gain from ideas like this. Who knows where the concept of providing an iPad could lead? What would it mean for clients who adopt this idea to be reminded of you with a beautiful photo, a joke of the day or an inspirational quote? These simple reminders can support the human connection if the foundation is properly laid—in this case—by using an iPad as an enhancement to human relationships.

Now, I know this particular approach won’t be for everyone. If not, what novel idea can you try that can help you stay connected to—and show how much you care about—your clients?

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


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The Science of Service

In our industry, it can sometimes be easy to lose sight of the primary purpose of our business, which is to service the financial needs of our clients. Personal, professional and even corporate goals may lead some of the best financial planners to occasionally place their focus in a direction that isn’t in the client’s best interest but in theirs. When this happens, it goes against the “science of service.”

In the short-term, this shift of focus may help the planner accomplish a goal but typically in the long-run it can only be counterproductive because it goes against what should be all about a planner’s integrity. Once this “line” is crossed it is that much easier to cross it again because a planner’s definition of what that “line” is becomes blurred by excuses.

Mahatma Gandhi said it best when he said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” I believe this is very true. However, that begs the question of, “What constitutes service?”

Understanding the Science of Service

Most planners and agents think that the definition of service is to answer incoming client calls, hear what they need, drop everything and attend to their requests. However, that is a very reactive client servicing system. And, while this type of servicing is obviously necessary at times, it isn’t the only thing that clients need.

Step 1: Have a High Level of Integrity

Over twenty years ago, I asked John M., the most seasoned financial planner in the office a simple question, “Can you run a financial advisory practice with integrity and still make a great living?” He simply smiled and said, “You will make more money than you could ever imagine as long as you continue to do the right thing.”

Unfortunately, we have all met prospects who owned products that were inappropriate for them. Instead, the planner who sold them these types of products probably did so because they were thinking of their own best interests.

Ironically, the science of servicing begins even before a prospect becomes a client because recommending an inappropriate product(s) is doing the prospect and yourself a disservice.

A level of impeccable integrity must continue when they do become a client.

Step 2: Have a High Level of Product and Market Knowledge

Clients entrust their hard-earned money to you because they believe you not only have their best interest at heart but that you fully understand the right investment strategies for them. That’s why it’s so important to take the time to keep abreast of your product and market knowledge.

An example of this is Paul C., a financial planner client of mine who spends at least 30 minutes each morning reading something related to the stock market, the economy and/or various products that he recommends to his clients. He says that by doing so he feels well-versed to answer any questions that his clients or prospects have.

Step 3: Have a Proactive Client Servicing System

Most financial planners want to service their clients in the best way possible, but many fail to understand how to service clients effectively because they don’t understand what great service means.

David P., another client of mine, was putting out fires all day long which made him feel exhausted more often than not. That is until we designed a proactive client servicing system by segmenting his book, clearly defining his client servicing levels, systematizing his client servicing activities and delegating many of the day-to-day interruptions to his staff. It didn’t take long before David felt back in control of his day.

Why Servicing is Not an Art

Hopefully by now you can relate to the planners in each one of the examples and realize that what they’re doing is not subjective. To John M., integrity is the cornerstone of service; to Paul C., knowledge is imperative to keeping his clients informed and having the right investments; and to David P., having a proactive client servicing system gives his clients and himself peace of mind. To these planners, their activities are not open to interpretation. Instead, they have adopted a “science of service” mindset.

If you are ready to take your business to the next level, schedule a complimentary 30-minute coaching session with me by emailing Melissa Denham, director of client servicing.

Dan Finley
Daniel C. Finley is the president and co-founder of Advisor Solutions, a business consulting and coaching service dedicated to helping advisers build a better business.