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Last month, more than 100 financial professionals gathered at the Personal Financial Planning Summit, sponsored by the American Institute of CPAs to hear perspectives on practice management delivered by profession leaders.

Here are four key takeaways on best practices in client services, communication and firm management that emerged from the January summit, according to the AICPA.

1. Client familiarity is essential to success.

Clients value advisors who communicate regularly, reduce complexity and guide decision making with timely and usable information. According to Stephen de Man, a regional director at Dimensional Fund Advisors, results of his firm’s 2018–2019 investor feedback survey showed that an advisor’s experience with similar clients is what clients value most in the advisory relationship.

The AICPA emphasized the importance of making a clear client profile easily available online that both illustrates the value of the firm’s work and what kind of clients it works with.

Providing exceptional financial planning services goes beyond knowing the numbers. Understanding clients’ life goals and what they truly want their money to be able to do for them adds considerable value.

2. Embrace diversity or fall behind.

Firms that fully adopt diversity and inclusion can thrive from the input of multiple perspectives, creating superior cultures and results. Firms that ignore the opportunity to do so will fall behind by ceasing to reflect or meet the needs of increasingly diverse customers.

AICPA said firms that want to evaluate their D&I practices can use the organization’s D&I tools and resources. The Accounting Inclusion Maturity Model, for example, allows firms to benchmark their D&I practices and provides actionable steps to help improve them.

3. Always be improving.

Presenters at the summit suggested that it is possible to become exceptional. How? Through a vision implemented with great integrity via thoughtful processes repeated consistently and evaluated regularly with an openness of mind and heart to ongoing improvement.

Cheryl Holland, president of Abacus Wealth Partners, suggested that in order to maintain value and competitive advantage, attendees and their staff can make a habit of getting 1% better at a time, all the time. She recommended that staff be encouraged to make suggestions every week on something that could be improved — be it operations, client service or advice.

AICPA noted that CPAs looking to build on deep tax knowledge and add value to their clients by providing financial planning services may consider its PFP Certificate Program, which allows for flexibility to learn what they need to know in specific areas.

4. It’s not what you say that’s important.

Delivering financial advice well requires more empathy and much less talking by advisors, especially in financial jargon. A presenter at the summit said having one’s story heard is a profound human need. Advisors who can listen deeply to their clients will be valued.

— Check out Should You Call Your Clients When the Market Drops? on ThinkAdvisor.