From the April 2012 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

A Disciplined Approach

This month’s cover story (“Pursuing Simplicity”) discusses a renewed emphasis on focus and organization on the part of financial advisors in managing their practices. A good illustration of the theme is RBC Wealth Management advisor Scott Hill, who put together a 90-day engagement schedule for new clients. Hill said his firm was already doing most of the same things prior to devising the engagement schedule, but they were not done systematically.

The new schedule keeps his staff more focused and his clients better served, and has the enormous added benefit of freeing up more of the team’s time. “If you put a disciplined process in place, then there’s plenty of time in a day to get things done,” Hill said.

That simple insight, taken to heart, may add greater value to an advisor’s business practice than the myriad of practice management tips barraging advisor’s brains from brokerage firms, coaches and media sources.

Indeed, a good portion of expert analysis focuses on future trends, a subject to which experts are not reliable guides. A famous study by University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Philip Tetlock examined some 28,000 predictions by political scientists, economists and journalists, tracking them over a period of 20 years.

Tetlock found the experts’ performance to be less impressive than a “dart-throwing chimpanzee.” And what is true about predictions about who will be the vice-presidential nominee or the effects of global warming is doubtless equally true of expert statements on the number of workers who will be able to retire or generational wealth-transfer forecasts. (Glib estimates just a few years ago of boomers passing on $40 or $50 trillion dollars to heirs seem to have been replaced with post-economic crisis estimates that boomers won’t have enough for their own retirements.)

So there’s a huge category of information – crystal-ball style forecasting – that you can stop wasting your time with. It’s easier and more fun to focus on two vast areas of life you exercise no control over – the past and the future – but it is far more profitable to focus on the one neglected area a person does control: the present.

And there’s no time like the economically stressed present to focus on what activities bring success to an advisory practice. Most advisors find that client-facing activities are the key to building a business. It therefore behooves an advisor to dedicate a majority of his office time to client interactions – a few hours in the morning and afternoon, for example.

What makes strict scheduling work is the same thing that makes a diet successful. If you follow a certain regimen strictly – such as eating fruit every morning or not eating anything after 8 p.m. – it eventually becomes internalized as habit; you simply wouldn’t want to be snacking at midnight anymore.

Of course you have to be sure to choose the right discipline. For that, expert advice can be invaluable. In fact, that’s why your clients have chosen you.

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