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6 traits of exceptional financial advisors

by Nov 3, 2021Advisor perspectives

6 traits of exceptional financial advisors

by Nov 3, 2021Advisor perspectives

Advisor, keynote speaker, and author Frank Leyes invested a year interviewing successful advisors for his book “Shaping the Future: 6 Ways Exceptional Advisors Transform Financial Futures.” He shares six key traits that “exceptional advisors” exhibit in their practices and client relationships.

Frank A. Leyes is the founder and president of Frank A. Leyes & Associates, a full-service wealth-management and advisory firm with offices in Roanoke, Virginia, and Indianapolis, Indiana.

Mr. Leyes has earned the professional designation of Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) and is an active member of the Society of Financial Service Professionals (FSP). In addition to managing his core practice, Mr. Leyes is a frequent keynote speaker for advisor groups. He has also developed a “mastermind” program for advisors and authored three books.

He says, “One of the most important aspects of my professional life—in addition to serving the needs of our firm’s clients—is the great satisfaction and personal growth I have been able to find in being able to interact with, learn from, and share knowledge with many dedicated professionals in the financial advisory field.”

As part of this philosophy, Mr. Leyes invested a year interviewing successful advisors for his second book, “Shaping the Future: 6 Ways Exceptional Advisors Transform Financial Futures.”

Mr. Leyes cites as one of the inspirations for his book the collaboration of Andrew Carnegie and Napoleon Hill in the early 1900s. Carnegie challenged Hill to interview dozens of the most successful business leaders of the time, resulting in the classic book “Think and Grow Rich,” published in 1937. It is considered one of the most influential books ever produced in the area of personal and professional development.

In “Shaping the Future,” Mr. Leyes brings a similar effort to the financial advisory field.

In the book, Mr. Leyes offers a comprehensive discussion of six traits that characterize successful advisors, along with illustrative anecdotes and practical examples and exercises to help other financial advisors in developing these skills. He has discovered and summarized how “exceptional advisors” have built their businesses, communicate effectively, leverage systems and technology, adapt through regulatory changes, and build teams that can transform the financial futures of their clients.

Mr. Leyes notes, “As Anthony Robbins often says, ‘success leaves clues.’ … There is excellence among us, and we can all benefit from the sharing of this excellence. This was the motivation behind this book: to discover what the best advisors do and then to share it with the advisor community.”

6 traits of exceptional advisors

Each chapter of “Shaping the Future” presents an in-depth discussion of the traits Mr. Leyes believes take financial advisors from ordinary to extraordinary. Mr. Leyes offers presentations on the book to advisor groups and industry organizations, which are excerpted here.

1. Lead with convictions

Mr. Leyes says that one of the most important attributes that clients look for in an advisor is leadership, especially in times “when convictions are being tested.” He notes that this is especially important in today’s information-saturated world that is full of conflicting messages. Advisors who possess strong core beliefs, and communicate them effectively, will more likely be seen as highly effective stewards of their clients’ hard-earned resources and, ultimately, their financial futures.

He writes,

“During a recent keynote presentation to a gathering of advisors who had assembled from around the country, I conducted an exercise where I invited advisors to write down their top ‘convictions.’ An advisor raised his hand and asked a very insightful question: “What is the difference between a belief and a conviction?” Based on the response from the other advisors in the room, this question represented a common thread. I explained that I believe convictions are beliefs that have withstood adversity and the test of time. …

“How are your convictions expressed in your business? Let’s go beyond the words we say and the catchphrases that make all advisors sound alike. How do you build high-trust relationships? What steps do you take? How does your support team play a role in this? How does your own personal investment strategy reflect the convictions you share with clients? How do you balance the competing convictions of wanting to help clients capture the market’s upside with the ‘Holy Grail’ of protecting the downside?”

2. Communicate with elegant simplicity

Mr. Leyes says that exceptional advisors are almost universally exceptional communicators with their clients. A major element of this is developing the skill to deliver important—and often complex—financial concepts in a concise and user-friendly fashion. He cites a well-known quote from Albert Einstein, “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.”

Mr. Leyes says,

“I’ve had the privilege of hearing Barry LaValley speak on several occasions. Barry has written a book, ‘So You Think You Are Ready to Retire,’ and is a frequent presenter at advisor conferences. During his presentation, he shares that a typical client may ‘check out’ for portions of our conversations as often as every minute. Imagine that we have their attention for 45 seconds at a time, and we then need to invite them to re-engage through questions, reconnecting with their story, etc. …

“If Budweiser is able to tell a story and emotionally engage their audience in a 30-second commercial with a Labrador puppy and some Clydesdale horses, we can learn a lesson from that. In today’s world, Exceptional Advisors realize that, while it is permissible for our clients to speak in run-on sentences and lengthy explanations, our role is to have the brevity and clarity that Einstein referred to. … For us, we should answer questions with accurate, insightful sound bites and then redirect the process of communication back to our clients.”

3. Engage personally through the power of story

Mr. Leyes believes that “Story is a lever that moves in ways mere words, statistics, or other industry jargon can never touch.”

He uses the example of a typical discovery meeting with a new client, where exceptional advisors have perfected the art of engagement through sharing their own stories and, in turn, drawing out the client’s most influential life experiences, current concerns, and aspirations for the future. He says these advisors can structure a conversation that goes to the heart of a client’s life and their finances, becoming almost like “financial biographers.”

He writes,

“Many in our industry use oft-repeated, cliché phrases in their cookie-cutter marketing and communications. But the advisors who truly engage with the hearts and minds of others have a sense about the power of story. …

 “Great storytellers engage in two dimensions at the same time. While the ability to craft our own story in such a way that our clients can relate to it is a powerful skill, it does not come close to the leverage we add to relationships when we engage in our client’s story.”

4. Systematize and streamline every area of business

Mr. Leyes says one of the most important lessons he learned in his interviews with exceptional advisors was that “leverage comes about through simplicity.”

He writes,

“Early in the life cycle of top-achieving advisors, many seem to create complexity. Dan Sullivan, the founder of Strategic Coach (a lifetime-focusing program for successful entrepreneurs), has even coined the phrase, ‘The Ceiling of Complexity.’ He uses this phrase to outline the reality that complexity can stifle growth. Complexity is the enemy of execution. There comes a point in the development of top advisors when we are faced with the ‘overwhelm’ that can be caused by this complexity:

  • “Too many computer programs running disconnected parts of our business.
  • “An accumulation of so many investment models that we don’t effectively monitor and manage them.
  • “A bookshelf full of practice management resources that all seemed good at the time we invested in them.
  • “Resources from coaching programs that (if not congruent with a streamlined business model) can actually feed the complexity monster.”

Mr. Leyes notes, “In our quest to be accessible everywhere all the time, we are never fully invested or present anywhere.” Many exceptional advisors, he has found, took a path to the next level in their business by consciously seeking ways to simplify their everyday lives as financial advisors.


5. Leverage the power of unique teamwork

Mr. Leyes says that many exceptional advisors surround themselves with people who have strengths in areas where they may not have the greatest strengths themselves. They build and empower teams that can execute in a coordinated and complementary fashion.

Finding those unique individuals to join the team is a skill set in and of itself, as is the ability to “give up control to get control.” When an excellent team is assembled that works well together and becomes more than the sum of its parts, he believes it should not really be viewed “as an expense.”

He writes,

“9 + 7 =?

“Do the math. For most of us, the answer that comes to mind is 16. Within the context of unique teamwork, the answer may be quite different. There is a ‘horse pull’ competition in Canada each year where the idea is to see whose horse can pull the most weight. One horse might pull 9,000 pounds and the next only 7,000 pounds. But a strange thing happens when we hitch them together. Harnessed alongside each other, the same two horses can pull 32,000 pounds! The same thing can happen in our practices.

“The power of unique teamwork leverages everyone’s talents and opportunities beyond what we can accomplish on our own. While some top advisors choose to operate in solo practices, this apparent simplicity may actually add complexity. The diversity of tasks that must be accomplished by the entrepreneur himself or herself ultimately prevents the leverage that can come by utilizing the unique talents of others. …

“When an Exceptional Advisor surrounds themselves with unique team members, they have not really given up control over the outcome. Rather, they have eliminated the tension of trying to do everything in the business themselves and therefore grow into better outcomes as a result of the freedom.”

6. Commit to lifelong learning

Mr. Leyes says that a common thread among exceptional advisors is a commitment to lifelong learning. This, he says, goes far beyond attending mandatory compliance sessions and continuing education sessions. There is something in the DNA of leaders in the industry that “makes them open to new ways of improving their businesses, themselves, and the quality of their lives.”

“Shaping the Future” not only expands upon this concept, but it also outlines many of the resources and best practices that Mr. Leyes has discovered and believes can offer great value to advisors’ personal and professional growth.

He notes,

“Not only is a part of the fabric of Exceptional Advisors to be lifelong learners, but industry studies point to the benefits as well. … Nearly half of financial advisors have relied on outside advice (i.e., coaching programs) to help improve their practices. … Those who do so generate 28.5% more in annual revenue than those who don’t.”

“Several years ago, our broker-dealer was approached by a coaching firm to offer a comprehensive coaching program to advisors. When I showed up for the first meeting, the age range of the advisors in the room spoke to the fabric of being lifelong learners.

“There was an advisor in his 20s who was stepping into his father’s firm. There were advisors in their 60s still wanting to improve how they do what they do for clients. Each advisor in that room had invested a substantial amount of time and money to be where they were. Clients don’t always know about this. Regulators have no idea of the efforts top advisors make behind the scenes to shape futures. But we know. And it delivers an unmistakable advantage. …”

“… Even more important than the increase in revenue is the byproduct that our clients are better served as a result of working with advisors who are committed to lifelong learning.”


Mr. Leyes offers the following concluding thoughts,

“My goal as one of your peers is to remind you that you play a role in the lives of your clients that should never be taken for granted.

“The present is gathering. The future is calling. There is a job to do and a journey in between. And there is a responsibility, accountability, and even more … a privilege to be assumed. How will you shape the future?”

Editor’s note: Proactive Advisor Magazine would like to thank Frank Leyes for permission in excerpting his book, “Shaping the Future: 6 Ways Exceptional Advisors Transform Financial Futures”, and presentations for this article. Mr. Leyes also has developed and leads an advisor-only forum dedicated to the sharing of ideas and best practices, “Advisor Mastery.”

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Proactive Advisor Magazine. These opinions are presented for educational purposes only.

David Wismer is editor of Proactive Advisor Magazine. Mr. Wismer has deep experience in the communications field and content/editorial development. He has worked across many financial-services categories, including asset management, banking, insurance, financial media, exchange-traded products, and wealth management.

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