Google the phrase “time management” and you’ll get close to 1.2 billion hits. Not bad at a time when Britney Spears results in a paltry 31 million (at least before her MTV-VMA comeback). Time, it seems, is on our minds, if not our side. Time is clearly on the minds of the more than 500 financial advisors who took part in Advisor Impact’s recent study on time management and personal productivity and who put this at the top of their collective wish list for practice support. While the time challenge may be self-evident, the solutions are not.
Many writers on the subject have started with the obvious–everyone is dealt the same 8,736 hours in a year and that isn’t likely to change. So time management isn’t about “finding time.” Rather, it is about finding practical ways to help us do more of the things we need to do to drive our businesses forward. In our industry, we can throw in the added challenge of uncontrollable markets, a changing regulatory environment and increasingly demanding client bases, just to keep it interesting.
For advisors to manage time more effectively, their focus needs to be on improving efficiency, and that begins with the recognition that efficiency has two very distinct parts: structural and personal efficiency
- Structural efficiency is about the foundation of the business, or the underlying business model. It includes, but is certainly not limited to, the structure of your team, your client selection strategy, and the processes that you have implemented to deliver a consistent client experience.
- Personal (or tactical) efficiency is, as the name suggests, more about the individual and how you invest those 168 hours found in every week. It includes the way you plan your time, schedule your meetings, prioritize your activities, or otherwise decide what you do with each day.
The first and most fundamental conclusion from this study is that any advisor who is seeking to improve overall efficiency needs to begin with a look at his underlying business model. If your business is not structurally efficient then it won’t matter how personally efficient you are in managing your time. You might just be putting yourself on the fast track in the wrong direction. From that point, there are a number of things that advisors can do to improve personal productivity to turbo-charge efficiency in their businesses, and we’ll look at those in more detail.
To What End?
During the course of the study, we discovered that applying specific time management techniques can have a substantial and enduring impact on the success of your business. Enter the “Efficient Advisor,” which was uncovered through cluster analysis, a process used to group survey respondents based on like behaviors. Specifically, we discovered a group of advisors who spend more time planning their business and their time, time block activities and apply structure to scheduling their time. They had attracted, on average, double the assets and revenue as their less efficient counterparts in the same time period. And while we can’t assume that was entirely due to time management, the link is evident.
These efficient advisors can be characterized as “business builders.” They invest more in their businesses and accept slightly lower profit margins, in return for substantially larger businesses. For that reason, we’ll start with a look at structural efficiency.
Delegate More, and More Often
Structural efficiency is linked to the extent to which an advisor has sufficient resources, clearly defines roles/responsibilities and delegates effectively. Not all efficient advisors have large teams, but human capital is a critical driver of efficiency. However, efficient advisors treat delegation differently, delegating a much broader range of activities to the team and sharing client management responsibilities.
The data shows a core group of activities that advisors want to delegate, however efficient advisors are more likely to delegate such things as preparing documentation for client meetings, managing workflow, and executing client communications plans.
Not surprisingly, the most successful advisors are more likely to work with a junior or associate advisor and, once again, we find that more efficient advisors leverage the skills of their team differently. For example, efficient advisors are more likely to give their junior full client management responsibility for some client relationships while less efficient advisors are more likely to leave their juniors to provide behind the scenes support.
Focus on Your Ideal Client
Next, the data highlights a link between efficiency and the extent to which an advisor has a clearly defined target client and actively applies that definition as part of the client selection process. Forty-eight percent of efficient advisors have an established minimum, compared to only 31% of less efficient advisors. Those same advisors are also more likely to focus on higher net worth clients.
Standardize Systems and Processes
Finally, we see a relationship between structural efficiency and the extent to which an advisor has defined and systematized the core processes in his or her business to deliver a more consistent client experience. Efficient advisors are more likely to focus on improving systems and processes as the best way to improve overall efficiency in the practice.
When we asked advisors what would have the biggest positive impact on their ability to manage time, process rises to the top.
In many ways, structural and personal efficiency work hand in hand. While structural efficiency is a necessary condition for success, a lack of personal efficiency can blow up the most structurally sound business. At the end of the day, the two sides of efficiency are as important as they are different. So let’s turn to some of the more tactical approaches to improving time management.
Invest Time in Planning Time
At the highest level, efficiency (or success, for that matter) is achieved when you can draw a clear line between your personal goals, your business goals and your schedule. Time management does not happen in a vacuum but is driven by what you are trying to achieve and we see this in the numbers. Forty-six percent of the most efficient advisors have clearly defined and written personal goals, such as a set retirement date or net worth at retirement. This compares to 28% for less efficient advisors. Similarly, nearly 60% of efficient advisors have a written business plan, compared to 39% of less efficient advisors.
More efficient advisors are more likely to:
- Have a formal process to track and analyze their time;
- Have a measurable goal for the number of client meetings they will hold in a week;
- Prioritize their daily ‘to-do’ list
- Invest at least 30 minutes in planning their schedules for the upcoming week;
- Pre-schedule more activities in a given week, and leave less flexibility in their schedules.
Less efficient advisors, on the other hand, typically point to a lack of planning as a key concern and are more likely to say that they don’t know how to plan properly, don’t follow a schedule when they do plan, or have trouble prioritizing.
It is clear that real efficiency starts with a clear plan of attack or “knowing the right things to do.” From here the most efficient advisors become increasingly tactical, focusing on how those activities are scheduled for maximum impact and productivity.
The greatest tactical insights can be found in the efficient advisor’s approach to scheduling. Efficient advisors are considerably more likely to have a set schedule for meetings and tasks.
The financial services industry presents its own set of challenges when it comes to rigid scheduling. Despite that, we find that the more efficient advisors are more likely to stick to a firm schedule. Forty-two percent say they only deviate for a specific client urgency, whereas that only holds true for 21% of the less efficient advisors, who are apt to deviate for other reasons.
We also see increased efficiency resulting from having definition around the times during which client meetings are set. This is the first introduction to the concept of ‘time blocking’ or ‘power blocking’ as it is sometimes called, which is a recurring theme with efficient advisors.
Not only are more efficient advisors more likely to have defined times during which they will meet clients, they are also more likely to have a structure around the scheduling of individual meetings. Less efficient advisors are much less likely to have a clear definition of the time between each meeting.
At the end of the day, personal productivity gains are possible and, perhaps more importantly, they can have a tangible impact on your business. And while it is a compelling argument to say that the more efficient advisors have succeeded in generating more revenue, it is perhaps more important to note that they have built more robust infrastructures to support future growth. Time management isn’t just about getting through today. It’s about laying a foundation to build for tomorrow.
Julie Littlechild is the president of Advisor Impact, providing research, training, and tools to help financial advisors improve overall profitability and productivity. For more information go to www.advisorimpact.com.