Why I’m such a fan of Voyant

I’m a huge fan of Voyant’s software and usually go out of my way when meeting financial advisers to encourage them to start using it, if they are not already doing so.

First of all to be clear – this is not because of any commercial arrangement that I have with Voyant to be out there promoting their software to advisers, because no such arrangement is in place.

I’ve 2 reasons for being such a fan. The first is because I’ve seen the impact that the use of Voyant can have on an adviser’s business. The second is because of the impact Voyant has had on my own financial planning.

 

The impact of Voyant on advisers’ businesses

One of the busiest areas for me over the last few years has been helping advisers transform their businesses from a financial dependency on the products that they sell to a financial model where their income is based on the advice given to clients. This results in a more stable and lasting income stream that can be easily justified to clients, the regulator and any other interested party!

However when basing your business around advice, it’s of course not enough to simply advise clients on the best product to buy. Clients want financial guidance, they want to avoid making mistakes and want to put their limited financial resources to best use. They want to be able to plan for the future with confidence. Because at the end of the day, clients don’t think in terms of how much money they have or need. They think in terms of what they are going to be able to do in the future – this might be to retire early, to put their kids (or grandchildren) through college, maybe to buy a place in the sun in the years to come. Clients have these pictures in their head. The value that you can bring is to make the pictures the reality by guiding clients on how to achieve these goals financially.

And this is where Voyant comes in! Voyant enables you to build scenarios for your clients that show the impact of different financial inputs (your income, pension contributions, your investment portfolio, regular savings, protection products) and of outputs (lifestyle costs, expenditure, financial commitments, unexpected events). Now you can have real conversations with your clients about what their money can do for them, rather than how much they might have. This is real advice that clients will pay for year after year, creating that durability in your income stream and value in your business.

Of course financial products will often be needed to make these lifestyle goals the reality. But now the conversation is all about lifestyle rather than focusing on the products. For those of you that use Voyant regularly, you know there are also many other uses for it – looking at ARF bomb-out risk, calculating the correct amount of life cover etc.

Voyant to my mind is a critical element in transforming you from being a product picker to becoming a true financial planner or adviser.

 

The impact Voyant had on my own finances

I worked in life companies for 27 years, am a QFA and when I left in 2011, I was pretty confident that I knew my financial situation. I didn’t have a financial adviser.

Roll forwards about 18 months when I started working with my current financial adviser because I had a straightforward product need – I needed to put income protection in place. So he did that, but then he got me (and my wife) talking… About how we saw the future shaping up, our hopes and dreams, our objectives around our son’s education, holidays, targeted income in my business, big purchases, retirement, wealth transfer and the rest.

He plugged this information into Voyant. Now I already knew my financial situation at that stage and also had a good sense of how I was fixed financially when I reach retirement age. But I knew nothing about the intervening years. The value of Voyant for us was that it clearly demonstrated that based on our current financial picture, I was going to run out of cash at age 53 and effectively be underwater for 4 years then. This was a real shock to the system!

So the conversation changed completely. How were we going to close the gap? What did this mean in terms of reducing our outgoings? What “big spends” had to go on hold? What did it mean in terms of our investment and pension portfolio management?

And that has become the conversation now each year. Not how my products are doing (which of course is also important), but if our objectives will be achieved. Thankfully with the guidance of my adviser I’m now not going to be struggling at age 53, the gap has been closed. That to me is really valuable financial advice that is worth paying for.

 

It’s for these two reasons that I’m a big fan of Voyant.

5 ways to increase your income in 2017

Yes we’re at that time of the year now, when we all start to turn our attention to next year and are (hopefully!) working on how to make 2017 our best year yet! For many businesses, income levels will define this, so here are 5 ways in which you can look to drive up your income during 2017.

 

1. Get more customers

The most obvious way and also probably the most difficult! This one will be influenced by many moving parts; your own activity levels, the quality of your advice proposition and the number of referrals you get from satisfied customers, the consistency and quality of your ongoing client engagement processes, your networking and other client acquisition methods and all of your marketing activities.

Getting more customers is usually the sum of many activities. If I was pushed and had to pick one? That would be to get out of your office and meet more people. The more face-to-face time you spend with prospects, the more new customers you are likely to acquire.

 

2. Improve your proposition

Getting more customers is great. However this also creates new challenges in terms of minding these customers into the future. What if you could earn more income without increasing your customer numbers?

This is where your proposition comes in. There is huge benefit in regularly and critically evaluating your advice proposition. Is it good enough? Are there more services that you could offer, which would allow you charge more? Or (as is very often the case!) are you delivering the right services to your customers, but they are simply not aware of them as a result of poor communication by you? If you can improve their knowledge and engagement with your proposition, can you charge more?

I suggest you take some time out to review your proposition and how you are communicating it. You will probably be pleasantly surprised when you actually visualise the depth of services that offer, and maybe also will realise that you can charge more for the value you are delivering.

 

3. Attract more assets

Financial advisers constantly tell me of situations in which they are only managing a portion of a client’s assets. I just don’t really get this one to be honest… Yes I can understand that a client may think they are better off having a few advisers and not having all of their eggs in one basket. However, isn’t that the adviser’s job to manage that challenge on behalf of the client?

To my mind, this situation often arises as a result of an adviser being happy to simply get a new client on board, even when they are only getting a portion of the client’s overall assets. But how can you advise the client properly when you are only partially informed? Surely this situation will result in a completely misaligned portfolio? And if you carry out future cashflow planning, this is rendered pretty meaningless if you don’t have full visibility.

Work on your script with clients where you suspect you are only advising on a portion of their assets. Is it possible that you are settling for partial assets too easily and are just not convincing clients and being firm about the importance of total visibility of assets? After all, more assets will often result in higher revenue for you.

 

4. Don’t ignore cross-selling opportunities

Sometimes it’s easier for an adviser to position himself or herself as an investment specialist or a retirement practitioner. And sometimes as a result the adviser can be reluctant to step outside of his or her specialist knowledge zone  and advise in other important areas such as protection etc.

Yes of course you need to be confident in your capability to provide excellent advice in these other areas, but this is not really a stretch for many advisers. And no, I don’t believe that it undermines your positioning as an expert in your main area of specialisation. Clients will be grateful if you are watching their back in these other critically important areas too.

 

5. Increase your rates

This one might sound a little obvious, and also a bit unrealistic! But when did you last actually review your advice rates? I see enormous disparity between rates charged by different advisers, and sometimes when there is little or no difference in their propositions.

Sometimes it’s a case of one adviser having set their rates in 2009 when the country was on it’s knees and not having revised these rates since then, while the other adviser set their rates in 2014 / 2015 when the economy was back on a pretty stable growth path. So is it time for you to look again at those rates you are charging – are you selling yourself short for the value that you’re delivering?

 

These are just a few ways in which you can look to increase your income in 2017. The next step is to do some more detailed planning around each of them, with the aim of hitting the ground running on 1st January next. The very best of luck!

Want to get more for your business when you sell it?

Over the last few years, most financial advice firms have seen a marked pick-up in business. Also, there has been a good bit of activity in the buying and selling of financial advice businesses. So for those of you who are coming to that point where you want to sell your business, maybe because you’re retiring or just want to do something different, you’re now thinking about how you can maximise your price.

Obviously your recurring income is a crucial starting point. However a good business is about a lot more than a simple multiple of your recurring income. There are many ways that you can demonstrate additional value in your business, which will allow you drive up the price for your business.

 

Work through all the valuation methods…

And find the one that works best for you! Financial advice businesses can be valued using a number of different methods. The oldest (and simplest) model is probably the multiple of revenue model, with this being replaced today in some cases by buyers using a multiple of the profitability of the business (usually excluding the business owner’s earnings) as this takes account of both revenues and costs within the business. However in some transactions, predictive models are now being used to examine future cash flows, with greater weight being given to cash flows that are seen as more “stick-able” than others.

 

The persistency of business is an important driver too

Of course the size of your business is a main factor. But so equally is the persistency of your revenue. Lapse rates have become a major issue for life companies and advice firms alike, so obviously persistency will significantly impact the price someone is willing to pay for your business. There is little value in a firm that can’t demonstrate an ability to build up a durable revenue stream.

 

Have a clear business proposition

A buyer will want to believe that he or she is getting more than their money’s worth when running the rule over your business. A very compelling business proposition will help to provide this comfort. For example, this may be strengthening the buyer’s position in their chosen market or indeed giving them access to a new market. It may be a unique expertise that your business offers or strength in attracting a particular target group of clients. A strong position within a niche market can be a very attractive proposition! If you own a brand that is really well known in an attractive target market, this is a very valuable asset. However on the other hand, if you’re not clear about what’s unique about your business and be able to demonstrate this, you cannot expect a potential buyer to see this potential.

 

The quality of your client relationships is key

We all know that your clients are at the core of your business. They also are a key determinant of the value of your business. Can you demonstrate that you have been able to successfully infiltrate your chosen markets and that you have really engaged both these existing clients and indeed potential clients in the particular target group? A buyer will want to be purchasing clients who are engaged by and committed to your organisation, and are likely to stay with the firm going forwards.

To achieve this, you’ll need to ensure that your processes for ongoing client engagement really stand up to scrutiny.

 

Your service and compliance systems must be excellent

Potential purchasers also want to minimise the headaches involved in a purchase. They want to buy a well-run business that looks after its clients in a professional and engaging way and is compliant in everything that they do. In fact better still, they want to buy a business with potentially better processes and systems than their own, that they can then leverage for their now expanded business. This will be definitely be worth paying for by them. Who doesn’t want to buy best practices? So there’s a real opportunity to make your business more attractive to a buyer through utilising excellent business processes.

 

The quality of your staff is very important

While your clients are at the core of your business, your own people are the heart and soul of it. They have the strong relationships with your clients, the expert skills that potentially are sought by a buyer and the capability to deliver brilliant service to attract and retain your clients and valuable income stream. A highly skilled, cohesive team is an enormous asset!

 

These are just some of the factors you might think about as you prepare your business for a potential sale. If you have any comments in relation to the above or indeed can identify any other factors, please leave your thoughts below.

Your data – probably your most valuable asset?

The title of this article might sound like a bit of an exaggeration to some! However, I think that if the client data of a financial adviser is ever compromised, they will soon realise the hugely negative impact that this would have on their business.

 

Security is key…

Clients rightly expect that your data storage methods are 100% secure. You also have regulatory responsibilities as to where your data is stored, so it’s very important to understand your requirements in relation to your data. You also need to ensure that every member of your team is on-board and aware of his or her responsibilities in relation to data security. This is particularly important with the widespread availability of customer data on smartphones and tablets. Is access to confidential data within some of your emails only a 4 digit iPhone password away from someone who could make trouble for you? This is also exacerbated now with the explosive growth of cloud computing. If you use cloud computing on your phone or tablet, is your data constantly accessible on your device, potentially giving someone full access to all of your client files?

I use an accounting package called Xero. One of the features that I found very annoying at first was the need to enter a login ID and password every time I used the system – it doesn’t “remember” your details. Annoying – yes! But also very comforting, knowing that this information will never be compromised. Where you are holding sensitive data in relation to your customers, this is the very minimum level of security that you should be deploying.

 

Data is the lifeblood of successful segmentation

Data also provides the foundation for successful client segmentation. While this can be quite a complex area, there are many ways that you can segment your clients and then target them with specific campaigns or offerings. But of course you need access to the data to carry this out effectively. Examples of segmentation dimensions at a client level include;

  • policy type
  • income levels
  • earnings per client
  • premiums being paid
  • funds under management
  • age
  • occupation etc.

There are many potential dimensions, and indeed as businesses become more comfortable with segmenting their clients, they begin to use multiple dimensions.  This enables you to focus your offerings to make them as relevant as possible to your target clients. Good data helps you to make better decisions in relation to your marketing activities and can really enhance those activities through enabling you to provide relevant campaigns aimed at carefully identified groups of clients. The quality of your data is key – remember the old saying; “Garbage in, garbage out!”

 

Good data = great opportunities

Good data is also a massive business development enabler. Financial brokers and advisers today are very aware of the role that good customer data plays in generating sales. It provides excellent insights into customers, enables robust decision making and provides the necessary foundation for successful marketing activities.

An obvious one is having email addresses for all of your clients. Many advisers don’t have them, and to be fair, this is quite understandable. Email has only emerged as the default communication method in the last decade or so and many client relationships go back much further than that. However most clients have email addresses today and email offers a no-cost means of communicating with your clients on an ongoing basis. So what should you do? Well obviously you can write to all clients asking them for their email addresses – this may yield some results but if you’ve lots of clients, it may be an expensive exercise. At a minimum though, I would suggest that you introduce a business process that ensures that before anyone in your company finishes a conversation with a client, they check with the client have you got their current email address. Everyone has a role here, every single time, every conversation. This will refresh and enrich your data, allowing you to regularly reach your clients at no cost.

The second area is in relation to the source of leads and customers. If you capture this religiously, it can provide excellent insights when deciding where to apply your (usually limited) marketing budget in the future. This will tell you which activities worked in the past and should be carried out again or maybe tweaked, and which ones bombed and shouldn’t be repeated!

As a result of more targeted marketing efforts, greater confidence and expectations can be placed in relation to your sales return as you move from a scattergun marketing approach to carefully crafted and targeted campaigns.

 

Understand data protection rules

Managing your data also comes with real responsibilities in relation to how you use this data. You need to understand your requirements under the Consumer Protection Code and also your data protection obligations; how and when you can contact your clients and also the permission you need to send further sales messages to them.

 

At the end of the day, your data is a hugely valuable asset. It is central to your planning, your decision making in relation to your activities and can really enhance your sales effort. Give your data the attention it deserves and make sure that your whole organisation is constantly focused on securing and improving your data.