Even in these most challenging of times, advisors can prosper by focusing on maximizing their unique strengths, rather than trying to fit into some predetermined business model. This month’s case study, the final installment in my three-part series, definitively illustrates why comprehensively documenting a firm’s practices and procedures is more than just a boring, nerdy waste of time: it’s the key to building an efficient advisory practice.
In his 21 years as a financial advisor, Bill Morrissey of Sound Financial Planning in Washington State has found more than a few creative ways to maximize efficiency. At a time when many advisors are scaling back their comprehensive financial planning services because they are just too inefficient and labor intensive, Morrissey has built a streamlined ultra-comprehensive planning firm–having seen and worked with over 400 firms I know it’s one of the most efficiently running life planning practices in the country–that helps 60-plus clients use their financial resources to create the deep enriched lives they truly want to live.
One of Morrissey’s secrets is copious documentation of each and every procedure performed by anyone in his firm–from how to answer the phones, to who makes each client contact, about what, and when to how to use each of the firm’s 12 technology programs. His 130-page, 11-chapter operations manual is updated continuously, and includes visual flowcharts, lists of each process, and explanations of how each software program is to be integrated into a seamless flow of client service.
The manual includes directions to each of the firm’s two offices from three directions, how to open the office in the morning (turn on printers, make coffee, adjust thermostat, check fax and emails, etc.), a list of all vendors, what needs to be done for each new client, and every existing client, when to create a file for prospects, and two firm “elevator speeches”–one for individuals, and one for owners of businesses. There are chapters on marketing, setting up new client files, advice philosophy, and how each portfolio is allocated and managed.
Armed with Morrissey’s Ops Manual, a person right off the street could walk in and start helping out with the workflow. I suspect that many advisors fear that creating such a detailed operations manual will vastly increase their workload, but as Morrissey’s experience shows, the reality is very much the opposite: because everyone in the firm knows exactly what they need to do, when, and for whom, the work and stress for both staff and advisors is greatly reduced.
Once clients have bought into the life planning regime, Morrissey carefully controls the process in three follow-up meetings. Two to three weeks after a client signs the client agreement, Bill calls to schedule the first appointment, and a “New Client Kit” is mailed out, which the client completes and brings to the first meeting so he can go over the worksheets.
Nothing in the New Client Kit is left to chance. It contains agendas for the next three meetings; Sound Financial Planning’s latest newsletter, an “invitation to a Successful Financial Planning Relationship;” a form ADV; a Business Continuity Planning Summary; an Information Interview Appointment Letter; a Fact Finder Questionnaire; a Detailed Budget Form, and two sets of Holistic Forms (one for each spouse) that explore each spouse’s perspectives on their past and present financial lives, as well as their definition of True Wealth, their idea of a balanced life, their goals, and their personal mission statement. The folder’s back pocket contains an authorization for information form, and a Confidential Estate Planning Questionnaire (with instructions to complete in pencil), and a risk tolerance assessment.