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Exploring Your Business Model: Are You Amazon or Sears?

It’s early February, and the holidays are just behind us. If you’re like most people, you probably shopped online and had multiple packages delivered straight to your door—from Amazon, the United States Postal Service, UPS and a variety of other carriers. Maybe you even had your groceries delivered, or flowers or wine. It was convenient, wasn’t it? You got exactly what you wanted without ever having to leave your house or waste time looking for a parking spot at a crowded mall or store.

Your clients did the same thing, of course.

Which is why you need to think carefully about what’s really important to them. We live in a world where customers are increasingly dictating what they want, expect and will pay for, and the companies that prosper are the ones delivering on those needs.

You Know What Your Clients Want … Don’t You?

Ah, you’re thinking, but those are retail companies that deliver a product. It’s easy for them. What I deliver is an intangible service that can’t be measured the same way.

That would be true—if your clients agreed with you. Unfortunately, many of them probably expect the same things from you and your practice that they’ve come to expect from other businesses. How would you stack up in terms of convenience, choice, price and accessibility? Does your practice seem friendly, enjoyable, and easy to work with?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I consult with advisers on their business plans. One elite adviser is working far more hours than he’d like to, and his goal for 2020 is to take more time off to deal with some lingering health issues and to start accomplishing a few items on his bucket list. So, Bill (not his real name) went through the work of segmenting his client base and creating a carefully thought-out service matrix. All of this was good, until Bill discussed his planned deliverables with me.

Making Assumptions

As part of his offering for his top 50 clients, Bill planned to continue his customary quarterly meetings and reviews. Everyone else would be cut back to three meetings per year. And did I mention that these are all face-to-face meetings?

Bill thought he was delivering extraordinary value to his clients. To keep that schedule, he was holding 20–25 meetings a week. He and his staff were tired, overworked and frequently scrambling to get things done. It was a drain on everyone, with no end in sight.

It’s always easier to spot issues when you’re not directly involved. Clearly, this wasn’t working well for the practice, so I asked Bill a simple question: “What makes you think your clients want to meet with you that often?”

There was total silence for about a minute. And then Bill admitted he was gobsmacked—it had never occurred to him that clients wouldn’t value the experience he’s been at great pains to deliver. But think about it from your clients’ perspective. If they like and trust you, and they have a financial plan in place they’re working toward, why do they need to meet with you so often? Many of them might be stealing time in the middle of a busy workday or cutting short family time to sit down with you. Add in traffic and parking and coordinating with spouses, and it might be that your clients view keeping several appointments with you as a hassle. And all the while, you’ve thought they were thrilled by your platinum service level.

A New Discovery Process

When Bill actually asked his clients how often they would prefer to sit down and meet, most said annually, with a minority saying semiannually (only a few older clients wanted to keep their same schedule). As long as they could reach Bill when they had questions or when they had a life change, they were happy—eager—to meet less frequently. Between emails, market updates, events and social media posts, clients felt they were kept well informed with what was happening throughout the year.

As part of this discovery process, Bill also learned his clients were highly interested in using technology, such as videoconferencing, screensharing and texting, to stay in touch. He’d had that capability for years but never used it, assuming his clients didn’t want it. Now Bill is working on a new service model that begins with what his clients want and genuinely value from him, to the greater satisfaction of all.

Let’s go back to my earlier comments about retail shopping. Bill’s practice is now positioned as more responsive, convenient, technologically advanced and accessible simply because he is thinking about what clients really want and need—and then delivering it. As a result, Bill and his team will save hundreds of hours spent in meetings and meeting preparation—time they can now devote to being even more thoughtful and detailed when they do sit with a client. Bill is now planning to take his first two-week vacation in 20 years.

Amazon Vs. Sears

I’m not suggesting advisers unilaterally change their service models or cut back on client meetings. But if you don’t really know what clients want or expect from you, it’s high time you asked. Sears failed to recognize that its customers wanted something different from their shopping experience and kept offering the same things it always had. It’s currently in bankruptcy proceedings, while Amazon posted record revenues last year.

Which one are you?

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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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Thinking About Technology Today Can Help You Innovate for Tomorrow

When you imagine your business in the next 10 years, what does it look like? Are you working with an entirely virtual team? Do you have a formal office space? Are your client meetings all done over conferencing tools to support your busy schedule? As you work to put together a forward-thinking business plan, it’s important to think about how your operation and tech stack will change over time.

Shifting your mindset to embrace future technology means:

  • Thinking about how to best support your client.
  • Determining the type of life and business you want.
  • Evaluating the future needs of your team.

Serving Your Client

Embracing technology to better serve your clients can take several different forms when you’re going through business planning. It might mean upgrading your tech stack as different tools become available and technology evolves. It might also mean rethinking your current processes and systems to provide an elevated client experience.

For example, clients may expect an online portal with interactive financial planning software in the not-so-distant future. They may also expect automated text and email appointment reminders, online scheduling tools and even digital forms and checklists to help them stay on track throughout the year. Adjusting your business plan (and budget) accordingly to incorporate these pieces of technology is key.

Something else to consider is whether your current ideal client will be aged out. If you largely work with retirees right now, how will you pivot your services to accommodate new clients from different generations as they approach retirement in the near future? The next generation of retirees is tech-savvy, which means you need to be as well.

One way you can continue to provide quality planning services while still meeting technology expectations is by revisiting your processes to ensure they’re both collaborative and individualized. The more resources you can give your clients access to, the better.

Serving Yourself

Ultimately, your business is just that―yours. You need to be thinking of ways that technology can help you achieve the life and business you want. For example, manually managing your calendar may be fine right now, but do you want to be manually scheduling appointments in 10 years?

Take the time to think about how your life is going to change in the next decade, and how your business needs to adjust to accommodate those changes. Some examples might be:

  • You’re planning to retire.
  • You want to start a family.
  • You’d like to work virtually and travel.

Technology can help you streamline your processes to save you time and energy as your business scales. Jot down what you want your ideal day to look like in 10 years as a financial planner or firm owner. How does it differ from what you’re doing right now? For example, if you currently hold all of your client meetings in person, it may be wise to start looking into conferencing and scheduling tools to start managing your meetings virtually if you want to be able to work remote in the future.

Remember: these changes happen over time by taking small steps toward your goal. Implementing a few virtual meetings now may not overhaul your schedule, but it will put you on the right path to achieving your ideal workday in the next decade.

Serving Your Team

You and your clients aren’t the only ones impacted by technology and future planning. Your team will be impacted by these changes as well. One of the biggest changes I see many planners thinking about as we head into a new decade is shifting away from formal office space. Transitioning your team to a virtual work environment can be quite the challenge―especially if it’s new to everyone.

Start thinking about what technology you’d need for virtual work, and carefully evaluate what roles your team will play if they work remote. For example, you may find that members of your team are able to work remotely and use conferencing tools to meet with clients and present plans. Maybe you will decide that once your receptionist retires in 3 to 5 years you won’t need to replace them―and will instead leverage automated appointment reminders and scheduling software. Making future hiring decisions with technology in mind can also help you to plan ahead.

Thinking about technology planning for the next 5 to 10 years can feel overwhelming. Instead of focusing on small changes, think about the big picture. Once you define what you want to build in the future, you’ll be able to reverse engineer your technology and operations goals to maximize success.

Charesse Hagan

Charesse Hagan helps financial planners work smarter, grow their firms and offer exceptional services to their clients. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and is an operations consultant at Charesse J. Hagan, LLC, and an FPA Coaches Corner coach for technology and operations. Find more resources from Hagan here.

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Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared in the FPA Coaches Corner whitepaper, “Action 2020: Create Business Success for Today and Tomorrow.” Download your copy of the whitepaper here.  


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3 Helpful Tips to Onboarding New Technology In Your Firm

Technology always evolves. It seems like every day there are new options to help streamline processes and change workflows all with the promise of optimizing your business.

As a business owner, you are always on the lookout for ways to improve yourself and your business, but it is important that you take the time to evaluate a new piece of technology and how it will impact you before adopting it into your practice.

The right technology can help take your business to the next level. How do you know if a new system is right for you? Check out these three things to find out.

Know Your Why

One of the most important elements of implementing new technology into your practice is that it adds concrete value. As financial planners, you know the importance of asking the question: why? You talk about it with your clients all the time; getting them to think deeper about the things that they want and the ways it will make their lives better.

You can use this same tactic when thinking about your business. New technology can be exciting, but I encourage you to think through the following questions:

  • Why are you looking to add this new system into your services?
  • Is this system a replacement to another one or an addition?
  • How will this system add new value to your business?
  • In what ways will you maximize this system?
  • How will the transition or overlap impact your employees and your clients?

These questions are designed to get you to think through the practical elements that come along with adding new technology. Understanding the software itself and the impact it will have on your company will help you establish your reason, your why for adopting it.

The Technology Itself Matters

Once you decide how the desired system will add value to your company, you then have to take a look at it and decide how you will maximize the use you, your team and your clients will get from it.

The first place to start is ensuring that the system will be a good fit for your company. Ask yourself:

Do you plan to use the full functionality of the system or are you only interested in one key feature?

If you find yourself drawn to only a handful of pieces you like, you won’t be able to maximize the system and should keep looking for other options, because it won’t be worth it financially. Robust systems are costly, which is why you need to think through the practical implementation to see if you will get enough out of it.

The next thing to look at is the way the new system will interact with your existing technology infrastructure. Do you already have a system that offers a similar outcome? Will this new system increase in quality or functionality? Before onboarding something new, it’s important to look at what you already have, and the ways the new system is or isn’t helping you reach your goals.

If you decide that a new system would be a better fit for you, it may be time to eliminate a few other systems to help with your budget. Take, for example, payments and contracts. Before you may have been using two systems to send a client their contract and another to collect their payment when you could instead look into a system that offers both features. This will improve your budget because you will be paying for one system, not two and will increase the ease and function for your clients as well.

Deciding whether to bring on new technology should be a team effort. Be sure to include other members of your team and create a task force to help you decide what the best move will be. Each person on your team brings something special to the table, let them help you.

Be sure to use all the resources you have at your disposal when you are implementing your new software. Most technology companies will help you onboard the system, so take it! Tap into those resources to make the onboarding and training process easier for you and your team.

External Versus Internal Implementation

As we have discussed, it’s important to look at the way your new technology will impact your clients as well as your team. While a new process will always impact both in some way, different pieces of technology can affect one group more than the other. Let’s take a look at the ways your approach should change if the technology is client-facing or internal.

Client facing technology needs to have a strong, organized rollout process. Many firms use this process for all incoming clients and also establish a communication plan for existing clients to alert them to the changes and what to expect moving forward.

For a more streamlined process, consider providing the new clients with video tutorials, how-to’s and other helpful guides so that they can essentially onboard themselves while you train your team to answer questions and communicate with clients about the system. Change is hard for everyone, and it will be for your clients so try to focus more on the benefits this new system will provide them as opposed to the difficult change.

While client-facing software may seem more difficult to implement, internal software can come with just as many challenges. If this new software will directly impact a team member’s job, approach the conversation with care and use the tools available to you to help make their transition easier.

You can do this by holding a meeting to explain the new platform and its values. Be as transparent as you see fit with a timeline for adopting the new system and graciously accept feedback on its use and function for them.

Onboarding new technology can be difficult, but it is a wonderful way to push your business forward. Once you establish your purpose and mission for the technology, know how it will be used, and make a plan for implementing it as smooth as possible, you will be on your way to success.

Charesse Hagan

Charesse Hagan helps financial planners work smarter, grow their firms and offer exceptional services to their clients. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and is an operations consultant at Charesse J. Hagan, LLC, and an FPA Coaches Corner coach for technology and operations. Find more resources from Hagan here. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the September 2019 issue of FPA Next Generation Planner, a monthly app-only publication that is geared toward people new to the profession. Download the app today. Stay tuned for your February issue, which drops the first week in February. 

Also, want to read more from Hagan and the other FPA Coaches? Check out the latest whitepaper from all the coaches titled “Action 2020: Create Business Success for Today and Tomorrow.” 

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