Senior Market Advisor is proud to announce that Dave Williams is the 2009 SMA Advisor of the Year.
In his role as an advisor, he has developed a customer-focused practice that emphasizes serving the client instead of pushing products. As he tells SMA, “if you truly want to stand out, you must go above and beyond in every level of service that you provide.”
As the leader of Brownsburg, Ind.-based RDW Financial Group, Williams uses his education in finance to mentor his clientele. He says that foundation allows him “to educate my clients and help them develop a strong financial foundation to weather unforeseen financial black swans while meeting their individual needs.”
Following are highlights of our in-depth conversation with him.
Senior Market Advisor: The financial services industry has been hit hard the past year. What life experiences do you fall back on to help you through the tough times?
Williams: I was raised by my parents with the philosophy that there is no substitute for persistent, hard work. My faith has taught me that my life has a value and I will never be abandoned. With that in mind I always go back to the basics.
My wife of 28 years and two daughters have always been strong supporters and encouragers, and during the tough times, have reminded me that no matter what the outcome, I am personally successful with them. This allows me to focus on the task at hand without having to worry about outside distractions.
I am also fortunate that I have developed a strong group of friends and business associates that are willing to help me analyze these situations and work through them to a successful outcome.
I have belonged to a study group since 2003. These are 10 other advisors from across the country and we meet together four times a year. We all share our goals and actual production numbers in the attempt to help each other in the practice. What’s really amazing is that not only the advisors but our spouses have become close friends. If anyone in this group is having a tough time, the others are always there to encourage and help!
SMA: The key to any advisor’s practice is the customer. What’s your philosophy on the advisor/client relationship?
Williams: The overall philosophy in our firm is that nothing is more important to us than creating personal relationships with our clients and delivering unmatched service. Whether a client allows us to manage all or just a portion of their assets, we want to make sure that they are receiving the service and commitment that they expect.
Unfortunately, in today’s world, I think that sometimes there is a big disconnect between what the client wants and what the advisor thinks the client wants. In today’s environment it is not good enough to just meet those expectations, but if you truly want to stand out you must go above and beyond in every level of service that you provide.
SMA: How many clients do you have and how often do you meet with them?
Williams: We have roughly 300 clients. When we first enter into the relationship, I make it clear that they must meet with us at least on an annual basis. We do allow this meeting to be over the phone, but the great majority of these meetings are face to face. Even if they only have a fixed annuity with us, I want the client to know that we are there to assist them and also help them with any needs that arise.
We also have managed accounts and for those folks we talk at least quarterly. The good will and referrals that come from these are priceless. I’m always joking with my staff, telling them that I love advisors that don’t do annual reviews … they are my best source of referrals!
We send out a monthly newsletter along with birthday cards, holiday cards and special event letters. Over
the past year, we have also sent out some informational letters talking about the economy and the stability
of the financial institutions that they have their money invested in. Client reviews are a great way to build your practice and also to reiterate the values and features of the investment.
SMA: Walk us through a typical client meeting. What can a client expect in an initial meeting and in a follow-up meeting?
Williams: We usually are a “three-meeting” close. Our first meeting is a continuance of the seminar or dinner that we have had. At this time, I’ll review with them again my philosophies about our practice and talk about the 3F’s (faith, family and finances). I then ask them to tell me about their goals, dreams and family. One of the things I want to make sure is that we are a good fit. Do we have the same thoughts about returns and expectations? I found out a long time ago that doing business with the wrong person is more expensive than not doing business.
I then ask them what their main concern or problem is. We will review that and ask them if they would like me to look at it and make a recommendation. I want to make sure that they are really committed to identify and correcting problems. Of course, if they have no assets to work with or I see that there are no current problems, I will commend them and their current advisor. I’m always amazed at their reactions when this happens. (As a side note, we have actually gotten referrals from people that we have not done business with because of the way we treated them!)
During the second meeting I will present my findings and show them how their problem(s) can be addressed. I look and listen to make sure that they are in agreement and understand our proposal. At the end of the meeting I will explain the next step and ask for a commitment. If they are in agreement we will schedule a meeting to sign papers and move or place assets.
I have found that if you clearly deliver solutions that meet the clients’ needs then over 90 percent of our “seconds” become clients.
SMA: Prospecting is the lifeblood of an advisor. What are some of the keys you embrace in the area of prospecting?
Williams: Well, first and foremost, all of us are constantly introducing each other to anyone we meet. That 60-
second elevator speech is critical. However, the last year has really presented some unique challenges. Unfortunately, most of the news about advisors in our industry has been negative and that has really put the public on defense–and probably rightfully so. We have a wonderful client base and have stepped up our involvement with them to bring us new prospects. They know a lot of people who have been financially hurt and they’re reluctant to make any changes. We have simply gotten them involved in what I call the “help a friend and family” campaign.
One of the things that we have done is educate our clients on the type of clients we are looking for and remind them of the principles that we operate on. We have client advisory boards that meet three times a year. This group is now in the process of inviting their friends that meet our profile to a one-on-one dinner with my wife and me and their friends for an informal meet-and-greet. This is proving to be a very effective process for meeting prospective clients that are already prequalified.
The other area that is quite effective is our client “bring a friend” program and educational events. I’m always amazed and humbled when your clients honor you by bringing their friends and family who need help to meet with you.
Finally, I believe that the Web offers unique opportunities that we have just begun to tap.
SMA: What are the biggest challenges you see facing the industry today and in the foreseeable future?
Williams: The two major challenges that come to mind are demographic and regulatory. In the demographic realm we are all aware of the baby boomers’ impact, with just the sheer volume of people reaching retirement age. But this is also creating a different set of problems that we have never had to address before. Let’s face it, the previous generation were savers, had pensions and precipitated the buy-and-hold strategy for decades. Most of our older clients never used their assets and estate planning was a major focus.
Today, the boomers face different challenges. Pensions are becoming a thing of the past and many have not thoroughly planned for retirement.
If you couple that with the risks of investment, longevity and inflation, along with having to educate them that the returns of the ’90s are probably things of the past–this is creating some exciting times. They are going to require greater education and hands-on management than their parents and grandparents. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but advisors must be prepared for this change.
The other area is the regulatory environment. In the past four years we have seen some interesting movement to cloud the areas between fixed and risk-based investments. I have my series 7 and 66 licenses, but I worry that sometimes we overreact to situations. This past year has been painful for a lot of Americans, but I’m not sure that overregulation is the answer. In the past 30 years of my working life, my experience has been that this will only enhance the layers of bureaucratic compliance and increase the costs. None of which, in the long run, will benefit the consumer. With that said, we all must make sure that we are doing the right thing for the clients. Regardless of whether or not a carrier requires a suitability form, we have a responsibility to act with the greatest level of integrity. Even if that means we don’t make the sale. It’s always about doing the right thing.
SMA: With your busy schedule, how do you maintain a balanced life while still being a top advisor?
Williams: In looking back on my career, I believe I am one of the luckiest people alive. I love what I do. I tell people that this is not a job but a passion. Having said that, I love the saying, “I never met someone who on their death bed said, ‘Gee, I wish I had spent more time at the office.’” Every time I’m asked this question, I give the same response, “I love my job but it is not the most important thing in my life.” In fact it’s No. 3. My faith and family have higher priorities and that has really put things in perspective.
I’ve gotten to the point where we try to meet with clients only on Tuesday-Thursday. Mondays and Fridays are administrative days, or if we’re lucky, only half days on Fridays. We have also gotten to the point that with the exception of dinner seminars, I no longer do evening appointments after 6 p.m. I have a very efficient staff that handles all of my scheduling and administrative tasks, allowing me to focus solely on my clients. This has really made me more efficient with my time.
SMA: We’ve talked about your work regimen, your business philosophy and your industry networking. So, what are the next steps or phases you’d like to accomplish in your career?
Williams: Earlier, I spoke about my role on an advisory board. I have really enjoyed helping others see the needs of the field and how that relates to the corporate environment. Having spent a good part of my career in that environment, I believe I bring a unique perspective, so I’m looking to see where that leads.
One thing that I have a passion for is teaching and helping others. I see a strong need to help advisors grow their practices in a profitable way. Sales are just one component of the business and I see where I might be able to bring a perspective to the business growth and profitability side.
We are about to experience the greatest transfer of wealth this world has ever seen and we need to make sure that the agent/representative community is ready to handle that. I also would like to get more involved in providing education to the community. I see that area lacking and believe there are tremendous opportunities.