It's amazing how much I learn from fellow advisers, even after being in this profession for more than 35 years. As 1,300 advisers, team members and industry executives descended on the Excell 2019 conference in Chicago last month, the energy in the air from that collective wisdom was palpable.
You'd be surprised at the perspective you can gain by stepping back and looking at adviser behavior from a distance. Patterns reveal themselves.
I want to take a step back and examine two fundamental questions we asked our advisers and their teams.
The first focused on the feedback they're getting from clients. After all, our current clients have a tremendous impact on how we make decisions and shift direction as we grow our firms.
What have your clients requested the most when it comes to the experience they desire? The top response was "better technology," followed by "more communication" and "better performance." As you can see in the chart below, it was a fairly even race within several areas, which tells me clients are asking for more from their advisers across the board.
There is no "one thing" clients are asking for. Yet you could argue technology is perhaps the best way in which to deliver or improve on all other service areas listed, including client service itself.
Tech could soon prove to be one of the best leading indicators of adviser success and business sustainability. Think of how integral it is when seeking a fair valuation of your firm.
Those who run businesses like a business instead of a lifestyle practice are those backed by a solid infrastructure, systematized operations and consistent experience, whether the adviser is there or not.
Much of this ties back to your tech (customer relationship management systems, online client portals, website, financial planning software, rebalancing software, trading, risk-assessment tools and the list goes on). What are you doing to integrate technology into every corner of your business so you are able to scale with the demands of modern-day business and rising client expectations?
Our second question shifted from clients to adviser, and how the adviser is steering the ship.
What business area do you feel will require the most attention and development in 2019? The top two responses, by a large margin, were "systematizing the office/hiring talent" and "marketing (branding and lead gen)." Inorganic growth appears to be the lowest priority on most advisers' lists, but client service and technology aren't far behind. This is interesting, considering that the No. 1 thing clients are asking for is better tech, yet it falls near the bottom on adviser priority lists.
It's a fascinating dichotomy that I feel highlights the struggle advisers find themselves in all too often, forced to apply their finite time and resources to one of two competing priorities: attracting new business or supporting current clients. Exerting the energy needed to do both well is tough when you're a lean team.
The other observation I made while studying the results as they came in is that most of us, as advisers, are at a stage where we need to consider investing in the pillars of building a competitive business. Hiring talented people, systematizing our office, and building better brands account for 70% of our focus for the remainder of this year — and all three speak to our growing awareness that we must build compelling value propositions to thrive in this new era.
The summer months tend to remind us of how far we've come and where we need to go. Use this halfway checkpoint in the year to reflect on the future of your business. Where can you improve? What have you done exceptionally well? And what will it take to continue providing value beyond a doubt? The race to reinvent ourselves is on.