Success today demands a long-range vision for growth…with an eye toward meaningful client engagement
by John Gautreaux, ChFCMr. Gautreaux is a Partner with Independence Financial Partners (IFP), headquartered in Warwick, RI. IFP is an independent financial services firm, affiliated with Signator Investors, Inc. and the John Hancock Financial Network. In this article, he shares his recent success working with his business coach to create a strong advisory practice and sustainable business model. Visit www.indfp.com and www. johngautreaux.net
I believe you will agree being a good financial advisor and a good business owner are two very different things. I have always considered myself a solid financial advisor.
With over 25 years in the financial services industry, including a long stint in banking, I had developed the necessary skillset to support the unique needs of my clients. I enjoyed a comfortable living and was a frequent qualifier for both the Million Dollar Round Table and my company’s annual recognition conference.
However, I didn’t have a long-term vision for my practice, or a clearly defined path for my own retirement.
In 2012, I was at a Practice Advancement Conference hosted by my broker dealer, Signator Investors, Inc. Speaking at one of the meetings was Michael Fischer, a leading producer with over 25 years industry experience, and his business coach Bill Rambo. Mike had engaged the services of Rambo several years previously and they were talking specifically about their work to build Mike’s business to where it is today. That was my lightbulb moment. That fall I hired Bill to help me create a stronger practice.
Below are some of the key drivers from my coaching work
I made this investment very early on in my career and it has paid off exponentially. However, we now have much better structure with clearly defined goals and expectations, accountability, periodic reviews, and incentives. Of greatest value has been the development of our “play book” which provides for a consistent approach to client service, a forms library, and a reference manual containing everything we need to both run the practice and train new-support staff. If you haven’t made the investment in admin support I highly encourage you to do so.
This may easily be one of the most valuable and profitable exercises you can perform… it helped me to jump start what has become our “Platinum” standard for client care.
We first segmented our clients A through D using a process I call the Four R’s (Relationship, Revenues, Repeat Business & Referrals). Through this process we discovered that 25% of my clients were A/ B clients with a staggering 90% of my recurring revenues and assets under administration coming from these same clients. This segmentation process helped us realize how valuable our time needed to become in how we served our clients.
Client Care Model
We have always felt every client deserved to be handled with professional courtesy. However, the client segmentation process helped us craft a very efficient model to best serve our clients and promote the correct amount of activity (“touch points”). This has resulted in notable increases in both client retention and referrals to new A/B clients. Shifting our focus from prospecting to serving has been infinitely a more valuable use of time.
Client Care Protocols
Historically our admin used to treat every client virtually the same. This highly inefficient method was pulling us away from the most valuable uses of our time. Now, my staff uses a client care guide (“cheat sheet”) so they know how and when to best handle client matters. This frees them up to focus only the most productive uses of their time. In addition to helping our staff to prioritize client calls and requests, this simple system keeps us on track for client reviews as well as how best to acknowledge special events such as birthdays, anniversaries or holidays.
My coach helped us understand the Platinum Rule, which asks that we treat our clients the way they would EXPECT to be treated. Sounds simple enough but often we make the mistake of assuming what a client’s expectations might be. I’ve learned from past experience that can be an expensive mistake. Now, we ask each new client how they would like to be serviced (e.g. frequency and location of meetings, methods of communication, etc.).
You would be surprised just how unique each client’s response will be and more importantly how much they will appreciate your asking. We also survey our clients annually, asking what they like about working with us, what they would like to change and any other service related items we can improve on.
Consistency is essential to having a successful and profitable practice. My staff and I follow a checklist we developed to ensure the client experience is consistent. This process includes a series of action steps before during and after a prospect becomes a client (e.g. welcome letters, personal thank you notes, follow up calls, online support, etc., just to name a few touch points).
Other Practice Tips include:
One of the many touches we use for A/B clients is to provide them with a leather binder at delivery. This binder contains everything the client will need to access their new accounts, file important papers and have our services consolidated in one place (and in the case of emergency a place for their children to refer to). It also contains a personal letter (Client Care Commitment) which outlines our commitment to the client and the many other services we offer. I can’t tell you just what a strong impression this has had with our clients.
Every meeting includes an agenda that easily captures new information, prompts me to ask their goals for the meeting, and also includes reminds for me to ask about referral opportunities, important events, and updates on the family. We take detailed notes on a virtual family tree that keeps us well informed of our client’s extended family. This has created numerous multi-generational opportunities over the years.
Recurring Revenues vs. Commissions
Many insurance and investment representatives early in their career elect to receive most of their commissions up front. I admit to starting my career much the same way. This left me in a constant state of “prospecting” rather than “serving”. Several years ago, I made the transition to building a recurring revenue style practice working largely on a fee basis and/or taking smaller annual commission trails. In addition to starting each year off with a base of recurring revenue I can now spend the majority of my time serving my clients, which has resulted in organic growth from referrals versus prospecting. Of even greater benefit is the growing value of my practice which I can look forward to selling someday.
Making the Investment
To remain viable in this business you must be willing to continue investing in yourself and your practice. Investing in a business coach was easily the best money I have ever spent. Having great admin support is essential to having a profitable practice and maintaining client relationships. Invest in technology. We use Smart Office to manage our client data and activity. EMoney has also become a powerful financial planning tool for us and has helped us land some substantial relationships.
And if you haven’t already done so, invest in your continuing education and strongly consider a designation and/or additional licenses (ChFC, CFP, RIA, etc.) as this can set you apart from other advisors.
Creating Alpha / separating yourself from the pack
I believe that in the face of new competition from robo advisors, institutions, passive investing, and the move towards fee transparency, having a values driven practice will be key to every advisor’s future success. A practice that puts service ahead of prospecting and focuses on the client’s long term goals (and not merely performance) will be essential for our continued success. ◊
This article is provided for informational purposes only. Views and opinions provided are those of John Gautreaux, Independence Financial Partners.