Having spent close to three decades gleaning meaning from numbers as a CPA and financial planner, Mark Mauro’s gut told him there was extra significance to the figures on mutual fund and ETF inflows and outflows that he’d been seeing of late.
What struck Mauro, who, with fellow financial planner and CPA Maria Muth, runs Somerville, New Jersey-based Mauro Financial, were numbers showing investment dollars flowing out of mutual funds, typically an actively managed equity product, into exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which are largely passively managed.
To both Mauro and Muth, the message was clear: With investing becoming an increasingly automated, commoditized and less advice-driven function, “We need to do something new to continue to distinguish ourselves” in the eyes of current and prospective clients in order to keep growing their practice.
That “something new” — developing expertise and earning a designation in “financial life planning” — has emerged as a major strategic focal point for the two advisors and their firm in 2016. “We really believe financial life planning will be something that clearly distinguishes us from the ‘robo advisors’ and other competitors,” says Mauro.
What’s your plan to differentiate and grow your practice in the near term? What new directions might you and your firm take in 2016 and beyond?
Where do the best opportunities for unearthing new clients and new revenue streams lie? Your peers are asking themselves these questions and plotting their next moves. Shouldn’t you be, too?
Betting on the bigger picture
Fresh off a merger between the firm she founded close to 25 years ago, Harvest Group Financial, and United Capital Financial Advisers, Rosemary Caligiuri, CASF, RICP, says she’s excited to start using the new tech tools and other business resources to which she has gained access as a result of the new partnership. But she’s also intent on rededicating herself to holistic financial planning, fundamentals on which she built her Langhorne, Pa., practice.
“My focus for this year is to be guidance- and engagement-driven in my approach with clients, and to help them gain a much better understanding of what they want out of their financial life,” she says. “It helps that [as a result of the merger] I now have better tools to do that, and to make what can be a confusing process — financial planning — more understandable to them.
That focus on learning what makes people tick and being an advocate for my clients has always been there,” she adds. “I feel like [the merger] really frees me to do even more of that.”
Caligiuri says she and her Harvest Group advisory team will be spending the first part of 2016 not only learning the new apps and systems that United Capital brings to the table, but also applying a process developed by her merger partner called “financial life management” that puts financial planning in a broader context of overall life planning and personal fulfillment.
It’s a strikingly similar approach to the one on which Muth and Mauro are relying to deepen existing client relationships and cultivate new ones. As newly anointed registered life planners, or RLPs, a designation developed by George Kinder, founder of the Massachusetts-based Kinder Institute, the two advisors say they are bent on marketing their new specialization to fortify their practice.
Holders of the RLP designation are trained to “first discover a client’s most essential goals in life,” says the Kinder Institute web site. “It’s right in our wheelhouse,” says Mauro. “We don’t want to know just about the numbers. We want to know what’s in a client’s heart first. Then we can wrap a financial architecture around their goals, their passions.”
Mauro and Muth have enlisted a marketing consultant to help promote their life planning expertise. The consultant has developed an “ambitious” campaign that includes a list of some 40 events and activities the two advisors may choose to pursue in 2016.
“The plan is not to do all 40, but to do a mix of client appreciation events, staff appreciation events and center of influence events,” says Muth. The aim also is to showcase their RLP expertise to current and potential clients as well as centers of influence positioned to provide referrals.
Making HNW headway
For Irwin Gross, RFC, CFS, AIF, of Family Wealth Partners in Weston, Fla., the rallying cry for 2016 is “planning over products.”
While that’s not a new approach for the veteran advisor Gross and his wealth management firm, surging interest in “big-picture, holistic type planning” among his clients and prospects is dictating a renewed focus on the fundamentals of financial and retirement planning. Baby Boomers and members of Generation X generally have become more circumspect about their financial future, he says.
“People are wanting to feel comfortable they have a plan for the future,” says Gross. “They’re looking at where they are compared to where they want to be; and they don’t feel comfortable.”
Many of the Gen Xers whom Gross encounters lack a formal, coherent financial plan. For them, an advisor needs to step in to add structure, focus and prioritization to their financial lives. For baby boomers, assessing retirement readiness, then taking planning steps based on that assessment, is a must.
Gross says he expects to spend much of his energies in the year ahead developing financial and retirement plans for those two groups. He also anticipates focus more on promoting his firm’s estate planning expertise.
“I consider planning a product,” he says. “That’s the paramount product I want to emphasize.”
Like Gross, Renee Porter-Medley, CFP, works primarily with high-net-worth individuals and families in the Sunshine State. As a senior financial planner at Key Private Bank in Naples, Fla., she’s focusing her practice-building efforts this year on prospecting in the estate planning and trust-related services segments of the HNW market. To that end, she and Key Private Bank plan to host a series of events at “continuing care” retirement communities in Southeast and Southwest Florida that have many high-net-worth residents over age 70.
The goal is to engage them with informative but fun “edutainment” events touching on topics that appeal to people in that demographic, in a no-pressure, non-salesy environment. Events developed around such topics as “Why developing an investment strategy is like fine wine,” held with an investment portfolio manager and closing with a wine tasting, were popular enough with audiences to earn Porter-Medley a return engagement at several such communities in 2016.
On tap for this year are events built around topics like ID theft/cybercrime and avoiding financial predators. “We pick topics that naturally lead to the services we offer,” she says. “We hope [attendees] will want to know more and will call us to continue the conversation.”
Patience is key with prospecting efforts such as these. “It’s a slow-drip type of approach, where we’re building trust with people over time,” says Porter-Medley. “I would hope by the end of this year, we’ll be getting calls from them.”
Gross says trust-building with professional centers of influence are also high on his practice-building priority list for the near term.
“We’re really focused on building relationships with, and getting more introductions from, attorneys and accountants,” he says. “That’s an area that’s difficult to break into because they’re being romanced by 27 different advisors. It’s going to take a lot of time and effort on our part.”
After relying almost exclusively on client and professional referrals for new business in recent years, David Schlossberg, RFC, AIF, and his East Dundee, Ill., wealth management firm, Assured Concepts Group, are redoubling their prospecting efforts in 2016, having hired a consultant to help develop and execute a marketing strategy for the year ahead.
“We have really upped our marketing budget for 2016,” he says. “And we’re putting a lot of emphasis on client appreciation events, where we invite our most loyal clients, the people we have the best relationships with, to bring another couple and go out and have some fun with us.”
As much new business as Assured Concepts Group has been able to generate exclusively through referrals, Schlossberg says it was time to up the ante. “We just don’t want to be complacent. It’s important that we find new ways to grow.”
That drive to create new revenue streams could take Schlossberg and his firm in other directions. These includes targeting client niches such as medical practitioners — and specifically, dentists.
“When it comes to medical practitioners of any sort, there are advisors who have done extremely well focusing on that group,” he observes. “And one of our advisors has good relationships with dentists. So that’s an area where we’ve talked about making a push in 2016.”
This could also be the year when Schlossberg finds a new way to monetize his retirement planning expertise. He’s been developing a 401(k) asset allocation software designed for corporations and their HR departments to use with employee retirement plans. The app could be ready to roll out later this year, he says.
“I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself, but the potential market for a product like this is immense,” Schlossberg says.