Strength in Numbers
Don’t try to be a jack-of-all-trades. Instead, view advising as a team sport and build a powerhouse lineup of pros, John J. Bowen Jr. says.
Don’t try to be a jack-of-all-trades. Instead, view advising as a team sport and build a powerhouse lineup of pros.
ADVISING IS A TEAM SPORT, NOT A SOLO act. With financial planning becoming more complex, it’s tempting for independent advisors to want to single-handedly offer clients a full range of services and products. But trying to do it yourself is a recipe for subpar advice and dissatisfied clients.
Instead, the key to success lies in building a network of highly specialized experts to address the needs of your affluent clients.
CORE FOUR MEMBERS
Elite financial advisors typically build expert teams composed of these four members:
1. A private client
lawyer: This professional will address your clients’ estate planning, wealth protection and legal needs — three critical areas of concern. This lawyer might work on succession planning and business planning issues, as well as questions around probate and guardianships. Seek out this professional first, because he or she will probably know the other experts you’ll want to add later. Highend boutique firms are great places to start your hunt. In every case, your client hires the lawyer directly and you will receive no portion of his or her fees.
2. A life insurance specialist: These professionals tend to work closely with a private client lawyer on insurance solutions. Look for a true independent here who doesn’t receive incentives from a company. For insurance products, expect a 50-50 split of commissions (which are typically 90% to 120% of the first year’s premium).
3. An accountant: While a private client lawyer may well provide a big-picture perspective on tax planning, an accountant typically has much more detailed day-today knowledge of income taxes. He or she should be able to make specific recommendations to mitigate these taxes.
4. Yourself (of course!): As the wealth manager, your job is to be the general manager of your team of franchised professionals and achieve your goal of helping clients address their most pressing advanced needs. As the G.M., you are responsible for building and managing the team, providing your pros with a clear and thorough understanding of each client’s needs, and facilitating meetings that result in recommendations and action steps for those clients.
It is not your job to be a technical expert in noninvestment areas. You will grow over time to better understand the technical issues and the range of potential recommendations. You’ll also learn enough to be able
As a wealth manager, it is not your job to be a technical expert in noninvestment areas.
to recognize when there may be an opportunity to pursue. But you will always continue to rely on your professional network to positively identify those opportunities.
HOW TO SCOUT THE RIGHT PROS
Finding highly qualified experts to join your team is not as difficult as it might seem. Start by considering the financial firms where you already obtain services or products. Some life insurance companies, for example, offer wealth transfer and charitable giving services. Referrals from other advisors are another effective route, as are referrals from your top clients. As part of your discovery process, you should already know who your clients’ other professional advisors are.
Consider asking wealthier clients for introductions to their other advisors. Also, don’t overlook experts you meet at industry seminars and conferences, or those you read about in trade publications.
As you start your search, size up your candidates on these key criteria:
1. Level of expertise: Look for the top experts who serve your target market. Don’t bring on board a second-rate attorney who can’t generate the best recommendations for your clients’ financial challenges. But also don’t aim too high. If your typical affluent client has $3 million in net worth, avoid bringing on an attorney who specializes in clients with $50 million and above. There would simply not be enough opportunities to make the relationship work.
2. Ability to collaborate: Your team must be able to play well together in the sandbox. A lawyer and a life insurance specialist must be able to work together, for example, because insurance products will often support the lawyer’s planning strategies.
3. Client relationship management skills: You need to be comfortable in putting your team in front of your valued clients. This means you need people who will graciously accept it should the client choose not to pursue that recommendation, even after doing a great deal of work.
4. A noncompetitive outlook: Members of your network cannot compete with you, period. Your life insurance specialist, say, cannot manage money in any way, shape or form. Competition negates the benefits of working as a unified team.
A GREAT TEAM
The DIY approach simply doesn’t work anymore — and I’m not sure it ever really did. Building a great team of outside experts will only make you a better advisor in the eyes of your clients.
You’ll also differentiate yourself from the competition in the eyes of ideal prospective clients. The end result: a stronger practice that’s capable of competing with any other wealth management firm.
The DIY approach simply doesn’t work anymore — and I’m not sure it ever really did.