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Strategies for Measuring Success

Many financial planners measure their success by the end tally of new accounts, new assets and additional gross revenue. Unfortunately, some planners give up before reaching their set goal. Thomas Edison said it best when he said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

I truly believe that Mr. Edison was correct. However, focusing on the journey toward achieving success rather than the destination itself allows for focusing on productive activities while celebrating accomplishments along the way. Isn’t that what we all truly want—to actually enjoy what we do for a living?

Let’s take a deeper dive with a stepwise approach that can help you continuously measure progress instead of using the ultimate endgame in mind as your barometer.

Step 1: Compartmentalize the Goals

Goals are an important part of achieving success however if you don’t break down your goals into daily actions, they are very difficult to accomplish. That’s exactly why Edison conducted 10,000 experiments in order to invent the light bulb—he just kept at it.

Here is a real-world example of how client of mine used this type of process:

Robert E. was an adviser/insurance agent with four years of experience when his boss told him that his life insurance sales had spiraled downward from any other month in production. When Robert and I met, he informed me that he no longer had company minimum production standards to meet upon his four-year anniversary, which he had just passed.

Unfortunately, his boss and the company were taking notice and they were not happy with him. It was time to redefine his goals and map out his daily activities.

Step 2: Create a Game

The next step was to create a game, something that would be fun to do on a daily basis. Having coached hundreds of financial planners and insurance agents, I knew exactly what game would work best for Robert. So, I explained a “cross-selling” campaign that I call the “Oh, By the Way” game.

The title itself was a simple reminder that whenever he was talking to a client, he had to look at the account to see if they had their life insurance with him. If not, he began the conversation with, “Oh, by the way I know that we have been working together for some time now but I see that we aren’t helping you with your life insurance, why is that?” Next, he had to wait for any objections and use one of our “Handling Objections” tools to overcome it.

If he was able to overcome the objection, then he got to mark the accomplishment as a point and then attempt to continue earning himself points.

Step 3: Beat Your High Score

Motivation is an important step in turning daily activities into a habit. The best way I know to do this is to try and beat your personal record and to have daily accountability. At the end of each day, Robert would email me how many points he had earned. Every time he beat his high score he would reward himself with some type of motivating reward.

So, what happened to Robert?

At the end of the month, I called his boss to get his opinion on Robert’s progress. “I don’t know what you did to him but he’s having the best month of his career!” his boss proudly exclaimed. In other words, Robert was now enjoying the journey and the bonus was that his business was picking up as a result.

Why the “Game” Approach to Success Works

The reason this worked for Robert was because he focused on deliberate activities, made a game out of those and kept himself accountable (both with rewards and by checking in with me). When you change your mindset, you can have a good time doing activities that might have seemed like too much work previously. Viewing it through the lens of a game changed his trajectory.

If you would like a free coaching session with me, email Melissa Denham, our 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.

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It’s Not Just About Salary: Purposeful Staffing

I routinely get calls or questions from advisers about compensation for a staff position or junior adviser. Whether it involves hiring/retaining a junior person, or a staff member trying to make a case to their firm about how underpaid they are, the conversation is less about salaries (although it does come up) and more about incentive or variable compensation and bonus. Instead of providing a number or formula, I’ve been asking what would it take that person to leave your firm and why are you doing things? If you know what kind of firm you’re running, and what your goals are, you can be purposeful with compensation.

What Behavior Do You Want?

Over the years, I have lived by a simple rule when it comes to compensation: compensation, especially with variable comp, should be used to drive better behavior. More importantly, advisers shouldn’t have to stick with the same variable comp structure every year as priorities and goals may change. I ask the adviser to think about the goals of their firm, more importantly the leading indicators of success and tie the metrics around those indicators.

As I said, the conversations are changing lately—they are becoming broader. Today, we start with a conversation about work environment. We answer and discuss:

  • Is there a clear vision and purpose for the firm (Do you know where you are headed)?
  • Does the employee have/want the opportunity to grow and is the path laid out for them?
  • Is there a sense that the employee is fulfilled?
  • Is the employee valued?
  • Is compensation really the issue you are trying to solve for?

In my mind, staff more often leaves a business for reasons other than compensation. The biggest reason is always around the vison of the firm and where they fit.

Purposeful Staff

In our most recent paper, “The Purposeful Advisory Firm,” my co-author Raef Lee and I discussed the concept of value engineering for advisory firms. The idea was that an advisory firm has a few levers they can pull that can determine the firm’s direction. Moving a lever in the right direction can propel the firm toward successful enterprise or to a lifestyle firm. I think the people (staff) lever is the most important.

How you use talent can be the key to your success, so it is critically important to understand, communicate and plan for the direction of your firm before you discuss variable compensation with the staff. How can you decide on a number if you don’t know what you are paying for or the direction that the compensation will take your firm?

Lifestyle Versus Enterprise: Questions for You

Before you get into the dollars and cents of a compensation plan, I think it is important to ask questions that can help move that value lever:

  1. Do you aspire to take your firm to the next level? (In addition, can you define what that next level looks like?)
  2. Do you have the appetite for adding (and managing) more employees?
  3. Do you have it in you to fire yourself as adviser and hire yourself as CEO?

If you answer yes to all three of these questions, you are heading down that enterprise path. You will be busy with defining roles, job descriptions and creating a path for all your team members to grow within your firm. Yes means looking at a team approach to the client service model and possibly a chief operating officer hire. The enterprise variable compensation will look at the big picture of the firm and how you are building it for the future.

If you answer no, then the lifestyle approach may be calling you. And figuring out that variable compensation is going to be even more important. You should create a plan that reinforces longevity, continuity and service. The lifestyle firm cannot afford huge turnover that will force the adviser back in the day-to-day operations of the practice. Morale and culture are very important to retain existing clients and strengthen the brand of the no-doubt personality driven firm.


Not having a purposeful compensation plan in place leads to employee retention issues. A purposeful plan leads to maximizing the hire for the future direction of your firm. I am often accused of sounding like an attorney (or an economist). When someone asks me about compensation, instead of a direct answer, I now say, “It depends on you.” What kind of firm do you want to be?

Editor’s Note: Join SEI and FPA for a webinar titled, “The Renaissance in Charitable Trust Planning,” at 2 p.m., Eastern, April 18. Register for the webinar here. Also, a version of this blog post first appeared on SEI’s practice management blog, Practically Speaking.

John Anderson

John Anderson is the managing director of Practice Management Solutions for the SEI Advisor Network. He is responsible for all programs focused on helping financial advisers grow their businesses, create efficiencies in their operations and differentiate their practices. He is also the author of SEI’s practice management blog, Practically Speaking.


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How Meditation Could Help Your Clients

Habits your clients have developed around money have most likely been with them for decades. One study from Cambridge University found that people develop money habits by the age of 7.

It might be beneficial to your clients to recommend meditation to tackle their bad money habits—whether it’s overspending online, living beyond their means to keep up with their neighbors, or continually financially supporting an adult child.

“When you just think about money, it’s all psychologically based,” said Michael Liersch, head of behavioral finance at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, in a March 2017 article on TheStreet.com “To really be authentic about it, the whole premise of money is emotionally based in essence. Removing emotion from investment decision-making is just a false premise to begin with.”

Just as mindfulness and meditation can help a person who is trying to lose weight, it can also help somebody who may be trying to overcome negative money habits. One study from Harvard University found that mindfulness meditation actually increases the amount of gray matter in the brain’s frontal cortex, which aids in memory and decision-making.

The New York Times reported that a different study from the same researchers found areas of the brain that deal with emotional regulation, learning, focus, and perspective were all thickened after just eight weeks of meditation.

“The payoff s that come from establishing a meditation practice are well worth the time invested,” Leisa Peterson, business strategist and money coach, wrote in a 2015 Huffington Post article. “When you become more mindful about money, you learn a great deal about yourself and also your ability to be creative and intentional, rather than reactionary,” Peterson wrote.

Peterson recommends guided meditation apps to get your clients started. Meditation to overcome negative money habits seems to have worked for some people.

Rebecca Velasquez told LearnVest in 2016 she was able to find financial clarity and save $25,000 by being more mindful. “Meditation requires guidance and support as well as a willingness to take it on every single day,” Velasquez said. “Once that willingness is there, it opens up a whole world of possibilities and revelations, which may end up benefiting your well-being—financial health included.


Ana Trujillo Limón is associate 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.