Over the years, our company has been researching what we call “Lifestyle Benefits” that allow for more flexibility in the workforce (a quality many NexGen advisors are seeking in corporate cultures) to determine their effectiveness on the productivity and profitability of advisory firms. One might think there is not much of a correlation, but ironically we are finding that advisory firms that offer better “perqs” in terms of flexible time are actually more productive and profitable than their counterparts, and their clients are just as happy.
One of the common lifestyle perks we get asked about is working from home. The technology explosion spilling over into financial advice has made working from home quite productive and profitable for many firms. As an example, a few years ago, when a key employee at one of my client firms had to move out of state, we decided that keeping her was worth the risk. We know that properly prepared and motivated employees (the basis of our P4 Program) respond to the increased freedom of being their own boss with even greater productivity when allowed to work from home. Working from home is now part of the structure for many of our client firms.
In the example above, the husband of the number two senior advisor in a two-advisor firm took a better job hundreds of miles away, so regular commuting was never an option. Because she worked with her own stable of clients, who loved her and meshed perfectly with her, we wanted to do whatever it took to keep her with the firm. So we set her up with a fully functional home office, and had her commute back to the home office one week every quarter.
We knew that she was very diligent and conscientious about her work responsibilities, so our primary concern was that her clients would feel they didn’t get to see her enough. Boy, were we wrong. The clients got so used to working with her on the phone that most of them don’t even want to come into the office anymore. The advisor was so grateful about the effort we made to keep her—and happy with her new situation—that she’s now doing the work of two advisors, and is probably the best employee at any of our client firms.
In fact, working from home was such a success that the owner-advisor decided that he wanted to be closer to his kids, in yet a different state, and also work remotely from there. So he moved, too. Now he comes back to the office every six weeks or so: mostly for his peace of mind that everything’s running smoothly and to stay connected to the “reality” of the business. We stagger his and her visits so that there’s an advisor in the office more than often enough for the few clients who still want some in-person face time. Then we have an annual retreat to bring everyone together to discuss issues and long-term plans.
To make this remote advising work, we created what we call Centralized Client Service Division in one central location and office. In this firm it is a three-person team; a client relations manager (CRM), an associate advisor and an associate client relations manager. (In larger firms, we have successfully made all the senior advisors remote with larger 10-15 person Client Service Divisions.) We’ve found we don’t even need a receptionist. The CRMs talk to clients directly and forward calls to the various advisors when necessary. We find that the clients love having their own CRM, whom they can call any time, about anything.
Thanks to our working from home program, the firm runs better, has more clients—and happier clients—than ever. The interesting thing is, not having an office in the office also encourages Senior Advisors to go out more and drum up business (e.g., golfing, attending events, meeting with strategic partners, etc.) The keys to this business model are simple, but essential: the remote offices have to have all the technology necessary for those employees to fully do their jobs (I suspect most work-from-home programs fail because their firms skimp on the technology); a Client Service Division to remove the day-to-day client contact and issues off the advisors’ plates; and an incentive structure that keeps all employees connected to the mission—and the success—of their firm.
Based on our successes, I predict that, with the right formula, remote employment will become the norm, not the exception in the independent advisory world.