Life-centered planning, improving client behavior, the client experience, positive psychology, marketing, and technology are some of the hot topics I got to discuss with finance industry leaders and thinkers on my Between Now and Success podcast during 2018.
I think some of these topics, like a renewed emphasis on your human touch as an advisor, will continue to have a huge influence on where advisory goes in 2019.
And others, like, say, cryptocurrency ... Hmm ... Maybe not quite so much.
Let's take a look back at some key learnings from my 10 most popular podcasts of 2018.
Michael Chasnoff and I talked about how he grew Truepoint Wealth Counsel, his fee-only wealth management firm, to $3 billion in AUM and 750 households—without any mergers or acquisitions. Do the math and that averages out to about $4 million in assets per client, all of them acquired organically. Michael told me that growth was a result of his company’s client experience, knowing its culture, its niche, and what its clients value.
Key Podcast Insight: The real key to Michael’s success is how thoughtful he’s been about structuring his company to provide maximum value to his clients through the client experience. Many advisory firms don’t even have 1 CPA on staff. Michael has 15. That's not cheap, but it allows Michael to provide turnkey-style service to clients with complex tax pictures. Truepoint also offers its clients a set of services and solutions that are customized to their specific planning. It’s an integrated approach to wealth management that might prove to be the “special sauce” that sets successful RIAs apart going forward.
“I think something happens when the individual has really become vulnerable, sharing with the wealth advisor areas of sensitivity,” Michael said. “We find that an investment decision, the ownership and title, how it fits into the client’s long-term financial goals and objectives will have lots of impact on income tax, estate, just general income requirements that the client seeks. Understanding how it all fits together for the client is really where the value is created.”
Dr. Eliott Berkman, is a tenured Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon, where he directs the Social and Effective Neuroscience Laboratory and conducts field-leading, federally-funded research on goals, motivation, and behavior change. He’s also the Associate Director of the Center for Translational Neuroscience, and an author who writes about psychology and neuroscience for lay audiences, including in Psychology Today. We talked about the concept of the will and the way of goal pursuing, how to increase our motivation and influence other people’s behavior, the idea of flow states, and how all of these concepts can be applied to achieving goals.
Key Podcast Insight: I know that I'm not the only one who's asked myself, "What are my clients thinking?" over the years. But Dr. Berkman explained that improving behavior and hitting goals isn't a matter of cognition. Most people know what they want to do, but they have trouble clearing that "knowing-doing gap." The problem isn't low understanding, it's low motivation.
"When you’re trying to quit smoking, you know what to do," Dr. Berkman explained. "You just don’t smoke. Where people struggle is that motivational side. It’s wanting to do it enough that it really has value, that it’s important enough to you that you are willing to exert the effort that it takes to overcome those temptations or to go out of your way to change your behavior in a way that you know that you’re supposed to. I’m not going to try to make you smarter or faster or better, what I’m going to try to do is to get you to want this more. That’s sort of a very different approach to changing behavior than has been tried previously.”
Historically, the financial advisory business has been about a story of numbers. Today, it’s about a number of stories, says Mitch Anthony, who is my partner in the ROL Advisor Program.
Mitch is a pioneer in the life-centered planning concept that's revolutionizing the future of advisory. As technology continues to automate and devalue traditional ROI services, Mitch is trying to refocus our industry on our clients' stories.
How? By having conversations about how our clients' money and their lives intersect.
Key Podcast Insight: Asking better questions and having better conversations can allow advisors to create a three-panel picture of where our clients are coming from, where they are right now, and where they aspire to be in the future.
In summary, this picture captures:
“The economic law of life is that money goes in motion when life goes in transition,” Mitch said. “Transitions are the cause and money in motion is the effect. You want to deal with the cause, not the effect. You want to be talking to people as soon as they’re aware of the transition coming so you can say, ‘Here are your options, let’s get a plan in place so we don’t get caught by surprise.’”
John Hyland is the co-founder of Private Advisor Group, an RIA with approximately $15 billion in AUM and more than 600 affiliated advisors. We discussed how his experiences completing 11 Ironman Triathlons taught him how to break down big goals into smaller, actionable steps, and the perspective he gained after a near-death experience. This conversation certainly covered a lot of ground, but the way that John has filtered his life lessons into how he practices financial advisory is a reminder of how special our industry is, and how life-changing our services can be for clients.
Key Podcast Insight: Different advisors have different skill sets. But a robo platform or app will never be able to replicate your humanity, your empathy, your ability to connect with your clients and help them make decisions that will improve their lives.
“I so believe in the human connection,” John said. “I don’t buy into ‘technology is going to take over this industry in a big, big way.’ I still believe when the individual and the buyer sit across the table from the client and they have empathy and they listen about what their challenges are or what they want to achieve in their life, I think that is so, so powerful if you do it right and if you’re the right person for it.”
Creating those kinds of powerful connections creates clients for life. But it also takes the time, energy, commitment, and focus of … well, an Ironman!
There are many ways to be successful as a financial advisor. Steve Cassaday, founder and CEO of Cassaday and Company, Inc., is a perfect example. His main marketing plan is a throwback to the 1990s. He spends hundreds of thousands of dollars per year doing high-end dinner seminars for a carefully selected group of people. And when they become a client, he creates a comprehensive financial plan for them but he does NOT use financial planning software to do it. Steve and I talked about how he’s grown from $44 million in AUM to the #12 ranked advisor in Barron’s list of the Top 100 Independent Financial Advisors and $2.7 billion in AUM.
Key Podcast Insight: To put it mildly, Steve told me that dropping a traditional financial plan in a client's lap probably isn't a great approach to advisory going forward.
And to put it ... well, a little less mildly:
“The big fat financial plans, they’re stupid, and a waste of time, and you can quote me on that. We rarely use financial planning software. I believe in financial planning, but a gigantic 100-page book that tells you how much money you can spend on fishing tackle every month for the rest of your life based on assumptions that can’t possibly be known in advance, it’s a waste of time. We do what we call a financial planning checklist, which distills out everything in the big book and puts it into a three or four-page check list, basically an executive summary. It’s crazy because the big financial plans, people don’t really pay attention to them because they’re too complex and too dense. But the checklist takes five minutes to read. Clients immediately see after five or ten minutes of glancing through it what they need to do, what the benefits are, and it’s just as concise and succinct as it can possibly be.”
Twice monthly I discuss the latest in retirement planning with top financial advisor Bill Keen on his excellent podcast, Keen on Retirement. Bill and his colleague at Keen Wealth Advisors, Matt Wilson, joined me live at the 2018 Barron's Summit to discuss some of the key takeaways, the ongoing trend towards Life-Centered Planning, and how advisors can put these insights into action right now to grow their businesses.
Key Podcast Insight: One hot topic of discussion at Barron's was remote advisory via platforms like Skype. While it can be very helpful for advisors to be able to connect with clients anywhere in the country at a moment's notice, Bill told me that his experience is that clients still prefer personal face time to FaceTime.
“Our clients like to sit across the table from us," Bill said. "Some firms, where they send an iPad out and that’s how you communicate with the client, maybe that will work. But I think the focus on the personal relationship and getting to know clients deeply is a theme that’s going to be around for a while."
While some people may prefer a virtual relationship, your highest value will usually come from delivering your advice in person. When the stakes are high and the conversations are crucial, people usually prefer to meet in person.
While attending the 2018 In|Vest Conference in New York, I had a chance to sit down with Abby Salameh for an in-depth conversation about the state of advisor marketing. Abby is the Chief Marketing Officer at Private Advisor Group, a RIA with 620 advisors overseeing approximately $15 billion in AUM (See my earlier podcast with John Hyland, the co-founder of Private Advisor Group). Her sterling career as a RIA marketing expert has included stops at Sanford Bernstein, TD Waterhouse, and the Fusion Advisor Network. She was also a founding member of the team that launched Investment News. We talked about numerous marketing topics including: which marketing strategies are working the best, branding, the client experience, referrals, making a good first impression with prospects, the proper role of technology in marketing, and much more.
Key Podcast Insight: Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter are basically table stakes are far as marketing goes these days. But Abby has found that some more traditional legacy marketing campaigns are doing really well for advisors.
"Radio is still killing it," Abby said. "It still surprised me when I heard advisors that do radio shows talk about how many leads they’re generating. They are still attracting high net worth clients, they are bringing them in by the droves. Most of them are spots that they’re doing in a studio beforehand, scripted, because that’s easier from a compliance standpoint. Then they’re just broadcast, with a call to action to call the advisor’s office, or visit the website. Those are the ones that I’ve seen be extremely successful in all different areas of the country.”
Another effective, old-school strategy is in-person seminars. "Advisors are outsourcing some of their seminar functions to firms that produce all the seminars for them," Abby said, "and they’re delivering these presentations to groups of folks that are interested in hearing about the topic. Mostly it’s on retirement planning, and largely it’s for an audience of boomers that’s not really being targeted, typically those with about 500 to a million dollars in investible assets. But, for advisors, if they get 30 people in a room and they get 10 of those to join them, that’s a significant number in new assets.”
I've also heard of some advisors having success with printed mailers, if for no other reason than prospect mailboxes are emptier than they used to be. That niche no one else in your market is targeting might be the key to driving more prospects through your door next year.
Positive psychology, at its core, is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. In other words, it seeks to understand how we can flourish in life.
Dr. Martin Seay of Kansas State University, researches how we can apply the concepts of positive psychology to the financial planning process. And advisors who incorporate Dr. Seay’s work won’t be drifting off course into “touchy-feely” territory. They’ll be putting sound scientific data into action and future-proofing their businesses.
Key Podcast Insight: Positive psychology's Well-Being theory states that people will flourish in life if they have achievement in five areas:
Dr. Seay believes that advisors can use the PERMA concept to reframe traditional discovery questions and gain a better understanding of how our clients' money can help them lead more fulfilling lives.
“Instead of looking at a budget as purely expenditures, you can look at those as investments in different areas of your well-being capital, and that’ll provide a lens to communicate through to a client,” Dr. Seay said. In other words, you can add more emotional attachment to the numbers and increase the likelihood the client will follow through on saving and spending plans—and derive more joy in the process.
Lex Sokolin, Global Director of Fintech Strategy and Partner at Autonomous, believes in a not-too-distant future where you can ask Alexa or Siri to do everything from open a bank account to rebalance your stock portfolio. Rapid advancements in AI, algorithms, chatbots and a host of other technologies is bringing planning services to your favorite digital friend faster than you may think. And if Amazon, Google or some other behemoth decides to get into our business? Forget about competing by using technology to differentiate yourself from the competition.
Key Podcast Insight: There is only one ultimate differentiator: your ability to help transform people’s lives.
Sure you need a basic level of tech proficiency. And depending on who your target clients are, you may need to be dramatically more sophisticated than “basic.” But when you’re operating in the “transform” space, it’s not about the tech. It’s about you and your ability to connect. “We’re humans," Lex told me. "We’re tribal. We are social. We don’t want to live in a machine world. We want to have connection.”
And while everybody in our industry is talking about technology, Lex made a very interesting observation. “On the same road today in the United States, you could have an Amish with a horse and a buggy, and you can have a self-driving Tesla passing each other by. That is about 200 years of difference that exists in the same moment,” said Lex.
The fact is, change doesn’t happen all at once and your business won’t vanish overnight.
Lex thinks advisors should be aiming for an “augmented service relationship” that uses technology to augment your services while still bringing your humanity to the relationship. Technology can inform your clients and make their lives more efficient. But only you can transform their lives. Leverage your humanness. Do that and you will have grateful (and profitable) clients for life.
Many advisors see a “prospect,” “dollar signs,” or perhaps “a million-dollar account.” The philosopher Martin Buber called this an “I-It Relationship,” in which one person objectifies the other.
Ross Levin, the CEO and Founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management, wants advisors to start thinking in terms of “I-You,” creating real relationships with your clients as people, not just as numbers on a spreadsheet. That's how he built one of our industry's most iconic firms, with approximately $2 billion in assets under management. Ross was the first recipient of the Financial Planning Association’s Heart of Financial Planning Award, and the inaugural recipient of Financial Planning Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Key Podcast Insight: Today, your clients can click and swipe to all the financial info they want in a matter of seconds. Ross told me that it's important for advisors to be proficient, and helpful, at these "fast things" too. But our value going forward is going to be determined by our mastery of the "slow things."
“The slow things are the conversations and the life changes," Ross said, "and being on the front end of dealing with people through their day-to-day existence and through all the major things that go on in their life. That, to me, is something that is really important, because that’s the part that technology, I don’t believe, can overcome.”
Thank you so much to all my guests in 2018.
And a special thanks to all of you who have have listened, read, subscribed, left reviews, and given me invaluable feedback that will help me produce another great year of Between Now and Success in 2019.
- The ROL Index A tool Mitch Anthony and I developed to help advisors measure their clients' well-being in 10 aspects of life.
- Values Clarification Toolkit Click here to download this FREE tool and start living your values.
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