In this week's MailBag, we look at a question about how to get started and best practices for building media visibility, getting articles published, and getting quoted in the press.Continue reading "MailBag: Tips And Best ... »
Thursday, May 16. 2013
Monday, April 29. 2013
As financial planning for clients grows more and more complex, it becomes increasingly difficult for planners to recognize every planning issue, opportunity, and concern from memory alone. As a result, there is an rising risk that planners commit malpractice and make a mistake - albeit by accident - in the struggle of trying to apply everything they have learned to an incredibly wide range of client situations.
However, the reality is that this challenge is not unique to financial planning. Many professions face a similar struggle, where the sheer amount of knowledge required, and the incredible number of client/customer/patient situations make it almost impossible to remember everything that's necessary at the exact time it's needed, mean a rising risk of mistakes, negligence, and ineptitude.
So what's the solution to address this challenge? As it turns out, there's a remarkably simple one: checklists. While it may seem absurd that such a basic device could enhance client outcomes - in fact, as professionals we often bristle at the thought that a checklist could tell us something we don't already know - it turns out that checklists may be an excellent means to deal with the simple fact that we are all fallible humans.
Unfortunately, though, few checklists currently exist in the world of financial planning, especially outside of the operational aspects of an advisory firm. Nonetheless, it is perhaps time to give checklists the recognition they deserve, as a potentially critical step to ensure that we apply the proper due diligence to each and every complex financial planning situation, and that nothing accidentally slips through the cracks.Continue reading "Why Aren't Checklists A ... »
Monday, April 22. 2013
Once upon a time, virtually all financial planners were actually life insurance agents or mutual fund and investment brokers, who were compensated by selling products and perhaps gave a little financial advice on the side. Over the past several decades, financial planning has been pushing towards becoming a recognized profession, and its practitioners recognized professionals. At the same time, the business itself has become more complex, challenging, and time-intensive, a natural by-product of shifting from the sale of products to the delivery of advice. The net result of all these trends are a greater pressure than ever for financial planners to maintain high productivity levels.
In response, financial planners have sought out ways to make themselves and their firms more efficient - such as requiring clients to come meet at the advisor's office, or to dictate that clients must gather all their data up front and bring it already-fully-assembled to the planner - to manage the costs in terms of both their time and staff, in order to run a successful financial planning business. The reality, however, is that such strategies don't actually eliminate the work to make the planner more efficient - it simply delegates the work to the clients, and makes it their problem instead!
While such an approach may be necessary for some business models, it's less than ideal for many - especially firms that pride themselves on the quality of service they provide their high net worth clients! So what's the alternative? Instead of just delegating work to clients, reimagine how to turn these challenge points into true value-adds for the client, or better yet use some of the emerging technology in today's digital age to eliminate the problem entirely!Continue reading "Are Your Time Saving ... »
Monday, March 25. 2013
As the financial planning profession matures, there is a growing interest in the opportunities to buy and sell financial planning practices, both for investors, for existing firms looking to grow, and for new planners looking to enter the business. However, industry statistics suggest that relatively few deals are happening (and are generally only for larger firms), although it's not clear whether the lack of small firm activity is because the transactions are simply underreported, because financial planning firm owners aren't actually exiting as quickly as the demographics would suggest, or perhaps because most firms just really aren't valuable enough to sell in the first place.
Nonetheless, for many newer financial planners, who may find the thought of building a client base to be daunting, there is growing interest in acquiring an entry path to a financial planning firm, rather than building one from scratch. Unfortunately, though, the reality is that the opportunity may not quite be all it appears, given the poor economics for many financial planning firms means the new planner is likely buying a job but not a business, the limited capital that many new planners have to acquire a firm, and the outright challenges of diving full steam into both the management of a financial planning business and clients with little experience. While this may not entirely dissuade prospective new planners from buying their way into a firm, the fact remains that the approach merits a great deal of caution as well.Continue reading "Is Buying A Financial ... »
Monday, March 4. 2013
As the financial planning profession continues to grow, it also continues to struggle to reach and effectively serve Gen X and Gen Y, as most planners tend to focus their businesses on baby boomers - no great surprise, given that baby boomers both control the most wealth in the country, and that most financial planners themselves are baby boomers and simply find it comfortable to serve their peers.
Nonetheless, the reality is that it's actually quite possible to build business models that can effectively serve at least a fairly wide swath of Gen X and Gen Y, whether on an AUM basis by serving the "emerging affluent" clients that larger RIAs reject, an ongoing retainer basis to provide as-needed guidance in an ongoing planning relationship for the cost of a gym membership and cable TV, or even using a more "traditional" comprehensive financial planning business model that simply combines a modest level of assets-under-management with implementing the basic life and disability insurance which those in their 20s, 30s, and 40s will need anyway.
Ultimately, the true challenge of building a successful firm to serve Gen X/Y clients is not really about the business model, per se, which can easily produce a healthy personal income at a reasonable 100-150 clients, but instead how to grow and get to that number of clients in the first place. In other words, while designing the right business model helps, in the long run the real problem serving Gen X and Gen Y is a marketing problem. However, given how underserved the younger generations are right now, simply differentiating yourself by establishing a niche practice focused on Gen X and Gen Y clients may itself be an effective marketing cornerstone for growing a successful business to serve them!Continue reading "Three Financial Planning ... »
Tuesday, February 19. 2013
While the focus of this blog is typically on "the written word" and long articles, I thought you might be interested in some recent material I've recorded, including a 5-minute video for Investment News at the Technology Tools for Today (T3) conference about best practices in social media for advisors, and a 15-minute radio show recording about financial planning industry trends.
On a lighter note, there's also a very entertaining video from last week's Saturday Night Live, showing the ultimate in niche financial planning: Papal Securities, specializing in retirement advice for Popes!Continue reading "Social Media For Financial ... »
Monday, February 11. 2013
As we enter the digital age, technology has been a driving force in putting pressure on many industries, taking any goods or services that could possibly be commoditized and driving their profit margins down to a sliver. In recent years, many have wondered whether financial planning may soon be impacted in a similar manner, especially given how software like TurboTax decimated the profitability of tax preparation services. After all, the commoditization has arguably already begun for some parts of the financial services industry, as costs have plummeted for trade execution and index investing and many software packages offer the ability to perform relatively sophisticated financial planning projections entirely for free.
Yet the reality is that financial planning itself may remain remarkably resistant to commoditization for the foreseeable future, for the simple reason that financial planning is incredibly customized and unique to the needs and complex circumstances of the client, and outcomes can still vary greatly depending on the expertise and the skillset of the planner (unlike tax preparation, where ultimately the outcomes are exactly the same because all clients and their preparers both have to follow the same IRS guidelines). In fact, arguably the greatest challenge in financial planning is not that services are so nearly identical from one planning firm to the next that the only competitive factor is price (as occurs in commoditized markets), but instead that the planning experience is still so different amongst firms that consumers struggle to determine which planner would be the best fit in the first place!
Nonetheless, the caveat is that for advisors who have linked the profitability and success of their businesses to a commoditized service, such as charging a fee just to gather data and do financial planning software projections, or charge an assets-under-management fee just to provide strategic passive asset allocation using index funds, the pressure is on to step up and deliver a greater value. Ironically, in the end that means not only is financial planning not being commoditized in a manner that makes financial planners irrelevant, but the reality may be that it's about to get even more competitive with more financial planners than ever, as an increasing number of advisors realize the components of what they provide have become commoditized and that they must step up to provide a deeper, higher quality of financial planning advice and services for their businesses to survive and thrive!Continue reading "Is Financial Planning ... »
Monday, January 28. 2013
Historically, the various software and technology solutions serving financial planners has been very fragmented. Independent firms were often stuck with small, homegrown solutions for financial planning, client relationship management (CRM), and portfolio reporting software, and/or working with providers that simply didn't have enough resources for growth and development; advisors with larger firms often had access to the best software, but since it was a proprietary solution of the parent firm, the advisor effectively faced a world where key client and business data might held captive. As the world transitions into the digital age, though, this landscape is rapidly changing, due both to the accessibility brought about by having near-universal access to "the cloud" from any computer or device and any location, and the emergence of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that allow disparate software packages to integrate in a way that has never before been possible.
These changes in turn are driving several new emerging trends. The first is that now independent software companies are often larger and better developed than proprietary solutions, which both invites in new firms to innovate and also makes it easier than ever for advisors to change firms knowing that they will have more portable client and business data and access to similar (or even better) software after making a change. In addition, the growing integrations through software APIs are rapidly bringing advisors towards the infamous "holy grail" of a unified central solution for CRM, portfolio management and reporting, and financial planning software, which is further driven by a growing number of "integrators" - firms that help adapt software packages through their APIs to develop customized advisory-firm-specific holy grail solutions.
As of now, these trends are still underway and will be playing out for many more years. Nonetheless, the direction is clear, and remarkably positive for both startup firms - who have more opportunity for growth and success than ever - and also advisors, who may enjoy software in the future that is simultaneously cheaper, more efficient, more innovative, more integrated, and just downright superior to anything we've ever had in the past!Continue reading "How The Digital Age Is ... »
Monday, January 21. 2013
As financial planning shifts increasingly to a pure fiduciary focus, many advisors have begun to differentiate themselves by explaining to prospective clients their fiduciary obligations, ostensibly in an effort to demonstrate that they are trustworthy. Unfortunately, though, the reality is that saying "You can trust me" is actually a terrible way to establish trust, especially when it's done using complex jargon that most consumers don't even understand! Even worse, in many cases an advisor talking about fiduciary status is less about demonstrating the trustworthiness of the advisor, and more about bashing the competition for not being worthy of trust - despite the fact that may make the advisor appear petty or desperate with little value to offer, and may actually prime clients towards distrust of any advisors! So what should financial planners do instead? Focus on conveying credibility more holistically, which includes a focus not only on motives and intent, but also the advisor's integrity, capabilities to deliver value to the client, and track record for positive financial planning results. And establish your trust and credibility not just by your words, but by your actions and behaviors. Or stated more simply: stop trying to establish client trust by saying you're a fiduciary; instead, build real trust with your clients by actually being one and behaving accordingly!Continue reading "Why Saying You're A ... »
Monday, January 14. 2013
For most people, financial planning is difficult and complex - which is why they seek out professionals for assistance. Yet while the outcomes of working with a financial planner are positive, the actual experience of going through the financial planning process is not always pleasant. As one focus group researcher put it, "The financial planning experience is a blend of a dental exam, math class, and marriage therapy." And the challenge for growing a financial planning practice continues to become more difficult, given an increasing number of financial planning practitioners competing for business, with less and less differentiation from one firm and advisor to the next.
By contrast, the Build-A-Bear workshop provides an entirely different experience. Notwithstanding the fact that it sells teddy bears - a product long since commoditized - Build-A-Bear differentiates itself not by the product itself, but by the experience that customers engage in to get the teddy bear, as children visiting Build-A-Bear literally build the bear from scratch. The end result - the entire process turns from a few minutes at a cash register or website into a multi-hour interactive experience, the children have a much deeper buy-in to what they get (as their tagline notes, Build-A-Bear is not where teddy bears are bought, but "Where Best Friends Are Made"), and customers spend twice as much or more to get the same commoditized product at the end!
Which raises the question - what if the client financial planning experience was more like a Build-A-Bear experience, where your clients happily pay twice as much for your services and want to spend hours going through the process and the experience of it!?Continue reading "What If Financial Planning ... »
Monday, December 17. 2012
As consumers increasingly turn to the internet for information about potential products, the ability of a company and its products to turn up at the top of search engine results is increasingly crucial for success and growth - leading to an explosion of consultants that will help companies with their "Search Engine Optimization" (SEO) to ensure that their products and services come up first. A similar process occurs when consumers search for information about services and people to work with, although the process is more complicated due to the fact that many experts may appear prominently on lots of sites, not all of which are necessarily tied to their business.
To better understand not just where influential content is, but the influential people who create it, Google has begun to develop a new system for its search engines to track authors and determine who's influential, called "AuthorRank", which is intended to supplement the "PageRank" algorithms it uses to identify and rank influential websites and content. The upshot of this change is that for the first time ever, financial planners and other service professionals will be able to start establishing their own online "webutation" as they tie content they have produced to their personal profile and business, regardless of where it is published. The caveat, though, is that Google accomplishes "Google Authorship" tracking by having authors tie their content and websites to a specific Google+ profile - which means any financial planners that produce a blog or other content who hadn't already established a Google+ profile need to go create one, now!Continue reading "Why Every Financial Planner ... »
Monday, December 3. 2012
As the wave of baby boomer advisors move closer and closer to retiring, so too is the pressure building for a wave of selling of financial planning practices. Yet the reality is that the retirement wave may not be nearly as large as anticipated - in part because difficult markets have left many advisors behind on their retirement savings (not unlike so many other baby boomers!), but more significantly because many advisors enjoy doing financial planning and feel capable of continuing to do it even in their later years! The latter is especially true if the practice can be transitioned to a somewhat lighter load with fewer staff and management responsibilities; a so-called "lifestyle" practice.
Unfortunately, though, advisors planning to continue a lifestyle practice and "die with their boots on" face another problem: how to capture the value of the business when a death or disability event really does remove them from the picture. Fortunately, new options are beginning to emerge - from acquiring firms that will take over the ownership and management responsibilities and just let advisors live a lifestyle practice within a larger firm, to firms that are beginning to offer contingent purchase agreements tied to outsourcing platforms that will allow them to buy the business if/when/as needed but not before. Given the new choices emerging, does that mean when we finally reach the point where advisors are supposed to retire, we'll find it's nothing more than a mirage? Is there really a near-term succession planning crisis looming for advisors, or just a distant exit planning problem?Continue reading "Is The Financial Planning ... »