The Advisory career

Engineering Success

Eight traits of highly successful advisors

by Laurence Greenberg

Mr. Greenberg is President of Jefferson National, now operating as Nationwide’s advisory solutions business. To learn more about the innovator of the industry’s first flat- fee investment-only variable annuity with the largest selection of underlying funds, please visit or call 1-866-WHY-FLAT (866-949-3528).

There is tremendous momentum in the independent fee-based channel. And the industry is clearly bullish on its future. As innovation disrupts the status quo, and financial advice continues to evolve, it creates new opportunities for you to transform your career and your practice.

To help all advisors at every level tap into this potential, our annual Advisor Authority study of more than 1,300 RIAs, fee-based advisors and individual investors nationwide examines the issues that advisors and investors care about most.

And to help you learn more from the thought leaders and innovators of our industry, Advisor Authority focused on two types of Successful Advisors: High Earning Advisors, with personal yearly income of over $500,000 from their advisory business, and Advisors with High AUM, who individually manage a total AUM of $250 million or more. As we studied these two segments – how they build their practice, leverage technology and serve their clients – our findings reveal the ways top performing RIAs and fee-based advisors are engineering success.

Eight Traits of Highly Successful Advisors

A key driver for successful RIAs and fee-based advisors is the benefits of independent ownership. You’re not just an employee – you’re an entrepreneur. You can create value and unlock it – for your clients, for your employees, and also for yourself. How do you evolve from being an advisor to being the CEO of your own firm? Do you want to manage relationships with your clients, manage their portfolios, or manage your own company? Because in an increasingly complex market, it is impossible for you to do it all. To help you specialize, define and ruthlessly refine, we identified eight traits of the highly successful advisors who are driving change in our industry:

  • Define Your Mission
    When your mission and your goals are clearly defined, you can define every aspect of your practice. The optimal structure for your organization, the optimal structure for your team, the optimal type of client you will serve – all are defined by a singular focus on your mission and your end goals. Know exactly what you want to achieve – and why. With this kind of clarity, your entire organization will understand your vision – and everyone will know what they can do to support it.
  • Specialize
    The most successful advisors specialize in a unique type of service or client experience, they target clients who are in a specific profession, or they become a subject matter expert. Specialization becomes their competitive advantage. Successful advisors know that you can’t be everything to everyone. When it doesn’t fit with your mission and your goals, learn to say “no.” The planner who tries to work with everyone ends up working with no one.
  • Know Your Clients
    To build a successful practice, it’s important to define your ideal client and commit to knowing everything about them – their goals, their wants, their concerns and their needs. Numerous industry studies show that the key to growth and sustainability relies on your ability to understand and align with clients’ needs. The most recent RIA benchmarking study from Charles Schwab finds that the advisor-client relationship is critically important to driving growth – especially in challenging markets. According to a recent study by E&Y, there is a $175 billion to $200 billion revenue opportunity for the advisory firms that focus on aligning with clients and using client experience as a competitive advantage.
  • Be a Client Advocate
    Your relationship is with your clients – not with their assets. Do what is purely and utterly in their best interest. To gain clients’ trust – and to manage more of their wealth – be fully transparent, offer the broadest choice of products and strategies, completely without conflicts of interest. Advisor Authority shows that Investors seek an experienced advisor who can provide holistic and personalized service – and one who will put their best interests first. Clients today are more sophisticated. They have more options than ever. If you don’t serve their best interest, they’ll find someone who will.
  • Be a Marketing Innovator
    The most successful advisors continually update their marketing and communications strategies. This starts with a flexible CRM to track your different initiatives and measure your success. Using a system that can evolve with you and your business, allows you to perfect your current strategy – or pivot and shift to optimize your results. And while clients today expect multi-channel communication – phone, email and social – they still say face-to-face is a number-one priority. At the end of the day, people still want to talk to people.
  • Be a Technology Innovator
    Advisors who effectively leverage technology achieve greater efficiencies, serve more clients, and run materially more successful practices than those who don’t. Create a better client experience on the front end. Create greater efficiencies for your practice on the back end. Adopt Robo. Go Mobile. In an environment that is increasingly commoditized and competitive, the most successful advisors use more technology – and spend more on technology – to remain relevant, drive growth and unlock scale. The only thing more expensive than adding technology is not adding technology.
  • Plan Your Succession
    To build a profitable long-term franchise, the success of your practice and the success of your brand can’t be tied to just one or two people. You need diversified ownership and continuity. A formalized succession plan is key. And your firm can’t be tied to a single generation of advisors – or a single generation of clients. Build a multi-person engagement team and pair investors with counselors of a similar age, to attract a new generation of clients, and retain your current clients’ heirs. Plan now to ensure that your practice can succeed in the long term.
  • Ruthlessly Refine
    Most important, ruthlessly refine, reinvest and recalibrate. Make the investments and the deliberate cuts that will free up the time you need to identify challenges, take advantage of opportunities, and actually work on your business. Be disciplined, be willing to make changes and let things go. You may lose clients in the short term. You may lose revenue in the short term. But in the long term, it’s an investment in your future success.
there is a $175 billion to $200 billion revenue opportunity for the advisory firms that focus on aligning with clients and using client experience as a competitive advantage

The industry is evolving. Change is constant. And RIAs and fee-based advisors have every reason to be optimistic. Because as the world gets more complex, the demand for expert advisors to provide holistic planning and guided advice continues to grow.

But what has worked in the past may not be effective in the future. Engineering success means taking decisive action and proactive measures. By adopting the eight traits of highly successful advisors, advisors of all sizes and at every level can specialize, define and ruthlessly refine, to create greater value for their clients, drive greater growth, and achieve greater profitability for their firm. ◊