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The Advisory Profession's Greatest Trait

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When the definitive history of the financial planning profession is written, I hope it includes a treatment of its most charming and distinctive trait: the willingness of its members to share their wisdom with each other. I’ve been the recipient of that wisdom more often than I can count, most recently at the FPA annual conference in late September and the Junxure Advisor Conference in early October.

“We got into this profession to help others,” Greg Friedman of Junxure and Private Ocean said in a throwaway line in the opening session at his firm’s conference, which served as prelude to his contention that “most advisors are not good businesspeople.” Some of the speakers who followed slightly misquoted Friedman, challenging the notion that “advisors are not good entrepreneurs.” No, Friedman would counter, advisors are great at starting enterprises, but at some point you have to introduce real business discipline in the firms you start. Such discipline can keep you from failing, but it’s perhaps more important in helping you succeed as you grow beyond the startup phase.

A couple of weeks earlier at the FPA annual conference, Friedman spoke during a roundtable discussing the real-life M&A experience of four highly successful advisors who have applied that business discipline. They discussed how they structured their mergers, how they are bringing younger advisors into ownership and how they got consulting and financing help for both processes. They also recounted the mistakes they made and were generous in complimenting their peers on the panel who had made smarter moves.

Then, at Junxure, two other advisors of note shared their successes and their failures. Deena Katz began her keynote by saying she was starting her 40th year in the business before she went on to talk about not succession planning or retirement but social media. At a stage in her career where you might think she could kick back and relax, she’s still teaching her peers — and the next generation of advisors at Texas Tech. True to form, she didn’t simply list “Five Steps to Be Successful in Social Media,” but started by suggesting to her listeners that before they build a social media plan they should know what it is they’re trying to accomplish, and realize that they can’t be successful by sending out an occasional Tweet.

In the final session of the Junxure conference, Rebecca Pomering sat on a panel that discussed how to successfully incorporate technology into your advisory firm. Pomering has “only” been running an advisory firm for seven years, but she is wise beyond her years and a straight shooter besides. On technology, Pomering pulled no punches when she said she has been regularly “surprised by how many founders I’ve seen who don’t use technology. They think it’s charming, but it’s irresponsible.” She said she knew of a principal in an advisory firm “who calls a friend of mine to say ‘I forgot my password to my laptop.’” Pomering said of that principal, “He’s a jackass; you shouldn’t feel proud” of your technology ignorance and lack of use.

In response to an audience member who lamented that the principals in his firm wouldn’t even use Junxure, Pomering admitted that “I don’t have Junxure installed” on her own computer. She explained that she’s not in a “client-facing role,” but she does use customized business analytic reports “generated out of Junxure,” which her staff calls “Rebecca Reports.”

Six advisors from different generations who tell the truth, who got into the advice game to help other people but have built businesses that will outlive them, who are as willing to speak of their failures as they are their successes — the profession wouldn’t be where it is today without that spirit of sharing, and won’t get to where it will be without retaining that trait as it adopts real business discipline.