As I look around, I see a lot of things changing -- except in our profession. That doesn’t really surprise me. According to Cerulli Associates, the average age of a financial advisor is 50, with less than 5 percent of the existing 316,000 financial advisors under age 30. The fact is, the inability to adapt and accept a new environment can be a sign of old age, or in this case, an aging profession that needs more than a facelift.

Think for a minute about the way traditional advisors dress. Usually they wear a suit and tie, or never less than dress pants, pressed shirt and sport coat. Yet all around us, CEOs (think tech titans) and even megachurch pastors (like Rick Warren and Brad Powell) are wearing plain or plaid t-shirts, jeans and casual shoes.

Similarly, look on the wall of any advisor’s office and you’re likely to find a picture of people rowing a boat with the label SUCCESS or TEAMWORK, or someone atop an extreme mountain denoting PERSEVERANCE or PERSISTANCE. In my eyes, painting our business as something bigger and better than it is, or as something difficult and challenging, which may cause some of the stress and anxiety people have when it comes to saving, investing and preparing for retirement.

Combined with some old and overused adages such as, “It’s time in, not timing, the market,” … or some vague process like “dynamic asset allocation,” advisors can easily wind up being impersonal, boring and stuffy, which puts even more distance between the advisor and clients or new prospects. I believe this traditional framework is a major reason fewer young people are choosing the financial profession as a career -- it’s just not that cool or attractive in its current conformist state.

In our never-ending quest to differentiate ourselves, we simply end up mimicking each other, and unless we break the mold, we will prevent our profession from becoming what it can and truly needs to be.

Personally, I set my sights on changing this situation after leaving corporate America to start my own independent advisory business. My primary goal has been simply to avoid being cliché at all costs. Strip away all the fluff, the implied rules of investing, and the usual methods of practice management. Be myself instead of a cog in the industry.

The Power Of Pictures
I start off my Naked Retirement workshop telling attendees that in the next two hours I will dramatically change the thoughts and images about retirement they’ve accumulated over the last 30 or 40 years. I promise them they will never think the same way about things like rollovers, diversification, asset allocation, precious metals, etc. And I immediately fulfill that promise and the way people engage with me, because as I say each of those retirement words, I show them an outside-the-box image that they’d never expect. For the rollover, I have a picture of a puppy on its back, in the middle of rolling over. I illustrate asset allocation as a collection of three different types of wine, diversification as a collection of nine different purses (can a woman ever have too many purses… or shoes?) and a set of shiny golf club irons to represent precious metals (Click here to see the images).

Smiles and laughter immediately replace the serious nature that characterizes traditional retirement planning, and so a barrier is removed. My success with these images has led me to decorate my office with them and other images. I’ve even applied them to t-shirts and wear them with jeans and a sports coat at the office. It’s not only more fun and comfortable, it’s also engaging and sets a different mood.  When was the last time you set a new and different mood with your clients? It’s also personal because it’s who I am, the message I want to send, and the way I believe we can shift the focus from product salespeople or Ponzi schemers to caring and committed professionals.

Serve Instead Of Sell
Serving instead of selling is another approach that I have successfully used in my practice. The beauty of the concept is that it changes the advisor/client relationship by flipping the trust factor. In a traditional advisor/client relationship, clients turn over their money, trusting that the advisor will be able to add value and will do what’s in their best interest. In my practice, however, I don’t ask clients to begin by trusting me; instead I build mutual trust through a process known as attraction marketing, which is based on providing value-added information and services before asking for their business. An advisor can do this by providing prospective clients with a regular newsletter, free guides and reports, and free online tools and resources. What I’ve found to be most effective though are skill-building and life-enhancing workshops.

My workshops provide actual ideas and steps to help navigate everyday life in retirement, not just the usual binder full of charts and numbers. In fact, Naked Retirement is 100 percent service oriented and compliance-free because it is not about dollars and cents. Can you imagine? Standing in front of a roomful of people and not selling yourself as a retirement expert or retirement-income aficionado? By serving the customer instead, making retirement life better, more valuable, less regretful and more personal? It fosters a relationship instead of a one-night/one-product stand and fulfills my own desire to make a difference.

After all, each of us is responsible for our own happiness, and finding ways to be happy without overindulging in food, drugs, alcohol or some other external factor is important. That’s what pushed me to make my business more personal and meaningful, and why I believe there are a number of other ways, beyond what I have shared, that can be seeds for industry change. But it starts with you and what is important to you.

Take the next step by using my alternative thoughts and images to assess the way you walk into work, the look and feel of your office, and the way you project your “experience” to those both within and outside the industry. Do you need to make a change or a personal adjustment?  It’s been said that minor adjustments can bring major improvements, a concept that reminds me of an inspirational piece of wisdom inscribed on the tomb of an Anglican Bishop in the crypts of Westminster Abbey:

When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits,
I dreamed of changing the world.

As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not
change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to
change only my country. But it too seemed immovable.

As I grew into my twilight years, in one desperate attempt,
I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me,
but alas, they would have none of it.