Ken Buzek listened to his son, Kevin, and his practice is much better for it.
Much has been said about how young advisors and
industry entrants are used, or misused, in their first jobs with
financial advisory firms.
Typically what happens is a veteran advisor/firm owner hires a summer intern or maybe a provisional CFP from one of the universities offering CFP-preparatory coursework, and immediately slots that person for administrative work. The owner perhaps believes that learning the job "from the ground up" is the best way to train the fledgling advisor. Or maybe he just wants to get as much work from his intern as he can at the lowest possible cost and sees the unskilled labor route-requiring less training-as the way to do that.
Of course, both the intern and the owner fail to realize the potential rewards of their relationship. The intern wants meaningful growth opportunities and the owner could certainly benefit from his youthful employee's wisdom, which he discounts due to the employee's relative lack of experience. What the owner fails to realize is that today's job entrants tend to have more technical training and greater comfort with modern technology than do many owners with 20-plus years in the industry. Pairing youthful knowledge and veteran experience can be powerful, if allowed to happen.
That's what Ken Buzek, 58, owner of Buzek Kiplinger in Strongsville, Ohio, realized when he took on his son, Kevin, 31, six years ago. Admittedly, Kevin probably had a greater opportunity to influence his father's thinking than a nonrelated young employee would have had, but it is to the senior Buzek's credit nonetheless that he listened to his son.
Ken Buzek brought on his son to be his office manager and main office administrator, not an advisor. But there was good reason for that. Kevin's background includes several years of recruiting for a staffing company, preceded by his earning a bachelors of science in business administration from Ohio State University. Administration is his forte.
However, says Kevin, "I had no training in office administration for a financial advisory firm. I learned on my own with the help of my father and Securities America." How well did he learn the job? If you ask Ken Buzek to describe what his son does now, he'll say, "Kevin serves as my office manager, marketing manager, compliance manager, tech manager and new business development manager." The list goes on and on, says Buzek Sr., and may at times include Kevin's answering phones, handling client questions, processing account applications, doing daily downloads and so on.
When he started at the firm six years ago, Kevin didn't hesitate to give his father his assessment of how he was running his practice. Says the younger Buzek, "I told him, 'You have no clear business plan, marketing plan or client relationship management plan.'" Buzek Sr. doesn't deny it: "Prior to Kevin's arrival, I was running the business by the seat of my pants, without written policies or procedures."
If that wasn't enough, Kevin Buzek also found that his dad's 200-client firm was still conducting an all-commission business, not a surefire way to develop client relationships and grow the firm. This led to his recommendation that the firm be converted to a fee-based business model.
"Kevin has great vision for a young man," says Buzek Sr. "We started having meetings to develop a long-term business model, meetings Kevin held us to." Ken Buzek admits he resisted the fee structure changes his son recommended. "Change is difficult, and it usually means going backwards before going forwards. More to the point, though, I was afraid I'd lose clients, that they wouldn't want to make the change to fee-based. I didn't feel I could afford to take that risk."
Did they lose clients? "No, not even one," says Buzek Sr. "We did go backward for a year, but moved forward the next." Adds Kevin, "My dad had to ask himself some tough questions, such as, 'What's my value?' It turns out, it was more than he was giving himself credit for. So we developed a script to explain to the clients why fee-based would be better for them and for us. Once dad convinced himself of the superiority of the new business model, he got really comfortable talking to clients and convincing them it was a win-win."
What Ken and Kevin Buzek achieved together was no small feat, and it didn't go unnoticed by their peers. "Securities America gives out about ten major awards each year," says Ken Buzek, "but never before had they seen a father-son team win two of those awards." At Securities America's National Conference in May 2006, Kevin was given the "Assistant of the Year" award by a selection committee composed of Securities America's home office executives and staff. And, at the same conference, Ken was given Securities America's "Shooting Star" award, which goes to the advisor with the largest percentage year-to-year increase in assets under management. "We moved more than $20 million in assets to fee-based in just a five-month period," says Buzek Sr.
And what about the lack of internal office systems Kevin noted upon his arrival? "When Kevin joined the firm, he found tools available from Securities America and, with their help, Kevin convinced me to do a written business plan and a marketing plan," says Ken Buzek. Working with his father and Marla Cross, a Securities America Advisor Services Consultant, Kevin created (among other things) a brochure and a welcome process that includes a welcome kit for new clients. "I'm big on procedures manuals," says Kevin, "so I got everything out of Ken's head and put it in writing. Now we'll have some continuity [of procedures]."
With Cross came Securities America's Transition Roadmap Program, a system of weekly coaching calls and direction to help a firm move to a fee-based business model.
For improved client relationship management, Kevin found his father had on hand a copy of ProTracker (www.protracker.com) but wasn't using it to its full potential. He had another staff member enter everything possible into the software-client contact info, meeting notes, calendar items, etc.-and it has since been a key component of the firm's growth.
What does the future hold? Buzek Jr. and Sr. will continue the conversion of client assets to the fee-based model and will participate in the Heartland Financial Network. "We were introduced to the Heartland Institute of Financial Education (http://www.hife-usa.org/) last fall by Securities America," explains Kevin. Heartland is the creation of Alan Gappinger, an industry veteran, who in 1997 decided that he could create and install in private companies financial literacy courses that would help a larger segment of the public achieve retirement security than would one-on-one financial planning. Gappinger has established a consortium of colleges and universities to add credibility to his venture, and has also spun off a designation, the CFEd, which stands for "Certified Financial Educator."
Buzek Sr. is already a CFEd and Kevin is currently studying to earn the CFEd designation. Says Kevin, "Heartland has teamed up with Securities America to train and work with advisors like me and my father so we can bring financial literacy courses to companies, organizations, and associations with which we currently have relationships." The Buzeks see an opportunity with Heartland to educate adults in the workplace about financial planning and also to attract new business by building trust and earning credibility within their community.
Now that Kevin is firmly ensconced at Buzek Kiplinger, father Ken would seem to have a built-in succession plan. "That will happen as a function of the new business I'm developing," says Buzek Sr. Buzek Kiplinger is a partnership between Ken Buzek and Brad Kiplinger, the son of the managing partner of Strongsville CPA firm Kiplinger and Company, CPAs. The partnership is primarily an expense-sharing arrangement at this time, but Buzek is forming a new advisory firm, along with the CPA firm, that will be more of a collaborative venture into which a succession plan involving Kevin will fit.
The Buzek's relationship would seem to confirm the wisdom of the old guard listening to the new generation. What's perhaps most amazing about their success is the fact that Kevin had little training in financial planning prior to working at Buzek Kiplinger. What he did have was the energy that comes with youth and the willingness to seek out all of the resources at his disposal, many of which came from Securities America. Because Ken Buzek was able to keep an open mind and take calculated risks, he benefited immeasurably from his son's vision and advice.
"I credit much of my success over the past five years to the superior job Kevin has done for me. He has a strong work ethic and his new, fresh ideas have contributed immensely to our success," says Buzek senior. Those veteran advisors who relegate interns and newbie advisors to menial, back-office tasks may never speak those words.
David J. Drucker, M.B.A., CFP, an independent financial advisor since 1981, now writes, speaks, and consults with other advisors as president of Drucker Knowledge Systems. Check out his new practice management portal, Practice Lifecycle, at www.practicelifecycle.com, and Virtual Office News, a monthly practice management/technology newsletter for financial advisors, at www.virtualofficenews.com.