8 years on – what has changed?

I recently passed the 8th anniversary of leaving corporate life and setting up StepChange, with the aim of helping financial advisers to grow their businesses and to build durable, long-term value in them. So what’s changed in the last eight years?


The market is fundamentally different today

Eight 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.


Less clients being brilliantly served

Eight years ago, the most common question I was asked was, “How do I get more clients?” I’m rarely asked this today, in fact on balance I’m actually asked the opposite more frequently! The aim of many advisers today is to deal with less clients and to serve them brilliantly. The challenge is in the last bit, and that is where we are helping firms every day, helping firms develop excellent and valued client retention strategies as opposed to the race for new business.


Investor behaviour rather than investment expertise

A big change over the last 8 years has been the approach to investments by advisers. Back then lots of advisers worried about selecting the best investment for clients, beating benchmarks and worrying whenever performance dipped. You spent your life tweaking asset allocations and fund choices for that extra ounce of performance, that more often than not evaded you and your clients.

Today I see advisers focused on getting the right portfolio in place for their client and then spending their time focused on stopping the client from blowing it up through their constant meddling! Some of the even more forward-thinking advisers are formally recognising where they add value, don’t see themselves as investment specialists or don’t want to potentially damage client relationships through poor advice, and as a result are outsourcing the investment expertise to 3rd parties.


Technology is critical…but not everything

It’s funny, how do you feel about robo advisers now? According to some “experts” 8 years ago, they were going to herald the death of financial advisers… Excellent financial planning requires deep, trusted relationships built upon meaningful and highly personal conversations. Yes, a machine can hugely help to improve part of an adviser’s value chain, but it hasn’t as yet replaced this most critical piece of the relationship…and I say it never will.

But technology also plays an enormous role today. What would your financial planning proposition look like today without future cashflow planning? Many of you I know would say that it wouldn’t exist.


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, some 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 and justifying your charge are still big challenges

One of the most common questions I’m asked are still about charging. However, the conversation has definitely moved on a bit. Many of you are happy with what you are charging clients – often but not always being paid by a provider or platform. The change though is that lots of you are now equally focused on how to justify your charges to clients. As long-term value is being built up in your business, you recognise that this value is only locked in for as long as you retain your clients. To do this, you must be able to justify what you charge. And this is one of the main areas where advisers seek us out – helping them to build their propositions to a point where they can clearly and confidently communicate what they charge, with little risk of losing the client in the process.


So, eight years on, what has changed? I see a far more confident, professional advice sector that is clear about the value that you add. You recognise your role is as a mentor or a guide to your clients, helping them plan their future and achieve their goals. It’s funny; while you work in financial services, the money is only one part of your focus today.

Turbo charge your business in 2020

What am I doing, talking about 2020 already? Well I’m not asking you to wish your life away, but quite a number of financial advisers have observed that July and August are quieter times for them. And this quiet time offers an opportunity to do some planning for your business.

You should always be thinking short-term about your activity planning and how you are engaging and strengthening your relationships with every existing and potential clients. However now you have an opportunity to do some longer-term thinking and more strategic thinking about broader areas that will stand your business in good stead over the next few years. While it’s not an exhaustive list, here are a few areas to think about now.


Make sure your team are with you

When’s the last time that you gave structured thought to the development needs and engagement of your team? Now might be the time to consider their coaching needs that will help them improve, grow and ultimately benefit your business. And maybe also now is a good time for some team building, a day away from the office. This can be used to work through some of the challenges facing the business, while also mixing it in with some downtime and building a stronger team spirit.


Make sure you are fit for purpose yourself!

How are your own skills as a business leader, mentor, manager, business generator, client executive and everything else that you do? Now is a good time to give some thought to gaps that you might have in your own toolbox and to look at how you might close the gaps. Have you trusted people, either staff members or other business contacts who will candidly help you to identify any areas that it might be useful for you to work on? Getting help and coaching shows a desire for improvement rather than an admission of shortcomings!


Make sure your clients are with you

When did you last review your Client Value Proposition? It’s important to ensure that you continue to deliver the appropriate levels of service to different groups of clients at the right price. And this is an ever-moving target. So even if you previously segmented your clients, are clear about who you are targeting and have your positioning identified, this needs to be regularly reviewed. The world of financial advice is constantly changing. Your business needs to change with it.


Review your communications

How good are your communications to your clients? Now is a good time to stand back and look at the quality of what you produce, your client meeting inputs and outputs, your other individual communications to clients and also your (hopefully) regular marketing communications. Are your messages getting a bit tired, or are they really engaging your clients? Seek feedback – both from any analytics that are available to you and also from feedback that you seek from people who are on the receiving end of what you send and say.


Review your processes

Give some time to picking apart everything that you do within your business. Could you be easier to do business with, is there an opportunity to really wow your clients? At this stage, look to identify the gaps in your processes. Then put a plan in place with your team to overhaul the processes and set your business up to deliver a much better client experience in the future.


There are many other areas that you can think about during these quiet months – the key is to make sure that July and August don’t just slip by without much work being done. If you can make a start on some of the areas identified here, you’ll thank yourself when 2020 eventually comes around.

Are you punching your weight on social media?

Most Financial Brokers today are using social media to some extent. Some are using it very effectively and view it as a core part of their marketing mix, others see it as a bit of a necessary evil and grudgingly engage with it to a much lesser degree.

At StepChange, we are firm believers in the power of social media for Financial Brokers. But it has to be used consistently and relatively frequently, and therein lies the challenge. So here’s our starting point.

  • A social media presence is so important to enable you to be found online, for people to engage with you and for you to connect with people and demonstrate expertise.
  • LinkedIn is still the most powerful platform for Financial Brokers, particularly if your target market includes professionals and business owners. Twitter is second.
  • I’m not a fan of using Facebook pages to engage with friends and followers. I can’t find examples of advisers doing this well, and who are not interrupting their friends and followers who are on Facebook for other reasons (looking for a laugh, sharing photos etc.).
  • Email marketing is the most under-utilised tool in online marketing. How can you ignore a tool where you end up in the inboxes of your target market, a place they visit every day?
  • Generating a constant and consistent stream of content remains the biggest challenge, bar none. Everybody can produce a on-off piece, the challenge is consistency.
  • Some people spend their time finding links to good articles and sharing these. Yes, this is valuable, but on its own is simply not enough. Your connections want to hear your views. So at a minimum, add your take on the article in the introduction to the article before you share it. But better still, write your own content and share that.

How StepChange can help you

We work with Financial Brokers looking to build a social media presence. We help you develop an effective profile, demonstrate how to build a relevant network of connections and we then show you how to actually use the platform effectively.

However the big challenge is content. We develop content for Financial Brokers to share and also find other excellent content online for you to share, to increase the engagement with your followers. We provide the A-Z of social media for Financial Brokers.


Is it time for you to talk to us about how you can develop and leverage your social media presence?

Have you some spare time over the summer?

It’s that time of year again… There’s a mini heatwave this week 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;


Keep prospecting and marketing

A big challenge for advisers over the summer is to stay committed to business development. It’s just hard work… as prospective clients are less likely to fully engage when the weather is good, the kids are off school etc. However business development work carried out now will pay off when the summer ends and people are 100% back to work. Don’t just give up on all of this for the summer months. Keep your prospecting and marketing campaigns going – keep making those calls, sending out your newsletter, continue your blogging and social media activities.  Now is not the time to let these activities slip!

As part of this too, plot out how you’re going to approach the second half of the year. Who are the prospects that you need to contact in the next few months? What will this contact consist of and when will it happen? 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.


Arrange to meet your key clients

This is a great time of year for catching up with key clients, outside of your regular advice interactions with them. 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 to do 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


Refine your proposition

Your client value proposition is your magic sauce; it is that which your clients will really engage with. It would be very unusual to have got it 100% right first time and it makes sense to keep it under constant review; pick up the signals that you will inevitably get from your clients when meeting them. Now over the summer, take some time to critically review every aspect of your proposition – the areas of value that you highlight, the steps in your process, your list of services and your remuneration methods. And then don’t be afraid to make changes to your proposition. After all businesses evolve all the time, and so should yours.


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!

8 great apps I use nearly every day

Every summer I give one of these articles over to the subject of apps that I use regularly. This year I’m mentioning 8 apps that I use regularly and that make my work / financial life a little easier to manage. In the list, there are 2 apps in each of the following categories;

  • Banking
  • Finance
  • Content management
  • Every day apps


Banking App 1: Stripe

Last year an adviser asked me could he pay me for a service by credit card. This prompted me to go looking for solutions. Literally an hour later I had a Stripe account set up (which receives credit card payments) that was fully integrated into Xero (see below). So now I can receive payment on any invoice by credit card, and my accounting system knows about it. The Stripe app is great, providing notifications when money is received and giving me all of the information I need to manage this new form of payment.


Banking App 2: Curve

Curve is a bank card, linked to an app on your phone. It’s clever because it becomes an umbrella card for all of your other cards, both debit and credit cards, giving you access to all these cards using your single Curve card. I hate a bulky wallet and as a result of Curve, I only now need to carry one card – my Curve card. Using the app, you choose the account / card that you want your transaction to apply to (e.g. personal debit card, personal credit card, company credit card). You can change cards easily between transactions. It also has a natty feature that if you apply a transaction to the wrong credit / debit card when using your Curve card, you can “go back in time” and reapply a transaction to the right account later.

Details of all of your cards are not stored on your Curve card which is important if it falls into the wrong hands. Also you get immediate notifications (if you want) every time the card is used, which is a great security feature, and you can block your card yourself via the app too.


 Finance App 1: Xero

I was introduced to Xero, an online accounting system a couple of years ago. It has had a transformational effect on the financial management side of my business. I now have real-time profit & loss statements, balance sheet and a host of other useful reports that are available at the press of a button. All my invoicing and bank reconciliations are done through Xero, as is management of expenses. My accountant and I can both view the up to the minute real time information about my business, I’m saving hours every month with this software and have much better information available to me.

Specifically with the app, a great overview of business bank accounts, invoices and purchases is provided. I’ve full view of my outstanding invoices in the App and other important information. I now have all the information I need, and the time spent on “the books” is now a fraction of what it once was.


Finance App 2: Revenue

Am I serious? Yes I am! I think the Revenue app (RevApp) is great, allowing you to log a whole range of expenses throughout the year (health expenses etc.) which makes completing your tax return very easy. You can also log a whole range of other tax relievable expenses (e.g. the home improvement tax relief scheme) and you can get lots of useful information about your tax records.


Content App 1: Feedly

Feedly is an app that I use all of the time in seeking out useful content from the web to share, and indeed for content ideas to write about. It enables me to track blogs / news feeds that provide content I don’t want to miss. Rather than receiving an email every time there’s a new blog post or news article,  instead the new content is sent to Feedly which gathers all of these articles in one place. It is like a magazine rack for online articles, waiting for me to go through them.

I can then flick down through hundreds of articles in minutes, reading only the headlines, dipping into an introduction or indeed the full article if I think it is actually worth reading. And I can mark them all as “Read” very easily as I go along, ensuring those particular articles don’t appear again. I’ve categorised the different feeds into groups, which further speeds up the process too. The benefit of Feedly is the time it saves me in getting through huge numbers of articles.


Content App 2: Pocket

And then there’s Pocket, which is my scrapbook of articles that I’ve “cut out” and saved for later. As I see articles of interest on the web or that come through to Feedly, some catch my attention to be read later when I’ve a bit more time on my hands. With 2 clicks, I put them in my Pocket and can also tag the articles for different purposes – it might be to share out later, to rewrite with my perspective, maybe to help me develop a new angle for my proposition etc.

I can then go back into Pocket when I want to carry out an activity and simply click on the article that I’ve saved for that very purpose. It’s all very easy and it means you don’t lose great articles that you’ve read.


Every day App 1: Ring

This is an app linked to the doorbell at the front door of my house. What has this got to do with work you may ask… Well my office is in my back garden and gone now are the days of missing couriers, missing bulky post deliveries or having to work inside the house while waiting for a caller. Now when my doorbell rings, it comes through to my phone. There’s a camera , microphone and speaker in the doorbell so I can see who it is and talk to the caller as necessary from my desk. It makes life easy. The doorbell itself has no wiring and can be installed quickly and easily yourself – trust me, I’ve no reputation for advanced DIY skills…


Every day app 2: Parking Tag

This app has been around for a good few years now, but it still amazes me the number of people who drive around Dublin during the day and who don’t use the app. They waste time looking for loose change and feeding parking machines. Then when meetings run over a bit, they need to run out and top up their parking. With the app, all of this is simply done from your phone. This app originally only worked in the city centre, but now covers most if not all of Dublin. Again, it makes life easy.


I hope there’s an app here for you to try to make your life a bit easier.

How good is your sales activity planning?

In this latest in our series of “12 StepChanges to a better business”, we set out our thinking around the importance of structured sales activity planning and the benefits that can be gained from having a consistent, committed approach to your sales and marketing activities that are aimed at your key clients and also your prospective clients.


What is sales activity planning?

Sales activity planning is the tracking of every touchpoint with a client or prospective client. We encounter many advisers who keep detailed files, made up of both online and paper records. These files are often based solely around the advice given to clients. This of course is very important from a compliance perspective and is a requirement for you to stay onside with the regulator.  We’re talking about an additional piece here – our focus is on helping you to build long-term, engaging relationships with your clients at every turn.

We believe that the following type of information should be recorded and available to you,

  • Where every new client came from – introducers / referrals / other marketing activities etc.
  • How many times you’ve spoken to each contact this year and when most recently
  • Have they received marketing (not advice / customer service) emails from you
  • How many times you meet each contact and when you most recently met
  • Have they signed up to your newsletter
  • Have you connected on social media
  • Have you invited them to a seminar / social event / game of golf etc.

We believe that you need to be able to see this information at all times for a minimum of every high value client and prospective client.


What is the benefit of good activity planning?

Sales activity planning links back to the segmentation of your clients. We’ve set out previously here the value of effective segmentation and offering appropriate services to different groups of clients. Apart from your high value clients deserving a deeper level of service from you, they also need to feel the love… Sales activity planning will help you to ensure that none of your high value clients get forgotten about – this can easily happen with clients who are quiet and don’t place a lot of demands on your time. Until they quietly and unexpectedly move their business to a more proactive adviser. And these are the very clients that you really want to retain forever!

Well structured sales activity planning will also give you visibility of your overall marketing efforts. Have you been working hard enough on social media? What events have you had or have planned for this year? Are you making enough sales / relationship calls to your prospects and key clients?


How can StepChange help in sales activity planning?

We can help you build a structured approach to your sales activity planning. While some advisers have developed the capability in their CRM system, many have not. We can develop for you an easy to use sales activity planning system that will track the key contact information that you require. This will ensure that no more of your important contacts are forgotten about and it will also keep you honest in terms of delivering your marketing activities…


If you would like to find out more about how StepChange can help you to track your sales activities, please contact Eamonn at eamonn@stepchange.ie or at 01 8396972.