Whether you’re a solo practitioner or a partner in an ensemble practice (or work for one), I suspect that business is good for you these days. That said, some in our field believe you’re going to be out of business within five years.

This is likely true even if you’ve enjoyed a great deal of success during the past 10 or 20 years. The fact is that you can’t safely assume that the business model that got you to this point will sustain you—and help you grow—into the future.

Before I explain why, let me say that I’m not a coach or business consultant, although I’ve done a lot of both for advisors over the years.

Unlike some others in our industry, I haven’t made a business of it. So I’m not going to be so bold as to tell you what to do. Instead, I’ll merely share with you what I’ve learned from operating my own firm. When my wife, Jean, and I launched our practice in 1986, we started with zero clients, zero assets and zero staff. Today, we’re one of the nation’s largest independent advisory firms; as of September 30, we had $14 billion in AUM, 26,000 clients and more than 100 advisors in 38 offices.

Our experience has convinced me of one hard truth: What got us to here won’t get us to where we want to go.

The same will be true for you: Whatever you’ve done to build your practice will not be sufficient to maintain it—and it certainly will not get you to the next level.

To understand this, think about how you got to where you are. Most advisors started out as clerks: You sold whatever it was that a prospect was willing to buy. As a result, your early book of business contained an eclectic mix of clients—some wanted to buy stocks, others bonds. Some traded options and still others annuities. You gave them whatever they wanted.

Then you became a salesman—and I don’t mean that in a negative way. True salesmen sell products that people really do need (while con men enrich themselves by selling products that are harmful). When you persuade people to buy what they need (even if they don’t know they need it), you’re truly serving their best interests.

But serving a client well is quite different from serving lots of clients well. The amount of money we earn is limited—in part by the amount our clients have invested with us and the number of clients we serve. Although we can increase our compensation by shifting to products that pay us more, ethical advisors won’t do that. We can also decide to serve clients with more money to invest, but let’s face it: While every advisor wants to do that, there are only so many high-net-worth clients to go around. So for most of us, the only way to significantly increase our incomes is to increase the number of clients we serve.

But recruiting more clients while retaining the current ones requires a different approach. After all, serving 10 clients is very different from serving 100 or 1,000. This is why I stated earlier that what got you to where you are today won’t get you to the next level.
Also, you face challenges that didn’t exist before, including rapid advances in technology, more experienced and better educated clients, increased competition and tighter regulatory oversight. Let’s explore each of these.

The Speed Of Technology
Moore’s law tells us that computer power is doubling every 24 months. Many in the tech sector say the doubling is now occurring every 18 months. By the late 2020s, therefore, many scientists say singularity will be achieved: Software intelligence will be indistinguishable from biological intelligence.

How will this affect the financial services industry?

Think about it: If millions of entrepreneurs are able to access capital directly from crowdfunding sites, will we still need investment banks? If virtual currencies allow for anonymous and cheap financial transactions globally, what happens to credit card companies and banks? Plus, we all know the threat of the robo-advisors, so I don’t need to elaborate on that here.

Current life expectancies for 65-year-olds are 88.8 and 86.6 years for women and men, respectively. But futurists say the first person to reach 150 years of age has already been born, and some project that people alive today will live 300 years or even longer. The best part: Medical technologies will actually “cure” aging—meaning you could reach 150 but feel as though you’re just 45!

Clearly, these issues represent massive disruption to retirement and estate planning as we know them. The Social Security system certainly wasn’t designed to support retirees for 100 years, nor was the U.S. pension system or annuity business. Even college planning will need to change once higher education becomes free. (Georgia Tech is already offering a master’s degree in information sciences for just $7,000 to online students. )

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