David Schneider never misses the monthly meeting of the New York Financial Planning Association study group. It's too important to his business.
Mr. Schneider, who has an eponymous firm in New York City, has been part of various adviser study groups for more than a decade, finding that he appreciates the uncompetitive nature of the discussions with other advisers, the new ideas and a forum for help with issues.
In recent meetings, he picked up college-planning strategies that he will use with clients and received guidance on a premium financing strategy for life insurance, a matter a client of his was considering.
“Study groups create network of professionals who you can contact when you may be looking for a specialist in a particular area or want to bounce an idea off someone,” he said.
Advisers who aren't willing to share ideas and solutions shouldn't bother seeking out a study group, Mr. Schneider said. The groups he's been part of have not included evaluations of firm financial data such as performance measures, but some groups may include such analyses.
“These groups tend to attract advisers who are serious about improving their knowledge and want to help others improve their knowledge,” Mr. Schneider said.
The advisers who succeed in study groups those seeking to offer the best advice to clients, he said.
DIRECT BUSINESS BENEFITS
For some, there may even be direct business benefits.
Advisers who have a specialization — such as particular taxation strategy or complex estate planning methods — may even get referrals from the group's members, he said.
Advisers who are with large firms, where interaction between advisers can be competitive in nature, can find study groups offer a great change of scenery to share ideas, he said.
Advisers who are sole practitioners, such as Mr. Schneider, will find study groups provide a much-needed opportunity to network and learn how to approach different planning scenarios.
“I have learned and improved myself in ways that have translated to more business and more clients,” he said. “Study groups are an opportunity to sharpen the saw.”
• Groups that include advisers from different types of firms offer the best opportunity to learn the most and discover how other people in the financial services industry operate.
• Understand that commitment to the group doesn't end with meetings. Between scheduled meetings there are regular email communications following up on topics discussed at the last meeting and member questions on any issue.
• Study groups with 8-10 members are ideal, though larger groups of up to 25 can still work if they have a formal leader who can keep meetings from degenerating into chaos.
• Join groups that meet at least four times a year and as often as monthly to gain consistent feedback and develop the deepest relationships with the members.
• Virtual study group meetings can be very effective as long as they have an official agenda and a leader who can be in charge of presentations and meeting flow.
• Use meetings to gain insight into industry norms and acceptable fees. For instance, an adviser who is considering introducing college savings as a new service should ask members what they charge for such expertise and what they commonly provide.
• Advisers just starting out or those looking for a change can make great industry contacts at study groups. Those who network tend to have more job opportunities.