When financial advisor Steve Cassaday considers making a change at Cassaday & Company, he often asks some of his clients what they think of the idea.
He and the other advisors in the McClean, Va.-based firm also ask clients for suggestions about how they can improve the firm’s operation.
Turning the business model on its head and asking his clients for advice is one way Cassaday & Company operates differently from most other financial advisory firms. But the twist on normal operations seems to be working for Cassaday, who founded his firm 20 years ago and has grown it to $1.5 billion in AUM with a staff of 31.
One suggestion from the board that the firm implemented was to pare down investment reports it delivers to clients to ones that are shorter and much more readable.
“People who point out your faults are your best friends,” says Cassaday. “I was crestfallen when the clients said they did not want our detailed performance reports, but the clients said they were never going to read those big reports.”
One client who has been on the advisory board for almost a year is Diane Guerra of Fairfax, Va. “They make the final decisions, but they are looking for feedback from us to see if they are going in the right direction,” Guerra says. “I am happy to serve on the board. It helps us, as clients, to understand what goes on behind the scenes in the firm.”
Another client, Barbara Nelson of Fairfax Station, Va., is a teacher who found the experience on the board to be enlightening. “The board has people from a mix of backgrounds on it, so Steve and the others get a range of views. I think that is smart,” Nelson says. “They are respectful of their client base and they are good listeners. They run things by us before they bring it out to the client base as a whole.”
Cassaday says creating the board was the smartest thing he ever did. "The clients appreciate being on the board because they are the stakeholders,” he says.
The firm also holds focus group meetings of clients that are conducted by a facilitator with no staff in the room. Clients can say whatever they think about the firm and it is reported back to Cassaday and the staff anonymously.
Cassaday does not let his innovative style end with the clients. For example, he does not hire experienced advisors -- he hires individuals as soon as they graduate from college and puts them through his own rigorous training procedure. Some start even before graduation as interns.