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Deena Katz, one of America's most sought after financial advisers, shares her management expertise in this guide to strengthening a financial planning or advising practice. Drawing on 20 years' experience, Katz explains the essential nuts and bolts for surviving and thriving as a financial planner. She shows planners how to develop a client-centered marketing approach and how to expand their business at a comfortable, manageable pace.
Deena B. Katz, one of America's most sought after financial advisers, shares her management expertise in this guide to strengthening a financial planning or advising practice. Drawing on 20 years' experience, Katz explains the essential nuts and bolts for surviving and thriving as a financial planner. She shows planners how to develop a client-centered marketing approach and how to expand their business at a comfortable, manageable pace.
To be a good leader, you have to have a clear set of values you implant in the company. - HERB KELLEHER,
Chairman of Southwest Airlines
PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDIES INDICATE that people develop their attitudes toward money at a relatively early age. This process is rarely scientific and almost never rational.
Isadore Katz, a business genius and financial success, who was also my mentor and father-in-law, inadvertently taught me an important lesson about determining value. Isadore loved the stock market. Well into his eighties he would sit by the pool with The Wall Street Journal in one hand and a small radio dispensing market reports in the other.
When he reached his mid-seventies, Isadore's driving skills had begun to fade and his sons persuaded him to buy a limousine. Daily, his driver would take him downtown to his club to play cards with his pals, then drive him home again in the evening. One day, his driver was sick. Isadore's youngest son called to tell his dad to take a taxi to the club since his chauffeur would not be available. "I'll take the bus," Isadore told his son, "I'm not going to pay that kind of money for a cab justto go downtown."
In a time-pressured world, people will pay for all sorts of services including personal chefs, exercise trainers, dog walkers, and house sitters. There is even a scooper service in California called Tidy Lawn ("We pick up where your dog left off.").
There is no practical way to determine, much less control, how people assign value to various services. What matters is that you value what you do, because if you don't believe that your advice or service is desirable, prospects won't either. How you feel about your work is transmitted immediately to people.
One of my first clients was a United Airlines captain. At the time, United pilots were entertaining the possibility of a strike, since negotiations for their new contract were not going well. At one of our appointments I remarked that considering the responsibility pilots have in the air, I'd give pilots any salary increase they wanted and not bat an eye. Surprisingly, my client didn't agree. "The money I make is already obscene," he remarked. "I'm just a glorified bus driver."
In one statement, my view of him as a professional was altered by his own perception of himself. My client went on to explain that when he started flying commercially, he was working in a 727 cockpit with a copilot and engineer, all three of them busy virtually every minute of a flight. He had recently been promoted to captain of a 737. This cockpit was more automated and required only two people. With fewer activities, he often felt like a glorified bus driver.
Consider how technology affects how you see yourself and your value to your clients. In my earlier days of practice, there wasn't much financial planning software, no performance database, and no optimizers. We had to scramble for information on mutual funds, fund managers, and fund performance. We relied heavily on marketing material and anything we could glean from a prospectus. When I prepared a review, I literally sat with copies of my client's nine mutual fund statements and typed relevant information onto a single sheet so I could provide a consolidated report. We couldn't handle many clients because the data gathering and report preparation took forever. We were in the publishing business, not the planning business. Compared to those days, my practice activities today are a breeze. There is no doubt that the personal computer and companies like Schwab and Morningstar have put advisers like me in business. But, by themselves, they won't keep me in business.
I asked financial adviser Eleanor Blayney of Sullivan, Bruyette, Speros and Blayney (SBSB), for her perception of her value to clients. "I know I add a great deal to their lives, but in the back of my mind I keep thinking, what am I missing? Why should I be paid so well for this? It's fun and it's easy." The ease of preparing physical reports leads us to forget how hard we worked (and continue to work) to acquire our specialized knowledge and skills. Our value to clients is not derived from the easily prepared reports. Our value is reflected in our clients' success in meeting their goals, assisted by our knowledge and skills. Vladimir Horowitz made playing the piano look effortless. What his audience actually heard, and paid for, was his expertise, training, and talent sharpened by the endless hours he spent practicing.
We Need to Express Our Value to Clients in Benefits, Not Features
MORE THAN ONE ADVISER I know describes his value in the statement, "My clients sleep well at night." Telling our clients we design well-balanced (deadly dull and boring) portfolios is less effective than telling them that if they follow our advice they will sleep soundly.
That's why you shouldn't give clients the impression that performance is the value you add to their lives. In fact, if you believe in asset allocation and diversification, you guarantee that your clients' returns underperform the hot market of the moment. Diversification requires including asset classes that are poorly correlated. The possibility of making a killing is what your client gives up to sleep well at night. On the other hand-here comes the benefit-when a single market is depressed, diversification will buoy returns. Stated as a value to the client, you help them avoid getting battered in the market. We tell prospects, "We can't make you rich, but we won't make you poor. Our job is to help you enjoy life and sleep well at night." In our firm, we demonstrate our value by keeping our clients from chasing returns in bull markets and from bailing out in bear markets. All of our interaction and communication with clients revolves around managing their expectations. I think this is such an important issue that I have devoted Chapter 14 to it.
John Guy, Wealth Planning & Management in Indianapolis, Indiana, has an interesting perspective on the value of an adviser. "My guess is that over the course of a long-term relationship, a financial adviser is likely to render at least one piece of immensely valuable advice. The advice usually arises from coincidence, even when the adviser understands investment markets and the client's personal situation. Usually, the value of advice is not recognized at the time it is delivered. Instead, it is recognized months or years later." (Thoughtful Wealth Planning & Management, Vol. 2, No. 2, October 1998.)
In 1997-98, market volatility was unprecedented. The Dow was down 500 points one day, up 300 the next. The first time this happened, we called our clients and then followed up with a soothing letter. After several incidents of this, many of our clients suggested we save the postage. "I know you're doing your best work, now," one of my clients told me, "but why don't you concentrate on some of your newer clients? I've already been on this roller-coaster ride and it doesn't make me sick to my stomach anymore."
Not every prospect will find value in your services. Like Isadore, they may be unwilling to pay for services that they believe they can get elsewhere "for free." "Why should I pay you," they ask, "when I can get all this information on the Internet and do it myself at a discount broker?" When you encounter these people, and it appears that you are not speaking the same language, move on. I'm fascinated to hear advisers tell me about their "conversion ratio." Conversion should not be a part of your job description. If you are presenting yourself and your business effectively, prospects either understand your philosophy and appreciate your value, or they do not. To me, conversion presupposes resistance. Clients I've successfully "converted" were never satisfactory relationships for me.
Most Advisers Spend Little Time Defining Themselves and Building Their Practices
THE CLEARER THE ADVISER is about what he does, the better he is able to explain it to a prospect. It helped me to sit down, enumerate my ideal client in detail, and describe what I could do for that client. This thinking process became the basis for developing my core values, mission and vision statements, and ultimately, our company philosophy.
In speaking with other advisers, I discovered that we have no consistent way of developing these essential components of our business. In fact, many used different names for the same idea. For example: core belief, core value, and core purpose all seemed to describe the same fundamental concept. Because I often refer to "building a practice," I thought a building analogy would be useful in clarifying how successful practices are developed. Therefore, the following are, in priority order, descriptions of the four statements that I believe must be in place in order to "construct" successful practices.
1 One thing. There is a huge range of services and products one might offer in a financial planning business. In order to be successful, you must determine at the outset the unique service you propose to provide. What will set you apart from everyone else? For what will you be known? I refer to this as your one thing. In building a practice, this is your preliminary survey, the staking out with words the idea that describes your one thing.
2 Core values. What fundamental beliefs underlie the philosophy and policies of your company? Your firm's core values are analogous to the foundation of your practice, a largely unseen but essential underpinning.
3 Mission statement. Once you have determined your one thing and your core values, you must describe how you wish your practice to look. Analogous to the plans for a building, a mission statement provides the basis for the design of your company.
4 Vision statement. If a mission statement is analogous to a building's blueprints, a vision statement is the equivalent of an architectural rendering of the completed practice. The vision statement describes what the practice will look like once the practice is successfully established.
MY PARTNERS Harold Evensky and Peter Brown began their partnership in 1985, five years before I joined them. When I arrived, there were eight advisers with the planning practice and twenty registered representatives with our broker-dealer, which Harold and Peter had started in order to eat while they waited for financial planning to earn them a living.
If you had asked them individually to describe their client base, their assessments would have been as diverse as the descriptions of blindfolded men feeling different parts of an elephant. Although we suspected we shared the same basic philosophy, we had never formally shared it with each other. So we never expressed it uniformly to our clients. We assumed that having a common name, one brochure, and similar work product was enough. Consequently, we had a practice of people who had their own enterprises. We were not a business. We shared the same vague image of the future, but we weren't sure how to bring that vision into focus.
One evening after a lengthy "reorganization" meeting, Peter, Harold, and I went to see the movie City Slickers. In the film, Billy Crystal's character discusses the meaning of life with an old cowboy. "The secret of life," says the cowboy, "is one thing." "What is that one thing?" asks Billy. "That's for you to find out," says the old cowboy. Another "ah-ha" for me. We hadn't figured out what our one thing was. As a result, we hadn't been able to communicate it to our advisers and staff, much less to our prospects and clients.
Starting (or reviving) your own practice begins with finding out what your one thing is, then explaining it to those around you. The financial planning industry today is made up of specialties. Even if you are a comprehensive planner, that too is now a specialty, much the same as family practice is for a physician. These days my partners and I call ourselves wealth managers. To me, this is a specialty within financial planning, describing our holistic approach to our investment advisory services that I'll explain in more detail in the next chapter.
Joe Kopczynski, President of Universal Advisory Services, Inc., in Albuquerque, New Mexico, says his one thing is comprehensive planning-not conventional comprehensive planning, either. He has negotiated leases, mortgages, and even HMO contracts for his physician clients. "It all comes down to trust. Clients who trust you want you to help them in many other aspects of their lives, not just the financial part." Joe says he grew up in corporate America where people are taught to stay professional by keeping at arm's length from colleagues and clients. "That just doesn't make sense to me. It's vital to have trust and accountability at all levels. For that, you've got to roll up your sleeves and get involved." Joe uses a family office as a model for the services and relationships he develops with clients. His model includes far more servicing than a conventional planning practice, with business consulting and personal mentoring. Joe's one thing is to become the primary guide for all aspects of his clients' personal and business planning.
Dave Diesslin, of Diesslin & Associates in Ft. Worth, Texas, is also a comprehensive planner. His one thing is instilling confidence. "We know that we add value and that we communicate well. Our clients have confidence in our ability to support them and confidence in the role we fulfill in their lives."
As I interviewed practitioners around the world, most described their one thing in such terms as engendering trust and confidence, maintaining personal relationships, or providing superior personal service to their clients. Some expressed their one thing in terms of actions, specifically offering special services. No one suggested that producing fancy reports or voluminous analyses was the key to their success.
When Charlie Haines from Birmingham, Alabama, reviewed his client base, he made a startling discovery. The demographics and buoyant economy of the past few years had produced a group of successful and unhappy people. "I've got to address that situation, so now we require that all our clients spend two hours with a family therapist who discusses issues of money, preparation for retirement, and wealth transfers." Charlie finds that using a professional helps facilitate the planning process and his relationship with his clients.
Excerpted from Deena Katz On Practice Management For Financial Adviser, Planners, and Wealth Managers by Deena B. Katz Copyright © 1999 by Deena B. Katz. Excerpted by permission.
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|Sect. 1||The Business||18|
|Ch. 1||Determining Your Core Values, Mission, and Vision||21|
|Ch. 2||Designing the Business||41|
|Ch. 3||Contingency and Succession||57|
|Sect. 2||The People||68|
|Ch. 4||Adding a Partner for Fun and Profit||71|
|Ch. 5||People Make It Happen||89|
|Ch. 6||Staff Structure and Retreats||111|