Website offers quick advice for business growth

A minimum of $750 gets advisers solutions in three areas

Jul 28, 2008 @ 12:01 am

By Liz Skinner

Financial advisers typically spend months working with a business consultant to develop a plan for expanding their firms, and face a bill of at least several thousand dollars.

But a new website, Advisors, offers an alternative approach for advisers who want quicker, trimmed-down advice for less money.

Advisers choose a business topic with which they want help, answer a series of questions about their firm and pay with a credit card. Within 48 hours they receive a set of solutions via e-mail, according to the site's owners.

The Collaborative for Business Development, which has been selling business consulting advice to financial firms for 13 years, launched the site this month. The results that advisers receive through the website offer "actionable advice" based on The Collaborative's understanding of both the financial marketplace and options available to investment firms, said website co-founder Beverly Flaxington.

"This self-service option is for the busy adviser who doesn't want to spend time dealing with consultants, but needs help," she said. "We want to provide a way to get quick answers that they can take and work with right away."

The topics from which advisers can choose on the website include managing growth, building up business, deploying technology more effectively, human resources support, expanding client referrals, retaining the right people, training, boosting efficiency and managing the back office, said Ms. Flaxington, who also founded The Collaborative, based in Medfield, Mass. She co-founded the new website with Mike Slemmer, who is a principal at The Collaborative.


The online questions require advisers to rate how well their businesses perform certain functions and tasks.

The consulting firm analyzes their answers and e-mails them recommendations about how to fix areas that the adviser has deemed need improvement. The answers are returned within two days, Ms. Flaxington said.

"These are tactical solutions that will help anyone who can identify their weakest areas," she said.

The prepared answers have been proven to work for the firm's consulting clients, who range from single advisers to large financial companies such as Fidelity Investments of Boston and GE Asset Management Inc. of Stamford, Conn., Ms. Flaxington said.

On the website, advisers pay a minimum of $750 for solutions in three areas.

"We have found that advisory problems require a minimum of three tactical steps to see improvements," Ms. Flaxington said.

Traditional consulting services with The Collaborative cost as little as $3,000 for a small firm with a few goals up to $100,000 for large firms with many needs, she said.

One area for which advisers may find the website especially useful is technology, its owners said.

The Collaborative conducted a survey in May of 322 advisers asking them to choose three of the most troublesome issues out of a list of 10, and many of the top concerns involve technology, Ms. Flaxington said. The top three problem areas were document management, customer relationship management and portfolio management, she said.

"Technology has evolved with one system here and another there, and there is less available that pulls it all together to work for the adviser," Ms. Flaxington said.

The question-and-answer process that website clients go through is similar to the approach that The Collaborative takes with a new consulting customer. The process helps firms clarify their problem areas, which is the first step toward finding a solution, Ms. Flaxington said.

Leaders of Ascent Capital Management LLC, which is working with The Collaborative on a plan to help Ascent double its $100 million in assets under management, agree. Ascent has improved the efficiency of client flow and streamlined its client interaction to boost overall efficiency of the firm with the consulting firm's help, said Scott Agnew, a partner in the Bend, Ore., firm.

The Collaborative asked questions about the firm to learn as much as possible about its operations, and that inquiry process actually helped Ascent focus, he said.

"They really took the time to understand the complexity of our organization in working out a strategy," Mr. Agnew said.

The information offered through won't be customized like the detailed plans that The Collaborative is working on with Ascent, which has been a client for about five months. In some cases, business issues are too complex for advisers to use the website for solutions, Ms. Flaxington said.


For instance, WealthTrust LLC, a holding company for wealth and asset management firms that serve wealthy clients, has been working with The Collaborative on a branding campaign over the past few months.

Holly Deem, chief operating officer of Nashville, Tenn.-based Wealth- Trust, which owns a stake in firms with a combined $8.5 billion in assets under management, said that she was impressed by how knowledgeable The Collaborative's professionals were about the advisory business.

"They understand the [registered investment adviser] business and where it is headed," she said. "They've done their own research on both the business and technology aspects of the industry, and both of those have proven helpful to us."


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