Industry conferences get many advisors excited about lifting their practices to new heights — but then you go home, real life takes over and all those hand-outs, charts and case studies end up dusty and forgotten on a shelf somewhere. Raymond James Financial Services executive David Lee has a name for it: The Good Idea Graveyard.
To combat that failure-to-execute syndrome, the firm three years ago created a program consisting of personal coaching, invitation-only workshops and a robust website with more than 300 practice management tools. Lee, director of practice management for RJFS, has a term for this too: Weapons of Mass Instruction.
The program, called Practice Intelligence, has not only boosted participating advisors’ productivity — both revenues and practice efficiencies — but it has improved their quality of life.
As Rex Whiteside, a Houston-based advisor with $110 million in assets under management, bluntly frames it: “I was a fairly mediocre advisor continually plateauing at a certain level. Good markets I’d hit one mark, bad markets I’d hit another. The thing is we were just too busy to address anything. Yet when we finally engaged in this process, we saw immediate results.”
With coaching and a deep dive into the Practice Intelligence website, Whiteside, 41, tweaked his service model, resulting in happier clients. He created a “capabilities presentation,” essentially a pitch book, which is now one of the top five downloads on the Practice Intelligence website. And, just over a year ago, he hired an all-new staff that better fits his current business model. His challenge at the moment: to deepen his offering to his target market of first- and second-generation entrepreneurs.
“If you compare what I was doing as an advisor five years ago to now it’s night and day,” Whiteside says. “Without the coaching, without the practice management website, I’d still be that plateauing broker.”
The top three issues that drive advisors to the Practice Intelligence program involve the need to segment clients and establish a service model around them; to create critical centers of influence; and to develop a client niche. “And all of this ties into processes: who you serve and how you serve,” notes RJFS assistant regional director Kirk Bell, who oversees the Practice Intelligence workshops. “The goal is to help advisors build processes to support and package themselves — and then execute.”
The challenge for RJFS leadership: A lot of advisors don’t realize they need the help.
“There are folks who don’t even realize they have a problem. We’re creating that awareness for them that they do need to build, change and improve,” says Lee. “Once there’s some awareness, we can help them diagnose the problem and give them the tools to fix it.”
Those tools include 14 coaches who provide their services on a complimentary basis; workshops launched last year that have a built-in accountability component to ensure follow-through; and a website, averaging 250,000 hits a month and loaded with best-practice resources, many of them contributed by participating advisors. According to RJFS, advisors who use the website have revenues that are as much as 35 percent higher than non-users.
One notable feature on the website is the “Start Smart” practice assessment tool, which analyzes a business’s strengths and weaknesses and creates an interactive report card suggesting areas for improvement. By hitting the “Fix” button, advisors are guided to resources designed to fix the problem. As Lee puts it: “It’s one thing to tell people what to do. It’s another to say here’s how to do it.”
RJFS Regional Director David B. Patchen, one of the firm’s coaches and the creator of an earlier version of Practice Intelligence, says the essence of Practice Intelligence can be summed up in three words: process, package, promote.
“The initial inclination of advisors is to move right to package or to promote. Not only is process work important but you really can’t effectively package and promote yourself unless you’ve done some process work,” Patchen says. “With process, these advisors are moving out into the marketplace with a significantly deeper degree of confidence in what they’ve packaged and promoted.”
Here are four advisors who put a face on Practice Intelligence.
The Goal: To Spend Less Time On His Practice
A self-described “process freak,” 44-year-old Ross Marino knows more than most about creating efficiencies. For six years, up until 2005, he worked on his back in a home office — disabled by a sports injury.
“I didn’t have 60 hours a week to work,” he says. “I still don’t. You learn quickly to do things in an efficient way. It’s the only way to survive.”
Marino, who manages $90 million in assets from offices in Wilmington, N.C., was drawn immediately to the Practice Intelligence website for its time-saving tools. Why? Less time spent on his practice means more time spent on 401(k) Rekon, a symposium management company he heads.
Using tools from the website, Marino has reduced the time he spends on client updates from 25 to 10 hours a week. Much of his client interaction is handled by e-mail. And there is no phone tag in his office. If a client phones Marino and he’s not there, his staff schedules a call-back. Any time a staff member shortens a procedure or creates an efficiency, a bell is rung to celebrate it.
Notably, Marino has off-loaded clients who weren’t a good fit for him. Using a client engagement roadmap he found on the website, he also went up against some strong teams to compete for a high-net-worth family that is now his largest client.
The upshot: Marino has decreased the amount of time it takes to manage his practice by over 50 percent. While his productivity literally doubled, his revenues did not drop.
“I’m always looking for what’s new, what’s a better way, to get something done. One way or another I will find the tools to operate efficiently,” Marino adds. “The downside, of course, is that if you really want to improve, you have to change. Some people may not like that. There’s that old joke about improving the process won’t help if your process isn’t good. This keeps it good.”
The Goal: To Develop A Company-Specific Niche
At the urging of his RJFS coach, advisor Zachary Hayes reluctantly attended a Practice Intelligence workshop last year. As he put it: “I’m a bit of a cynic about the whole coaching/business development/workshop thing.”
Yet it was in a workshop hosted by Cannon Financial that Hayes, 35, had what he calls his “lightbulb moment.” The presentation on company-specific niches spoke to this San Jose, Calif.-based advisor who considers his job a ministry of sorts. “What I do today was birthed in that workshop,” says Hayes, an advisor for 10 years.
Inspired to assist Silicon Valley workers who fear being laid off, Hayes developed a separation guide for employees and alums of Apple and Hewlett Packard. “Without being salesy, I am able to say with total truth that I am expert at this,” he says. “I am in the top 1 percent of the knowledge base.”
Hayes has seen his assets double. Importantly to him, he is doing work that supports his Christian faith. “I realized people really need this help. They are in a state of emotional crisis. The meetings I have are very visceral with my clients. Wives are crying. They’re wondering if they can keep their kids in private school. Should they sell their options now? Should they assume they’ll have another job in six months? It’s ministering to people,” he adds. “I’d struggled due to my desire to be a minister in the marketplace. It’s so easy to get caught up in the money part. Now I know you can grow your business and serve people at the same time.”
Meanwhile, Hayes’ coach, RJFS regional director Bill Counsman, has helped him manage the details that fill out the big picture when an advisor runs a practice. “I need someone to talk through itemizing and making specific the action steps I need to make to do what I’ve envisioned,” Hayes said.
For example, when he wanted to give his executive manager a bonus and salary increase, he turned to Counsman who sent him the power point presentations of three advisors who had spent a lot of time studying pay structure for their teams. “That’s how the Bill relationship works,” he added.
The Goal: To Systematize His Business
When Counsman offered to coach advisor Frank Pickett three years ago, the 58-year-old advisor jumped. He knew he had a problem — but he couldn’t fix it alone.
“We’re financial advisors first. It doesn’t actually occur to us that we’re running a business,” says Pickett, who is based in Upland, Calif., with $80 million in assets under management. “Bill taught me you can’t just build and build. You have to say: ‘Wait. What do we want to build?’”
He was so busy pushing buttons, he says he had no time to think or be creative. “What would we like to build? I think most people, and I was one of them, never get to that point where we even ask the question,” Pickett adds. “They’re just too busy working and in their groove.”
Pickett, now in the business for 15 years, began systematizing with procedures and processes. He created manuals for each staff position and identified a step-by-step process that he takes each client through to identify their needs and goals. He also hired a second coach, CEG Worldwide’s John Bowen, to supplement Counsman’s work.
Pickett’s clients — primarily retirees from Verizon — have told him they notice a difference in the quality and consistency of service. His two employees also have buy-in. “I’ve told them to open your mind, dream the dream and let’s talk. This isn’t just a job,” he says. “In successful companies, everyone has to win.”
His coaching, which he calls career-changing, also led Pickett to realize he was capable of creating an entirely new business. It will be a separate company with its own niche, located 50 miles away. He has already secured office space and identified two employees. The office is set to open in August.
“Coaching has let me know I could do all sorts of things, but the real challenge is time,” Pickett says. “I have to manage my time. No question opportunities are out there, but you have to think through the process and pick your targets carefully.”
The Goal: To Convert From Commissions to Fees
With 100 percent of his business in commissions, advisor John Vance, 36, realized he had to do fee-based planning in order to get a consistent stream of revenue. But how?
For two years, he refined every process involving his clients — families and female decision-makers he serves from offices in Valencia and Pasadena in California. “We harnessed all these ideas from other people. The beauty of the website and this whole practice management toolbox is that it accelerates your progress,” says Vance, now a regular contributor to the website.
Among other things, Vance adopted and then customized a client on-boarding process that covers each and every communication that will occur in the first 60 to 90 days of a new client relationship. “At this stage, I don’t think we can over-communicate,” he says. After seeing a personal newsletter on the website, Vance created his own. AdVance Perspective, as it’s called, updates clients on his own family, their travels and items about his team.
Just recently, he developed a template that inventories a client’s entire financial life. “Its primary role is to keep us organized and keep the client organized,” Vance says. “As we capture information, as things change, we know what’s going on because we’ve written it down.” Vance has shared the wealth management dashboard with other advisors through the website. Lately, in another efficiency initiative, he’s focused on time-blocking, scheduling time with his two daughters and for weekday workouts at the gym.
With $105 million in assets under management, up from $10 million when he joined RJFS in 2003, Vance is looking to build out his practice to $250 million in assets over the next five years. As of last year, less than 2 percent of his business was in commissions. “I didn’t want to sell product, but advise clients,” he says. “I also knew that if I was going to charge a quarterly fee, I had to deliver an exceptional client experience.”