From the November 2012 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

What You Told Me and Each Other

A key part of an editor’s job is to know his readers, and over the past month I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to get to know Investment Advisor and AdvisorOne.com’s readers quite a bit better. Through four readers’ forums that I conducted in four separate locations across the country, I heard about the challenges that advisors of all kinds face in staying informed, in running efficient and profitable businesses and in serving clients. For one thing, you’re all overwhelmed with incoming information in your email boxes, and your burden there is to separate the digital chaff from the advisor-specific wheat. In true advisor fashion, each participant at the forums had a different solution to that email problem, and they shared their solutions with each other. Thank you to the dozens of advisors and partners to advisors who shared their information and media needs and wants; we’ll be using those insights as we continuously evolve the Investment Advisor Group and its print and digital products to serve you better.

Here’s another thing I learned, or better said, re-learned: There is no such thing as a monolithic advisory practice. Each practice, each business is unique in how you serve clients, in how you structure your practices, even in how you measure success. Take practice management, for example. In the Pursuing Practice Excellence roundtable that we conducted this summer (see the August issue of IA), Jim Komoszewski of Investment Centers of America responded to a question on why some practice management programs fail by suggesting the fault was in the misguided monolithic approach to “improving” every advisor’s practice. “I think it’s because we’re training them all to look and act and dress and talk like one rep, one advisor,” he said to nods of agreement from our other participants. His point: No advisor looks, acts or dresses like another, even if they share the same broker-dealer or custodian or business model or demographic or business goals.

That’s the blessing and, yes, sometimes the curse of independence.

It’s important to discover best practices in the industry. It can be useful to hire consultants and coaches who can sharpen your practice management or technology or referral pencils to your benefit, your firm’s and even your clients’. But what’s most appealing to most advisors is hearing from their peers about how they solved a problem, grew their business, hired a good employee or built a succession plan.

Here’s an example. At the Investment Advisor/AdvisorOne.com Retirement Income Symposium in Boston in early October, Charlie Farrell of Northstar Investment Advisors in Denver suggested to attendees the best way to run a retirement income practice based on his own experience. Most advisors are pretty good at running a grow-your-assets practice, but Farrell pointed out that in his firm’s experience, properly serving a retired client who needs income can take two to four times as much client service time as a non-retired person. So how do advisors do it right? Simplify, Farrell suggested, with one investment strategy, one service model and one custodian.

Will all the advisors who were listening to Farrell implement his exact approach? No, but having learned from a peer, they’ll customize it to their own practice, making it their own. That’s how advisors roll.

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