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How Do You Train Someone?

Planners used to consider training as something that could be done on the job. You would hire a new employee and hope that he or she picked up the responsibilities over time. If you were lucky, the departing employee would be around long enough to train his or her replacement.

Times have changed. Today, we can’t get by with such an informal approach. Roles and functions in your firm are more specific, varied and sophisticated than they used to be. You need to hire client service employees, marketers, receptionists, paraplanners and new planners. Training in such functions can’t be left to chance—for new planners in particular. These men and women will be looking for professional growth, and you may hope to develop one of them to serve as your successor.

Still, for most planners, the need for more formalized training is problematic. Most would agree that training doesn’t contribute to short-term revenue growth. In some cases, because planners have long delegated certain administrative tasks, they may not even remember how to do them (e.g., completing paperwork to follow up on a client meeting). And training new planners has become increasingly difficult. These days, you can’t rely on bringing on a new employee who was schooled by a wirehouse. Those training programs have disappeared.

So, How Do You Train Someone?

To be effective, training requires three key criteria:

  1. Determining the outcome to be accomplished. This means defining specific objectives for the learner.
  2. Developing the curriculum, so the participant can understand and experience the content that needs to be learned.
  3. Measuring the individual’s performance to confirm that learning has actually occurred.

It is important to do all three of these well. Sometimes, we rush into training without considering what is most important to learn. Teaching how to resolve a once-a-year problem gets as much attention as the everyday situations. Sometimes, it’s hard to create the learning experience we’re looking for. And we complicate things by following several different processes for completing the same task because we lack standardized procedures within the firm. Finally, few firms test or evaluate learning.

As organizations continue to grow—particularly as we see more mergers and acquisitions—the need for formal training will increase. We will especially see it in organizations that hire inexperienced planners whom they intend to develop. In fact, that’s just one more reason why the large firms will get larger.

If you are a solo planner, you can hire someone and have him or her follow you for a year to learn the ropes. In the future, a large firm will likely hire a group of new planners to develop at the same time. Learning and curricula will need to be established and monitored. Being a planner who understands training will be a good start, but it won’t guarantee that the planner will be a good trainer.

The bottom line? Prepare to invest in training.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for web

Joni Youngwirth is managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network in Waltham, Mass.

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How Financial Planners Can Get Started with SEO to Get More Site Traffic

If your content doesn’t land on the first page of a Google search result, it probably won’t get read. Seventy percent of people who use Google to search for something don’t look past the first page of results.

You need to make sure your website page or blog post lands somewhere on that first page. But how do you do it?

SEO, of course.

SEO stands for search engine optimization, or the process of getting a particular page to rank higher in the results a search engine delivers in response to a query. And if you want to leverage SEO to your benefit, it helps to know how search engines work.

The Job of Search Engines: Index Everything

Search engines like Google attempt to index every page on the web in order to suggest pages for users looking for something specific online. They use bots called spiders to crawl the web in order to index everything that’s out there.

The spiders, or web crawlers, look for certain indicators of a page’s content, quality and value. They need to understand what web pages are about and who they’re most relevant for if they want to do a good job allowing the search engine to return relevant results when someone types something specific into the search bar.

When we use search engine optimization, we try to give web crawlers the information they need to understand our web pages, posts and content. That way, they know how to deliver that content to people who search the web for something related to what we do and can provide for them.

To make SEO work for us, we need to make sure the page we want to rank well in search results gives the search engines what they need to understand that “this is a valuable piece of relevant content.”

Use Relevant Keywords to Create Content That Performs Well in Search

Keywords, according to Moz.com, are ideas and topics that define what your content is about. In terms of SEO, they’re the words and phrases that searchers enter into search engines, also called “search queries.”

In the early days of the Internet, you could optimize your content around a single word or term, like “adviser,” or “financial planner.” That’s pretty much impossible to do today due to the amount of competition out there that also tries to rank for those simple words and terms.

It would be a miracle if you were able to rank as the first result for “financial planner”—it would be a miracle, or it would require a massive amount of money to do.

That might sound like a bummer, but there’s a solution that not only works well but also generates higher-quality traffic for your site (and that means more qualified leads): instead of choosing a single word as a keyword, you’ll want to focus on long-tail keywords.

Long tail keywords are phrases made up of about three to five words that are highly specific to what you provide or what you sell. You want to target long tail keywords that are relevant to your audience with very few other websites trying to rank for them.

How to Choose the Right Keyword

The tricky part about SEO is nailing down just the right keyword that you want to try to rank for. If you choose a keyword based on what you think is important, your content probably won’t perform well in search.

You have to consider what your audience thinks is important.

You can’t know the best keywords to choose and build content around without considering who you want to reach. You need to know your audience. Put on your audience’s shoes, experience what it’s like to walk in them, then address their needs, desires, curiosities, questions and more.

The more deeply you understand what your audience wants, the easier it is to market yourself to that group of people.

This is actually where I start in the SEO course I created for financial planners, Using SEO: The Comprehensive But Not Complicated Guide to Get More Organic Traffic to Your Site. We drill down deeply to understanding your particular audience before we ever talk about creating SEO optimized content.

But don’t worry: we get there, too. In fact, the course covers everything you need to know about leveraging search engine optimization through simple, proven processes that put more eyeballs on your website, including:

  • How to validate your keyword ideas
  • How to create content that’s optimized for SEO (including a handy checklist)
  • How to balance creating content for search engines and their algorithms, and writing for the actual humans who are supposed to enjoy your content once they find it
  • How to optimize your whole site (not just your blog posts)
  • How to improve your offsite SEO

…and a lot more. If you want to take a comprehensive, but not overly complicated, dive into search engine optimization and how your firm can use it to get more site traffic, check out the course here.

FPA members receive $50 off the regular price of the course. Just use code FPAINSIDER to get your discount.

 Kali Hawlk is the founder of Creative Advisor Marketing, an inbound marketing firm that helps financial advisers grow their businesses by creating compelling content to attract prospects and convert leads. She started CAM to give financial pros the right tools to build trust and connections with their audiences, and loves helping advisers find authentic ways to communicate in a way that resonates with the right people.


Let’s Stop the Dangerous Notion Asset Management is Commoditized


The emergence of low-cost investment solutions like robo-advisers and model marketplaces has elicited statements by earnest pundits about the “commoditization” of asset management. These well-meaning observers misunderstand the significance of what is happening in our industry and are planting the seed of a dangerous idea.

Merriam Webster defines “commoditize” as “to render a good or service widely available and interchangeable with one provided by another company.” Certainly, asset management services are widely available, but they are far from interchangeable. The suggestion that they are is harmful to planners and investors alike.

If you think asset management has been commoditized, consider these facts from the Morningstar database (I have eliminated obvious outliers.):

  • In the ETF Strategist category (50 percent-70 percent equity), returns for 2017 ranged from 17.44 percent to 10.33 percent—a 700-plus basis point difference.
  • The 2017 returns for U.S. Value ETFs ranged from 27.11 percent to 18.7 percent—an 800-plus basis point difference.
  • The 2017 returns for U.S. High Dividend ETFs ranged from 25.84 percent to 15.86 percent—a 1,000 basis point difference.
  • The 2017 returns for U.S. Momentum ETFs ranged from 44.13 percent to 26.94 percent—a 1,700 basis point difference.

The size of these spreads in seemingly generic product categories show that asset management has not been commoditized. Even “passively” managed products like U.S. Value ETFs can produce a wide range of results.

The differences show up in areas other than one-year performance results. The U.S. Value ETF with the highest one-year performance had an expense ratio that was three times that of the U.S. Value ETF with the lowest performance—0.15 percent versus 0.05 percent. Do you get what you pay for? Not necessarily. The U.S. Momentum ETF with the highest performance had an expense ratio that was less than one-quarter of the expense ratio of the lowest performer—0.15 percent versus 0.64 percent.

Differences like this exist everywhere in the asset management industry. Look closely at any type or category of asset manager—active mutual funds, ETFs, SMAs or fund strategists—and you will find wide disparities in both performance and expense ratios. These products are not interchangeable. They are highly differentiated. Clearly, they are not commodities.

What we are witnessing is not the commoditization of asset management, but rather the “industrialization” of asset management services. Manual labor is being replaced by mechanized systems of mass production. Individual craftsmen are being replaced by assembly lines. We are seeing the efficient division of labor among specialists. Technology is allowing innovations in the manufacture, delivery and pricing of products and services.

Although the term “industrialization” sounds old-school in our high-tech world, it far more accurately describes the transformation we are witnessing than “commoditization.” The fact that a product is more widely available and its price is dropping does not make it a commodity.

Computers, cell phones and big-screen TVs are all more widely available and significantly cheaper than they were five years ago. But there are differences in their performance, functionality and quality. They are not interchangeable. If you think they are, ask an iPhone user to switch to a Samsung, but cover your ears first so you won’t hear their howls.

Let’s drop this dangerous notion that asset management has been commoditized. People might actually start to believe that portfolios are like bags of sugar on a grocery store shelf. They are not. Asset management is being made more accessible and less expensive than in days gone by. But caveat emptor—due diligence and thoughtfulness are still important.

Editor’s Note: Scott MacKillop wrote about this topic for WealthManagement.com. You can find that article here.

Scott MacKillop is CEO of First Ascent Asset Management, a Denver-based firm that provides investment management services to financial advisors and their clients. He is a 40-year veteran of the financial services industry. He can be reached at scott@firstascentam.com.




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The Science of Service

In our industry, it can sometimes be easy to lose sight of the primary purpose of our business, which is to service the financial needs of our clients. Personal, professional and even corporate goals may lead some of the best financial planners to occasionally place their focus in a direction that isn’t in the client’s best interest but in theirs. When this happens, it goes against the “science of service.”

In the short-term, this shift of focus may help the planner accomplish a goal but typically in the long-run it can only be counterproductive because it goes against what should be all about a planner’s integrity. Once this “line” is crossed it is that much easier to cross it again because a planner’s definition of what that “line” is becomes blurred by excuses.

Mahatma Gandhi said it best when he said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” I believe this is very true. However, that begs the question of, “What constitutes service?”

Understanding the Science of Service

Most planners and agents think that the definition of service is to answer incoming client calls, hear what they need, drop everything and attend to their requests. However, that is a very reactive client servicing system. And, while this type of servicing is obviously necessary at times, it isn’t the only thing that clients need.

Step 1: Have a High Level of Integrity

Over twenty years ago, I asked John M., the most seasoned financial planner in the office a simple question, “Can you run a financial advisory practice with integrity and still make a great living?” He simply smiled and said, “You will make more money than you could ever imagine as long as you continue to do the right thing.”

Unfortunately, we have all met prospects who owned products that were inappropriate for them. Instead, the planner who sold them these types of products probably did so because they were thinking of their own best interests.

Ironically, the science of servicing begins even before a prospect becomes a client because recommending an inappropriate product(s) is doing the prospect and yourself a disservice.

A level of impeccable integrity must continue when they do become a client.

Step 2: Have a High Level of Product and Market Knowledge

Clients entrust their hard-earned money to you because they believe you not only have their best interest at heart but that you fully understand the right investment strategies for them. That’s why it’s so important to take the time to keep abreast of your product and market knowledge.

An example of this is Paul C., a financial planner client of mine who spends at least 30 minutes each morning reading something related to the stock market, the economy and/or various products that he recommends to his clients. He says that by doing so he feels well-versed to answer any questions that his clients or prospects have.

Step 3: Have a Proactive Client Servicing System

Most financial planners want to service their clients in the best way possible, but many fail to understand how to service clients effectively because they don’t understand what great service means.

David P., another client of mine, was putting out fires all day long which made him feel exhausted more often than not. That is until we designed a proactive client servicing system by segmenting his book, clearly defining his client servicing levels, systematizing his client servicing activities and delegating many of the day-to-day interruptions to his staff. It didn’t take long before David felt back in control of his day.

Why Servicing is Not an Art

Hopefully by now you can relate to the planners in each one of the examples and realize that what they’re doing is not subjective. To John M., integrity is the cornerstone of service; to Paul C., knowledge is imperative to keeping his clients informed and having the right investments; and to David P., having a proactive client servicing system gives his clients and himself peace of mind. To these planners, their activities are not open to interpretation. Instead, they have adopted a “science of service” mindset.

If you are ready to take your business to the next level, schedule a complimentary 30-minute coaching session with me by emailing Melissa Denham, director of client servicing.

Dan Finley
Daniel C. Finley is the president and co-founder of Advisor Solutions, a business consulting and coaching service dedicated to helping advisers build a better business.

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Advisers, Step into Social or Get Left Behind

When I became the social media manager for the SEI Advisor Network social media was something I had only mastered personally (obligatory weekly pictures of my kids to assure my friends and family that they are still alive), not professionally. There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to managing multiple social media platforms, accounts, contributors and behind-the-scenes resources (like compliance). My researching skills and love of learning became the biggest tools in my toolbox, and I’ve learned a lot—most importantly, that it’s never too late to jump into social professionally. But there are some baby steps you can take to make that jump a little less scary.

Friend Requests

First and foremost, find a mentor. Whether it’s someone in your office, a colleague in the industry, one of your clients, or even your teenager, find someone you trust—someone who can show you the ropes and not judge you for the endless questions you will inevitably have. Social media doesn’t have to be scary—but it can be overwhelmingly vast. Sure, you can read and learn about all the different platforms, but if you can find a friend or acquaintance with some knowledge of the platforms you aren’t familiar with, that’s half the battle.

The toughest thing about social media is that it’s a constantly changing medium. Even the big players (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) have updates that get pushed out to users with little to no advance notification. While this keeps the platform fresh, it also means that learning all you can about the platform isn’t as easy as a Google search. There’s a lot of outdated information floating around in cyberspace.

For a self-learner like me, this was a bit of an obstacle. I like to research and go to training and classes, and even watch the occasional YouTube tutorial. It took me a hot minute to learn that this tried-and-true tactic was futile in “social-land.” It wasn’t until I found a mentor who also works in our highly regulated industry that I really felt like I was getting the education and pointers I needed. I speak to my mentor regularly—we discuss what each of us is doing, our goals for the year, things we’ve tested, etc. We learn from each other’s successes and missteps, and I’m happy to report I’ve taught her a thing or two, as well.

Speaking of Testing…

I think the most fear-provoking element of social is “doing it wrong.” I’m here to tell you—you will do something wrong and you will make mistakes. But you will also learn from them.

While it’s true that online content potentially lives forever, there is always a delete button. The chance of you making a mistake that will have dire or long-lasting consequences for you and your business is pretty low. More likely, you will make some typos, schedule some posts for the middle of the night, or upload the wrong media file.

It’s okay!

You have to be okay taking a chance to try things like video posts, writing your own blog or sharing an opinion piece that isn’t so mainstream. You will learn quickly what resonates with your connections and what doesn’t. Testing is a very important tool in social.

The best part of social media is the interaction. Not all interactions have to be positive, some of the best social interactions are discussions of differing viewpoints. You may even learn something.

And if the test fails? Learn something from it and move on.

Stay in Your Comfort Zone…For Now

Chances are you don’t need to be well versed in all platforms (are you really going to be utilizing Snapchat for your advisory business?), so just focus on one.

If you are comfortable with Facebook, start there. According to The 2016 Putnam Social Advisor Survey, Facebook is showing continued growth as a preferred adviser platform. The reason? Facebook is where your clients are, and it’s perfect for casual contact due to the ongoing personal interaction it offers.

Facebook is a great forum to engage with your clients on key life events such as marriages, births, travel, retirement and more. It’s the platform that offers the most potential for client engagement and communication—especially between your regularly scheduled client review meetings.

Get Started Already!

Here are some things you can do to get started:

  • Ask your clients about their social media use. What platforms do they use, how do they use them? How do their answers align with your social media plan? Are you where your clients are?
  • Share relevant content. See an article on the best locations to retire? Share it! The content doesn’t have to be YOUR content. SEI creates a weekly Market Minute videos and weekly commentaries that are ripe for the picking. You may also be interested in partnering with a service like AdvisorStream or Vestorly, which curate content that you can share socially.
  • Be consistent. Have a schedule and stick to it. Consistent posting will help your clients get into the habit of checking for new material and information from you. Above all else, commit to your plan. Services like Hootsuite and Buffer can be invaluable tools for scheduling posts for when your audience is most likely online. The worst thing you can do is build an audience and then leave them hanging.
  • Listen and monitor. Don’t just throw content out there and walk away. If people comment, comment back. Reply to all comments, both positive and negative. Check to see if your content has been shared (a potential lead). Be social!

As you gain confidence (and hopefully followers) on Facebook (or the platform of your choosing), consider branching out to other social platforms. The great thing about social is the ability to cross-leverage content. Or maybe one platform is enough for you—it’s your call.

Fake It Until You Make It

I feel like this is my life motto. I’ve taken big risks in my life and tried my hand at many jobs that maybe I wasn’t 100 percent ready to take on. But I’ve never regretted any of them. Be confident in your decision to try something new. There comes a time when you can make all the plans in the world, but if you aren’t out there, you aren’t being social.

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Heather Wilson is the social media manager in the SEI Advisor Network. She also oversees the development and execution of the Advisor Network’s large-scale national and regional client conferences. She is a regular contributor for SEI’s practice management blog, Practically Speaking.


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Planning for a Digital Legacy

Increasingly, the digital property of financial planners and their clients is up in the clouds, somewhere or another.

It turns out that the intersection between our mortality and the immortality of our digital property has become an important part of the estate planning process. That’s right—not only do you need to make plans for your tangible assets, but you also need to make plans for your email, social media, banking and financial accounts (investments, of course, but also things like bitcoin and PayPal), online memorabilia and documents; not to mention all those pictures, which at the time seemed artistic, but now just make up an ever-lengthening feed of status updates.

It’s important to know that a person’s digital property and electronic communications are referred to as “digital assets” and the companies that store those assets on their servers are referred to as “custodians.” The reason this matters is that these digital assets are usually governed by a terms of service agreement rather than by property law, and in many cases these agreements are silent when it comes to digital assets after Internet users pass or become incapacitated.

The other problem is the sheer number of online accounts we have today. Some estimates show that each American has, on average, 130 online accounts and that this number could grow to 207 by 2020.

What Now?

Fortunately, many states have enacted a measure to help simplify this issue. The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA) allows a fiduciary the legal authority to manage another’s property and specifically allows Internet users the power to plan for the management and disposition of their digital assets. At this point, all but 8 states have enacted this or a similar law, but it’s likely that every state will pass a law regarding fiduciary access to digital assets in the near future.

The action steps are to include the idea of digital assets in your normal estate planning and wealth transfer conversations with families. Along with that, you should include an amendment to a client’s existing will, trust or power of attorney which gives the designated agent the authority to direct or dispose of these assets. This amendment may take the form of a Virtual Asset Instruction Letter (VAIL) which allows one to list accounts, instructions for those accounts and the person(s) designated to access those accounts.

While many may doubt the urgency of this legislation, even the most Internet-resistant person can’t help but admit that our lives are becoming more and more digital. The assets that are housed in the cloud have value. Airline miles or hotel points have obvious monetary value, and others like pictures, emails or creative works have mostly sentimental value. The important thing to remember is that a person’s legacy is made up of both sides of that coin.

So even though that Luddite client may scoff at this idea, it has become an important part of the estate planning process. I’m sure that after having this conversation, that client will provide a status update to all their Facebook friends letting them know how happy they are to have had it.

Editor’s note: A version of this post appeared on the Janus Henderson blog. You can find it here.

Ben Rizzuto

Ben Rizzuto, CFS, is a retirement director for the Defined Contribution and Wealth Advisor Services Group. In his position Rizzuto works with financial advisers, platform partners, Janus Henderson colleagues and clients to find solutions for today’s increasingly difficult retirement issues, whether they be within retirement plans or for those clients that are trying to figure out how to retire on their own terms. He also contributes to the dialogue surrounding these issues as the host of the “Plan Talk” podcast and through periodic posts to the Janus Henderson Blog.


Leveraging Divorce to Maximize College Financial Aid

Divorce is rarely a positive thing. But when it comes to helping your clients maximize college financial aid for their children, it can be used to their advantage.

There are many complexities associated with clients sending their child off to college. Perhaps the biggest factor that keeps parents up at night is the cost of college. Unfortunately, at $25,000 per year for in-state public institutions to $50,000 a year at private institutions, a four-year education can approximate that of a small starter house. Multiply that by two or three kids, and the cost approximates that of a very nice house. Unfortunately, many students are taking on huge loans without regard to their post-graduate income, and parents are likewise assuming massive amount of PLUS loans and putting their retirement in jeopardy.

Complicating this process is the fact that the net cost students will pay varies significantly between schools. Just as very few people pay the sticker price of their new car, almost nobody pays full price for college. Each college doles out aid in very different ways to reflect their charter. For example, the Ivy League universities give large amounts of need-based aid (but little merit aid), while other schools are more generous with merit-based aid.

Each college accepts one of two financial aid documents as part of the financial aid process. The majority of schools accept the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), the CSS Profile is utilized by a number of select elite colleges. Finally, 25 uber-elite schools that comprise the “568 Presidents Group” apply the CSS profile data differently to utilize the Consensus approach. The calculation of Expected Family Contribution (EFC) differs significantly between the three. Of the three approaches, FAFSA is the only methodology that takes into account only the income of the custodial parent.

That’s right. If your client makes the same salary as their spouse and they get divorced, the amount of family income that a FAFSA school attributes to the family is roughly half of that if they were married. Families filing FAFSA forms with only one parent’s income reported will likely obtain a greater amount of needs-based aid.

Families with divorced parents need to leverage their situation to maximize the student aid they receive. These families should do the following:

  1. If your client is divorced, their students should focus on applying to schools that accept the FAFSA. They can still apply to non-FAFSA schools, especially if they might get merit-based aid, but they have a better shot to get needs-based aid at a FAFSA school.
  2. Since the custodial parent is defined as the one with whom the student spends the most time during the year, students should spend at least 183 days each year living with the parent who has lower income. Make sure your client plans for this and keeps a calendar if necessary. This point is especially important in families where there are significant income disparities between the divorced parents. If the custodial parent is considering remarrying, they may want to consider delaying the wedding if the impact on college aid is significant.

College financial planning is stressful and complicated no matter your clients’ situation. Divorce adds an extra layer of stress and complexity. Leverage these differences to your clients’ advantage by planning.

Editor’s note: A version of this blog post originally appeared on the College Funding Solutions blog. You can find it here.

Bob Falcon Pic

Robert J. Falcon, CPA/PFS, is a financial adviser with OneSource Retirement Advisors in Malvern, Pa., and the president and founder of College Funding Solutions LLC. A candidate for CFP® Certification, Falcon is a CPA/PFS with more than nine years of public accounting tax experience. He holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Villanova University and an MBA from Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.