Industry conferences get many advisors excited about lifting their practices to new heights — but then you go home, real life takes over and all those hand-outs, charts and case studies end up dusty and forgotten on a shelf somewhere. Raymond James Financial Services executive David Lee has a name for it: The Good Idea Graveyard.
To combat that failure-to-execute syndrome, the firm three years ago created a program consisting of personal coaching, invitation-only workshops and a robust website with more than 300 practice management tools. Lee, director of practice management for RJFS, has a term for this too: Weapons of Mass Instruction.
The program, called Practice Intelligence, has not only boosted participating advisors’ productivity — both revenues and practice efficiencies — but it has improved their quality of life.
As Rex Whiteside, a Houston-based advisor with $110 million in assets under management, bluntly frames it: “I was a fairly mediocre advisor continually plateauing at a certain level. Good markets I’d hit one mark, bad markets I’d hit another. The thing is we were just too busy to address anything. Yet when we finally engaged in this process, we saw immediate results.”
With coaching and a deep dive into the Practice Intelligence website, Whiteside, 41, tweaked his service model, resulting in happier clients. He created a “capabilities presentation,” essentially a pitch book, which is now one of the top five downloads on the Practice Intelligence website. And, just over a year ago, he hired an all-new staff that better fits his current business model. His challenge at the moment: to deepen his offering to his target market of first- and second-generation entrepreneurs.
“If you compare what I was doing as an advisor five years ago to now it’s night and day,” Whiteside says. “Without the coaching, without the practice management website, I’d still be that plateauing broker.”
The top three issues that drive advisors to the Practice Intelligence program involve the need to segment clients and establish a service model around them; to create critical centers of influence; and to develop a client niche. “And all of this ties into processes: who you serve and how you serve,” notes RJFS assistant regional director Kirk Bell, who oversees the Practice Intelligence workshops. “The goal is to help advisors build processes to support and package themselves — and then execute.”
The challenge for RJFS leadership: A lot of advisors don’t realize they need the help.
“There are folks who don’t even realize they have a problem. We’re creating that awareness for them that they do need to build, change and improve,” says Lee. “Once there’s some awareness, we can help them diagnose the problem and give them the tools to fix it.”
Those tools include 14 coaches who provide their services on a complimentary basis; workshops launched last year that have a built-in accountability component to ensure follow-through; and a website, averaging 250,000 hits a month and loaded with best-practice resources, many of them contributed by participating advisors. According to RJFS, advisors who use the website have revenues that are as much as 35 percent higher than non-users.
One notable feature on the website is the “Start Smart” practice assessment tool, which analyzes a business’s strengths and weaknesses and creates an interactive report card suggesting areas for improvement. By hitting the “Fix” button, advisors are guided to resources designed to fix the problem. As Lee puts it: “It’s one thing to tell people what to do. It’s another to say here’s how to do it.”
RJFS Regional Director David B. Patchen, one of the firm’s coaches and the creator of an earlier version of Practice Intelligence, says the essence of Practice Intelligence can be summed up in three words: process, package, promote.
“The initial inclination of advisors is to move right to package or to promote. Not only is process work important but you really can’t effectively package and promote yourself unless you’ve done some process work,” Patchen says. “With process, these advisors are moving out into the marketplace with a significantly deeper degree of confidence in what they’ve packaged and promoted.”
Here are four advisors who put a face on Practice Intelligence.
The Goal: To Spend Less Time On His Practice
A self-described “process freak,” 44-year-old Ross Marino knows more than most about creating efficiencies. For six years, up until 2005, he worked on his back in a home office — disabled by a sports injury.
“I didn’t have 60 hours a week to work,” he says. “I still don’t. You learn quickly to do things in an efficient way. It’s the only way to survive.”
Marino, who manages $90 million in assets from offices in Wilmington, N.C., was drawn immediately to the Practice Intelligence website for its time-saving tools. Why? Less time spent on his practice means more time spent on 401(k) Rekon, a symposium management company he heads.
Using tools from the website, Marino has reduced the time he spends on client updates from 25 to 10 hours a week. Much of his client interaction is handled by e-mail. And there is no phone tag in his office. If a client phones Marino and he’s not there, his staff schedules a call-back. Any time a staff member shortens a procedure or creates an efficiency, a bell is rung to celebrate it.
Notably, Marino has off-loaded clients who weren’t a good fit for him. Using a client engagement roadmap he found on the website, he also went up against some strong teams to compete for a high-net-worth family that is now his largest client.
The upshot: Marino has decreased the amount of time it takes to manage his practice by over 50 percent. While his productivity literally doubled, his revenues did not drop.
“I’m always looking for what’s new, what’s a better way, to get something done. One way or another I will find the tools to operate efficiently,” Marino adds. “The downside, of course, is that if you really want to improve, you have to change. Some people may not like that. There’s that old joke about improving the process won’t help if your process isn’t good. This keeps it good.”