It's a great challenge to bring all of the pieces together to establish and maintain a thriving advisory practice. Earning an education and attaining the highest possible professional designations are only the beginning. Once you've founded your firm, the implementation of your core values, the location and staffing of your office, the identification of your mechanisms for choosing investment strategies, and even the creation of your approach to marketing all require a dogged adherence to a finely tuned business plan.
But with so much responsibility, who shares the burden?
When it comes to building your advisory practice, you'll greatly accelerate your growth by partnering with highly-trained customer service representatives.
The long and short of it is that CSRs should be the nerve center of your firm, and through them almost everything should pass. They should not only be responsible for such things as prepping advisers for appointments, money transfers, customer service software mastery, client distributions, scheduling, transcriptions, and even the notarization of legal documents, they should also be the hub for much of the day-to-day interaction that occurs between your firm and the custodian.
If you're currently managing all of that piecemeal (or even by yourself), you're like a ship that has set sail without hauling in its anchor.
ASSIGN EACH CLIENT THEIR 'OWN' CSR
All of the aforementioned responsibilities of CSRs not only require an unwavering attention to detail, but because of the sensitive legal, personal and proprietary nature of the information involved in executing those tasks, CSRs must be highly sensitive and keenly pragmatic.
Simply, they have to know what to say and what not to say, and when.
Once you have more than one CSR, each of your clients should be divided between them. You don't want to transfer client phone calls to just anyone in the customer service department, where, depending on the size of your firm, they might speak with someone different each time. You want to transfer clients to their CSR. This means they interact with a familiar someone each and every time they call.
This, of course, has the added benefit of freeing you up to do what you do best: marketing, client acquisition and advising.
LOYALTY THROUGH EDUCATION
Investing in the education of CSRs represents both a commitment to the betterment of that person, and an investment in your firm. As much as any other department — and to the point of making it a factor in who you hire, retain and promote for these positions — you should enthusiastically encourage your CSRs to pursue professional growth.
A basic milestone could include requiring new CSRs to become certified as notaries within six months of joining the company. Again, this is important because it means that clients who need the services of a notary are working with the same person who manages important components of their account.
Create an incentive program to help encourage CSRs to pursue securities licenses (if you deal with annuities or other insurance products, you'll want to look at insurance licenses, as well). Also, provide your CSRs with access to an industry library, or offer to purchase any book that will increase their professional knowledge.
Give them time to read and digest materials, and then formally or informally query them on the content.
CSR LONGEVITY IMPROVES YOUR FIRM
While the skills and expertise of individuals in the tech, marketing and accounting departments generally tend to be more specific — which makes it less likely that they'll change jobs within your company — the diverse skill set required to master the demands of the CSR position makes them ideal candidates for promotion. But perhaps most importantly, unlike a tech person, who could join your firm tomorrow and hit the ground running, CSRs take months of expensive and time-consuming training to get up to speed on your processes.
Simply, your firm can't afford too much turnover in this department.
Along with supporting their professional growth, you need to offer the possibility of real advancement by providing qualified CSRs with the opportunity to move up within your firm. Studies have shown that companies that consistently hire from within have greater retention rates and higher overall morale than those that don't.
Allow CSRs to occupy their rightful place of importance within your company, and then work to keep them happy and in the fold. Your firm will be more likely to thrive as a result.
Scott Hanson is a financial adviser with Hanson McClain Advisors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org