August 19, 2013

LPL Taps Paul Blease to Ease Advisors’ Tech Anxieties

Oppenheimer exec connects advisors with their right brains

LPL’s three-day annual conference, with its 3,000 attending advisors and an army of product vendors and home-office staff almost as large, seems to be built on a cascade of revelations about various technology innovations.

For example, the firm’s new trading platform enables advisors to effect trades for all their clients simultaneously, with just a few clicks, something that would have taken a few days in the past.

Liberating as this all is, technology changes often induce anxiety in anyone resistant to change, which includes most people. LPL, to its credit, has thought about this and enlisted a master communicator, Paul Blease, to put these changes in perspective.

At a session called “The Whys and Hows of Automating Your Practice,” planned for Wednesday morning near the conference close, Blease, who is director of OppenheimerFunds’ CEO Advisor Institute, plans to give advisors a mountaintop view of the purposes of technology over thousands of years of human history.

Thus informed — perhaps “disarmed” would be more accurate — advisors may be more likely to embrace the changes, feeling more encouraged than intimidated.

In an industry that readily plunks down hard money on sales training, Blease concentrates on the soft skills — those less tangible or measurable — that may truly distinguish advisors who succeed at the business from the many who do not; the industry remains notorious for its 80% attrition rate in would-be advisors’ first five years.

In a standing-room-only session he delivered Monday morning, the former Merrill Lynch advisor and Smith Barney trainer addressed a number of common mistakes and reframed them for advisors eager to overcome them.

For example, he chastised those in the industry who push products — hot funds and the like — for their lack of professionalism. Just as doctors don’t run specials on appendectomies for healthy patients nor do lawyers push divorces on happily married couples, Blease points out that process rather than product is the mark of a professional.

An advisor who first discovers his client’s needs, then builds a plan based on those needs and only then makes recommendations acts professionally. Presenting this process, then asking, “Does that make sense as a methodology, Mrs. Jones?” is likely to resonate in an industry still rife with nonprofessional conduct.

“We are advsors, not vendors,” Blease says.

In a left-brain, numbers-oriented business, Blease offers right-brain answers to all the key questions that arise in the struggle to build a retail advisory business.

On the key question of referrals, for example, the OppenheimerFunds exec rattles off another of his common-sense approaches to “client replication.”

Advisors should tell their best clients that 'the success of any business depends on both marketing and client service. Most financial advisors spend 70% to 80% of their time on marketing and 20% to 30% on client service.' But, his script continues, 'I reverse that ratio, which I can only do because clients like you introduce me to two or three clients like you each year.'

With the client appreciating the value they are getting, Blease adds the kicker that 'since you, Mr. and Mrs. Jones, are my ideal clients, I am certain that if people you know are anything like you, I’d be the happiest advisor in town.'

All of Blease’s model conversations, like his forthcoming talk on technology, are meant to disarm clients and prospects.

Advisors in attendance seemed pleased to hear that those conversations, plus some 60 videos and a variety of other tools and templates, will be available on Oppenheimer’s CEO Advisor Institute website in mid-September.

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