Following the semiannual Tiburon CEO Summit in San Francisco on October 17, 2012, four attendees sat down for a panel discussion about the state of the advisory business and their takeaways from the meeting. The executives included David Canter, executive vice president and head of Practice Management & Consulting at Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services; Kirk Hulett, executive vice president and head of Strategy & Practice Management at Securities America; Patrick Goshtigian, CFA, president of EP Wealth Advisors; and Tom Embrogno, executive vice president at Docupace Technologies.
Four individual video interviews (one with each of the round table participants) are available at www.fa-mag.com/financial-advisor-videos. The entire transcript is available as a PDF download on www.fa-mag.com.
Key Observations From The Summit
David Canter: My first takeaway from participating at the Tiburon CEO Summit in San Francisco is that there is no better time to be in the financial advice industry. The need for advice has never been greater. New and innovative models continue to emerge to support investors’ evolving advice needs. This growth also brings with it challenges.
One of the biggest challenges I see for advisors is ensuring that they’re taking a “full body” view of their businesses. That means having a holistic strategic plan in place for how you’re going to grow, how you’re going to pass your business on to the next generation, how you’re going to hire and compensate, how you’re going to tell your story to prospects, how you’re going to leverage technology.
Kirk Hulett: We heard a lot about change the last two days. The negative change of fiscal cliffs and bond bubbles. And the positive change from new markets and new opportunities. So, as I think of the advisors I coach and consult with, I want to encourage them to refocus on core activities. First, increase client communication in anticipation of market volatility and scary headlines in the next few months. Remind clients that they have a plan—a financial plan or an income distribution plan—and that you are monitoring that plan. And finally, keep marketing and prospecting. The best time to tell your story to potential prospects is during times of volatility and uncertainty.
Tom Embrogno: One of the things I’ve heard here at the Tiburon Summit, and one way firms and advisors become more profitable and grow their business, is to regain trust in the marketplace. A lot of trust has been lost in the industry and has trickled down to the firm and the advisors. During Chip Roame’s presentation, he cited the Harris Reputation Quotient that only tobacco and government scored lower than financial services in terms of consumer trust.
It takes time to rebuild trust in almost any instance, but in this case the right technology can accelerate the timeline. One way is to deploy cloud-based systems that are extensible so that your clients can be integrated into the electronic process flow. The system should electronically link the client to the advisor, and all parties down line, while allowing real-time visibility into each step of a transaction, including final documents. The result is total transparency into the interaction between the client and the firm; transparency leads to trust.
Patrick Goshtigian: What I found interesting is the growing need for advice by consumers on a range of financial planning issues, and the coming trillions of dollars flowing into the industry from the liquidation of the baby boomer assets over the next 20 years. We are all going to have to develop new service models and appropriately scale our businesses to serve these growing needs.
Also, there seems to be a misalignment between the need for advice and a great deal of general distrust out there that hangs over the entire financial services industry. At the surface, when we listen to the end investor, there’s really this level of unease of taking advice. I find that an interesting misalignment, one we are all going to have to deal with.
Developing The Next Generation
Canter: The other piece we’ve heard loud and clear here at the Tiburon CEO Summit is that we need to focus on developing next-generation talent. The median age of advisors in the U.S. is around 58. As an industry, we need to start bringing in next-generation talent—and not just to help firms have succession plans in place but to help firms grow.
Based on the studies we do at Fidelity, it’s “morning in America” in the advice business. There are actually jobs being created; the problem is, though, that there’s just not enough qualified talent to fill them. At Fidelity, we do a lot of educational programs. We also partner with other organizations and support their efforts to train folks. We’re in dialogue with universities that want to have specific financial planning modules to add to the choice of curriculum out there. There are some great institutions out there like Texas Tech, U.C. Irvine and Indiana University; but there needs to be more publicity around the opportunity and more universities taking hold of these programs.
Planning For The Unplanned
Hulett: At Securities America, we spend a lot of time helping advisors prepare a continuity plan, which we see as a short-term plan just in case there’s an unplanned transition. In fact, right now we are actively campaigning to get continuity plans on file for all of our advisors. Our call to action is “Join the Continuity Challenge—get your continuity plan in place by the end of this year.” So we’re offering a series of coaching and education programs to help them think through all the planning aspects of getting a continuity plan prepared. Then we’re helping advisors pair up with other advisors in the area so that they can do just a one-year renewable continuity plan. It’s important, and it’s a relatively easy thing to tick off the list.
Scaling The Business
Embrogno: The best way to scale is to outsource as much technology as possible, especially for small and medium-sized firms. For advisors, I recommend outsourcing your technology as soon as practical. Moving to the cloud is a surefire way to grow operations while improving your technology offering. Today, single advisor offices and small firms can enjoy the same technology benefits that were only previously available to large firms with large budgets. From a compliance standpoint, all constituents, no matter how big or small, are held to the same rules and should have access to the same enterprise-grade systems at a reasonable price point.
There are seasoned, cloud-based providers that are delivering secure, compliant and proven solutions. Look for a provider that currently accommodates both small and large organizations. Ask to see technology audit reports, penetration testing reports, security information policies and the like. You will need to trust your provider in order to pass that same trust to your clients.
Also remember that, in terms of clients, there are different personas. Certain clients are more tech savvy than their advisors. But we have to find a way to serve all, even the non-techie client, in the most efficient manner based on their personas without diluting the compliant and secure underpinnings of an electronic system. Firms need to look at their ecosystem as a socio-technological tool. They have to combine technology with processes and their culture, to start thinking about extending their back office processes to the field and out to the client. This leads to accommodation and inclusion that can best be delivered in an integrated and unified technology approach and platform.
There is a lot of opportunity out there in 2013 and beyond. Folks should be excited.
Roadmap For The Future
Canter: I’ll come back to where I started: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up someplace else.” So to take a step back and look at your firm holistically, look at your people, your organizational structure, your use of technology, serving the clients effectively, and map out a plan that includes growth of the business. Consider the development of your employees and your partners, and look for future hires.
Goshtigian: The best piece of advice that we always give our clients is they need to have a plan, and that applies to financial advisory firms, too. You have to look at all of your processes and systems and needs and see how you’re going to obtain your goals. In developing that plan, consider that there’s a lot of industry consolidation as advisors look to retire. As firms consolidate and grow, everyone needs to know where that firm is going and whether that’s a strict strategic plan.
Hulett: There may be disruption and uncertainty coming in the future, but the way to lead your clients through that and to thrive in that environment is to stick to the fundamentals. Make sure you have really strong client communication and education that is systematic and ongoing. Make sure every client has a retirement income distribution plan and that they understand the elements of that plan. Don’t stop marketing and prospecting for clients and new assets during uncertain times; that’s the best time to be out marketing.