Here we go again… how are your team?

And so it’s Level 5 for the next few weeks at least. The only racing certainty is that it will not be back to business as usual in the foreseeable future. Many are wondering if we’ll be back to normal at all in 2021.

We all need to recognise how challenging this is for our teams.

For some individuals, a lockdown is a breeze – they love working from home. They have created a very nice working environment and routine for themselves, when based at home. However for many, this is simply not possible.

I bumped into a friend locally at the weekend, he runs an IT department for a major Irish employer. While working from home is fine for him, he spoke of the challenges faced by the younger programmers in his team. These colleagues are used to lots of desk space, three monitors on the go and all of the necessary technological aids. Some of them are now working on laptops on their bed, in shared accommodation. Not a good environment for detailed work.

Can you help your team with their remote working environment? Would the purchase of a small desk help them or what equipment can they take from the office that will help them?

Recognise the challenges that some with younger children face. While the schools are still open this time, children will be around in the afternoons. Also, younger children may be in the house all day, with the inevitable distractions that they can bring.  Be flexible, understand the pressures your team may be under at home and trust them to do their best.

Communication is critical in these times, it is so important for you to stay in touch with your team and to stay visible. Your staff need your leadership now, more so than ever. Agree a regular call – this might be every day, or every second day and use Zoom or MS Teams for team meetings. Keep the team together, just at a distance.

Of course, your business still must deliver the very best service to your clients. This is where both you and your team must step up and deliver in these challenging circumstances. While being flexible, set very clear expectations with your people in terms of their working hours, the outputs you require them to deliver and the level of client interactions you need. This is not a time for your business to go quiet, it requires you and all the team to stay in touch with your clients to reassure them in these difficult days. Your expectations of course should be high, but they must be reasonable.

Your staff are going to see you through these difficult months. Just because they are working remotely from you, never forget that you are one team. Maybe you can’t buy them lunch at the moment, but that’s not to stop you showing your appreciation to them. Consider sending them a small gift to show your gratitude. If this is not possible, ring them and say thanks for their efforts.

You’re the lynchpin of the team, so don’t forget to look after no 1, lots of people need you to stay healthy. Your family, your staff and your clients can ill-afford you to get sick. So, take no chances yourself.

You’re also the leader. Now is the time to stand up and lead from the front. Your staff and your business need this if you want to emerge from these difficult times in the best possible shape.


The No. 1 challenge when bringing in new technology

I wrote a piece recently on getting the most from your CRM in which I explored some of the ways to identify and maximise the features of the system for your business. I got a very insightful comment back that rightly pointed out that “the most critical element with any CRM system is that the people using it actually enter the data they are supposed to – and keep it current. All the bells and whistle features in the world are of very little use if that isn’t happening”. I thought that a focus on users of new technology deserves a post all to itself!

The No. 1 challenge when bringing in new technology is very often fully engaging the people who will be using it. We see this time and time again, you’ve got to bring the people with you. We see CRM systems that are only partially updated if at all, and financial planning firms where only some advisers have learned how to use future cashflow software. More often than not, the reasons are down to poor implementation and management, as opposed to the individuals being unable or unwilling to learn how to use new technology. So how do you give your business the best chance of engaging your team with new technology?


Have a clear strategic rationale

Why are you bringing in the new technology? Is there a clear, undeniable need for it in your business or to improve your client proposition, or are you watching what everyone else is doing and have decided that it’s time to join the party? Being able to demonstrate a clear strategic reason for the solution is a critical first step in engaging your team. If they don’t see the reason and the value, it’s going to be an uphill struggle getting them to engage.

Don’t brush over this point with your team, instead spend time walking through the reasons. Then later as problems arise, which will inevitably happen at some point, you can bring people back to this point – this is why it’s being done. Know your Why.


Engage the team early

Your team are going to be the ultimate users of the technology, so engage them as early as possible in the process. First of all, if they are centrally involved in the choice of technology, the implementation plan and identifying workload impacts, their ownership of achieving the success of the project increases. Secondly, their knowledge and thoughts will add immensely to developing the very best solution for your business and your clients.


Have a documented rollout path

Some of your team will argue they are too busy already without having to “do this too”, while others may be daunted at the prospect of learning how to use new technology. For the first group, listen to their concerns and then bring them back to the strategic rationale – why you are introducing the technology and how ultimately it will add value. Yes, workloads may be an issue to be addressed, so this needs to be considered as part of the implementation plan.

For the second group – the technophobes, you need to be able to demonstrate a clear training and support plan for them. What training they will get, when this will happen, who will deliver it, how it will be delivered and where they can go with follow-up questions as they start using the technology. Consider internal “champions” of the solution – maybe a “CRM ninja” who knows the system back to front and who is ready and available to help struggling teammates.


Have clear expectations and build them into objectives

If advisers are only rewarded based on income, that is only what you will get. While income of course will be their dominant goal, on its own it is not enough. If you want consultants to capture rich information in a CRM system, they need to see the value of it first of all – back again to the strategic rationale. However you also need to be crystal clear that capturing such information is a formal expectation of them, to help drive the business forward. They potentially should be rewarded / penalised via a behavioural goal that feeds through into your performance management system for the quantum and quality of engagement with the new technology.


Recognise it’s not always easy – be patient

Introducing new technology always hits bumps on the road. Have formal feedback loops to deal with these. Encourage your team to identify and highlight issues that then need to be fed into a plan to be considered and addressed. Check in with the team at scheduled sessions to chat through how they are finding the new technology. Are they seeing the value, or is it just not happening for them? Go back to the rationale and the agreed implementation plan. Or else review the technology, if itself is the issue…


Your team are your greatest asset and they are the key to unlocking the potential offered by new technology. Engage them early, listen to them and help them to make a success of your technology improvements.


What’s in a good client report?

I know a lot of advisers go to a good bit of trouble trying to create really impressive reports to give to clients at their annual review meeting. Having seen many different outputs that are given to clients, they vary widely from dull and ineffective reports right through to excellent quality and engaging documents.

So let’s get the poor quality ones out of the way first. They typically only contain,

  • An update on policy values / premiums etc. that has been downloaded from a CRM / policy data system.
  • A stock few pages on the economic environment / market update.

While both of the above are important, they won’t engage anyone on their own. There typically is little or no commentary that really connects the data with the client’s plan. The result is likely to leave the client underwhelmed and not feeling that a lot of expert analysis has gone into the development of a truly personalised report for them.

So what does a good report look like? I think it includes some / all of the following sections,

  • Executive Summary: Some people will read every word in the report, others won’t give it the time but want to be able to quickly digest the really important points.
  • Review of performance measures: This is a statement that shows changes in the likes of
    • Net worth
    • Investment portfolio increase
    • Pension portfolio increase
    • Protection premiums saved
    • Effective tax rate
  • Review of 12-month activity: What was carried out in the past 12 months, and how these actions were aligned with the financial plan.
  • Progress towards financial plan outcomes: There are any number of ways of presenting this information. Some advisers prefer a brief written update, others use a dashboard / traffic light system with commentary on the key points. The underlying assumptions used can also be included here or otherwise in the Appendix.
  • Objectives and actions for the next 12 months: This section highlights changes as needed to the existing plan. It also captures product / portfolio changes that are required and any money management / behavioural recommendations.

The above should form the main part of the report. However, an Appendix is really important too, as the likes of relevant cashflow graphs and a revised client balance sheet (with a greater level of detail than in the main report) will also add value.

So, that’s the required content identified, the next step is to make it engaging. Here are a few tips to help you.

  1. Don’t cram in the information: Keep it easy to read, let the content breathe. Spread it out into bite-sized chunks. A page with too much text and figures is very daunting for the average reader.
  2. Be succinct: Don’t view this as your opportunity to impress, instead it’s your chance to inform. Your client already trusts that you know your stuff, you don’t have to demonstrate your knowledge at every turn. Less is often more when it comes to reports.
  3. Avoid jargon: Similar to the previous point, you want your client to understand the report rather than leave them feeling a little dim-witted financially.
  4. Make graphs easy: Any graphs or charts used need to be intelligible in seconds. If the client has to spend time trying to work it out, the likelihood is they probably won’t bother.
  5. Don’t fudge the message: If your recommendation includes that the client needs to save more / spend less / stop changing course with their investments, spell this out very clearly. It’s for their own good!


Excellent annual reports add a lot of value to clients. They also commit them to the plan for the coming year and keep them engaged with the valuable advice you are providing. This in turn enables you to easily justify your ongoing remuneration. The client wins and you win.


Succession planning in a family advice business

While there has been a very welcome influx of young, qualified individuals into the financial advice profession in recent years, a significant proportion of successful advice businesses continue to be led by older, experienced advisers who built up these businesses from scratch. A high number of these businesses have seen children of the owner join the business, build up their experience, gain relevant and valuable qualifications and help bring the business to a higher level.

And the time then comes when the business owner wants to step back, take life a bit easier and start enjoying the fruits of their many years of toil. They also want to pass the business to their children as seamlessly as possible, a situation that we have seen played out many times in Ireland. With a consistent stream of advice businesses undertaking a succession process, there are a number of lessons that can be learned from previous successions that delivered on all of the intentions, and from those that didn’t.


Planning needs to start many years in advance

Succession planning is definitely a carefully planned process as opposed to a transaction event. The most successful successions are those that are planned from many years out – there are a lot of elements to get right! Careful thought needs to be given to the timing of the succession, the terms and basis of the transaction, the tax opportunities that can be leveraged, how the transaction will be funded, the ongoing role (if any) of the parent who established the business, the future direction of the business and the roles of the various children who will be taking the business forward.

This all takes well-executed planning. A poorly planned succession process will be quite unsettling and will likely introduce tension and sometimes fractured relationships among the family members.


Be open and inclusive in the planning

While the business owner often started and built the business pretty much on their own, succession planning is not something to be carried out unilaterally.  A seamless transition and the future prospects of the business will be enhanced by involving the family from the get-go. If the children (future owners) of the business are involved in the planning, they will be more engaged and committed to the process.


Don’t paint yourself into corners

Another advantage of the business owner not planning the succession alone, is that they can avoid making decisions that ultimately don’t fit with the ambitions of the children and that become difficult to row back from. Involving the children in the planning may uncover some unexpected surprises – maybe the expected future leader of the business doesn’t want that role at all, instead they want to have a strategic voice but not be the leader of the business.

The children as a group may have a different future vision to the current owner – their parent. Maybe the new owners see a future as a specialist financial planning business as opposed to a more transactional business. While the latter may have been the preference and right course for the business today, the new owners may see a different future.


Get external help

Surprisingly often the downfall of a succession plan is the family believing that they know what they want and can sort it all out themselves. This may very well be the case, but it can fall down in two areas.

First of all, external oversight brings a new dimension and often identifies additional opportunities and sometimes issues with the chosen plan. Family members can become so immersed in the whole process that they end up not seeing the wood for the trees. External people bring additional rigour and valuable challenging of the plan, which otherwise may be missing. This can happen quite easily in a family scenario where everyone is on their best behaviour, treading cautiously around the whole succession and not wanting to cause offence. The second area where external oversight can help is in drawing out the thoughts, goals and contributions of the quieter or more reserved members of the family. An external can make sure that every voice is heard in the process.


Don’t forget about non-family staff

Don’t forget about non-family members of staff throughout the process. They can feel very side-lined if the whole focus of the business is on the succession process. It is really important to keep them informed and motivated throughout the process, as their contribution and commitment to the business is needed before, during and after the succession happens.


An effective succession within a family business is a momentous milestone in a family’s life. Give yourself every chance of this happening smoothly.