This is the second in a series of blog posts in which Mark Bradley (as my co-author) and I will attempt to examine and unpack some of the common areas of practice management which financial advisers, who are often also business owners, need to act upon on as they strive to build and run a world class financial advice practice and deliver a superior client experience.
Now that the time has been carved out (as suggested in our introductory blog here), what aspects should an adviser focus on when assessing his or her business? There are several. While it is impossible to go into each item in the necessary detail in a single blog post, a brief overview may get the mind ticking. We plan to dig a bit deeper into some of these in subsequent posts.
A great place to start is a clearly defined value proposition. It has been said that if an adviser has never turned away a customer, he or she does not have a value proposition. It requires a clear understanding of the one thing that differentiates your business from the one down the road. Exceptional customer service is most likely not enough; nor is the production of a great financial plan. Ask yourself the following question: what is that one thing without which my clients would not engage my services? And don’t shy away from asking clients this very question during a chat or at the next review. A further useful question to pose to clients is with which attributes they associate you or your firm. The answers to these questions should provide a very good guide to defining a value proposition.
Understanding who your ideal clients are is another key aspect to building a successful practice. Analyse the demographics of your current client base to determine with whom you enjoy working (yes, that’s important!) and with whom your advice and guidance resonates most. Common themes may relate to profession, age, gender, hobbies, life stage, etc. You may be surprised by what you uncover. I chatted to an adviser a couple of years ago whose ideal clients are engineers and widows. For real! As he said, it does potentially mean going from a spreadsheet and numbers meeting to a discussion in which emotion and the daily challenges of the loss of a partner are top of mind. To his credit, he is both highly skilled at navigating this and completely comfortable that he is adding value in his ideal target market.
A valuable step in arriving at an ideal client profile that also has further benefits is segmenting a client base with clearly defined criteria. I would highlight the following positive outcomes to conducting the exercise:
a greater understanding of how to drive your marketing strategy more effectively
ensuring you maximise the delivery of your value proposition to clients
an improved client experience which leads to greater client satisfaction
The segmentation exercise is also very closely linked to another critically important consideration: what it costs to onboard clients and to look after them. It is vital to have a sound understanding of the costs involved in delivering a service across various client segments. This in turn becomes central to the construction of a firm’s service level agreements and the implementation of a fair and robust fee model. While it may be noble to assist all clients with equal allocations of time and resources, operating a profitable business is of the utmost importance for its sustainability and the security and peace of mind of all clients and staff.
Clients experience a business from the very first contact, and this extends into the stage in which they are being looked after by a firm on an ongoing basis. Having a documented end-to-end operationalprocess and retention strategy in which roles and responsibilities are clearly defined is of the utmost importance. The consequence of not having these outlined is that it compromises the robustness of a firm and may result in advisers and their support staff operating in crises mode at times. A clear indication of this would be, for example, , where there is an excessive amount of last-minute scurrying when servicing clients resulting in frustrated, stressed and unhappy colleagues (and possibly even clients).
There are various reasons why clients may leave their adviser, with one of them being the lack of regular and appropriate communication. Advisers should pay special attention to the types of communication their clients wish to receive, how frequently and via which method. Simply bombarding their inboxes with a barrage of information may not only result in it not being consumed, but also potentially in a great deal of effort providing little or no value. Quite often what advisers think their clients may want to receive and consume and what they are actually looking for can be worlds apart. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different approaches, seek feedback and iterate until you find communication methods that work for you and your clients.
These are the key areas that advisers need to work on and develop within their practice if they want to establish and maintain themselves as a leading advice firm. The best approach to tackling them is to break each down into manageable chunks, be disciplined in working on them by allocating time to this important (but never urgent) task, and then revisit them so they can be improved – don’t strive for perfection first time! As one adviser recently put it: “The fun part is trying to figure out ways of improving on what we do for our clients. The best part is it’s been good for business.”
If you are interested in participating in a series of idea sharing calls where we will discuss the topics contained in this blog post in more detail, where you can share your experiences with peers who are on different stages of their journey as a business, then please register your interest by emailing email@example.com