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Many years ago, before going independent, I started in the industry working for a financial advisory firm with a captive W-2 employee business model. I was eager, but also young and raw. So naturally, I was placed in a training program that would ostensibly teach me the necessary skills to become a successful financial advisor.
My training took place in a classroom setting, and I remember the instructor well. He was passionate, well-prepared and highly competent, among the best professional coaches that I have encountered in more than 30 years in the industry. Even so, only a couple of us were left standing when the program ended. Everyone else gave up, convinced that a career in retail financial advice was not in the cards.
We continue to see this type of attrition across similar training programs today, combined with an ongoing flight of promising young talent away from the industry. Partly, it’s due to the rugged nature of retail financial advisory work. You need patience, perseverance and almost elephant-like thick skin. Too many people can’t deal with the rejection that comes up frequently in this profession, and that’s why the most successful advisors are the ones who can acclimate to the fact that rejection is merely part of the job.
But another reason for the enormous attrition among junior financial advisors is that training programs are almost destined to fail, and mentoring programs are largely not succeeding in imparting the skills young advisors really need to thrive. In particular, converting a prospect into a new client and nurturing that relationship over time can’t be learned by taking notes or role-playing in a classroom. Nor can a book demonstrate how to effectively build holistic financial planning solutions for a wide cross-section of clients. Such skills often take years to master, time that most would-be advisors feel they can ill afford to waste.
So what needs to happen? More than ever, independent advisory practices eager to create intergeneration value must build transferrable, repeatable processes for junior advisors that focus heavily on developing the key client acquisition and relationship management skills they need to succeed. This includes soliciting referrals, making first contact, managing the sales cycle and all the other behaviours that help build and solidify client relationships.
In my mind, the only way to ingrain these behaviours—and, thus, keep more promising advisors from fleeing the space to pursue other careers—is for advisory firms to augment existing mentoring programs with an emphasis on the following top five relationship management best practices for junior advisors seeking to grow and succeed in this space:
1) Standardise your core messages. Before you approach a prospective client, it’s important to first figure out what you want to say—and then stay on message at all times. This means any mentoring program must begin and end with showing the junior advisor the main three to five “elevator speech” core messages about why clients should work with the advisor and the practice that the advisor is part of, and emphasize the importance of “message discipline” in any interaction with a prospect or client.
2) Operationalise the entire life cycle of client touch points so that each point of contact is transferrable and repeatable across multiple client and prospective client relationships. From the moment a referral comes in, until the junior advisor secures the client relationship, the entire life cycle of client touch points should be uniform, standard and consistent. As a vital starting point, this means having a written, step-by-step one-sheet set of instructions for junior advisors that simplifies what needs to be done each time a new client referral emerges. This can be as simple as delivering the above-mentioned standard “elevator speech” talking points that junior advisors can use for the initial conversation, followed by a clear set of bullet points on when and how specifically to best conduct follow up.
3) Operationalize personal contacts so outreach around special events in the lives of clients and prospects is as systematic as possible. In this day and age, there is no reason why any advisor should either be relying on informal client notes, or worse yet, personal memory for relevant special events—birthdays, anniversary dates, etc.—for clients and prospective clients. Not having a better solution set for junior advisors as part of a broader mentoring process is a formula for failure. There is a universe of customer relationship management (CRM) tools out there today that can be leveraged to create a relationship database calendar that provides a forward-looking view of all client and prospective client key dates and prompts outreach based on these events. As part of this process, this means ensuring that each new relationship that is forged includes a process for seeking and inputting not just client contact details, but certain key personal dates to the extent possible. It sounds simple and straightforward, but you’d be surprised how many independent practices out there are still behind the times in this arena.
4) Systematise personal touches that surprise and delight clients and prospects. It may sound like an oxymoron, but delivering personal touches on a scalable basis are key to success in winning and retaining client relationships. This means combining knowledge of the client’s personal dates and milestones that matter with a gift that provides a moment to cost-effectively surprise prospects and clients in ways that evoke gratitude and loyalty. As one example of this, at our own practice, we provide home-baked cookies that we custom wrap and have delivered to prospective clients who are close to deciding to provide us with their business, as well as ongoing clients for a variety of special occasions that we know are coming thanks to our CRM system. The positive feedback we’ve gotten from clients and prospects has been considerable. Not everybody needs to know how to bake cookies, obviously, but every advisor that wants to have a successful mentoring program needs to think through how to coach junior advisors in delivering the unexpected to their key business contacts.
5) Emphasise the prospective client’s immediate need, even if it isn’t “part of the plan.” All too often, junior advisors who are trying to do things by the book will fail to respond to a smaller-scale, immediate need on the part of a prospective client if he or she is not yet willing to discuss a broader holistic financial plan. While the underlying intentions of this approach are laudable, the fact is that not responding and capturing an immediate prospective client’s need, however limited in scope, could mean that you ultimately lose out on any hopes for a broader relationship. Independent practices that want to mentor younger advisors and position them for success should help to develop a pre-set process that helps junior advisors address the prospective client’s immediate need and use that event to set up a broader conversation in the near future. Whether it’s updating an insurance policy or rolling over a 401k plan, however limited the immediate work has been, the board has been set up for a potential positive dialogue about a longer-term client relationship.
Above all, the ability to convert prospective client contacts into actual, enduring client relationships is fundamental to an advisor’s professional growth and long-term success. As such, successful independent practices and ambitious junior advisors alike should look long and hard at their mentoring programs and processes, especially when it comes to distilling the key client development skills needed into an easy-to-follow, step-by-step approach.
Kirby McDonald is the president and managing partner of Illuminate Financial Group (www.illuminatefinancialgroup.com), an independent financial advisory practice based in Omaha, Neb., and affiliated with independent broker-dealer Cetera Advisors LLC, Member FINRA, SIPC (www.ceteraadvisors.com).