The financial advisor’s job has never been more complex. No surprise there — but this is. In a departure from traditional thinking, business development leaders are urging advisors to do something that seems almost counterintuitive: Keep it simple.
As Billie Gray, manager of practice development for RBC Wealth Management in Minneapolis, frames it: “From a business development perspective, we made the mistake of thinking if little is good, more is better. We’re discovering now that’s not true. The ability to focus and simplify is critically important to every advisor’s success.”
One big outcome: a happier advisor.
“We hear people say ‘I’m excited to get up and come to work again. I feel like I did in the early days of my career.’ It’s so refreshing,” Gray adds. “You can feel the energy.”
Last year, advisor Jason Wheeler participated in an inaugural business development program, led by Commonwealth Financial Network managing principal Joni Youngwirth, that Wheeler says has transformed the way he works.
“I’m a lot more organized. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by practice management, I now control it. And I’m not out there looking for the next best thing constantly. One thing I’ll never forget is Joni saying: ‘Ask yourself, ask your staff: Who’s the hair in the sink?’ It’s usually us,” says Wheeler, a founding partner of Pathfinder Wealth Consulting in Wilmington, N.C. “It’s usually the advisor.”
On Wheeler’s desk is a note he wrote to himself that says: “Focus.”
The move to focus and simplify is gaining traction at the highest levels of business development thinking and it’s trending across topics — touching everything from branding and hiring to operational efficiencies and the way advisors converse with clients.
“Change is happening,” observes Joseph Rizzo, head of advanced financial advisor development for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. “I know from a senior management level on down there is a driving force to get people focused and to make it simple to operate a business at this firm. That is our goal and there are some really strong things going on to support that.”
As an example, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney completely redesigned its investment conference for top advisors this year. Among other things, it provided advisors with iPads so that they could forward to their email notes that they took or presentations they want to revisit.
At Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and Private Banking and Investment Group, learning executive Clara Musto says the firm has launched a pilot program to push content to some mobile devices to make it easier for advisors to access information where and when they want it. Some of the most compelling content: videos of top advisors on winning strategies they’ve implemented.
“What they’re really looking for are opportunities to understand other best practices out there that can help them maximize their time so that they can truly focus on the key activities that will continue to drive their business,” says Musto.
Here’s a look at how the trend to keep it simple is shaping practice development:
The client conversation: Industry consultant Mitch Anthony often tells advisors that their success is defined more by their likability than their ability. He’s not joking.
“At the end of the day, the only thing that pays the bills is the quality of the conversation,” he says. “Conversation is make-or-break. If you sound like everyone else, good luck.”
To fully connect with a client or prospect, according to Anthony, the advisor must demonstrate interest, understanding and empathy. How? By asking the right questions. “It can be as simple as defining one or two new questions that can open a brand new dialog,” says Anthony, founder of the Financial Life Planning Institute. “The questions can’t feel invasive — and they have to feel irresistible to answer.”
Among the lead-ins Anthony has developed in his “question laboratory”: Where did you grow up and what was money like growing up? Is anything happening in your life right now that could have a major impact on your financial future? Have you had any experiences, good or bad, with other financial professionals that you feel are worth your time to tell me about?
“With messaging often supplanting conversation today, a lot of people are getting away from real conversation,” says Anthony. “There’s more money to be made in authentic genuine conversations than anything else. My theory is that there is only one way human beings connect and that is through story. These are the kinds of questions that will open the whole storybook.”
Operational efficiencies: With its development programs, RBC Wealth Management has built in an efficiency piece to help keep advisors in front of high-net-worth clients 80 percent of the time.
“There are ways of doing less and simplifying,” says RBC’s Gray. “It’s all about focus and energy. If you have focus but you don’t have energy, or energy without focus, you’re not going to be as productive, as engaged or as happy.”
The one-year programs, which involve a workshop and customized coaching, offer tips such as: Schedule a certain time of day to make calls and manage email. Ensure that team members are communicating well. Write down your goals and share them with a colleague. When a client associate takes a call from someone asking for the advisor, have the associate ask if he or she can help instead.
After going through RBC’s program for elite advisors, Scott Hill, senior vice president of The Carillon Consulting Group in Kirkland, Wash., put together a 90-day engagement schedule for clients new to the firm.