Success is a funny thing. It’s hard to define, its meaning changes as we age and its drivers are, at best, elusive. And yet we spend our lives trying to achieve our own version of it.
But think about what it would mean for the industry if we could isolate the common denominators across the most successful advisors. Recognizing that there is no common definition of success, let’s start with a traditional view that an advisory business is successful if it is growing, profitable, stable and providing significant value for clients. The question is, can that version of success be said to be driven by who the advisors are, what they do or how they structure their businesses? Or is it all three?
Drivers of Advisor Success
Through this blog, on-going research and interviews with outstanding advisors, I hope to find out and share the insights to get us closer to a roadmap for advisors who are seeking to break through. In May of this year, I took a baby step forward and gathered input from over 750 advisors on their perception of their own success, why they think they have achieved it and where the source of the breakthroughs in their businesses.
I was, at first, struck by the generality of the comments advisors provided when asked about the contributors to their success.
- Mindset: Your personal outlook or characteristics (e.g. optimism, determination, drive)
- Physical Health: The quality of your health, energy level, etc.
- Planning/Goal Setting: The extent to which you set clear goals and plan for your business.
- Client Engagement. The extent to which you build engaged/satisfied client relationships.
- Team Engagement. The extent to which build a team that actively engaged in driving the business forward.
- Business Efficiency. The extent to which you run an efficient business, including workflow, automation and effective use of technology.
- Personal Efficiency. The extent to which you are personally productive, including time management, effective scheduling, etc.
The net result? From the perspective of advisors (those who are successful and those who are on their way), the deal breaker is mindset, which comprises perseverance, hard work, resilience and gritty determination.
Execution: Operationalizing the Concepts Other Advisors Only Talk About
When I dug deeper, asking qualitative questions on the things that advisors felt had contributed to their success, I was struck by the number of comments that were, at best, general. Those at the top of their game spoke about putting the needs of clients first or surrounding themselves with a good team. The fact is, I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t say they put their client’s interests first. It was during an interview with a wonderful advisor, Ross Levin, that I connected the dots. Successful advisors have found a way to operationalize big concepts, like trust, engagement and, putting the needs of clients first.
Ross is the Founding Principal and a President of Accredited Investors. He and his team have built a business that exceeds $1.4b in assets and his responses to my questions, which likely tested his naturally humble approach, were incredibly telling. I asked him how his firm puts clients’ interests first, outside the regulatory dictates of being a fiduciary. He gave me a very specific example. Accredited had changed one of their key partners and discovered that client dividends weren’t being automatically reinvested. While it came to light through one client, they did the research and credited back every client who was affected.
It was just one example but I was officially schooled in the power of execution. Many talk about the interests of clients, but few would pay the price.
Operationalizing big concepts is one of the special skills of the most successful advisors. They understand what is most important and then build process around delivery. The reality is that many clients do not fully understand the mechanics of suitability or fiduciary standard. However, they do know their advisor if they have their back because they have seen it in action.
Execution on the big concepts doesn’t happen overnight. Client experiences are stacked over time and result in a profound sense of engagement and trust. For example, trust might be demonstrated in the following ways:
- “My advisors follows through. He said he would reach out every quarter and he does.”
- “When the market was down, my advisor called to ask how I was feeling.”
- “My advisor remembers the details of my life.”
- “If something goes wrong, my advisor has a clear process that is followed. They touch base even if they don’t have a resolution.”
- “My advisors asks me for my feedback and responds to tell me if he can/cannot change something.”
- “My advisor took responsibility for an error on my account.”
Try it now. Pick one ‘big concept’ that you think is a primary driver of long-term success. Break it down and identify if or how you demonstrate that to clients, in action rather than just words. Consider making this a team exercise and challenge every team member to describe how they make these concepts real.
Successful advisors. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do.