6 Years On..

StepChange is just coming up to its 6th birthday. It’s a business that was born in the teeth of the recession, but we’ve also seen the great growth years of recent times too. We’ve been really fortunate to spend this time almost exclusively among financial advisers and other players in the life, pensions and investment community. So what’s changed in the last six years?

 

The market is really evolving now

Six years ago, the term financial planner didn’t exist. Then it became a fashionable title for people to use. But today it perfectly describes what so many within the advice community do every day. So many firms have actively shifted their business model from one centred on product sales, to one where the financial plan developed by the planner sits at the core of the client proposition. And this has resulted in a whole new breed of advisers; those who are adding significant value to their clients and are now confidently in control of their business, not dependant on product sales and not exposed to the whims of the market and the changes in product strategies by providers.

Other advisers are still operating in a more traditional way, their business model based upon selling products. I worry that they face a difficult future with legislation and regulations making their lives more difficult and commission levels under pressure. They also face the emergence of low cost robo-advisers squeezing their margins, and it becoming ever more difficult to demonstrate real value to clients and to justify their income.

 

Technology is playing a key role

A lot of the potential threats for advisers lie in technology… but so do the opportunities. Robo-advisers pose a real threat in the next few years, offering advice solutions and low cost funds to consumers. Just see what Vanguard are doing in other markets – offering rock bottom fund fees, admin fees of 0.15% and CFP level financial advice for 0.30%. How can the traditional adviser compete with that?

But the opportunity also lies in technology. I was chatting to a financial planner recently about his client proposition and he said to me, “You can chop off my arm but don’t take Voyant away!” Now I’m not sure how important his arm is in the equation, but his message was clear. Future cashflow planning has been the key to helping him deliver a valued lifetime planning service to his clients and helps him build engaged relationships with clients that centre around the advice given, and not the products sold.

 

Many struggle to communicate the value added

You know somewhere in the back of your mind the value of what you do and know that you are delivering value to your clients. The problem for many of you is that your clients are just not seeing it. This often stems from not having the time to actually articulate what you do and the value that that you add, and as a result not actually documenting your proposition. As a result, there are lots of “chats” happening with prospective clients, instead of structured conversations with relevant marketing supports that set out your proposition in a compelling and engaging way.

 

Having a clear target market makes your life so easy

If you can easily identify and reach your target market, you can then focus your client value proposition, your sales activities, your marketing messages and indeed your whole support infrastructure around meeting the needs of these specific groups. Some only see the risks involved in this – narrow groups of people to target, missing broader opportunities etc. As a result, many advisers continue to try to appeal to everyone. And as a result, they don’t really connect with anyone. Yes, your target market must be big enough to sustain you. But if you then focus your efforts on them, you gain the opportunity of creating a real standout positioning for yourself.

 

Pricing is an ongoing challenge

The most common questions I’m asked are about charging; the calculation basis used by other advisers, how much they charge and how they actually get paid. As more and more financial advisers move from transaction based pricing to advice based pricing models, the big question that you are confronted with is how much to charge. This first of all comes back to your actual proposition, then how good you are at actually communicating it to your clients.

Even then, there is a certain amount of trial and error. Certainly I know from working with many advisers in this area (and from my own work), you need to initially work out sensible pricing levels and then keep them under review going forwards. For those advisers with well thought out propositions, experience suggests that they tend to initially set their pricing levels too low and end up reviewing them upwards as they gain more confidence in their pricing. And yes, in many or most cases, the fees are ultimately collected through the commission system.

 

 

So in summary, what’s my view six years later? For advisers who haven’t changed as the market evolves, I see a rocky road ahead. But for financial planners who are using technology, putting the time or getting the help (there’s a hint if ever you got one!) to developing a clear proposition for an identifiable market and communicating it effectively, their future is so much brighter than ever before.

Have you some spare time over the summer?

It’s that time of year again… The weather will (hopefully) be great and everyone is trying to spend a bit more time outdoors. The downside is that business may be getting just a little quieter for the next month or two.

So here lies the opportunity! It’s possible that you’ll have a bit more spare time on your hands over the next while and rather than sitting there thinking about the beach, how will you use this time? It can be hard to keep your focus when there’s not the pressure of constant phone calls and emails and achieving deadlines to meet client expectations. I suggest you either go to the beach (rather than think about it), or put the time into driving your business forwards.

If you want to put the time into your business, it’s easier to keep focused when you have a plan. So what sort of things might be in that plan for the summer months? Here are a few ideas;

 

Arrange to meet your key clients

This is a great time of year for catching up with key clients, outside of your advice process. This is not a business meeting; it’s a game of golf, a coffee, an early pint – whatever works best for them and you! This is an opportunity to show your interest in their business and lives without looking for anything back in return. The cost is small for both of you as you probably both have the time to meet. However there is real benefit in it for you, as the client will appreciate your interest without it being an “advice” or “sales” meeting.

 

Revisit your LinkedIn presence

I rate LinkedIn as a very important tool for financial planners and brokers. When prospective clients are researching you, they’ll check your company website and your LinkedIn profile. It’s really important that you’re putting your best foot forward through both of these.

In relation to LinkedIn, there are 2 areas to concentrate on over the summer.

The first is your profile. Go through your profile section by section. Are there areas that you can expand the information a little to make it more engaging? Are there new areas that you can add to your profile? Are there clients that you could seek recommendations from? All of these will provide prospective clients with richer information about you, hopefully making them more inclined to actually do business with you.

The second area is expanding your network of connections. There are 3 ways of doing this;

  1. Check the “People you may know” section to identify people suggested by LinkedIn.
  2. Check the connections belonging to your existing connections. Are there people here that you should seek an introduction to?
  3. Search for people using the search bar at the top. There are new people joining LinkedIn all the time. They just might not have found their way onto your LinkedIn radar as yet.

And then when you find people that you want to connect with, remember to personalise every invitation. Don’t just use the default LinkedIn invitation.

 

Update your CRM system

Rather than wasting an hour or two mindlessly surfing the web, set yourself a target to review the records of a set number of clients every day within your CRM system. While you may have all the data in the system to meet your compliance requirements, now is the time to populate some of the softer information that can help you build really rich relationships with your clients. Information such as;

  • Their stated life aspirations
  • Their financial goals and objectives
  • Their communication preferences
  • Their interests and hobbies
  • Wider information in relation to their families

 

Develop a plan of attack for the rest of the year

Plot out how you’re going to approach the second half of the year. Who are the prospects / clients that you need to contact in the next few months? What will this contact consist of? How are you going to get these prospects to engage with you?

While you have a bit of time, put a structured plan in place with clear actions and dates to make sure these contacts then happen.

 

Take a holiday & recharge your batteries!

The most important one of the lot! Nothing helps you get your focus and your energy back better than a well earned break. I hope you and your family have a great holiday and enjoy the summer!