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5 elements of a winning client proposition in 2014

I’ve been lucky to spend the last couple of years working with a broad range of financial brokers and planners, and as a result have been fortunate to gain great insights into some really great advice firms operating in the Irish market.

A question I’m sometimes asked is; “What’s different about the winners?” Now there’s no easy answer to that, but there is one theme running through the successful firms and that is a clear client proposition. These firms tend to be clear about their target markets, their ideal clients, what they offer (and don’t offer), what makes them special and how they get paid. And very importantly, they are also very good at articulating this to clients.

The whole area of client propositions is very broad though and can encompass many different elements. So here are 5 activities that I believe will help advice firms to really differentiate themselves from the rest in 2014.

 

No more chats!

Spend some time over Christmas developing a presentation for delivery at your first meeting with prospective clients. If you get a new iPad for Christmas, even better still! Use that to deliver the presentation. Meeting a prospective client and having a chat is fine and maybe not hugely damaging. But it’s hard to make it memorable. However if you have a well-crafted (and short) presentation, that you walk through in an engaging manner, and that includes some provoking questions for your client to ponder later, you’ve a much better chance of leaving a positive impression and getting that prospect coming back for more.

 

Spend time on income and expenditure

One of the unfortunate traits of some of the less successful firms out there is their rush to “get to the money”. While their intentions are noble, in that they want to sort out the investments for their clients, in fact what happens is that the client gets forgotten as the focus is on the money. And once you forget the client, your future with the client is inextricably linked to the performance of the money. Which is difficult if markets go against the client.

The successful firms out there tend to focus more on the client and one way they demonstrate this is through helping clients really examine their income and their spending. And then going through a rigorous process to help them balance the personal books better! They don’t do this in a superficial way, but in a way that is really valued by clients, most of who are very poor at doing this themselves!

 

Build future cashflow planning into your proposition

My prediction for 2014 is that there will be a steep increase in the use of future cashflow planning by financial advisers. Why? Because more and more clients will become aware of the value of it by those financial planners already offering it, and those clients will demand it.

Future cashflow planning completely changes the conversation. It lifts the conversation out of the past and the present and focuses both the adviser and the client on the future objectives of the client. And it gets them really working together on trying to achieve those objectives.

However the real benefit of it to me is the reliance on the annual review happening every year to track progress. Clients demand their reviews – do your clients?

 

Develop powerful review meetings

Again, another observation… Lots of financial brokers and planners have recognised the importance of a compelling client proposition and are furiously working on developing a compelling one at the point of sale with the client. However relatively few are working on developing a compelling review proposition, to deliver to their client year in and year out. And most of these brokers are attempting to justify a trail commission basis!

If you want to receive an ongoing payment from your client every year into the future, you’ll need to develop a review proposition that the client values and that they demand actually happens every year. This is achievable – there are many clients out there who experience a truly valuable review service and these clients happily pay ongoing fees as they recognise the value they are receiving in the review meetings.

Do your clients demand their reviews with you? Do they feel the meetings are worth more than the ever-growing trail commission that you are receiving? If not, you’re at real risk of losing these clients in the future, just as they become very valuable to you.

 

Think engagement

It is so important to engage your clients on an ongoing basis, outside of your sales and review meetings. You need to stay in their minds through gently adding value throughout the year, so that when an unexpected financial challenge or opportunity arises for them, you are their first port of call.

Yes it’s hard work and takes a lot of time. If you don’t have the time or the inclination to do it, pay someone else to do it for you. If you don’t, someone else will begin to engage your clients and leapfrog you as a financial expert worth talking to.

If you make these changes to your client proposition, I can pretty much guarantee that they will have a material impact on your business. You’ll value your own proposition more and as a result, your confidence will increase, enabling you to communicate your value better. And your clients will love it!

Very best wishes in developing your proposition in 2014! If you have any comments in relation to my suggestions, please leave them below.

Why don’t my new clients realise how good I am?

I was working with a financial adviser recently (let’s call him Jim for the purpose of this article) who asked me that exact question. He was incredibly frustrated. While acknowledging that he’s not perfect (show me someone who is!), Jim articulated to me that he gives excellent advice to clients, that he works really hard on their behalf and that he is very competitive in his charging structures. And I fully believe that he was painting a realistic picture. The problem is that Jim’s new clients don’t seem to realise the value that he’s bringing to them. They appear a bit under-whelmed at the end of the initial advice process.

To help Jim, we worked through his sales process and I gave him a few pointers as to how I felt he could engage his new clients better. Jim was happy for me to share some of the points we discussed, which I’ve done below with a few more besides to help you better demonstrate and communicate your value to clients at the outset of your relationship with them. On another day, I’ll set out how you continue this going forward to really cement your relationship with your clients.

 

Have a well thought out process and explain it to the client.

Jim showed me his agenda for his first meeting with a new client. It all made a lot of sense. However when pushed by me to role play the meeting, we discovered that the agenda was actually just a bit of a crutch and the meeting bore very little resemblance to the agenda.

When we unpicked this, it became clear that Jim had been using the agenda for years, partly in the belief that it demonstrated professionalism. It definitely can do, if you follow it. If you don’t follow it or even worse if it doesn’t really make sense, then it will achieve very little.

As you may know from previous posts, I’m a firm believer in spending a lot of time developing out your sales process and then building an engaging presentation to communicate It to clients. This builds trust, it demonstrates professionalism and should set out a roadmap that you and the client will actually follow.

 

Two ears and one mouth

Yep, we all know this one but it is surprising how often it gets forgotten. Jim was dying to get “stuck in” on the client’s behalf. So he was diving into the factfind as quickly as possible to learn all he could so that he could then advise. I firmly believe that this is a mistake. Now is the time to get the client talking. Why are they in front of you? What do they want to achieve? I’m not talking about growing their assets by 6% p.a. or building up a fund of €x. Instead what are their life ambitions, their real goals? What do they want to be able to do in the future?

When they paint these pictures for you, then you can start putting numbers against them. And help them identify what they have to do to achieve them. It might seem a bit “touchy-feely” at the start but trust me, it will feel very real to the client, as these are the dreams they are thinking about every day.

So it’s time to sit back and listen. There’s plenty of time for the factfind after this!

 

Don’t forget the everyday stuff

No matter what you call yourself; a financial broker, a planner an adviser – at the end of the day you are trying to improve the financial future of your clients. Jim does this in a very thorough fashion. He completed a very rigorous factfind, he analyses his clients’ risk appetite and tolerance and puts a huge amount of effort and innovative thinking into his recommendations. He adds real value in the product solutions that he recommends. And puts no time into the more mundane area of everyday budgeting and cashflow management…

I work with a financial adviser myself on my own affairs. He provides me with excellent advice; identifying objectives, risk advice, financial planning, cashflow planning & product choice. Ask my wife Louise (that is her real name!) why is he so good, and she will talk of the attention he has paid to our everyday income and expenditure. In her eyes the real stuff, the factors that we can control.

This can get lost in the rush to “get to the money”, helping the client to grow their wealth through the big decisions of investment strategy and product choice.

Apart from the other valuable support we get, focusing on the small stuff results in Louise making sure we never miss our review meetings with our adviser. This is also a very important factor in being happy to pay his fee every year.

 

Cutting down trees

Jim then showed me his reports. Well written, no typos and good grammar throughout. The problem is no-one will ever read them. They are just too long. As a result the clients don’t realise the thought that went into them, they assume there’s just a load of padding.

Get the key points up front in the report for the client. Try to get it on one page, certainly a maximum of two. All the discretionary reading should sit behind this in appendices. Some clients will read them, some won’t. But at least now they’ll all read the important stuff. 

Twenty page documents do not justify higher fees.

Work out what’s important

Usually a financial plan will result in multiple recommendations. This is where the client can get in a spin. Help them out of it, show them what is important in the short, medium and long term. What are the “must do” items and what can wait? Help them to prioritise their spending, their time and their attention, as they will struggle to do this themselves. They will value your experience and help in this regard.

This is of course by no means an exhaustive list of how to demonstrate value, instead they are just a few thoughts on how you can connect better with your clients at the outset of your relationship with them. Any views are welcome below!

Is Future Cashflow Analysis part of your client proposition?

As the financial advice sector shifts steadily away from product based selling towards true advice propositions, the role of future cashflow analysis is coming more and more to the forefront. To pin my colours to the mast, I’ll go as far to say that I believe future cashflow analysis will become the cornerstone of the financial planning model of the future.

Why I hear you ask…

Regulation

First of all, regulatory change will somewhat drive this process. The financial regulator has publicly declared their determination to remove any potential bias or conflicts of interest from the sale of financial products. While this does not necessarily mean an introduction of the market changes as seen in the UK under the Retail Distribution Review (RDR), there is no doubt that at a minimum there will in the future be a demand for even greater transparency in how product choices are made by advisers, and in the method and levels of remuneration received.

There are many advisers who are already very comfortable with this, who already have developed clear advice propositions for their clients, with products then being utilised to achieve the objectives identified in the development of a financial plan. This is a great step, however it can’t just be about “dressing up” a product recommendation. Your process needs to help plot out the financial future for your clients, not simply be a point in time report. Is a plan really a plan for the future without future cashflow analysis?

To my mind, excellent Financial Planning is a more holistic, long term approach, and future cashflow analysis sits at the heart of excellent financial planning.

Basis of ongoing value

This really is the nub of why I think future cashflow analysis plays such an important role. I think it adds so much value.

My own adviser uses the Voyant system, and for me this has transformed my own view of the incredible value a good financial planner, using the right tools can bring. I now have a clear picture of how my financial future is shaping up, where there are real challenges for me in achieving my objectives and as a result we have devised a strategy to meet these challenges. Note the “we”! This approach gets the adviser and client working collaboratively to identify the objectives, identify weak points and devise solutions.

And of course we need to review this every year as yes, there have been plenty of assumptions made; my earnings, savings, investment growth levels etc. But we have a firm foundation to work from and tweak as we go. These reviews are incredibly valuable to me, ones that I’m happy to pay for because of the value I get from them. So at the end of the day, future cashflow analysis can really help you lock in your client relationships.

It helps answer the difficult questions

One of the most important roles that financial advisers play, is helping their clients understand why they are saving money, investing into a pension etc. This can get lost in time as the focus shifts to the product chosen and how it is performing relative to benchmarks and peer products. As a result the desired outcomes and progress towards these outcomes can get lost.

The future cashflow analysis can be adjusted each year  to take account of product performance etc. to identify progress versus the stated objectives. This keeps the focus on the all-important end goals, the reasons why clients are investing in the first place.

At the end of the day, these are the answers that clients want answered. Every year at every review. “Will I run out of money”? “Can I afford to retire at age 65”? “Can I afford to educate my children as I want”? These are the questions that keep clients awake at night. These are the questions they want your help to address.

Introducing Future Cashflow Analysis to your clients

So how do you start? Well you can start with an excel spreadsheet if you are so inclined and develop your own model. Or instead, you can buy an off the shelf package. I mentioned the Voyant system system earlier as it so impressed me. It captures all the critical information, creates very engaging graphs for the adviser to walk through with clients and produces high quality reports for the adviser to use. If you’re not an excel whizz kid, it may well be the route to go.

So if like me you are convinced that future cashflow analysis is an integral part of proper financial planning, the first step is to embed it as a core part of your planning proposition to your clients. Tell them about it, make sure they fully understand the value to them of this approach and then charge them accordingly for the value you are adding. This can be through commissions earned on product sales or indeed through fees.

At the end of the day, future cashflow analysis can help to drive up the value clients place on your services, it can help to build a long term dependency on your services and it can drive up your revenue.

Do you use future cashflow analysis in your business. If so, do you agree with the above? If not, by not? All comments are welcome and will be shared!

Is inbound (or content) marketing relevant for financial advisers?

You bet it is!! In fact inbound marketing, often called content marketing has become one of the key elements of the marketing mix for financial advisers today.

First of all, to explain what is meant by inbound or content marketing… Most importantly it is not about selling, instead it is about creating engagement with your target audiences. Marketing has evolved, the days are over of only trying to hit people over the head with a constant stream of sales messages through advertising, sales campaigns and other traditional sales methods. While these methods still have a place, consumers today want to be engaged, to be warmed up and to be made aware of why they should deal with you. This is where inbound marketing comes in.

The aim of this engagement is that your audiences will view you as someone worth listening to and in time, will ultimately seek you out for your professional expertise. This is done through inbound marketing – providing your target audiences with insights, ideas, tips and commentary in relation to personal finance matters. In time, this will make them far more open to your sales messages that will follow at the appropriate time.

This approach delivers a number of benefits for financial advisers. First of all, it enables you to stay in touch with existing clients by putting interesting insights in front of them and keeping them aware of the breadth of the product range that you can advise them about. It also helps you to establish yourself as a thought leader and someone to be listened to, among both prospective clients and the wider public at large. Finally fresh content on your website is a critical component of a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategy.

So what are some of the elements of a great content marketing strategy?

 

Know your audience

Know who your target audience is. Is it local business owners, particular occupations or particular age groups? Who are you actually writing that new website page, blog or email newsletter for? Write for this audience about topics of interest to them. Try to put yourself in their shoes and think about what they will want to read. If your audience find it interesting, they’ll view you as someone to listen to and will seek out your content…and hopefully in time your advice in relation to their personal finances.

 

Make sure it looks good

First of all, your content has to look engaging. Use a solid design and layout. I always tell financial advisers to “Think Apple”. For any of you who have bought an Apple product, you’ll know what I mean – the excellent quality, yet simple packaging that really impresses you as you unpack your phone or iPad. Your blog / newsletter should have the same impact. It should look very professional, enticing people to read it. At the end of the day, you want to portray the professionalism of your business in every single touch point with your clients, both online and offline.

 

Have a plan

I know from talking to some advisers (and from my own experience too) that lack of time to update the website or write a newsletter is often just an excuse for a lack of structure or ideas. There’s nothing worse than relying on your brain kicking into action every month or so when you’ve no idea what you’re going to write about! So what happens is you find something else to do and satisfy yourself that you’re just too busy to write the content.

The way to deal with this is to develop a content calendar for the year. Spend a few hours at the start of the year brainstorming ideas that you’ll write about, either as new pages on your website or as newsletter articles. Once you get a few ideas down, I promise that the creative juices will start to flow and more topics will come to mind. As potential topics come to mind now and at a later stage too, drop them into the calendar with a few bullet points of what the article might cover.

Now you’ll have a structure to ensure you don’t lose potential content ideas as you go along and it will also give you a starting point every time you sit down to write that article. You’ll actually find after a while that you’ve too much content and now can actually start being selective in what you write about.

 

What do you write about?

You’ll be glad to know that everyone sees this as one of the biggest hurdles! However, with a bit of thought, you will quickly realise how relatively easy it is to overcome this particular challenge. You absolutely need a helping hand to come up with the topics to write about. So here are a few sources that will help prompt some ideas for you.

First of all, listen to your clients. Probe them about areas of interest to them and areas where they they’d like more information. Are there particular challenges they face in relation to their personal finances where they would like some general advice? If you ask a number of customers, I’m confident that themes will start to emerge for you.

Secondly, keep your content schedule at the back of your mind when you go to a presentation, read the newspapers or indeed just go online.  These are each great sources of ideas, which can be used by you as prompts for you to develop your thoughts and position on – not to copy and paste but for you to set out your viewpoint and flavour on these topics.

Some financial advisers take a short cut and rather than writing their own content, they only share out links to other websites through LinkedIn and Twitter. This type of shared content has its place, however I think it can only sit alongside some original content that you are writing yourself. It’s great to share content that is of interest to your audience but they also want to know what you think! Using the content of other people, while better than doing nothing, is not enough on its own.

So yes, content marketing needs to be an integral part of the marketing plans of financial advisers today. Once you start to really engage your prospective and existing clients, they will soon realise your expertise and the added value you offer. In time, some of your audience will hopefully want to talk to you about their wider financial affairs…and their product needs.

Have you any thoughts in relation to content marketing? If you do, please leave them below.

6 ways to increase the price when selling your financial advice business

While there is no doubt that the price of financial planning businesses have come back from some heady heights in recent years, there are still some attractive sale opportunities for firms with the right profile. However with fewer buyers out there, those that are looking to buy are extremely selective and are only interested in really strong businesses. So what are the factors you need to get right to make your firm as attractive as possible to any potential purchasers out there? Here are some of them.

 

1. Be realistic

First of all you have to be realistic about the value of your business to the buyer. While you may have an emotional attachment to this enterprise that you sweated over and built up lovingly, to them it is a transaction… While they will want to retain the positive features of your business, the numbers will tell the main part of the story about the value of it. So no matter what valuation model you use in running the numbers, be realistic.

In relation to valuation methods, buyers may value your business using a number of methods. The oldest model is probably the multiple of revenue model, with this being replaced now 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 there is now a move towards using predictive models in relation to future cash flows with greater weight being given to cash flows that are seen as more “stick-able” than others.

 

2. Have a clear business proposition

A buyer will want to believe that he is getting more than his 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. If you’re not clear about these unique factors about your business, how can you expect a potential buyer to place value on them!

 

3. The level and persistency of business are important drivers

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 steady and durable revenue stream.

 

4. The quality of your client base 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 look for clients who are engaged by your organisation and indeed target groups who, while they may not be clients as yet, are aware of and potentially open to your business.

To achieve this, you’ll need to ensure that your sales and marketing processes really stand up to scrutiny.

 

5. 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! 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.

 

6. The quality of your staff is very important

While your clients are at the core of your business, your 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.

Or are some of your staff not an asset to you as you get into discussions with a potential buyer? If you are looking to sell, it might make sense to have that difficult conversation with your Great-aunt Maud who has been with you for the last 25 years and scares the living daylights out of everyone… A potential buyer may not appreciate her particular skills so you may need to have solutions in place for them in the event of a sale.

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.

Enhancing Financial Adviser Websites

I’ve spent the last year since leaving corporate life behind me working with Financial Advisers on delivering some really interesting and exciting marketing activities. Of course the online world plays a significant role in these activities. I’ve found that Financial Adviser websites today differ widely in terms of their levels of quality and also their ability to engage the target audiences. So to help you, here are a few thoughts that could help you to quickly and easily enhance your website.

Understand the importance of your website

Your website at the end of the day is your most valuable digital asset. It can inform your audience, engage them and indeed be a key source of leads for your business. So view your website as the hub of your online activities. All your activities online in relation to your business either through social media or indeed lead generation through advertising and search optimisation should lead back to your website. It’s really important as a result that your website shows your business in the best light possible.

Be Clear on your Goals

What are you trying to achieve with your website? Are you trying to establish yourself as a thought leader in financial services or are you simply trying to inform the readers on your site of the products that you sell? Or maybe you’re trying to generate leads through your website?  You need to be very clear what you’re trying to achieve as this should impact the structure and layout of your site and the content that you place on it.

Spend time thinking about this, don’t just dive in and start writing content! Get very clear on your objectives and then constantly “sense check” your content against these objectives to ensure you’re delivering what you’ve set out to achieve.  Otherwise the audience won’t be clear of your message and what you’re trying to say to them…..and will just leave the site.

Talk about what you actually do!

This is quickly becoming a big bugbear of mine….. There are too many financial adviser websites out there that to my mind miss the biggest opportunity of all.  And that is to tell the readers of your websites what you actually do and how you do it – that is of course giving advice! So many adviser websites are like mini brochures for life assurance companies, talking about all the products of theirs that you will sell to everyone. That’s all well and good but it completely undersells the real value that you bring to your clients – the excellent advice that you give them to help them plot their financial course. The products are of course a very important part of the overall equation, but at the end of the day, they are simply vehicles to help you and the client reach their financial goals. So tell the world what you do!

Keep an Eye on your Layout

There are some Financial Adviser websites out there that hide away some of their real nuggets! Make it easy for the reader to get to the key messages that you want them to see. Have a sensible navigation menu structure that will lead people easily through the site to your key messages. If people can’t get quickly to the page they want, they’ll just leave the site.

When the reader finds themselves on the correct page, make sure the key messages are easily found. Have your key messages high up on the page, “above the fold”, so that the reader doesn’t have to scroll down to reach the key message. Often people just won’t bother scrolling, and will leave the page or even the site without reading that all-important message.

Have Clear Calls to Action

What do you want the reader to do when on your website? Do you want them to pick up the phone and make an appointment with you or do you want them to fill out a form on the site to make contact? Maybe you’re trying to establish yourself as a thought leader and you want them to share your content? Well make sure you ask them to do whatever it is that you want and give them the opportunity to carry out that action……again and again. Make the call to action very obvious, very clear and very easy.

Make sure your Content is Current & Accurate

When prospective or existing clients look to explore your views for example on recent market turmoil, they will probably check out any links you have to pages that contain “News”, “Blogs” or “Newsletters”. If you have old content here, this may suggest to the reader that you don’t have your finger on the pulse. Don’t be afraid to take content down if it is old or out of date! Sometimes “less is more” – this is certainly one of those instances!

Also, read and then re-read your content for accuracy. Are all spellings correct and is there good use of grammar? Lack of attention in this area can send out a signal of shoddy practices which is very damaging for Financial Advisers as your clients expect the highest levels of attention to detail in relation to their finances. So don’t undermine your business offering by not putting in a few extra minutes checking the quality of your content.

I hope these pointers are helpful to you. Coming into the summer might offer you the opportunity to catch your breath and review your online presence. I would of course be delighted to discuss this area further with you, please give me a call! Or indeed, please feel free to comment below this article.

Regards

Eamonn