Five Ways To Distinguish Yourself As A Financial Planner

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Good financial planning is more science than art. The most successful financial planners thrive only through years of education, experience and a commitment to keep learning continually in order to serve their clients better.

So to reach an elite level of financial planning success and stay there, youve got to take steps to separate yourself from the rest of the pack. Marketing yourself as an expert backed by the finest education and practice management is the best way to grow your practice successfully.

Here are five actions you can take to get your practice to the next level:

1. Obtain a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation. The CFP designation says a lot about a financial planning professional. First, it signifies that youve taken the time to enhance your expertise by completing the rigorous CFP course of study. CFP practitioners are bound by ongoing certification requirements to uphold the highest educational and ethical standards in the industry.

Additionally, they must seek continuing educational opportunities each year to retain their certification, meaning they are likely to be better informed about changes in the financial services industry and markets.

2. Become a “team leader.” No financial planner is an island. The best planners realize that they cant go it alone, so they act as a “quarterback” for a team of professionals including attorneys, accountants and other professionals, each capable of dealing with every aspect of a financial plan–no matter how intricate.

A “team leader” draws upon the expertise of others in related disciplines to manage the most complex cases and to provide clients the highest level of service and investment advice. They also lead a support staff that makes sure all client financial plans are kept up to date.

3. Gain access to a wide range of products. The value of a financial plan largely is wasted if you cant implement it. Thus, a financial advisor should be licensed to sell multiple products and to be able to select from a wide range of financial products to meet myriad client needs.

Depending on the plan, there are several elements to consider, among them: insurance, estate planning, investments, retirement planning, budgeting and tax planning. Obviously, the relative importance of each issue varies depending on the size of the estate and the specific needs that must be addressed.

4. Stay focused on client service. The best planners stay in sync with their clients needs; changes in family, job status, the economy, tax laws and product performance all have an impact on a clients future. Make sure your client receives proactive communication from you. A good financial plan doesnt simply stay on “autopilot” for 20 years. It needs to be actively managed and monitored over time.

5. Be clear about disclosures. The client and the planner should be on the same page right from the start. To be sure that this happens, an advisor should review the Securities & Exchange Commissions (SEC) Form ADV with the client. This will ensure that there is agreement on the specific services to be provided, any fee schedules related to delivery of these services and what the client can expect (and not expect) of the financial planner.

Disclosure is a two-way street. The client also has a responsibility to disclose his or her full financial picture to the planner. Assets, tax and trust issues have to be spelled out before a plan is completed. Without full client disclosure, a planner cant do the job. Foster a sense of partnership with your clients–that begins with a thorough understanding of their needs.

Doing all of these things will distinguish you from your peers, and clients will notice. Providing a consistent level of high-quality advice and service to clients is the key to long-term financial planning success.

Finally, never underestimate the value of word-of-mouth referrals. Having a group of satisfied clients who are willing to tell others about your abilities is the best form of advertising.

, MBA, AIRC, is the director of financial planning for MML Investors Services Inc., a MassMutual Financial Services Group Company, Springfield, Mass. He can be reached at rhickling

@massmutual.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, August 25, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.