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Assessing Your Professional Communities

Professionals routinely seek the association of a community. For financial planners, an organized group of other planners can provide a forum for learning from others, sharing ideas, gathering input and providing recommendations. It also presents an opportunity to belong, not to mention an outlet for social engagement and enjoyment. After all, humans—even the most introverted among us—are hardwired to need human relationships.

Which Community is Right for You?

If you’re not currently a member of a professional community, I encourage you to consider how you may benefit by finding one to belong to and—more important—to participate in. Of course, there are pros and cons with almost any community, and size is an important factor to consider. Some communities are so tight-knit that it can take a new planner years to work his or her way in. Others have members who go out of their way to include newbies.

Within the financial planning world, you have a variety of professional communities from which to choose. These include industry associations, business partnerships (e.g., broker/dealers), learning groups associated with vendors, alumni organizations and study groups (just to name a few!). In my experience, study groups are a case study within themselves.

Some are lackadaisical to the point of being sloppy and don’t tend to last long. Others use websites to communicate and a “sergeant of arms” to help ensure that meetings are efficient. Still others are forums for one strong ego to pontificate to others. But the best ones provide honest feedback and diplomatically communicate and confront one another’s ideas and practices.

Consider this food for thought as you evaluate which type of professional community is right for you and/or how your community is serving you.

Is it Time to Reassess?

If you do belong to at least one professional community, when was the last time you stood back and assessed whether it is still providing value? If you miss a meeting here and there, for instance, it could be a sign that something is not quite working. But if you have grown to dread participation? It’s definitely time to reassess.

It might help to ask yourself the following questions as you gauge the value of your membership:

  • Do you belong to a group where so many things have changed over the years that it’s no longer the ideal fit it once was?
  • Do you carry all of the responsibility for the group’s success, or is responsibility shared within the group?
  • Are you intimidated by other members?
  • Is your participation a win-win for you and for others?

Evaluation of Feedback

Professional communities offer a platform to discuss a wide variety of ideas. This could mean a staffing pattern, a procedure, technology approaches, the valuation of your business, a long-term strategy, compensation and benefits, roles and responsibilities of staff and planners, marketing initiatives and much more. Whatever the case, it is always a good idea to assess the feedback and ideas that you receive from your group. Remember, just because something has worked for another (even when it is an planner you respect), it does not mean that it will automatically work for you.

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


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Empathetic Service Isn’t Enough

If you were at the FPA Annual Conference in Nashville in early October, you may have noticed some themes recurring throughout the education sessions: embracing robo solutions will soon be required, and artificial intelligence and big data are going to begin to permeate the profession.

In the recent InvestmentNews article “Morningstar CEO Describes Future of Adviser Tech,” Morningstar’s Kunal Kapoor told readers that artificial intelligence and big data will help financial planners do two things: better understand who their clients are and what their biases are, and know how to help those clients more proactively.

Big data, Kapoor said, will help planners prospect to the right clients, eliminating the tedious work of securing referrals and networking. It will also provide insight into impending transitions your clients are facing, like a serious health problem. But planners need to embrace technology, Joel Bruckenstein, publisher of Technology Tools for Today and producer of the T3 Advisor Conference, told FPA Annual Conference attendees.

“Things are changing and they’re changing fast, and if you don’t react you’re going to have problems,” Bruckenstein said. “Our beliefs with regard to technology are antiquated.”

Embracing robo solutions allows financial planners to have a greater reach, Bruckenstein said, enabling them to serve 50 to 100 percent more clients from different generations. This is smart, considering the impending intergenerational wealth transfer.

Also included in the move toward more robo solutions and artificial intelligence, according to Bruckenstein, is a heavier reliance on mobile technology solutions, which is becoming more essential. The demand for 24/7 service will continue to grow.

Also coming is the death of passwords and the rise of facial recognition. Inefficient processes will be eliminated, and anything that can be automated will be automated—including the investment process.

In a Financial Planning article describing a similar outlook, Cetera Financial Group’s Adam Antoniades and Robert J. Moore wrote, “Advisers … should view this as a complement to the services they already provide.”

Bruckenstein said, so long as they can embrace technology along with their empathetic service.

“Just the personal side alone isn’t enough,” Bruckenstein said. “It would be a tragic mistake to think that just a personal relationship with a lousy consumer experience is going to carry you though the future.”

FPA Annual Conference will take place in Chicago from Oct. 3-5 in Chicago, Ill. Register here.

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Ana Trujillo Limón is associate editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AnaT_Edits.


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What Messages Your Billing Practices Send to Clients

We work and live in the era of the client experience. For financial planners, the top two measurements of success are wealth growth and client satisfaction. Each interaction you have with your boss (because that’s who your clients are) matters.

Have you ever stopped to consider what message you are sending to your clients when it comes to your billing practices?

Here are five things to consider when it’s time to bill your clients:

  • How timely are you billing for your services? If you are billing too late it is an indication that your back-office operations are not iron clad. Evidence of back-office operational weakness tends to lead clients to believe that you might not have your act together.
  • How accurate are your statements or invoices? Many investors have questioned the credibility and professionalism of their financial planner based on a simple billing snafu. Many are forgiving when such an occurrence happens the first time, but a recurrence happens and the doubts resurface and they may be open to “just listening” to another financial planner’s pitch.
  • How visually appealing are your statements or invoices? When it comes to the aesthetic appeal of your statement of fees or invoices, you have an opportunity to impress your clients. Don’t let the presentation of your fees take away from that holistic experience of professionalism and polish.
  • How flexible are the billing capabilities of your portfolio management platform? You should realize that your financial advisory practice is only as nimble as the technology solutions you use. Don’t get stuck without the ability to offer new products or services because your current billing capabilities are rigid and force you to jump through hoops to deliver professional results.
  • What fee disclosure regulations are applicable to your practice? With the recent buzz coming from the Department of Labor, the reality is that fee disclosure is best practice for the financial services industry. Professionally presenting your clients with the details of their fees is a must.

Editor’s Note: If you think you might need help with your billing operations, FPA members have access to discounts that can help, specifically BillFin fromj REdi2 Technologies, Inc. FPA members get one month free on their first year of BillFin subscription and all renewals. Also, members receive 20 percent off when they pay for the year up front. For more information, visit this link.

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Seth Johnson is the chief executive officer and co-founder of Redi2 Technologies, Inc., where he oversees the strategic development of the firm and has been instrumental in driving consistent revenue growth and customer partnerships. He graduated cum laude from the University of Utah.


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3 Steps to Find Your Business Bearings and Go Beyond

It is not uncommon for most financial planners to not know where their business is heading at some point in their career. You be one of those planners just going through the motions of the day-by-day without any clarity about whether what you’re doing is helping your business reach its next level. However, you don’t want to become complacent and run your business to just get by.

The following is a step-by-step process to help you find your business bearings and go beyond where you are to where you want to be.

Step 1: Determine Where You are Right Now. Take an honest look at where you are in your business; are you happy with the assets you have under management, the types of clients you engage with and/or the products and services you provide? Does your business leave you fulfilled? If not, do what my client did to get his business bearings.

John P., a 15-year veteran planner client, recently realized that his real challenge wasn’t the lack of gross production he was having with his business but the lack of passion he had for his business. Somewhere along the way he had lost his purpose and it was important to redefine his purpose and reignite his passion.

Step 2: Create Your Business Vision. Create a vision of what your “ideal” business would look like. Write it down. Map it out. When you know what you want your business to become, you have a much higher probability of attaining it.

After further discussion, John shared that what motivated him to get into the business in the first place was the joy he experienced the day he helped his father understand how to choose the right asset allocation for his 401(k). Unfortunately, his father had been contributing to his company plan for ten years and never realized that he was in the most conservative mutual fund option possible—a money market fund—and as a result, he never saw any substantial growth in his portfolio.

John’s purpose was to help those who needed and wanted his help not by just selling them products but by educating them about what they should buy and why it would help them have a comfortable retirement. It was the fulfillment he got from changing his clients’ lives that fueled his passion to build his business. This became the new center of his business vision, to help as many people as he could.

Step 3: Create Your Course. Determine the best possible route to ensure that your vision becomes a reality. In other words, you can have the plan but you need actionable tasks and accountability to stick with it.

Over the years John had lost sight of his purpose and focused on trading stocks for a chosen few in order to continue living the lifestyle he’d grown accustomed to. Once he understood that incorporating financial planning and bringing in those who specialized in risk management and estate planning would help his clients gain a bigger impact towards their retirement goals, we mapped out a plan to increase his financial planning knowledge and how best to let his clients know that he was expanding the scope of his services.

Why Going Beyond is Important

He ended up telling his father’s story to his clients and many of them were very open to his new level of service. As a result, he was able to indeed effect larger and more significant outcomes than he had ever thought possible because he found financial planning, insurance and estate planning solutions to challenges he (and his clients) didn’t know they even had.

Schedule a complimentary 30-minute coaching session me by emailing 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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Anxious Clients Neglect Advice

Seeking financial advice puts a person in a vulnerable position.

Ted Klontz, associate professor and founder of Financial Psychology Institute at Creighton University, told FPA Annual Conference attendees during his education session, “Gifts from Neuroscience: Building Robust Resilient Client Relationships,” that clients are probably already stressed out when they come to your office and it’s up to you—and the environment you create in your office—to calm them down.

“Our challenge as experts is to keep that anxiety level down,” Klontz said.

Keeping those stress levels down is vital to having clients follow your advice, said Ryan Sullivan, CFP®, CLU®, ChFC®, of MoneyGuidePro, who in his Annual Conference presentation, “Measuring and Managing Stress in the Financial Planning Process,” addressed results from research by Sonya Britt-Lutter, Derek Lawson, and Camila Haselwood published in the December 2016 issue of the Journal.

“When clients are stressed they make bad decisions or don’t stick with decisions they’ve already made,” Sullivan said.

Britt-Lutter, Lawson, and Haselwood monitored the heart rates, skin conductance (sweat levels), and skin temperatures of clients working with an adviser for the first time. Essentially, they found when clients were more relaxed, they were more likely to follow your advice.

The research Sullivan presented noted stress levels decrease as the planning process progresses—peaking in the beginning and during discussions on how to improve finances while leveling out during the other phases. However, stress levels were higher for clients doing in-person meetings. Those clients started the process at high levels before leveling out to moderate levels. Stress levels among clients working with a planner virtually started out moderate and dropped to low levels or no stress at all. This may speak to the need to for planning firms to adopt virtual meeting technology or robo-solutions.

Other key findings included: women were more stressed than men going through the research process; and advisers (who were also monitored like the clients) also had high levels of stress prior to the meetings, though it leveled off further down the process.

Because clients are more stressed when meeting in person, do what you can to make your office, your demeanor, and your information-gathering process welcoming. Plus, try to keep your stress levels down; doing so will help keep your clients’ stress levels down, too.

If you missed FPA’s Annual Conference this year, register for next year’s event in Chicago, Ill., from Oct. 3-5, 2018.

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Ana Trujillo Limón is associate editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AnaT_Edits.


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Equifax Was Hacked. Now What?

In early September, America learned that the credit reporting agency Equifax was hacked and 143 million consumers may have been affected.

That means that the personal information—Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, addresses, driver’s license numbers and birth dates—of roughly half of the U.S. population was likely compromised.

“Many if not most of our clients have likely been impacted by this breach,” Melissa Joy, CFP®, CDFA®, wrote in a post titled “Equifax Data Breach and Your Money” on her firm’s Money Centered Blog.

Multiple reports encourage consumers to be proactive.

“The only thing we can do is try to protect our data as best we can, and respond quickly if something does happen,” Lauren Lyons Cole, CFP®, wrote in the Business Insider article, “The Equifax Breach May Have Exposed 143 Million People’s Social Security Numbers—But Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Freak Out.”

Here is where you and your clients should start:

Determine impact. Equifax has set up a website for consumers to input their last name and the last six digits of their Social Security numbers to identify if they were impacted. Everyone—even those not impacted—have the option to enroll in Equifax’s TrustedID Premier for a year to monitor credit and send alerts of potential fraud. And, enrolling won’t impact your ability to join a class action lawsuit against Equifax in the future.

Pull credit reports. Get your free reports from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian and see if there is anything unusual. Business Insider reports that clients can also use this as a time to review the way they currently manage credit and pinpoint areas for improvement.

Monitor credit and explore fraud alerts. Business Insider reports that adding a daily check to a service like Mint.com—say the same time you check Twitter—could let you know when there are any suspicious charges. Also, explore fraud alerts by calling one of the credit reporting agencies.

Consider a credit freeze. Journal of Financial Planning Academic Editor Barbara O’Neill wrote in a Rutgers University article, “Credit Freeze Information in the Wake of the Equifax Hack,” that credit freezes prevent potential creditors from accessing credit files so new lines of credit can’t be opened with your information. O’Neill reminds readers that credit freezes must be done individually at each credit reporting agency. And, consumers must unfreeze their credit reports separately with each agency.

Be proactive as tax season approaches. Multiple reports note that tax fraud might be a problem in the upcoming tax season due to the Equifax breach. The Center for Financial Planning, Inc., a wealth management firm based in Southfield, Michigan, reports that filing taxes early can help prevent this. The firm also notes that establishing a pin with the IRS could also help deter fraudsters.

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Ana Trujillo Limón is associate editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AnaT_Edits.

 


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Succession Planning: The Time Is Now

According to a recent InvestmentNews article, “RIAs Must Confront the Emotional Side of Letting Go of Their Business,” of the 118,000 financial advisers planning to exit the business in the next 10 years, about 61 percent have some plan in place—whether it’s succession, sale, or client reassignment.

The article cited data from Cerulli and reported that those advisers with some plan represent 75 percent of the advisory assets that could be in transition. But there are still 39 percent of advisers who need to get into gear.

“Not having a succession plan represents a grave disservice, and shows a low regard for your clients,” John Napolitano, chairman and CEO of U.S. Wealth Management, told InvestmentNews.

Here’s where to start:

Figure out where you are. Succession planning can be a difficult process to start.

“It’s tough from a mental and emotional standpoint because you’re faced with realities you don’t want to think about,” Courtney Ellett, founder of Obsidian Public Relations, said in an AP article published in the Denver Post“What’s Next? Who’s Next? Businesses Need Succession Plans.”

Assess where you are both with the business and emotionally.

Identify business successors. Identify who you want to take over—perhaps a successful planner who’s been with you a few years or an outside buyer—who can continue the firm’s core values.

“When considering successors, make sure that they will maintain the culture that has been developed,” Ed Friedman, a director at Dynasty Financial Partners, wrote in the Financial Planning article, “The Five Cs of Succession Planning.”

Also, think about where the profession is headed and try to designate someone who is equipped to handle upcoming challenges.

“Leadership succession requires looking through a windshield rather than in the rear-view mirror,” Kelli Cruz, founder of Cruz Consulting, wrote in the Financial Planning article, “Overcome Succession Planning Paralysis.”

Think like a buyer. If you opt to sell—put yourself in a buyer’s shoes. An article in Professional Planner magazine noted that buyers will want to know whether your business model is sustainable, how your business is different from competitors, and whether you have solid client relationships because in the end, Tony McDonald, director of T&C Consulting, noted, “Those client relationships are what’s generating the cash.”

 

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Ana Trujillo Limón is associate editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AnaT_Edits.