Financial advisers are finding that systematizing certain processes and procedures creates efficiencies that can boost profitability and help their firms grow.
Advisers who create detailed steps and systems that are followed by everyone at the firm for certain tasks, such as signing up a new client or creating a financial plan, can ensure that clients receive a consistent and high-quality experience. They also save time and money by not reinventing the wheel, so to speak.
“Creating repeatable processes can reap huge rewards,” said Deborah Fox, founder of the Fox Financial Planning Network. “It can free up a lot of staff time so they can work on higher-level projects and client touches and improving the client experience.”
At her firm, a system for new client applications cut down on paperwork and turned a two-week process into one that's done in three to four days. An application is completed online and signed electronically by the client and the adviser, then is automatically routed to the broker-dealer and a copy is deposited in the document management system.
The change improved efficiencies and automated the workflow, replacing a laborious system that began with someone filling out information by hand and required mailing documents around, she said.
Fox Financial Planning also created a process for handling prospective clients and trained every employee to make sure anyone who answered a phone call would communicate the same information and the prospect would receive a standard packet in the mail with all the relevant information.
“Advisers are missing an opportunity to wow prospects from the beginning” if they don't have a process in place for creating a great first impression, Ms. Fox said.
Matt Matrisian, who directs practice management for AssetMark, said when advisers have more than about 50 to 75 clients, they should think about how to improve efficiencies by creating repeatable processes and better leveraging their technology, he said.
These steps can help stave off the need for hiring additional staff or buying new technology. He recommends advisers explore additional ways to use their customer relationship management system and build workflows into it.
“The biggest benefits of systemization are scalability, which helps with growth, and transferability, impacting what a firm is worth on the open market,” Mr. Matrisian said.
One adviser who created a detailed process for onboarding clients and an ongoing service model has been able to better understand the profitability of each of her client segments, he said.
Heather Locus, principal at Balasa Dinverno Foltz, said the firm standardized its systems 13 years ago when it was created through a merger. The advisers agreed that all the processes would be the same regardless of which adviser served the client, and that's not always easy because it's an approach that requires everyone to agree their own personal ways will be trumped, she said.
Today, the 42-employee firm manages $2 billion in client assets and the firm's four advising teams use the same issues checklists and procedures to create comprehensive financial plans for clients. The firm's compliance expert randomly audits a certain number of new plans every month to make sure all the checklists have been followed and completed, Ms. Locus said.
Balasa Dinverno Foltz also has a 13-page checklist to follow when opening a new account for clients, and its employees file client documents in a precise order so they can be easily located and reviewed.
“All these checklists and procedures help us leverage our teams and get things done right the first time,” Ms. Locus said.
Rinvelt & David, a firm with five employees including its two advisers, hired Ron Carson's Peak Advisor Alliance eight years ago to help the firm systemize its processes.
The firm created agendas for every type of meeting its advisers have with clients and follows the same follow-up procedures after every client meeting, including sending out an e-mail that includes a rundown of what was discussed and any additional information or resources the adviser said the firm would provide.
“All the tiny details add up to make a better client experience,” said Robert Rinvelt, the firm's founder. However, not everything can — or should — be systematized.
Firms can't create a process for everything because there still needs to be a personalization component, Ms. Fox said.
“Many advisers, when they hear about systematizing the practice or service offering, think that means creating a cookie-cutter approach for every client,” Ms. Fox said. “It really means creating a cookie-cutter approach for things that don't matter to the client.”