Too many firms today have their value propositions wrapped up in vague assertions of “culture” without defining that term or explaining how they will put it into practice to benefit advisors and their staffs.
Talking about culture and making a commitment to cultivating relationships and delivering an unparalleled service experience are two completely different things.
Advisors need customized, personal attention that will allow them to best serve clients and grow their businesses. This comes down to firms putting words into action.
Here’s what creating a top service culture looks like:
1) Long-serving advisor-facing home office staff. All the resources in the world are meaningless if advisors don’t have access to someone who is familiar with their needs and goals, and then can use that knowledge to match them with complementary offerings and services. Firms, for instance, should ensure that every advisor has a dedicated point person to help them navigate a wide variety of practice management issues.
Meanwhile, they also should strive to have relationship managers who, on average, have at least five years of experience. If these dynamics are present, it’s a good sign, suggesting that a firm can deliver a consistent and personalized level of service that makes it easier for advisors to run their businesses and to serve clients effectively.
2) Reasonable ratio of support personnel to advisors. Relationship managers who can play the role of an experienced generalist are no doubt helpful. At the same time, advisors potentially face a range of challenges, and overcoming them frequently demands more specialized support, encompassing everything from succession planning to product due diligence.
Support teams, therefore, need to have enough capacity to take a measured, holistic view of the needs of advisors. It’s not enough for them to be merely aware of the advisor and their team. They should have intuitive knowledge of each practice, including the business model, custodial relationships, and whether they are part of an ensemble, an OSJ or operate as a solo practitioner, as well as having insight into the typical product mix and client makeup.
3) Meaningful access to senior leadership. Nearly every firm in the industry talks about the importance of senior leaders being a sounding board for advisors, but only a precious few follow through on that commitment. Ideally, firm leaders should reach out to advisors each quarter, not just once a year during an annual sales conference.
Of course, when a firm has thousands of advisors, holding multiple one-on-one meetings can be a tall task. However, C-suite executives have a responsibility to send personalized emails, make phone calls as well as travel to regional offices whenever possible. That’s the only way to get to know their advisors.
Likewise, when an advisor has a major concern or a suggestion that could benefit the broader firm, they should have direct access to a senior leader with decision-making responsibilities. Sometimes all it takes is one advisor with a great idea to produce a game-changing result at the executive level.
4) Quick resolution of advisor issues. If a firm has enough veteran advisor-facing home office staff and its senior leadership team is accessible, response times should be swift. This only can happen when there is close alignment within the firm among the various service teams, with output producing results that are both impactful and easy to implement. In practice, part of what that means is that the time it takes to address urgent issues should be measured in hours (if not minutes) rather than days. Meanwhile, non-urgent matters ought to prompt a same-day or next day reply, even if it initiates a lengthier process.
Adhering to these timelines not only boosts morale and improves profit potential, but when advisors know they can trust their firm to solve problems quickly and efficiently, they are likelier to maintain their affiliations. Similarly, when a home office staff member feels valued and that their work is making a difference, they are inclined to stay put as well. When firms view advisors as a number, they tend to suffer from higher turnover, both in the field and within the home office.
Culture is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot these days. The irony is that it perhaps has never rung so hollow. Culture is about knowing the advisors you work with, understanding their perspectives, and establishing a sense of camaraderie while seeking solutions that move practices forward. Anything less doesn’t create the service experience advisors need to succeed.
Erinn Ford is president of KMS Financial Services (www.kms.com), an independent advisory and brokerage firm based in Seattle and a subsidiary of Ladenburg Thalmann.