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For Advisors Plagued by Production Plateaus, New Oppenheimer Program Offers Cure

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Have you ever wondered how to get a business that has plateaued to jump to the next level? Have you struggled with the problem of balancing your business and your personal life?

Have questions such as how to turn a social relationship into a business one, how to differentiate yourself from the competition, or how to help clients paralyzed by fear take appropriate actions troubled you?

There are solutions to all these challenges, and a newly formed CEO Advisor Institute, sponsored by OppenheimerFunds, wants to help financial advisors address these common concerns in an intensive and ongoing fashion.

The New York-based mutual fund company has hired Paul Blease, a former Smith Barney executive, to direct the new program, launched this week. The CEO Advisor Institute is so named because it aims to coach advisors in the skills needed to manage their practices in the creative and analytic fashion for which the most accomplished CEOs are renowned.

Paul BleaseIt has long been standard practice in the industry for asset management companies to provide value-added practice management insights to advisors through their broker-dealers. But Blease (left), who provided this kind of training to Smith Barney advisors for 15 years (and informally for 25 years), says the CEO Advisor Institute is offering an entirely new model.

“The industry’s attempt at this has been weak, to be generous,” Blease told AdvisorOne in an interview. “What tends to happen is that a fund company will hire an outside speaker or will bring a piece of valued-added content and then speak about it.

“The problem with that model is it stops there. They do not have a web capability where [advisors] can hear it and follow up with tools and templates and collateral material that helps them implement those ideas,” Blease says.

The Institute’s model is to provide ongoing coaching rather than a fleeting flash of inspiration.

In the conventional approach, “Somebody hears a good speaker. They like the content but that’s it. When the wholesaler comes in with his valise and charts, it’s disconnected from that great experience. There’s no follow-up,” Blease says.

In contrast, Oppenheimer has already immersed its wholesalers—now deliberately referred to as “consultants”—in this new consultative platform for two years so far, and Blease says it is only just getting started.

“Over the next five years, we want to take our wholesalers on a journey [enabling them to] coach and consult top producers around their greatest challenge, which is managing these complex [advisory] businesses,” he says.

In practical terms, the inability of advisors to manage complexity is what keeps them from rising beyond production plateaus. Advisors, Blease says, often get stuck in the $350,000 to $500,000 production range, and can’t seem to go beyond that. Similarly, those who produce $750,000 struggle to get to the million-dollar range, and million-dollar producers are no less challenged in climbing to the next level.

The CEO Advisor Institute endeavors to help advisors break through these production barriers to become multimillion-dollar producers. To that end, Blease has identified three barriers to advisors managing the growing complexity of their business.

The first difficulty is that advisors are hardwired as hunters.

“Most advisors are like John or Jane Wayne,” Blease says, referring to the gunslinging hero of Hollywood Westerns. “They want to get up every morning, get on the horse, hunt, kill, fire it up, eat it and get up the next morning and do the same thing. All these people wired like that and you think through osmosis they’ll know how to run a complex practice?”

The second impediment to managing complexity is imbalance in one’s work and life commitments. Says Blease:

“We have to put a stake in the heart of our industry’s false dichotomy. Our industry sends a message to everybody that you’ve got a choice in life: You can have a robust high-performance career or a really rich and meaningful life—pick one.

“You don’t have to make this false choice in life,” Blease continues. “You can have a successful business and a life of purpose. That false dichotomy assumes that if your personal life is imploding it doesn’t affect your business and that if your business is falling apart it doesn’t affect your life. We know that’s not true.”

A third barrier to managing a complex business is a lack of perspective, particularly in letting a down economy get you down. It’s an advisor’s job, Blease says, to shield customers from their emotions.

“When it’s your money, it’s hard to be rational. The advisor has to play the role of the counselor, the person who provides emotional perspective. Most people don’t have that broad perspective that helps clients understand that it’s a difficult time, but it’s not dissimilar from other times,” he says, adding that today’s depressed economy is more akin to the early 1980s recession than to the Great Depression to which it is exaggeratedly compared.

To help in all these areas, the CEO Advisor Institute presents materials at all the major broker-dealers and offers rich multimedia content on a host of commonplace advisor challenges.

One segment of this content concerns what Blease calls “recurring conversations”—issues that come up routinely when advisors are dealing with clients and prospects.

How often, for example, does an advisor become acquainted with someone who would make an ideal client, but doesn’t know how to convert a social relationship to a business one?

“Almost all advisors have someone that they know in their community who would be a great client, but they haven’t broached the subject of considering doing business together,” Blease says. “They haven’t figured out a way to bring up the subject without seeming like some ham-fisted salesperson. What they’re waiting for is for that prospect to come to them and say, ‘Hey, I need help.’ That could be a long wait.”

Blease proposes language that the advisor could insert midpoint in a normal social conversation, particularly when financial planning topics arise, to this effect:

“You and I always run into each other at these events. If you ever want to pick my brain, I want you to know that as a friend I’m there for you. However, that being said, our friendship is worth far more to me than any business relationship that might ever materialize. But I want you to know that as a friend, I’m always there for you. The door’s always open.”

If the friend, thus liberated to seek the advisor’s counsel, immediately asks for it, don’t answer him right then, Blease says. “You don’t want to have a conversational transaction,” he says.

Instead, say: “That’s a great question. It’s a complex question. Why don’t we grab lunch in the next couple of weeks so we can talk about that or anything else on your mind. I’ll have my assistant call you and set something else up.”

Now you have an appointment that can lead to a solid business relationship rather than informal friendly conversation.

Another recurring conversation involves the frightened client or prospect. Blease’s suggested response:

“You’re not just hiring me to managing my assets. You’re hiring me to manage you and your emotions. There’s no product I have that can destroy you financially. The only thing that can destroy you financially is you.”

Blease says the CEO Advisor Institute has “voluminous” tools and templates to help advisors deal with the full gamut of issues that can fuel, or impede, an advisory practice’s growth, though he expects the institute’s website won’t be fully operational until the third quarter next year.

He adds that advisors interested in learning more about OppenheimerFunds’ CEO Advisor Institute can call 800-255-2770 and request contact information for the region’s senior advisor consultant.


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