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.

Financial Planning - - CONTENT - By John J. Bowen Jr.

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.


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.


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.


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.

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