Much of the marketing and practice management advice in the financial advisory space comes back to 1 recommendation: Specialize in a niche. Niching offers several advantages, allowing advisors to be more specific in their marketing, more targeted in their prospecting calls, and more efficient in their processes (since clients within a similar niche are likely to have similar problems, especially in niches of profession). However, raising the question of whether every client can be classified into at least one particular niche leads to another compelling hypothetical question: If advisors were to choose to narrow their practice down and serve only a specific group of people, would they be leaving other would-be clients out – not out of work with a specific advisor, but with all advisors who choose to specialize in niches?
In our 123rd episode of Kitces and Carl, Michael Kitces and client communication expert Carl Richards discuss the validity of the implicit assumption that as advisors niche, every future client will fit into a niche of some sort, and whether this assumption potentially promotes an exclusionary model of providing financial advice, leaving out individuals who simply aren't profitable for advisors?
Most commonly, niches present as particular needs of a firm's clients. These needs are often understood in terms of a client's occupation (e.g., tech employees who need help managing equity compensation options), stage of life (e.g., pre-retirees with employer pension annuity choices), political or religious affiliations, or significant life events that create central themes and recurring concerns that an advisor can specialize in (e.g., divorce, widowhood, family members who develop special needs) – and because of the targeted services advisors offer to satisfy their clients' needs, they increase their value and the efficiency of their practice.
A second dimension to niches, however, involves the perceived profitability (or lack thereof) of a niche; if too few people face an issue, if the need isn't painful enough to be 'worth' the advisory fee, or if the client of the niche is simply unable to pay at a rate that would allow the advisor to support themselves, then making a certain niche the specialty of a viable practice becomes much more difficult. After all, in order to be sustainably profitable, a chosen niche must also be accompanied by the client's willingness and ability to pay.
While there is no 'silver (or blue) bullet' for financial advisors looking to serve those who may otherwise lack access to financial services, differentiating themselves by narrowing their focus on a specific area can still be a good first step. At its most extreme end, this might require an advisor's highly specialized area of expertise, allowing them to better serve those who might otherwise miss out because their issue is too narrow (because the depth of knowledge required to serve those who can't be served – because most advisors generally lack the required expertise to address their particular issues that are so highly complex and specific – represents a niche in itself!). And for financial advisors who want to offer planning services to individuals who may not have the means to work with a financial advisor on an ongoing basis, specializing in certain niches can even prove lucrative enough to profitably sustain incorporating pro bono or low-cost services as part of their practice.
Ultimately, the key point is that while accessibility is a real issue – both for prospects whose needs are highly specialized and for those who may not have the means to afford planning services – advisors can find sustainable ways to serve those who may have been excluded from traditionally offered advice services. Because as the industry continues to grow, so too will the demand for accessible financial planning advice!