Let’s talk about the power of multi-advisor practices in the wealth management industry — also referred to as “ensemble practices,” based on the work of Philip Palaveev. You can chart the course and issues many practices encounter to a lesson learned from the legendary classic rock bands and artists of our time.
Ensemble practices can allow you to increase scale, efficiency and talent when done correctly. Ensemble teams are not new, but they have become more important over the years to help gain growth and leverage resources.
To build an ensemble practice, you need philosophically matched “band members” who embrace a vision larger than themselves, will accept mutual accountability, and expand your act. Keep in mind, as your team grows, you may face internal communication challenges without proper systems — which causes internal strife.
How your practice comes together and operates can predict whether your band stays together or has shake-ups along the way.
Legendary Teams and Rock Bands
Ensembles — whether bands or firms — require a common vision and agreements that must be in alignment, otherwise you may only have a few hits. Some bands have stayed together for decades, many with their original members, and some break up over misaligned philosophies, disagreements, money, outside influences or ego.
When advisors align, share a practice manager, assistant or paraplanner, what happens if there are creative differences over time?
When a musical band released a 12-inch vinyl LP album, there was a finite number of songs that could fit on the physical release. For bands that had multiple prolific songwriters, this meant that not every artist’s full work would make the album. This caused challenges within some bands and many artists would release solo albums to have their art showcased — a disruption in some cases. Further, some band members wanted to experiment with new sounds over time. This was not always agreed upon by other members who did not want change.
There is a similar situation in many advisory practices. There is a finite number of initiatives that can be implemented at any given time based on capacity, budgets or client needs. It can cause resentment when some advisors or staff members want to make changes and their ideas are not considered. Some of these changes are proposed without any input as to what the firm’s clients or niche market really wants. When you align practices under a shared firm, the goal is something larger than yourself. You are partners; the vision of the business and the needs of the clients are overarching.
If an advisor tries to unilaterally makes changes to workflows to fit their needs, your shared assistant may get frustrated balancing each advisor’s requests. Your paraplanner may have to constantly modify their systems to accommodate each adviser’s changing methods.
In the beginning, most advisory teams come together in full alignment. It is over time that market trends, evolving clients, revenues or new technologies cause some team members to question the vision. If some members want to make changes, how do you overcome the conflict?
Remember, It’s About the Client
One consideration is to always have the pulse of the firm’s clients and niche markets. You have to consider what is best for the firm and agree that the firm exists to serve the clients. If your team is continuously interviewing clients on ways to elevate the overall experience, the clients’ input helps decisions become clear. If you are listening to prospective clients and staying abreast of trends in your niche market, this will help dictate your direction. It is hard to debate what the majority of clients want. This can be a baseline for common ground.
Let’s be clear. There is a strong benefit to having different skill sets and points of view in an ensemble practice. It brings new ideas, creativity, and different approaches or strategies to planning. The issue comes if too many songwriters can no longer agree on common ground. It can create resistance to new ideas or a lack of regard for another team member’s point of view. In cases like these, one of the songwriters or band members may leave to pursue a solo career. If you keep pace with what the firm’s clients want, this may help balance internal competition. From there it comes down to conflict resolution.
What happens if band members do not show up for practice? Meaning, if the advisors or staff miss weekly team meetings that are necessary for communication and client triage (aka “rehearsals”). An advisor may feel it is fine to occasionally skip, but your staff may rely on these meetings to keep everything organized and help them prepare for the week.
This is not all about the advisor; there are plenty of instances where some staff members do not share the same client service spirit or do not pay attention to the finer details. Some may lack an engaging attitude with clients or do not appreciate that acquiring and retaining clients are the livelihood of the practice. It is everyone’s job to enhance the client experience; you cannot disappoint your fans.