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One Four-Letter Word Hindering Your Professional Success, and 4 Tips to Deal

FearWhat can prevent a good adviser from becoming a great adviser? The answer can be often found in one four-letter word: F-E-A-R.

Frequently, fear has deep roots in our pasts. Specifically, in our childhood when we first experienced the dreads of not fitting in, being rejected, being wrong or not being good enough. The latter is essentially at the root of all others. We fear that we will be rejected, lose relationships and end up abandoned because we aren’t good enough.

The majority of our fears are ingrained in false beliefs and have very little to do with reality. What are real, rather, are the powerful emotions triggered by fear. Ultimately, fear is a jarring emotion that gets amplified by the reptilian fight or flight side of our human make-up. Our negative self-talk can be so powerful to push the anxiety associated with our fear to a level where our response morphs into utter avoidance.

For example, one morning, you walk into the office and find a very animated voice message from a client asking you to call her back immediately. You recently invested for that client into a discounted closed-end fund, with the intent to liquidate it once the high discount narrowed. Unanticipated economic news instead moved the discount in opposite direction. Your mind begins its fear producing chatter: “Now she’s going to complain about her investment losing value. I do not want her to treat me like if I am a novice who doesn’t know what is doing. How can avoid making this call?

In reality, what frightens us most is experiencing the feeling of being afraid. Ultimately, that’s our greatest fear. Our mind possesses the power to distort supposed outcomes to levels beyond mere fiction. Fortunately for us, in real life most of the outcomes we end up experiencing—even the one we dreaded the most—are never as bad as we envisaged them.

Fear of failure and rejection are part of our daily life—both personal and professional. We must learn that when we fail or experience rejection, it’s not a personal matter; people are not rejecting you or me, rather they are refusing the ideas we are proposing. Failure is a vital component of our success. It enables us—as long as we commit to learn from it—to refine our strategies and make our skills pliable for future success.

Fear interferes with conscious awareness, clear thinking, true knowing and in turn conscious behavior. There is no shield against fear. It is a mental creation and the only antidote against it is to lessen and possibly break our mind’s fear generating process. Experiencing fear is natural, but enabling it to prevent you from growing your business can be disastrous. So, here are a few tips you may want to implement when facing fear:

Acknowledge Fear: Our first reaction is to ignore our fears and hope they’ll go away. The longer we avoid them, the louder and nastier they become. By mindfully bringing our awareness to our fear, instead of just fighting or fleeing, we develop the courage needed to confront it.

You Are Not Alone: Understand that you, just like the rest of the people and animals on this planet, feel fear. Instead of ignoring it, experience it and try to look into its nature. Understand that ultimately it is just an impermanent and transitory feeling with no true inherent power of controlling your life.

Beginner’s Mind: Approach your fear as if it were your very first time facing it. Because every single experience in our lives is unique, you have never confronted this specific fear before, ergo, you do not know the endless possibilities associated with it. Keeping a beginner’s mind—an attitude that encompasses both doubt and possibility—empowers us to see any situation as fresh and new and be a huge game-changer.

Be in the Moment: Seek to quiet your mind and let go of any thoughts of past mistakes and what may happen in the future. Focusing on the present moment will help you trust that if you fail, you can be proud to have tried. Ultimately, let the old adage “fear the fear and do it anyway” be your ultimate goal.

Claudio PannunzioClaudio O. Pannunzio
President and Founder
i-Impact Group
Greenwich, Conn.

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Leaders: Born or Made?

leadersThis question came from a participant in one of my strengths workshops.

“Are certain strengths or characteristics common in leaders?” the participant posed. Many questions along this same line have been asked about leadership over the years. What do you think the answer is?

Are leaders born or made? What are the characteristics of great leaders? Can you learn to become a better leader? These are all versions of the same question and a natural one to ask. Deep down inside we might just want to know if we have the capability to lead.

The phrase “we are all leaders” is true. Yet it does not get at the answer to what most people are attempting to ask, which is, “Do I have the stuff that leads to greatness as a leader?” Yes you do and here is what you need to know to tap it: Leadership is not an anointment, appointment or an otherwise granted ability; it is earned through the use of the gifts you were given at birth. Is it born? Yes. Is it made? Absolutely.

A few rare souls come into this world with clarity about their natural gifts and how they are to be utilized for good. Most of the rest of us get to figure it out and that is where leadership is made. Back to the question from the participant in the strengths workshop: “Are certain strengths or characteristics common in leaders?”

This is the question that Dr. Donald O. Clifton and the researchers at Gallup sought to answer as they began their research starting in the 1960’s (to read more about the research and outcomes, check out the book Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie).

Through interviews, Dr. Clifton and his team quizzed leaders across industries and occupations including political leaders. One might think after all this research the scientists would identify one strength, a single characteristic that all the best leaders have in common. That was not the case.

“A leader needs to know his strengths as a carpenter knows his tools, or as a physician knows the instruments at her disposal,” Dr. Clifton found. “What great leaders have in common is that each truly knows his or her strengths—and can call on the right strength at the right time. This explains why there is no definitive list of characteristics that describes all leaders.”

The answer to the question you are asking “Do I have what it takes to be a leader?” is yes. Will you become a leader is the question you need to answer.

Barbara StewartBarbara Stewart
Coach to financial advisers
Owner and founder
Accelus Partners
Houston, Texas

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Controlling Expectations and Outcomes

The present economic climate offers heightened insecurity that recalls the traumatic memories from 2008. As far as investing is concerned, clients look to their advisers for precise navigation through these churning waters with the expectation/hope that “the outcomes from this next cycle will be different.”

Defining an Outcome
An outcome is different than a goal. The latter represents a forward view—what we want to happen; whereas an outcome is the result of the planning—what did happen.

Think of the distinction this way. A client goal might be, “I want my wealth secured for the long term,” and the related outcome is, “Your portfolio avoided losses.” While outcomes occur with or without planning, a well-executed plan sets the course for more positive outcomes.

Expectations and Outcomes
The adviser is the primary source for executing the plan, but only one of several sources for setting expectations (see a September 2014 Practice Management Blog post titled “Neutralizing a Client’s Negative External Influences”). A client that expects a 10 percent return because “that’s what my friend’s adviser delivered” only to be disappointed when 8 percent is realized brings to light a failure in managing expectations not execution.

Nonetheless, unmet expectations damage relationships. Therefore, communication strategies form the foundation for setting expectations and defining reasonable outcomes, and this process begins with the plan’s formulation through to each quarterly meeting; it never stops. (Note: fulfilling a client’s service and communication expectations are wholly under an adviser’s control. Take advantage of this control and nail it!)

Any Dollar Lost has the Same Outcome
The current bull market is the third longest in history. The natural cycle means there’s a much higher probability of a market decline than a continued increase. If expectations for the plan’s execution solely rest on performance numbers that go up, there’s a business risk associated with a dissatisfied client base.

Let me state the obvious: a performance decline means the dollar value of the portfolio is reduced; dollars are lost from wealth. This is a simple but vital message to reinforce. Why? Because any dollar lost from wealth—from spending, taxes, fees, depreciation or uninsured risks—has the same effect as a dollar lost to the market.

Here’s the dilemma: so much client anxiety is focused on market downturns that are largely out of an adviser’s control. And, the adviser, knowing this anxiety exists, gets stressed over the possibility that his or her top clients may start looking for another practitioner should investment performances stumble.

Seizing Control of Outcomes
Pounding the fact that any dollar lost has the same wealth outcome as a market decline shifts the plan’s tactical target to programs that minimize the loss of dollars. Given this blog’s space limitation, we’ll focus on two tactics: one for an adviser’s top clients and one for all clients.

  1. Top Clients: Tax Management
    The current tax environment is unfavorable to high-income investors. In some states, the combined tax burden can exceed 50 percent, but even the federal 40 percent marginal tax rate takes substantial dollars from wealth every year. In other words, investors worried about a big market decline every five or six years (U.S Trust says 65 percent of wealthy investors’ priority is to minimize taxes), miss the point that an effective tax management program can minimize the loss of dollars every year. This is called tax alpha and it can be a primary (and controlled) source of outcomes produced by an adviser. Consider variable universal life, variable annuities and trusts in an effective tax management solution.
  2. All Clients: Products with a Disciplined Selling System
    Many studies chronicle the difficulty in actively managed investment products exceeding benchmarks. Whereas most managers tout their stock research and “buying” systems, certain portfolio managers have highly disciplined “selling” systems that do two things to capture value: 1) selling on the upside when a target value is hit; and 2) selling on the downside when value floors are reached.

Losing less than the market also produces excess return. Investment products excelling in the risk statistics “downside capture” and “downside deviation” accurately identify portfolio managers with disciplined selling systems. Here’s the impact: studies show that avoiding losses leads to a better long-term performance profile simply because each dollar NOT lost allows the portfolio to compound from a higher floor.

Comparing Outcomes
In the annual—if not quarterly—review meeting, produce a side-by-side comparison of the plan’s loss minimization program and one without. This will illustrate how the outcome of extra dollars measurably defines a client’s ROI in the advisory relationship.

Kirk LouryKirk Loury
Wealth Planning Consulting Inc.
Princeton J

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Justice and Liberty for All: What Legal Same-Sex Marriage Means for Planners

SCOTUSDecisionThe first line of business for The Vector Group at Morgan Stanley’s Michael Pellman Rowland after the SCOTUS marriage equality ruling was announced was to call up his clients and celebrate.

“This is a very exciting day for many people in the community and the allies that have supported it,” Pellman Rowland said in a video from InvestmentNews 

The second order of business: start unraveling the complicated webs of legal and financial planning advisers who work with the LGBT community had to weave to get clients a fraction of the spousal benefits heterosexual couples enjoyed.

“With full equality across the country, it’s really going to simplify the planning for the LGBT community,” Pellman Rowland, who advised LGBT clients since shortly after graduating from college (according to an article in The Wall Street Journal).

The 5-4 ruling deemed it unlawful for states to deny a marriage license to a same-sex couple. It also mandated that all states recognize lawful same-sex marriages. This is good news for planners who didn’t know the ins and outs of financial and estate planning for same-sex couples.

As married and soon-to-be married same-sex couples around the country are celebrating, Pellman Rowland hopes to utilize this momentum to help his clients do all the things that now need to be done.

The planning community needs to “use this positive euphoria as a catalyst to do the less exciting things that will come along with this decision, which is to get [LGBT clients’] financial affairs in order.”

Some tidbits from Pellman Rowland for planners to keep in mind:

  • Planning for same-sex couples will now mirror that of heterosexual couples in that all the legal, estate, income and other tax and planning characterizations are going to be equal.
  • Review existing plans in place. Look at insurance policies and retirement accounts and make sure the beneficiaries are up to date. Know that many plans require that if you have a legally recognized spouse that they be the primary beneficiary and if they’re not, they have to sign a waiver to that effect. Review those plans and ensure your client’s legally recognized spouse is the beneficiary.
  • Social Security spousal continuation benefits will now be in place for legally married same-sex couples. The Social Security Administration was one of the few governmental agencies that even if you were legally married but lived in a state that didn’t recognize it, you didn’t receive social security benefits if your spouse passed away. That’s a benefit that many married couples rely on when there is one breadwinner but their spouse wouldn’t automatically assume the benefits of their partner, only those that they’d earned.
  • Remind clients of any necessary pending action plans that we’d put on hold up until this decision—whether it be talking to their accountant, talking to their attorney, or their matrimonial attorney. They are eligible to do a prenuptial agreement now, and also other benefits that weren’t relevant or available until now.

The Financial Planning Association, in conjunction with PridePlanners, will host two events to better equip planners to address issues of same-sex couples.

A webinar titled, “Gay Marriage is Legal—Now What?” will be from 2 to 3 p.m., Eastern time, on July 30. Click here to register. Also, a special pre-FPA BE Boston 2015 event will be held on Sept. 25 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, followed by a breakout session during the conference. Stay tuned to the BE website for updated information.

“FPA and PridePlanners are committed to helping planners obtain the latest in planning strategies and connect them with resources that will be integral in helping LGBT clients,” FPA and PridePlanners said in a joint statement.

Ana2Ana Trujillo
Associate Editor
Journal of Financial Planning
Denver, Colo.


As Industry Moves Toward Ensembles, Still Plenty Reasons to Fly Solo

I write quite a bit about the evolution of advisory practices into businesses and the shift from solo-practitioner offices to multiadviser firms and ensembles. This trend has been unfolding for decades, but solo advisers still make up more than half the industry, and they’re not likely to disappear any time soon.

Geography is one big factor. After all, not all advisers live in urban areas, and rural open space covers approximately 95 percent of the U.S. Beyond location, though, many advisers choose to remain solo practitioners for another reason: they simply prefer it that way.

Among other benefits, going it alone allows advisers to:

  • Maintain control. If you’re the firm’s only adviser, you call all the shots, from the investment products used to the type of coffee offered to clients. Solo advisers enjoy having 100 percent of the say in how the business is run (as well as 100 percent of the responsibility). Doing things their own way without needing to compromise is a freedom that many solo practitioners are reluctant to give up.
  • Focus on clients. Most advisers get into the business because they’re passionate about working with clients. But, as a firm grows in size, many advisers find themselves spending more time on peripheral activities, such as HR, technology, marketing and so on. By remaining solo, advisers can choose to keep it simple, spending most of their time with clients and forgoing added business management duties.
  • Pursue a more laid-back lifestyle. Without partners to whom they must answer, solo advisers are free to not only practice as they wish, but to grow, not grow, or shrink the business as they choose (or simply see how the year unfolds). With a solo practice, work doesn’t necessarily dictate the adviser’s lifestyle; he or she has the flexibility to manage the business while pursuing outside activities. Given the choice, many advisers prefer more free time over more revenue.

Plenty of practices dissolve because the partners can’t agree on the details of running the business—whether it’s the type of office furniture to buy, the number of hours to work, or the amount of revenue to contribute to the firm. Breaking up is hard to do.

With that in mind, it pays to remember the wise words, “To thine own self be true.” Not every adviser needs to be part of a larger organization. That may be the trend, but successful solo practitioners will always have a place in the industry.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for webJoni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management

Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.

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3 Steps for Writing Stellar Web Copy

ContentIf you’re like the majority of financial advisers looking to gain the competitive edge, chances are you’re looking at revamping your online presence. But before you go crazy about new site designs and layouts, step back and look at the one foundational piece of your digital footprint: messaging and content.

Advisers typically think about what they want to say instead of what their clients and prospects want to hear when it relates to filling their site with content. They push their message out to the world with their metaphorical megaphones without considering how to draw people in like a magnet to share details.

So what can advisers do? The answer starts with writing stellar web copy. More than 90 percent of the visitors you drive to your website right now disappear and stay anonymous forever. Think about that. Think about all those potential leads; all that interest swimming under the radar. And, all that happening because your content isn’t moving your visitors to take action.

Take the next week, schedule some time on your calendar, and meet with your team to brainstorm ideas and organize your strategy before committing to a particular direction for your copy. Here’s where to begin:

1.) Describe Your Ideal Client
A compelling writer always begins by getting to know the audience inside and out. This can seem like a lot of work, and it is, but the great thing about getting to know your readers is you can use the information again and again.
Write down detailed information:

  • Target audience’s demographics (age, gender, location, income, etc.).
  • Your audience’s primary concern (with regard to the services you offer) right now; what keeps them up at 3 a.m.?
  • Why this information should matter to them.
  • Your audience’s communication preferences.
  • Do they respond better to long pages or short ones? Video, audio or text?
  • How do they spend their time?

If you can’t answer some of these questions, ask. Whether you survey your newsletter readers, ask on social media or call a few of your best clients and get their perspective, you don’t want to guess or predict the answers. The information you collect will help shape your copy. If you’d like an exercise to help jumpstart your brain when thinking about your ideal clients, click here and enter the code “marketing” to download our Digital Marketing Messaging Exercise.

2.) Find Your Focus
Every page must have one main focus, or objective. That’s not to say you can’t expect your copy to do multiple things—for instance, it’s common to hope the home page will welcome new visitors, encourage call-to-actions and lure people into reading your blog. But, it must be written with a singular goal.
A scattered voice leaves your readers feeling unsure what to do next, while a confident voice directs them from point A to point B elegantly. Your goal should determine every choice you make about messaging. In this way, you can help visitors follow a straightforward path to the action you want them to take.

3.) Organize Your Thoughts
Once you know who your ideal audience is in great detail, and you know why you’re writing a particular page, you’re almost ready to put pen to paper. But there’s still one more thing advisers and their team must do that I find so many skipping: forethought. Think about what you’re going to say, how you’re going to say it and what the overall message will be. Jot down some notes, pontificate a few headlines and opening paragraph and reflect on how you (if you were in your clients’ shoes) would respond to the direction of the copy.

  • Does the messaging answer the specific needs and/or objections of your ideal clients?
  • Does the copy engage the reader, or does it try to force information down their throats?
  • Are you writing ABOUT yourself and your services, or are you writing FOR your target audience?
  • Have you included keywords for SEO? Which ones, where and why?

This may seem elementary at first, but I assure you, after getting everything organized and laid out, your copy will pretty much write itself. The entire writing process will flow more easily without the typical frustration you may have experienced in the past. And, perhaps most importantly, because you have put some thought into your approach, the copy is also much more likely to get better results than if you simply put fingers to keyboard and begin rattling off with no direction.

When you know your audience well, your writing will connect with them in an entirely different way. They’ll be able to trust you—and thus follow your recommendations—because you’ve demonstrated you understand them. And in the current noisy world we live in, giving your audience the feeling of being understood might be the differentiator you need to connect, engage and keep those who mean the most to your business.

Ron_CarsonRon Carson
Founder and CEO
Carson Wealth Management Group
Omaha, NE

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How to Utilize Web Presence to Battle Client Mistrust

trustGaining a client’s trust is essential for success, but it’s not always easy. Today, now more than ever, prospective clients are distrustful not only of current economic conditions, but of you.

According to Greg Friedman, CEO of Junxure, this increased level of distrust has come “in the wake of large-scale instances of fraud [Bernie Madoff] and market and economic volatility [the financial crisis],” leaving behind cautious prospects who “now interview several firms before choosing one to manage their future and build their legacy.”

More than trusting you with their money, your clients are trusting you with their livelihoods—their lives.

With that in mind, “the most striking—and alarming—finding in [the CFA Institute’s Global Market Sentiment Survey] is the same every year,” writes Robin Powell of ValueWalk, “CFA members’ biggest concern does not have to do with the markets or the economy, but with the lack of trust in the financial industry itself. Among its members, 63 percent—up from 54 percent last year—blamed this on a ‘lack of ethical cultures’ within financial firms.”

So how do you begin to overcome the dark cloud of mistrust?

Your online presence is a good place to start since the most common source of information today is the Internet. When the majority of prospective clients are seeking financial services online and your website doesn’t look and read right, you’ve already raised suspicion.

First impressions still count for a lot. According to Friedman, “Your true first impression starts with the initial meeting with a potential client, and make no mistake—this is a beauty contest.” While I agree that a beauty pageant is afoot, I’ll go so far as to say that you’re personally not in the running for making a first impression but your website is.

That first interaction with prospective clients is frequently occurring online without you, so it’s essential that the traditional methods you’d employ to establish trust in person are reflected in your website.

One way to succeed is by maintaining a presentable, professional appearance. A well-designed website is like a well-designed suit—it imbues the owner with a sense of respectability and makes a favorable, if not fashionable, first impression.

But even if we have learned not to judge a book by its cover, we certainly still judge it by its content. Hence the case for excellent website content.

Powell states that he has “long advocated using high-quality, engaging content to build trust and attract and retain more clients.

“Your content reflects—or should reflect—you and your values and it has to take center stage in your firm’s marketing strategy,” and I second the sentiment.

Well-researched, thoughtful written content that seeks to inform rather than obfuscate shows not only that you are an expert in your field, but that you recognize the importance of establishing yourself as a trustworthy entity.

In these skeptical times, a sense of trust is a huge value incentive, and the more you can do to convey it, the better off you’ll be.

Kellie Gibson

Kellie Gibson
Marketing Writer
Advisor Websites
Vancouver, Canada


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