Marco, a 58-year-old advisor from New York, was raking in gross commissions of $1 million annually on securities and variable annuities, plus he earned commissions as a health insurance broker to 400 small businesses. He could not keep up with all of his leads and was letting opportunities slip by. He was working until 9 p.m. almost every night and had little time for himself or his family. He saw no way out. While he was approaching an age where he knew he should be thinking about succession planning, he was so busy with day-to-day affairs that he never found time to think strategically.     Instead of enjoying his success, he felt weighed down by it.
Bob, a 50-year-old CPA from Florida, had successfully navigated a transition from traditional accounting to wealth management. But he was still spending 80% of his time on small clients that accounted for only 20% of his revenue. He wanted to take his practice to the next level, but had no idea where to start.

Jeff, a 52-year-old CEO at a firm in California, hired a writer to help his firm create new marketing materials. With more than $1 billion under management and 35 professionals, the firm needed a new brochure and a Web site. But a few hours into an interview with his writer, he exploded, because he didn't have answers to the writer's questions about how his firm dispensed advice. "Why are you asking me how we manage money?" Jeff screamed. "You're the financial writer! You're supposed to know what we do!" The writer sheepishly replied, "I just want to understand your firm's process of wealth management so we can explain it and differentiate your firm from others." Irritated, Jeff shot back, "We do the same thing everyone else does. Just write about that!"

These three anecdotes are all true. The names of the advisors and locations of their firms have been altered, but the problems they face are all very real and come down to one issue: strategic business planning.

Ironically, financial advisors-planning professionals-often fail to plan for their own businesses. They fail to think strategically about how to operate their firms more efficiently by devising systematic written processes. As so many struggle with growth problems, operational challenges and marketing issues, most fail to address the root of their problem: a lack of rigorous strategic analysis and a failure to develop processes in their firms.

Advisors are starved for answers about how to create processes for managing portfolios, how to figure out which target markets would be most attractive and how to structure a system for retaining and grooming junior professionals by putting them on a career track with clear opportunities for advancement. Advisors are hungry for ideas about how they can change the behavior of their staff to get them to take meticulous notes about client activities and input them into a new CRM system. Advisors want to know how they can segment their business into two or three prescribed levels of service with different pricing schemes and then be certain that staff members will always deliver to clients the promised level of service.

Process For Success
    Creating these processes is key to running a successful financial advisory practice and making your firm great. Once you establish written procedures for delivering wealth management advice, employees can then carry out the process. The firm's founder no longer must meet with every new client if intake procedures and instructions are written. The firm's principals don't have to review every client portfolio and performance report or personally be involved in every task conducted in the firm.

A firm with processes will see better client service, since a task handed off from one employee to another won't be fumbled nearly as often-if Stan knows his job is to gather client data, and Steve knows he must take that client data and enter it into planning software, the handoff point is clear. Not only that, but it can even be embedded in a firm's software. Programs such as Junxure, Redtail CRM, ProTracker, Salesforce and XLR8 can incorporate your work flows and keep a staff informed of the process stage each client is in.  

When you commit these processes to software, it allows you to measure your firm's efficiency and profitability. It allows you to generate reports on how many times a client has contacted your firm each year,, which of your staff members is handling certain chores most often and which ones failed to follow up. And if you really commit staff resources to filling in the data, you can also gauge which clients are most profitable.

Moreover, your firm is suddenly not reliant on one or two key employees. When processes for handling the firm's business are documented, new people can be hired to do the same jobs. New employees can be trained. Your business is scalable. Plus, you can divvy up tasks and processes and organize roles for employees. "Client service representative" becomes a defined role in your firm and is not thought of as Sue's job. "Portfolio analyst" becomes a defined role and is not thought of as Sam's job. Sue can thus train a successor and give up some of her responsibility in client services when she wants to become an advisor. Sam can move from his role as an analyst to that of portfolio manager. A career path can be established for employees showing them how one day they can become partners.

Such processes can also give substance and uniqueness to your marketing materials. Say there are six steps that every retirement planning client must go through-data gathering, estimating, evaluating, proposing, executing and reviewing-and that these six words spell "DEEPER." The firm can now market its DEEPER wealth management process, which can be differentiated and even trademarked. Now it's easy to design a logo connected to your firm's process.

Prophets Of Process

In recent years, Mark Tibergien at the accounting firm Moss Adams LLP, along with colleagues Rebecca Pomering and Philip Palaveev, have become nationally known by offering consulting services to advisors on these very issues. Tibergien's personality and  eloquence, as well as his deep knowledge of the financial services industry and management techniques, have made him an industry luminary. And this gave him a huge opportunity early this year, when he was hired away from Moss Adams by Pershing, the clearing firm, to run its RIA division. While it was good news for him, a result of his well-deserved success, it left a void at Moss Adams, which announced it was scaling back its advisor consulting division.