Advisor Quick Tips
Advisor Quick Tips
Cornerstones of a sound financial plan
David J. Wood is a senior vice president and financial advisor at St. Pedro & Associates, located in Royersford, Pennsylvania. Mr. Wood has been in the financial industry since 1991 and says he focuses on “providing sound, unbiased advice in the areas of wealth management, retirement plans, financial and estate planning, and personal and business insurance.”
Mr. Wood says, “St. Pedro has a specific planning methodology that we share with prospective and current clients. It’s called the ‘Four Cornerstone Approach.’”
This approach includes, among many other steps, conducting a thorough review and analysis of these four areas:
- Cash management and reserves: “We take an in-depth look at your current financial picture, identify and help maximize your financial strengths, [and] highlight and help minimize your financial weaknesses.”
- Fixed-income investments: “We determine your fixed-income needs, implement an appropriate strategy to help maximize your fixed-income needs, [and] monitor your fixed-income investments and adjust accordingly.”
- Protection and risk management: “We review your current protection strategy, conduct a need-based analysis, [and] recommend appropriate protections suited to your individual needs.”
- Equity investments: “We analyze your risk tolerance, address market fluctuations, [and] ensure appropriate portfolio asset allocation and diversification.”
A financial-planning process grounded in ‘vision, values, and goals’
Eric McGough, CLU, ChFC, RICP, is a wealth management advisor and co-founder of Resolute Wealth Partners, located in Greenwood Village, Colorado. Mr. McGough has three decades of experience in the financial-services industry. He dedicates his efforts to “providing fee-based planning and advisory services to executives, retirees, and high-net-worth individuals.”
His firm follows a disciplined and holistic financial-planning process that is grounded in a client’s “vision, values, and goals.” This process, which consists of several broad steps, is communicated in the following fashion to clients:
- Identify your vision and goals. First, we will make sure we understand what’s important to you and your loved ones, where you are today and where you want to be in the future.
- Think about a solution. Our team will analyze your financial situation and develop recommendations that can help you and your family achieve financial security. Together you and our team will decide which recommendations will work best for your lifestyle.
- Implement your strategies. Together, we’ll bring your financial plan to life with comprehensive financial products and quality solutions.
- Review your plan to sustain results. Even small changes in your life can impact your financial plan. We’ll meet with you regularly to help you adjust your plan as needed to stay on track. And although your financial strategy will be unique to you, we’ll ensure that it’s built on a solid foundation to help you protect against the unexpected, accumulate wealth, and preserve what you’re working so hard to achieve.
Robert G. Ziegler is a financial planner with Heritage Financial Consultants, based in the Wilmington, Delaware, office. In total, Mr. Ziegler has spent 10 years with the firm, where his father has worked for more than three decades. He says he has built his practice around a strong service model and client education, which “fits well with the culture” at Heritage Financial Consultants. The firm has several guiding principles surrounding client focus on its website, presented in abbreviated form here:
“We approach the financial marketplace with a fresh perspective, identifying opportunities and solutions that are innovative and effective. You’ll see from the start that our priority is you, and that our approach reflects that. Here’s what sets us apart.
“We get to know you. We start by getting to know you and what you want to accomplish. We meet throughout the year to ensure that your financial plan is aligned with your current lifestyle. …
“We don’t follow a blueprint. We work closely with you to develop a customized plan designed to protect and grow your wealth in line with your personal values and goals.
“We’re part of your team. Your finances affect every aspect of your life. We look beyond our relationship with you to consider a wider perspective, proactively engaging with your team of trusted advisors.
“We care about your success. Our team is an integral part of your success. Our highly educated professionals possess key licenses that speak to their ability to provide guidance, and they are continually learning about new strategies and resources to share with you.”
Offering client services rooted in strong values
Moses LaCour, MRFC, is the regional director for Southeast Texas at Money Concepts Capital. Pamela Mayfield-Kizzee, MRFC, is president of the Southeast Texas region at Money Concepts Capital. Both are financial advisors with LaCour Financial Services Inc. Their team serves clients with comprehensive wealth management, which includes financial planning, asset management, retirement-distribution strategies, college-funding and insurance strategies, and legacy planning, among other services.
Their practice is driven by a strong values orientation and a commitment to these principles:
- A consultative approach looking at clients’ entire financial picture.
- Commitment to providing high-quality wealth management and financial-planning services.
- Understanding that wealth management is a process, not a product, which requires client coaching and mentoring.
- Financial and investing planning informed by ongoing industry education.
- The freedom to offer objective financial guidance and a wide range of nonproprietary products and services.
- Robust technology that allows clients direct access to account statements, account values, holdings, transaction histories, and key personal documents online.
Luis (Louie) Padilla, MBA, is the principal financial advisor and founder of Maryland Wealth Management (MWM), located in Sparks, Maryland. He says his firm was established “with the belief that the client relationship comes first.”
He adds, “Creating meaningful touchpoints with clients is part of our overall strategy for building relationships. We do this through a thorough financial-planning process, periodic client reviews, newsletters, and personal communications around important milestones in a client’s life.
“After every client update meeting or annual review, I upload documents and important action items from the meeting to a virtual ‘client vault’ that also contains important financial documents for each client. But I think we have a unique twist on that process. At the end of the first year of a client relationship, I also place a copy of their annual review or statement in a small safe that is fire- and waterproof and give that to the client. I also include a sheet listing all of the accounts they hold through our firm, with passwords. It also has space for other key accounts they would like to permanently record.
“They can keep this safe at their home, keep one key, and give one to their spouse or the executor for their estate. While the online ‘vault’ is invaluable, I find that this physical ‘vault’ is something they find very useful and valuable. They can use it to keep their updated financial documents, passports, social security cards, birth certificates, and so forth. The client feedback on it has always been very positive.”
Edgardo Castro, of Aragon Capital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, spent the early part of his career in the banking channel, working as a private banker and financial advisor with well-known national banks. He says, “I liked the banking channel and working for first-class organizations, but it became apparent to me that I really wanted to become an independent financial advisor and have the ability to pursue my own business plan.” Mr. Castro joined Aragon Capital in 2016 and was attracted to “the vision of the management team” and the opportunity “to work together in a mutually beneficial fashion.”
Aragon Capital believes its operating principles, listed below, make it an attractive RIA firm for growth-oriented advisors:
- Our dedication forces clients to focus on their entire balance sheet, rather than simply on liquid asset performance in a vacuum.
- Our marketing is focused on building our brand in the market and bolstering our wealth advisors’ referral-based marketing efforts.
- Our team of experts in specific relevant domains … much like that of a family office.
- Our dedicated research and portfolio management structure is available to assist in sales and service efforts.
- Our education and knowledge is focused on building fundamental knowledge in our employees.
- Our strong operational infrastructure, including capabilities such as client operations, trading, and compliance.
Marc D’Elia is the founder and president of Premier Planning Partners and a registered representative of Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp., based in Largo, Florida. His firm’s vision is to help clients “toward achieving financial freedom” and “help clients find enjoyment and success in improving the quality of their financial lives.”
He has articulated a “client promise” and five core values he thinks should permeate all of his firm’s interactions with clients:
Working with our teams results in a personal financial road map and ongoing financial oversight that brings all elements of your financial life into one clearly focused picture.
- Honesty and integrity in providing objective guidance.
- Understanding of and empathy with our clients’ values and goals.
- Caring, reliable, and consistent communication.
- Comprehensive approach to financial planning.
- Value the importance of family and health in our clients’ lives.
Jeff McAvaddy is a registered representative and financial professional at Infinity Tax and Financial Planning, located in Largo, Florida. Mr. McAvaddy has over 18 years of experience in the financial-services industry and focuses on tax preparation, financial planning, investment management, and retirement-income planning.
Mr. McAvaddy says that an important component of his firm’s practice management is a client advisory board, which was set up several years ago and meets two to three times a year. Key aspects of the client advisory board include:
- Client representation on the board may rotate over time to different clients.
- Board members fill out a questionnaire before the meeting to suggest agenda items.
- Open discussions are held with the board to share ideas for practice feedback and improvement—including suggestions on process, communication, products, and services.
- The board meeting usually includes a dinner for members and the firm’s principals.
- Board meetings are supplemented with regular client-appreciation events, often connected to a charitable purpose. Clients are encouraged to invite friends or associates to the events.
Lannie Wright is the founder of Lannie Wright Financial Advisor, based in Carmel Valley, California. He says he “embraces technology” and has always been an “early adopter.” He believes social media is key to developing new client leads. He has seen the number of initial appointments leap higher for his firm through his use of targeted social media marketing using LinkedIn. (See his blogs on the topic here.) Mr. Wright’s articles provide detail on six steps to using LinkedIn effectively:
- Figure out what you want your LinkedIn account to do for you.
- Learn how to connect with more people.
- Get your (LinkedIn) house in order.
- Focus on the social media job every week.
- Follow the “10-Minute Daily Challenge.” (See his articles for more details on the challenge.)
- Connect with your connections!
Gary Wargo nurtures the growth of his practice through client-retention efforts, speaking engagements, networking in the community, and using a sophisticated customer relationship management (CRM) platform. His CRM system facilitates client touch points and allows him to do the following:
- Segregate clients by assets under management, creating A, B, C, and D classifications.
- Schedule client review sessions according to these classifications.
- Keep track of important client dates and trigger follow-up communications as appropriate.
- Efficiently monitor critical client authorizations, signatures, and requirements.
- Integrate client accounts from a variety of sources and generate reports and billing.
- Provide a user-friendly client portal.
Advisory firms can drive profitable growth through the acquisition of other practices that present a favorable opportunity for expanding a client base. As part of his current effort to acquire other practices, here are the “ideal” criteria John Zinaich (CFP, ChFC, CLU) looks for:
- The practice is well-established, has a long-term and stable client base, and the current owner is willing to work toward an efficient transition of the equity in current client relationships.
- There are long-term benefits to the client base of the existing firm in moving to a practice centered on holistic financial and investment planning.
- The practice includes services that complement his firm, such as tax planning.
- The practice should be small to midsized, with assets under management of at least $10 million.
Sunny (Shuai) Wang is the president of Essence Wealth and Investment Services, located in Santa Clara, California. He wants to “develop client relationships that go far beyond a transactional nature” and employs a specific financial-planning process that he describes to clients in this way:
- “Step 1: Getting to know you and the most important people in your life. Without knowing you and what’s important to you, how can I make sound suggestions on your financial future?
- “Step 2: Setting goals. If you don’t know where you are going, how will you ever get anywhere? Let’s figure out where you want to be first.
- “Step 3: Prioritize your goals. There are a lot of different things we’d like to accomplish in our lives. It’s impossible to achieve all of them at once. We have to prioritize what’s most important first and then develop a written action plan to attack other priorities in the future.
- “Step 4: Initiate a plan of action. Having a plan without taking action is a waste of everyone’s time. My job is to make sure that you implement the plan within a reasonable period of time.
- “Step 5: Review and improve. Planning should be an ongoing process. Like anything in life, plans and priorities change. I want to be there with you when they do and help you to create a sound financial life for you and your loved ones.”
Steve Romano and Rebecca Foster are financial advisors at NFA Wealth Management in Edmond, Oklahoma. They both cite a strong, supportive firm culture and values orientation as important factors in their decision to join NFA. NFA says its core beliefs for the firm, its people, and its client relationships are “powered by the Five F’s”:
Faith—“While religious Faith is a personal choice, you must have Faith that we will support you.”
Family—“We believe your Family must come first.”
Finance—“We believe your Finances have to be in order, therefore we operate from financial strength vs. financial weakness.”
Fitness—“Fitness is both physical and mental, and we believe you must be Fit to be engaged in our business.”
Fun—“You must also have Fun. If you are not having Fun, then why do it? Here at National Financial Alliance, we believe you must make life enjoyable.”
Michael Kuczinski is the president and founder of Total Wealth Enhancement Group LLC, located in Millstone Township, New Jersey. His firm provides full-service financial planning, investment management, retirement-income planning, and eldercare and estate planning to a wide range of clients. Mr. Kuczinski says he uses multiple approaches to introduce prospective clients to his firm, including the following:
- Holding two-day financial education seminars for the general public at a local community college. The classes cover a broad range of retirement-planning issues under the umbrella theme of “Rethink Retirement.”
- Developing relationships and strategic alliances with estate-planning attorneys and CPAs who have practices related to the fields of income taxation and retirement and estate distribution planning. These relationships allow for potential cross-references from each firm’s respective client bases.
- Using his tax-preparation capabilities to introduce his firm to clients and businesses who may later be interested in comprehensive financial-planning services.
- Encouraging current clients to invite friends, family, and associates to attend lunch or dinner sessions where a variety of financial-planning issues and the current market environment are discussed in an informal setting.
- Developing a network of relationships within the specific target segment of state and local employees, including first responders.
- Maintaining a strong profile within his local community through a number of public service positions.
Paul Balog is an independent financial advisor and investment portfolio strategist located in Tarpon Springs, Florida. He believes in “using multiple financial and investment strategies” in a manner that helps clients “work toward their goals and manage risk.” Mr. Balog says he has conducted extensive due diligence in examining the offerings of various third-party investment managers. The following are some of the factors he places the most weight on in his selection of managers:
- The consistency of returns over full market cycles.
- Transparency of investment philosophy, strategies, and execution.
- The ability to mitigate risk in down market cycles, minimizing drawdowns.
- Having diverse strategies suitable for investors with varying risk profiles.
- Strong standards of integrity and a verifiable track record.
- Excellence in research and rules-based strategy development.
- A commitment to service and support.
- Income-tax planning.
- Investment planning.
- Credit and debt planning.
- College planning.
- Retirement planning.
- Insurance planning.
- Estate planning.
- Health-care records.
- Key personal documents/online security.
- Professional advisors/service providers.
- You must develop a system that puts you in front of potential clients on a consistent basis. That system must keep you busy with appointments all year long.
- Use the system our firm developed, it is proven to work, or create your own. But once you have a system that accomplishes point #1, follow it and don’t deviate.
- Never, ever rush a client. They should never feel you are trying to “sell” them. Take your time and respect your client’s decision-making process, no matter how many appointments it takes. Just make sure you keep setting future appointments.
- Always treat your client the way you would want your mother to be treated.
- Never take short cuts with due diligence or compliance—it can destroy your career.
- Consultants, not “dictators.” We take a consultative approach in looking at your entire financial picture, working as a partner to develop a plan to help you get to where you want to go.
- Committed. We are committed to providing you with the finest in wealth management and financial-planning services. We will work with you through a customized approach that meets your specific needs.
- Understanding. We understand that wealth management is a process, not a product. As such, you receive ongoing money mentoring and coaching.
- Educated. We attend a minimum of 30 hours of classroom education each year, over twice the industry average. We do this for one reason only—to better serve you with the latest in products, services, and tax strategies.
- Independent products. We do not offer any proprietary products and can consider literally thousands of products in the financial-services industry. The only requirement is that the products or services meet your needs and desires.
- Technology. View your account statements, account values, holdings, and transaction histories online. Use the online “Client Vault” to store all of your important documents in one place.
- Determining goals and objectives: We assess a client’s economic, investment, and lifestyle goals, as well as retirement plans and needs. We work to identify short-, medium-, and long-term investment targets.
- Developing a customized plan and investment strategy: We analyze the information from the first step and develop a strategy for investment and financial recommendations tailored to the distinct needs of the individual, consistent with their tolerance for investment risk.
- Implementing the investment strategy: We complete the process of structuring an investment approach, building a portfolio of investment vehicles that seeks to address the client’s specific needs, and implementing the strategy. This process includes spending time educating clients about the purpose and value of each element of their investment plan—and how these elements fit with their financial goals.
- Managing the portfolio and ongoing review: Our goal is to have an excellent communication process with each client, periodically review progress toward objectives, and make sure there is an opportunity for regular feedback.
- Sophisticated, rules-based investment strategies based on proprietary models.
- Strategies and options for portfolio allocations that can emphasize strong diversification and risk management.
- The ability to take advantage of tactical or active portfolio strategies that can respond in real time to different market conditions.
- The ability to modify a client’s portfolio allocations if objectives or life circumstances change.
- A variety of portfolio options that are appropriate for clients across many different risk profiles.
Jason Palmer is the founder of Resonant Financial Planning, based in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. He says he employs “a professional, process-driven approach that resonates with clients’ values.” He has developed the following list of important questions that he thinks prospective clients should ask themselves as they consider working with a financial advisor:
- Do I want to find clarity and confidence in thinking about my financial future?
- Am I seeking an enduring relationship with a trusted advisory team?
- Do I value sound, competent advice that is based on my unique circumstances and reflects my best interests?
- How important is it to have a reliable resource to turn to with financial questions, challenges, and goal-planning?
- Do I proactively seek to improve my life and the lives of those I care about?
Ron Hoyle, founder of Integrated Investment Systems Inc. has created a thorough client onboarding process for financial planning. The process is rolled out to clients during seven meetings over 90 days. Each meeting has a detailed agenda and set of action steps—except the last, which is held open. By the end of the process, Mr. Hoyle’s objectives for each client include the following:
- Completing a thorough discovery process that covers the client’s financial picture and life objectives.
- Developing an accurate assessment of the client or client couple’s risk profile.
- Formulating a comprehensive financial plan that addresses short- and long-term objectives.
- Creating a timetable for strategy implementation.
- Implementing a team approach to a client’s total financial needs through a business model that includes relationships with professional-services firms.
- Providing clients with tools to become better organized in their financial lives.
- Setting up customized schedules for periodic client reviews.
Stephen Baldino and Susan Perry, partners at Baldino & Perry Associates Inc., provide holistic financial planning and a range of financial services to individual and business clients. They see their practice model as “being the conductor of the orchestra,” putting together a team of professionals they may call upon for assistance on a wide variety of issues in the financial realm. Among those professionals are third-party investment managers that can provide the following:
- Outstanding, personalized service.
- A range of strategic options, suitable for clients with varying risk profiles.
- Sound money management and strong investment risk-management services.
- Transparency and accessibility of senior managers.
- The ability to effectively resolve problems.
- Consultative services, especially for complex client cases.
- An overall working relationship that fosters a sense of “partnership.”
Stephen Franklin of Kentucky Planning Partners (KPP) has been an independent financial advisor since 1984. He says that he is always involved in a “passionate effort to keep abreast of the latest trends in the very big world of global finance.” Mr. Franklin has taken several steps to build and refresh his knowledge base in seeking to benefit his clients. He recommends the following:
- Conduct research on the many professional designation programs available to financial advisors. Select first those with the most immediate relevance to your practice and any areas of personal specialization.
- Take advantage of continuing education programs, webinars, and conferences.
- Consider enrolling in graduate-level certification programs in academic areas such as finance and securities analysis.
- Develop your own disciplined research and reading program to stay current on developments within the industry and the overall economic and business landscape.
- Give back to your community by teaching financial education classes to college-level students, senior citizens, and/or the public at large, focusing on your areas of expertise.
Cathy Jackson of Beacon Financial Group, LLC, is a Certified Kingdom Advisor (CKA) and says she enjoys “helping families become more responsible stewards of their finances and, where appropriate, incorporating faith-based financial strategies as part of their financial and retirement plans.” Ms. Jackson identifies several attributes that clients desire related to this area:
- They want to work with an advisor who applies biblical principles in their firm’s financial-planning approach.
- They seek to become responsible stewards of their finances, with a commitment to family values, their faith, their church, and their community.
- They value advisors with high standards of integrity who serve the needs of clients first.
- They are interested in how faith-based principles can help inform their legacy planning and charitable giving.
- They wish to work with an advisor who is experienced and maintains a commitment to excellence in their practice.
Aaron Tice of Cirrus Retirement Solutions says that referrals from current clients and third-party professionals are critical to the continued growth of his advisory firm. He stays in constant contact with each group and facilitates client referrals by providing them with a credentials packet that identifies his firm’s product and services and fundamental operating principles. This packet includes the following five core principles, which he stresses when speaking with prospective clients:
- The independent status of his advisory firm.
- The unbiased nature of his firm’s advice.
- The comprehensive scope of his financial-planning process.
- A commitment to the highest standards of service for his clients.
- His firm’s dedication to developing customized and goals-based financial plans.
Daniel Ruben, founder of Life Strategies Advisors, Inc., says the name of his firm was carefully chosen and informs how his holistic process works. He believes his role in working with clients is to help them successfully navigate what he calls “critical life events.” He has a grid he shares with clients in the planning process that covers five strategic life goals, with detailed priorities under each:
- Clarifying a vision and plan for the future.
- Balancing work and lifestyle.
- Creating financial comfort.
- Protecting and helping family.
- Leaving a legacy.
Steve White of Steven M. White Financial, LLC, believes in developing holistic financial-planning relationships with clients and their families. Mr. White has earned the Certification in Long-Term Care (CLTC) designation and has a special focus in helping clients make sure they have strategies in place to manage unforeseen circumstances in the future. He helps clients focus on several key areas:
- Do they have adequate life insurance to protect their family?
- Do they have a trust or will?
- Do they have patient advocate paperwork and a power-of-attorney document in place?
- Do they have a plan for their own or their spouse’s long-term care?
- Have they developed a comprehensive legacy plan?
- Are there any special needs for children that must be considered?
Chip Hill, founder of Chill Financial Group in Lexington, Kentucky, has a practice focus on serving the financial-planning needs of professionals in the medical and academic communities. He says these are “very busy people who appreciate working with a financial professional in an efficient and productive manner.” He takes a “project management approach” in working with his clients that includes the following steps:
- Implementing a policy of transparency on fee and services disclosures at the start of the relationship.
- Conducting a comprehensive and efficient onboarding process.
- Identifying client resources and building out timetables for plan implementation.
- Prioritizing client objectives, working systematically in addressing these needs.
- Using time-saving technology for financial planning, client reporting, and communications.
- Offering clients the option of conducting meetings “virtually.”
Miranda Bonde uses an approach that is both humanistic and disciplined when helping clients with their financial lives. This approach has also allowed her to build strong personal and professional networks while exploring her passion for working with philanthropic causes, especially in the LGBT community. Here are a few ways she’s accomplished this:
- She tries to help the underserved segments of the community who are looking for an advisor who places a premium on a supportive atmosphere, openness, and transparency.
- By volunteering and serving organizations that she is passionate about, she has met like-minded and successful people who are natural fits as “ideal clients.”
- She does not get involved in organizations simply to prospect for clients. She seeks to build quality personal relationships over the long term.
- She believes in getting deeply involved, making a real contribution, being accountable, and exhibiting leadership skills. Demonstrating those qualities will ultimately lead to earning respect and trust.
Brian Mock of M&A Wealth Management employs a step-by-step process in working with wealth-management clients on investment planning. For most clients, he uses active money management that has risk management as one of its strongest priorities. His process for clients includes the following steps:
- Defining their investment time horizon and risk tolerance to set portfolio objectives and define expectations.
- Designing a portfolio solution that may include multiple traditional and alternative asset classes and strategic and tactical strategies.
- Implementing the investment plan based on the recommended management approach, allocations, and objectives.
- Managing the portfolio to the targeted objectives, using the services of third-party managers.
- Reporting on progress toward portfolio objectives on a regular basis.
Having a first-rate contact management program allows financial advisors to communicate on a regular basis with current clients and to provide a perspective on their firm to prospects. Andy Paladino of Paladino Financial Group (PFG) uses a third-party provider of automated customer relationship management (CRM) solutions as well as the robust marketing resources of his broker-dealer, USA Financial Securities Corp. This entails several specific steps:
- Creation of a database from current clients, email or phone inquiries from prospects, and visitors to his website or listeners of his radio program who request a consultation or financial education materials.
- Bi-weekly automated communications to current clients in the form of educational newsletters on topics such as retirement insights and economic or market updates.
- A three-month email campaign to new prospects that features a variety of educational materials and invitations to tap into PFG educational resources or to request a consultation.
- Automated tracking of client communications/meetings with prompts for regular follow-up emails or phone calls and the scheduling of client review sessions.
Arnie Pechler credits peer study groups with adding to his body of knowledge and providing a resource for best practices for his firm. Here is how his peer group works together:
- A group of seven or eight advisors from different firms meets monthly over the phone.
- There is a “supergroup” session of about 40 advisors once a year.
- Sessions are moderated by a broker-dealer representative and can include outside speakers.
- Goals, challenges, practice management concepts, new technology, and sales ideas are discussed.
Richard F. Grant Jr. is the founder and managing principal of RFG Capital Management LLC (RFG), a registered investment advisory firm located in Arizona. Mr. Grant has more than three decades of experience in financial services and has lived and worked in the U.S., Japan, and Germany. Mr. Grant’s experience working around the globe with a variety of clients has helped his firm deal efficiently with the unprecedented environment created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He says, “I feel very fortunate in this situation in terms of our firm’s ability to provide high-quality service to clients. A good percentage of our clients are from other states and countries, so remotely working with clients has been part of the fabric of our operation for years. We are very comfortable with technology and have been using live-conferencing tools, email, and the phone to conduct business without meeting in person for quite some time. While many people may have had to quickly train themselves on something like Zoom, we have been using that for about two years. We also use GoToMeeting and Jive software, which provides various collaboration solutions.”
David Turner is the founder and principal financial advisor at My Planning Pro, an advisory firm located in the Greenville-Spartanburg area of South Carolina. Mr. Turner says, “Through our experience, we have learned it is important that both the advisor and the client are clear on what to expect if we are to develop and maintain a successful working relationship—one where we can work to help a client or client couple strive to achieve their financial and lifestyle goals.”
As part of this process, Mr. Turner’s firm sets out the following specific principles—referred to as the “Keys to a successful relationship”—that outline what clients can expect from his firm.
“Our firm will always:
- Strive to acquire and maintain a thorough understanding of your financial goals.
- Update your current financial information on a regular basis.
- Carefully assess and monitor your investment risk and time frame.
- Explain the implications of all recommended financial planning strategies and gladly answer any questions you may have.
- Update you as and when appropriate by email, mail, and phone.
- Meet with you regularly to review your financial plan.
- Act as your primary financial advisor, coordinating the efforts of other related professionals as and when required.
- Treat you with the utmost respect and professionalism.”
Managing client expectations, especially regarding how services are delivered, is critically important for a wealth advisory firm. This is a two-way street, says Judson Gee, and he asks that clients review and sign a “Client-Advisor Expectations” agreement that specifically addresses the following:
- How promptly each party agrees to respond to inquiries from the other.
- Preferred methods of communication (e.g., in person, via phone, text, or email).
- Frequency of client review sessions and how they should best be scheduled.
- A summary of broad investment objectives and a commitment by both parties to “stay the course” in working toward long-term financial goals.
Determining and implementing best practices for an employee retirement plan can be daunting for owners of small and mid-sized businesses. Arnie Beck’s firm, Financial Management Associates helps businesses tackle these tasks using a process called “The Ultimate Retirement Plan Solution,” which includes the following steps:
- Evaluating a company’s current retirement plan, including fee analysis.
- Developing a request for proposal (RFP) and analysis of proposals—identifying the most effective solution.
- Maximizing tax benefits and facilitating employee education and participation.
- Protecting a company’s fiduciaries from unnecessary litigation.
- Ongoing monitoring of plan investments.
Bill Romeo is the founder and principal advisor at FinestPlan LLC, located in Coconut Creek, Florida. Mr. Romeo developed extensive marketing communications materials when the firm was founded in 2002. These focused on his mission, services offered, and the benefits of engaging his firm. The marketing program includes a section called “What are the benefits of a comprehensive financial plan for retirees?” The answers included the following:
- Assessment of current financial inventory and tax exposure analysis.
- Planning for education needs.
- Mapping out a retirement-income plan.
- Efficient estate planning.
- Survivor income and lifestyle protection.
- Disability and long-term care coverage.
- Navigating Social Security and Medicare.
- Goals-based investment planning.
- Coordination with other trusted advisors.
Mira Mizrahi, CFP, is a financial planner and advisor with Diversified Financial Consultants LLC, located in Whippany, New Jersey. She specializes in personal financial planning for a wide range of clients of all ages, including individuals, single-parent and two-income families, professionals, and retirees.
Ms. Mizrahi says her mission includes “a total commitment to each client’s personal success.” She says, “There is an expression in Hebrew that basically translates to ‘you will love your friend as yourself.’ That is what I try to follow with every client.” In this effort, she takes a highly personalized approach with clients and prospects, which include the following actions:
- Posting a “welcome” message on her website and videos that outline her personal history, beliefs, and commitment to serving clients’ needs.
- Reaching out to clients in a direct, personal fashion at times of major milestones and life events. She says, “For example, this includes the arrival of new members of the family; graduations; the purchase of a new home; birthdays; when someone is sick; and, sadly, funerals.”
- Holding learning events where clients can feel free to invite family members, friends, or co-workers.
- Hosting customized events for clients, including lunches or dinners at her home.
- Maintaining a flow of communications via email and the phone on a regular basis, supplemented with personal notes for birthdays, holidays, and anniversary dates of becoming a client.
- Conducting formal reviews at least once a year with clients, and more often as needed.
Paul Walker is a partner, chief financial officer, and financial advisor at Parable Financial Network (PFN), which has offices in Brunswick and Waycross, Georgia. After running a small business with his wife for close to 40 years, Mr. Walker began his second career as a financial advisor. He says he was well-prepared for the new challenge, calling upon his background in finance and accounting, business experience, people skills, and love of the financial markets.
He says, “My desire is to help clients change their life for the better—that is part of my personal outreach and my mission in life.” He incorporates several principles into his daily interactions with clients:
- Earn the client’s respect as an advisor who is trustworthy, honest, and acts with integrity in their best interests.
- Listen closely to—and act upon—the client’s most heartfelt goals and major concerns.
- Empower clients to become thoroughly educated about their finances.
- Encourage clients to view financial planning as flexible and open to adjustment as circumstances change.
- Help clients understand that it is OK to be emotional about their life journey and relationships, but not their investments.
- Discourage a “herd mentality.” Clients need to remain disciplined in their long-term investment approach.
- Always act in a manner consistent with the principles of Christian fellowship and values.
Ernesto Ramirez is a financial advisor with OneMiami Financial Group, located in Coral Gables, Florida. He provides comprehensive financial guidance in helping clients build “a personalized road map for their financial future.” Mr. Ramirez says that he works closely with select third-party investment managers and that their performance directly reflects the services he provides to clients. His due-diligence process in selecting managers is a top priority and addresses these key criteria:
- Their specific investment philosophy and how that aligns with clients’ objectives.
- Investment performance over a significant period of time.
- Their research and strategic development capabilities.
- How they incorporate risk management within their investment process.
- Their approach to active management and making changes to strategic allocations based on market conditions.
- The strength of their management and support teams.
- Their capabilities and commitment to quality service, communication, and reporting.
Sean Reading, CFP, is a founding partner at The North Star Financial Group, located in Palmyra, Pennsylvania. An important part of his process is making sure financial plans adapt to important changes in clients’ lives in a proactive manner. Before scheduled review sessions, the firm sends clients a brief questionnaire that asks clients to indicate if there have been changes in any key areas of their lives, including the following:
- Employment status or benefits plans.
- Marital status.
- Additions or losses to the family.
- Health status.
- Unplanned financial gains or losses (including inheritance).
- Property bought or sold, other major purchases, or the start of a new venture.
- Consideration of changes to financial goals.
- Insurance coverages.
- Key personal data, including beneficiaries.
Bill Curry is the founder of Wealth Wisdom Group LLC, located in Wilmington, Delaware. He says, “We understand a great relationship is based upon a solid foundation. To ensure that every client is treated in a fair and ethical manner, we have created a ‘Client Bill of Rights.’ Every client has important rights and responsibilities to help ensure a successful relationship.”
These are a few of the many “rights” Mr. Curry says that clients should always receive:
- A high level of professional and courteous service.
- A qualified, trustworthy, advisor who understands each client’s unique situation.
- Ongoing monitoring and regular reviews to help financial plans stay on track.
- Complicated financial concepts explained in easy-to-understand terms.
- A working relationship defined by the utmost respect and integrity at all times.
- A genuine personal relationship that takes clients’ circumstances, risk tolerance, values, goals, and objectives into consideration at all times.
- Careful guarding of privacy and confidential information.
Equally important, says Mr. Curry, are clients’ responsibilities to the relationship. These include areas such as full disclosure of financial information, keeping the firm up to date on changes in life circumstances, fully understanding recommendations and strategies employed on their behalf, and providing honest feedback on services provided, question areas, and how expectations are being met.
- Big-picture questions around a client’s financial, retirement, and life goals.
- Cash management, including cash flow and debt management.
- Risk management, in terms of life, health, and property and casualty coverages, as well as contingency planning.
- Wealth management, covering potential income streams, desired retirement lifestyle and the funding to support that, and financial planning and investment goals for the future.
- Wealth transfer and legacy-planning objectives.
- Investment strategies and management.
- Retirement-planning strategies.
- Estate-conservation strategies.
- Tax-preparation and bookkeeping services.
- Strategies for life, health, and long-term-care insurance.
- Property and casualty insurance services.
- Wealth management.
- Planning for college savings.
- Tax-aware strategies for retirement and investment planning.
Michael Dehnisch is a financial professional with Personal Economics Group (PEG), located in Dallas, Texas. Mr. Dehnisch says, “Everyone has goals and dreams for their lives. How do they accomplish that with the finite amount of resources they have and become good stewards of their money?” He has several core principles that inform his relationships with clients and his financial-planning process:
- Focus on client education first.
- Employ an economics-based approach to financial planning.
- Help clients understand how assets are tools, not goals.
- Explain the differences between accumulation and distribution strategies.
- Work to reduce the unpredictability of retirement income streams.
- Strive to manage risk and volatility in clients’ investment portfolios.
- Help clients develop financial strategies that align with their life objectives.
- Serve clients diligently, with compassion and respect.
- Mutual discovery: Our first meeting—via a phone call or video conference, or in person—allows us the opportunity to get to know each other. At the same time, I will share my philosophy and passion for helping work toward achieving your financial goals, all while providing you financial education.
- Information gathering and analysis: We take a snapshot of your current information and begin to refine your financial goals and objectives. We perform a detailed analysis to help formulate your individualized financial strategies.
- Action plan: At this meeting, we will provide you with a report of your current financial position, highlighting your net worth, projected cash flow, and details about protecting current and future assets. We will identify strategies and work with you to establish a timeline for implementing them.
- Mentoring: We are available to you for periodic reviews—to re-evaluate your plan and make adjustments, if necessary, to your financial strategies as your needs change.
- A comprehensive review of the client’s investment objectives and risk tolerance.
- Learning about their overall financial situation and assets.
- Sound recommendations based on their financial profile.
- Finalizing a plan that works toward meeting a client’s financial goals.
- Ongoing partnership and regular communication with a client and their attorney, accountant, and other advisors.
Mr. Kuhn says, “I feel very fortunate, and I think our clients are also, to have many professional resources located literally within our building. These include the financial-planning group, attorneys, trust officers, a 401(k) group, and an asset-management group in the bank’s trust department.”
- Protection of assets via tax mitigation, investment risk management, and an insurance plan that guards against the impact of catastrophic loss, loss of income, or other significant risk exposure.
- Growth of assets through tax strategies that can increase net income; budgeting techniques to improve cash flow; and sophisticated, risk-managed investment strategies.
- Using assets wisely by following the principles of a goals-based financial plan. Striving to make economical, efficient, and tax-advantaged decisions on how to take income and how to spend it.
- Bestowing assets to the next generation, charity, church, or other recipient in the most tax-efficient manner; using financial and investment-planning strategies to maximize potential estate assets.
Philip Saponaro is the founder of Lighthouse Financial Consultants and has more than 30 years of experience working with a wide variety of investment vehicles. He says he seeks to provide highly customized and diversified investment recommendations for clients that seek to help them reach their overall financial goals. Important principles of his investment planning approach include the following:
- Developing a goals-based investment plan.
- Using alternative investments to complement equity, fixed-income, and guaranteed-income strategies.
- Placing a strong emphasis on risk management and a focus on risk-adjusted returns.
- Employing supplemental strategies that have relatively lower correlation with major equity and bond indexes.
- Working with third-party investment managers who can provide risk-managed, tactical strategies.
- Analyzing clients’ risk exposure and investment performance compared to predetermined benchmarks.
William Donner is the founder of Donner’s Financial Services Inc., located in Livonia, Michigan. He says that third-party money managers play an integral role in his firm’s investment planning and implementation for clients. He evaluates several factors in deciding whether a specific manager’s portfolio models and strategies should be used for any given client, including the following:
- Do the manager’s portfolio strategies align well with the client’s goals and objectives?
- How is the fit with the client’s risk profile, time horizon, and retirement-planning needs?
- What is the manager’s long-term track record?
- What is the manager’s methodology for analysis and strategy development?
- Do they offer a fee structure that works within the context of the client’s overall plan?
- Does the manager offer strategies that have a strong risk-management component?
- Do the manager’s portfolio strategies have the capability of adapting to changes in market conditions?
Jay Hardesty is president of Ashton Wealth Management, located in Golden, Colorado. Mr. Hardesty’s firm provides comprehensive wealth-management services that help clients develop a personalized road map for achieving their financial goals. He employs a disciplined financial-planning process for clients that embraces five core factors he says can lead to the “RIGHT” financial plan:
- R: Building a strong relationship that involves active listening and an interactive, consultative process.
- I: Understanding the intergenerational nature of the planning process, probing the needs and potential financial impacts involving a client’s children and parents.
- G: Setting both hard and soft goals—including quantifiable financial objectives and more aspirational lifestyle goals.
- H: Using a holistic planning approach that recognizes that each element of a financial plan must be coordinated with the others.
- T: Emphasizing truthfulness and transparency in the client-advisor relationship, which is incumbent upon both parties. This leads to developing a relationship built on mutual respect and trust.
Kevin Brennan, founder of Brennan Investment Services in Hartland, Michigan, says that his firm works with many affluent, younger working couples with children. These clients have busy lives, and one of his firm’s important objectives is to create an efficient and effective way of handling their financial planning and strategy implementation. His tips for doing so include the following:
- Employ a systematic and repeatable process for client onboarding that minimizes client time.
- Use paperless technology throughout the financial-planning process, allowing clients real-time access to their aggregated financial accounts and financial plan.
- Provide clients with an interactive calendar tool for booking client appointments and review sessions.
- Conduct client meetings via phone or online if that is the client’s preference.
- Empower team members to handle client requests/questions in a timely fashion and provide the tools/technology to facilitate ready availability of information.
- Use a robust relationship-management tool to continually update clients’ data and profiles.
Brent Mowinski, founder of Mowinski Financial LLC in Michigan, works with a number of distinct client segments with a goal of helping them all with their distinct financial-planning needs. The key driver of his firm’s business growth has been referrals from current clients, which he believes stem directly from excellent client service. He has five broad goals in developing successful relationships with clients:
- Help clients protect and grow their investments.
- Help clients establish a long-term financial plan.
- Regularly monitor progress and performance.
- Provide competitive management fees.
- Help clients simplify their financial lives.
Steve Rosauer of Rosauer Financial says that his firm’s emphasis on holistic financial planning has enabled his firm to continue to grow through organic referrals. He says he subscribes to the planning methodology he learned in the process of becoming a Certified Financial Planner. This encompasses several steps:
- Learning about the client, sharing the firm’s perspective, and defining the working relationship.
- Data-gathering and discovery.
- Analysis of a client’s current financial situation, assets and liabilities, investments, and future income streams.
- Seeking agreement on goals and objectives and building a financial plan.
- Presenting specific recommendations and examining alternative scenarios.
- Implementing the plan and investment strategy.
- Monitoring progress toward objectives and having regularly scheduled review sessions.
Peter Roe, a partner at Masters Private Client Group, specializes in clients in professional sports and the entertainment and technology fields. These are “top-performing, high-energy clients” who are located throughout the United States. His work involves extensive travel, coordination with outside advisors, and attendance at many industry events. Here are his tips for maintaining a high level of focus and energy to interact effectively with his clients when times are hectic:
- Staying fit through a program of exercise and weight training.
- Spending as much quality time with family as possible, making that a priority.
- Indulging in your passions—for example, reading or music.
- Practicing relaxation exercises, such as yoga or meditation.
- Using technology for productivity while “avoiding its pitfalls.”
- Planning travel carefully to maximize interaction with clients.
As a financial advisor, Grace Himmelright of Transamerica Financial Advisors finds effective time management is critical to running her practice. She says she “is a student of time-management theory” and tries to stay up to date on the literature in the field. She feels it is important to
- always have a plan for annual business development and growth;
- make sure shorter-term activities are aligned with long-term goals;
- identify deliverables in the context of achieving business development objectives;
- make progress toward annual goals consistently throughout the year; and
- emphasize the activities that matter most, minimizing time and effort on low-value work.
Tyler Holden, of Holden Financial Group, places great importance on employing cutting-edge financial-planning practices and coaching his clients toward achieving their financial goals. This can only be possible, he says, through building strong client relationships using multiple points of contact, such as the following:
- Scheduling regular client review sessions and setting new appointments at the close of each review meeting.
- Providing monthly market commentary to clients and personalized messaging for milestone events.
- Using compliance-approved educational communications through social media channels.
- Hosting client-appreciation events and targeted educational seminars.
- ‘Quarterbacking’ the coordination with clients’ other trusted advisors on a regular basis.
Linda Persechino, founder of Persechino Financial in New Hartford, Connecticut, places a premium on developing personalized relationships with her clients. While she focuses on building a personal connection in face-to-face meetings, the technology platform of her broker-dealer, Voya Financial Advisors, Inc., is a valuable resource for furthering relationships. This platform provides the following:
- Customized wealth-management solutions and reporting.
- Tools to seamlessly run a practice from the office or on the road.
- Compliant and customizable newsletters, financial commentary, and marketing materials.
- Tools for managing ongoing client communications and tracking client key dates.
- Website, seminar, social media, and public relations support.
Retirement can be an intimidating prospect for many people, and the closer they get to their target date, the more concerned they are about the complexities of retirement planning. Tim Wells’ firm aims to address the many financial issues these clients face by employing a process called “True Wealth: Holistic Planning System 360.” The advisor starts this process by developing a consultative relationship that explores a client’s values, beliefs, and life goals and addresses the following categories:
- Foundation and estate planning.
- Income and investment planning.
- Insurance and legacy planning.
Bill Raney, MS, CFP, BFA, is a principal financial advisor for GNB Investments, a division of GNB Bank. GNB is a community-focused bank with multiple locations in Iowa. GNB Investments offers access to financial and retirement planning, professional asset management, life and long-term-care insurance, annuities, cash management, and other related services.
Mr. Raney started his career in sales and distribution management at Investor’s Business Daily and first became a financial professional with Prudential Securities. He since has worked for several national and regional banks as a financial advisor and planner. He says the banking channel offers unique benefits for a financial advisor, including the following:
- The ability to conduct an independent practice within the umbrella of a larger banking organization. He currently works with clients from eight different branches of GNB Bank, allowing him to access a broad network of potential clients from all walks of life.
- A team-oriented approach that offers “a two-way street with other departments and individuals within the bank.” This, he says, “is not just a transactional relationship between departments as we are looking to help clients fulfill their needs in many different areas.”
- Access to the larger resources of GNB Bank on a referral basis. He says, “A good portion of our local community is involved in agribusiness, as well as smaller, locally owned businesses. The bank has dedicated resources and a strong understanding of the needs of those segments. We also have a robust capability in the trust area and services such as lending, cash management, and employee retirement plans. I believe these types of resources further reinforce the aspect of working as a part of a greater team effort on behalf of clients.”
Earl Schultz’s growth plan for his firm, Strategic Wealth Advisory, LLC, includes public relations, advertising, and publishing educational content to heighten exposure to his target audience. Here are a few of his strategies:
- Co-authoring the book “You’re in Control: Planning the Most Important Retirement in the World—Yours.”
- Running TV ads in local media markets and developing direct-mail programs to drive attendance at financial education seminars.
- Giving interviews for local newspapers and prominent industry podcasts.
- Using a public relations specialist to obtain quotes and features in national media such as U.S. News & World Report, TheStreet.com, Financial Advisor, and an upcoming issue of The Wall Street Journal.
Small-business owners represent a multi-dimensional target audience for an advisory practice. Their needs include essential financial services for their business, as well as individual financial planning for themselves and key employees. Matthew Rubis employs several strategies in approaching this segment:
- Networking with property and casualty (P&C) insurance agents, attorneys, and accountants to identify mutually beneficial referrals.
- Offering a range of business services, including insurance planning (including key man and buy/sell agreements), business continuity planning, and guidance on employee and executive benefits.
- Providing services in several personal financial-planning areas, including retirement-income planning, legacy planning, risk management, and investment management.
- Recommending that business-owner clients review their company financial plans on a consistent schedule.
Using the latest technology helps financial advisors provide comprehensive financial-planning services to clients. Rhett Sinclair of Creative Financial Strategies gains efficiency in consultative decision-making with clients by using several tools:
- Financial-planning software that offers an integrated wealth-management platform, including a robust client portal and the capability to model a range of financial scenarios for clients.
- Software that helps provide a quantitative measure of client risk tolerance, enabling alignment of client portfolios with individual risk preferences.
- Advanced planning software to analyze a client’s or client couple’s potential Social Security claiming strategies.
- A CRM solution that offers detailed tracking of client data, facilitating communications and workflow. Using mobile dictation and transcription software to capture discussions with clients and identify next steps.
Strategic Financial Advisors Corporation employs a “serve clients first” philosophy in offering comprehensive approaches to financial planning, wealth management, and business consulting to individuals and businesses. This requires a dedication to process management in several areas:
- A six-month timetable of specific milestones to achieve a final, agreed-upon financial road map covering detailed analysis, goals, and action steps.
- Regular progress reviews on a schedule that meets client needs, usually every four months.
- Periodic meetings with clients’ trusted third-party advisors such as insurance specialists, attorneys, and accountants.
- Weekly internal workflow meetings to prioritize client tasks and proactive communications.
Michael (Mike) Zimmerman is the president and founder of Regal Wealth Advisors, located in Stevens, Pennsylvania. He says that his client base really started to grow when his firm “focused on the educational aspect of clients’ financial needs.” He also notes that financial education can start even before someone becomes a client. He enjoys giving seminars at local libraries and notes that it is an effective strategy for introducing his firm’s thinking and capabilities to prospective clients. These seminars are often presented in association with other local financial advisors.
The topic of Social Security planning and claiming strategies draws strong interest among pre-retirees and those who are already retired. The seminars address questions that retirees typically have, which include the following:
- Will Social Security be there for me? When should I apply for Social Security?
- How much can I expect to receive? How can I maximize my benefits?
- Will Social Security be enough to live on in retirement?
- What are the trade-offs of claiming early, at full retirement age, or later?
- How do spousal benefits work? What are survivor benefits?
- How can I minimize taxes on Social Security benefits?
- What role does Social Security play in an overall retirement-income plan?
Steve Deppe, CMT, is a managing member and chief investment officer at Nerad + Deppe Wealth Management in San Diego, California. He employs what he calls a “high-touch, high-frequency” service philosophy to make sure clients know they are at the center of the practice. Mr. Deppe says, “We want clients to be assured we are thinking about their finances and investments at all times, even more than they do themselves.” The high-touch approach includes several elements:
- Mr. Deppe and his partner share responsibility for each client and, whenever possible, attend client meetings together.
- The firm provides weekly updates to all clients on economic and market developments.
- They strive to meet in person with each client two to four times each year.
- The firm’s partners encourage clients to bring any financial questions to their attention, no matter how small they may seem on the surface.
- Client review sessions focus on reviewing the achievement of tangible, measureable results and soliciting feedback on the process and overall client satisfaction.
- Client-friendly technology is employed in several areas, facilitating timely reporting and providing easy access to account information and aggregation.
- The firm has a goal of performing “a random act of kindness” annually for each client.
Identifying ‘success factors’ for my advisory practice
Kent Zeigler is the founder and president of Zeigler Financial Services, located in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Mr. Zeigler works with clients in a financial advisory capacity and provides tax strategies for many clients. He has been an independent financial advisor for over 30 years and says his client base has grown steadily over the years, primarily through organic referrals from current clients. He attributes his firm’s success to several factors, including the following:
- Placing client needs at the forefront and forging relationships based on mutual trust and collaboration.
- Emphasizing risk management across financial, investment, and retirement-income planning.
- Offering clients an “institutional-strength” investment approach that incorporates modern, sophisticated principles of strategic diversification and active management.
- Spending a significant amount of time on client education about risk mitigation within retirement planning, including issues such as the sequence of returns.
- Using his experience and capabilities to seek tax efficiency in clients’ financial planning.
- Remaining “intellectually curious” and seeking state-of-the-art product and service solutions for clients.
- Making personalized service a differentiating attribute for his firm; making himself available to clients “24/7, 365 days a year.”
- Making sure a client’s investment plan flows naturally from their overall planning objectives, risk tolerance, time frame, and comfort level.
- Identifying if a client has an interest in exploring principled investment strategies in the areas of socially responsible investing (SRI) and/or faith-based investing.
- Educating clients that companies performing well on environmental, social, and governance factors can produce very competitive investment returns.
- Determining the specific role principled investment strategies can play in the client’s portfolio allocation.
- Working with third-party money managers that provide risk-managed investment strategies in the SRI and faith-based areas.
- Scheduling regular reviews with clients to monitor their overall portfolio performance versus their own goals-based objectives.
Educating pre-retirees on retirement and Social Security planning
- Strategies to maximize Social Security benefits.
- Coordinating spousal benefits.
- Understanding survivor benefits.
- The pros and cons of claiming Social Security at different ages.
- The impact of Social Security rule changes.
- Creating income streams to last throughout retirement.
- The roles of different insurance and investment products in retirement planning.
- Maximum diversification.
- Risk management.
- Tax efficiency.
- Portfolio structure.
- Portfolio management.
- Moral investment screening.
- Risk suitability.
- Focusing on discovering and implementing cost-savings strategies for companies’ group insurance and retirement plans.
- Offering “best-in-class” service from plan implementation to effective annual renewals, assisting employers with employee education, billing, claims issues, and more.
- Investing in management information systems to provide clients with strong technology resources in HR support and compliance.
- Facilitating 24/7 access to a benefits web portal for plan sponsors and their employees.
- Providing wellness newsletters and other related services for clients, including negotiating wellness services from health-care providers and carriers.
- Consulting on the development of an employer “private exchange” benefits plan option for employees.
- Providing a comprehensive financial-planning experience: Financial planning is not just about insurance and investments, it is about the total financial picture of a client and figuring out what is important in their lives and to their future financial success.
- Education and integration: Clients lead busy lives, and we are there to be their trusted financial professional—helping them make sure they are implementing everything they should on a timely and coordinated basis for their financial situation.
- Analyzing interest costs, taxes, and fees: We cannot help clients totally avoid any of these, but we can help them make smarter decisions and mitigate their combined impact, increasing the leverage of their dollars.
- Organization and simplification: Do clients have redundant or unnecessary financial accounts? Do they have a systematic methodology to understand where their dollars are being employed?
- Balancing risk and reward: We use the term “conservative creativity” to help describe how we help clients achieve returns, while appropriately managing risk, across all areas of their finances, not only their investments.
- Continuous maintenance: We work with clients in an ongoing process that helps keeps them on track to achieving their goals.
Jon McCardle is the president of Summit Financial Group of Indiana. His firm’s assets under management have increased 700% over the past 10 years, which he attributes to “a remarkable team effort, a business model that works exceptionally well for our target segments, and a collective mindset driven by the pursuit of excellence.” He has also worked hard to create points of differentiation for his firm that he believes help set his firm apart from competitors. These include the following:
- Acting in a fiduciary manner on behalf of clients.
- Employing a process of proactive—not reactive—account management and constantly assessing client needs, progress toward objectives, and changes in clients’ lives and the market environment.
- Using an investment approach for clients that emphasizes risk management, dynamic asset allocation, and active investment management.
- Seeking the “best in breed” in investment selections, whether in funds, ETFs, or the strategies of professional third-party investment managers.
- Recognizing that communication is perhaps the most critical skill set—stressing effective and clear communications in written documents, presentations, and meetings.
- Believing that client education is paramount—that making complex ideas easy to understand and act on can increase a client’s comfort level.
Jim Hoogasian and Ed Gay, financial planners at Integrated Financial Partners (IFP) in Worcester, Massachusetts, take a team approach in working with a wide range of individual and business clients. The small-business segment is a focus for their firm and, through the resources of IFP, they can offer a wide range of services to small-business owners that include the following:
- Financial planning: Strategies that can help owners lverage their business entity in working toward personal financial goals.
- Retirement planning: Developing a road map toward lifetime retirement income.
- Succession planning: Analysis and preparation for the eventual transfer or sale of a business.
- Employee benefits planning: An appropriate benefit plan can improve employee retention and positively impact the company’s bottom line.
- Contingency planning: Planning for worst-case scenarios and applying principles for sound risk management.
- Wealth transfer planning: Developing an efficient and tax-effective estate-planning approach.
Mary Lyons, founder of The Wealth Woman and a managing director of Personal Economics Group, has found great value in working with a business coach. She has developed seven key principles from her coaching experience that she applies consistently in her practice:
- Build a process. Take your clients through the same process every time so that each of your clients has the same experience. If all your clients have the same experience, you become more referable.
- Measure everything. If you know your metrics, you can plan your revenue. If it takes 10 calls to get five appointments, and those lead to three applications, and those lead to one close, you know how many calls you need to close business. Measure the revenue for each close and how many calls are needed to hit revenue goals.
- Know your market. Look at your existing book of business and identify the common traits in the clients you love the most. Now focus on finding more of those.
- Make yourself valuable. Make introductions to other people who can help your clients personally and professionally. Your clients will appreciate it and so will the people you refer—which means more referrals for your practice.
- “Do it anyway.” Even when you are having a bad day, keep moving forward. Some days you may feel like a snail, but even a snail gets to look up and see how far he has come. Treat your practice as though you are a business owner. Everything ultimately comes back to you and your work ethic.
- Celebrate the victories. Acknowledge and celebrate your successes … but only for 24 hours. Then get back to work.
- Schedule vacation. A little time off does a world of good. You can’t accomplish great things running on fumes. Put vacation on your calendar like any other meeting.
Telton Hall, CFP, founder of Utah-based Advanced Financial Planning LLC aims to deliver an exceptional wealth-management experience to clients, with a focus on successful retirees. He believes that compatibility between advisor and client is the key to a successful relationship. His robust approach to discovery meetings gets at core client beliefs that help ascertain if there is a good fit. Here are a few areas he explores:
- Highest current priorities/current financial situation.
- Defining a productive working relationship.
- Core values.
- Important personal relationships.
- Outside advisor relationships.
- Lifestyle interests and health concerns.
- Long-term goals.
Michael Mason, founder of Summit Capital Services LC, provides holistic financial planning to clients, with a focus on retirement planning. A cornerstone of his practice is developing highly personalized relationships with clients, digging deeply to discover clients’ important life and financial objectives. In the discovery process with clients, he explores the following areas, which he summarizes with the acronym FORM:
- Family (F): What are the high-concern areas and dreams the client has for their family? Do they need to plan for educational expenses? What are their priorities in legacy planning?
- Occupation (O): How long does the client plan to work? Do they have any plans for a career change? Do they envision having a second or third career in retirement?
- Recreation (R): What is important in their lives outside of family and work? Do they have specific future goals for travel, a vacation home, or pursuing a hobby? Are they involved with their church? Do they see themselves being involved in volunteer or charitable activities?
- Money (M): How do they handle their money? Are there cash-flow or budgeting issues? What are their prior experiences with investments? Their attitudes around risk? Do “gaps” exist in their expected retirement income?
Treta Sellers of Personal Economics Group in Dallas, Texas, places education at the forefront of her relationships with clients. She advocates for a holistic approach to financial and retirement planning and shares the following broad principles with clients at the beginning of the process, providing detailed explanations of each area:
- Understand the differences between wealth accumulation and retirement-income distribution.
- Take a long-term view of retirement, employing efficiencies spread out over many years.
- Be conservative in planning and return assumptions.
- Use an integrated planning strategy that manages risk across many components.
- Explore how insurance, fixed-income products, and investments can play synergistic roles.
- Use economic principles in approaching a retirement plan and allocating resources.
Jim Bales, founder and principal of James Bales Financial, LLC, and his son, Jacob Bales, provide comprehensive financial-planning services and implementation strategies to individuals and small businesses. They believe it is important to set high client expectations and share their mission statement, vision, and commitment with all current and prospective clients. The firm’s “Commitment to Clients” includes the following seven principles:
- To be committed to the firm’s mission.
- To set reasonable expectations, and then strive to surpass them.
- To always do what is in the best interest of their clients.
- To acknowledge a mistake and solve it immediately.
- To be proactive when an opportunity to help their clients arises.
- To take time to educate clients.
- To be proud of their work, but never satisfied.
Ted Moyer, founder and principal of Legacy 360 Financial and Wealth Management LLC in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, says that his financial advisory practice combines a sophisticated wealth-management process with a values-based approach. He wants prospective clients to know and feel comfortable with his belief system and what to expect if they engage with his practice. He starts this process at the beginning of the relationship by providing prospects with the following:
- His biography and personal life history.
- An overview of the values and principles that inform his work.
- What steps to expect in the process of wealth-management planning.
- Answers to frequently asked questions.
- The services and additional benefits available to clients of his firm.
- How review sessions and outside referrals are handled.
Larry Wall of Six8 Advisors in Hoover, Alabama, runs a fee-based, holistic financial-advisory practice that is oriented toward the financial-planning needs of multiple generations of families. He says that while a quantitative and analytical approach to planning is critical, “it all starts with a discovery process that uncovers family members’ values and aspirations.” He has interactive discussions early in the process that focus on four key areas:
- Life history: How have you arrived at where you are today—including life-changing events or defining moments?
- Life transitions: How will changes that you are currently faced with or expect to take place impact your life goals?
- Life principles: What are the values by which you make important life and money decisions?
- Life goals: What would you like to have, do, or be during the rest of your life?
Bob Chitrathorn of Providence Wealth Planning believes that technical expertise and experience is critical in developing sound financial and investment plans for clients. But he also believes that enduring client relationships can be built on the following four approaches to client service:
- Client education. Make sure complex issues are discussed in understandable language, and present options with a review of pros and cons.
- Create a comfort level. Clients need to feel that there is an atmosphere of openness and transparency, where they are comfortable understanding and taking ownership of their financial decisions.
- Instill confidence. A function of education and feeling comfortable with decisions, clients can see a clear roadmap that will help them advance toward their financial objectives.
- Reinforce your value proposition. Building financial plans that set clear expectations, are goals-based, and reviewed against objectives helps clients understand the value added for their long-term financial success.
Advisors need to stay current on best practices in the industry, build their knowledge base, and enhance their qualifications in the eyes of potential clients. Here are four ways Bryan Nakamoto of Spectrum Wealth Management, LLC, in Honolulu has tackled these goals over the course of his career:
- Pursuing professional certifications and ongoing continuing education. Mr. Nakamoto is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor (CRPC).
- Taking leadership roles in professional organizations. Mr. Nakamoto has held officer positions within the Financial Planning Association of Honolulu and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA) of Honolulu.
- Earning industry recognition. Mr. Nakamoto has earned professional recognition from several organizations, including the NAIFA Hawaii’s “Insurance and Financial Advisor Professional of the Year—2011,” and Pacific Business News’ “Forty Under 40—Top Hawaii Business Leaders.”
- Giving back to the community. Mr. Nakamoto has been involved in a variety of community and school organizations and has provided mentorship to industry professionals entering the financial-services industry.
Having state-of-the art planning software builds credibility and transparency in the client-advisor relationship. Paul Humphrey uses a software-based financial-planning methodology that employs innovative technology for holistic financial planning and client communications. Features include the following:
- A streamlined interface for client data collection, allowing for changes in assumptions as life circumstances change.
- A robust risk-tolerance questionnaire and scoring that enhances the suitability of investment recommendations.
- Monte Carlo analysis to stress-test plan assumptions.
- Goals-based assessments of plan options and optimization of cash-flow, Social Security, and tax-sensitive strategies.
- User-friendly graphics charting plan progress and a client portal that can aggregate accounts from different sources.
Digital automation of advisory firm communications with clients, lead tracking, marketing efforts, and other customer relationship management (CRM) functions is fast becoming the wave of the future for progressive financial advisors. David Salley is rolling out an innovative approach provided by a third-party resource that offers compliant-friendly digital marketing strategies that include the following:
- A total business management system for client and prospect CRM database management, calendar organization, and business segmentation.
- A digital storage system that allows clients to upload important personal financial documents and can show consolidated investment performance from multiple accounts.
- A virtual marketing assistant program that helps efficiently manage email campaigns, newsletters, events, and client appreciation communications.
Each of your clients is different, which is why you don’t apply the same cookie-cutter approach when you work with them. Understanding the financial-planning needs of your clients and customizing your process to fit their unique circumstances can be a worthwhile task. These tips from Kelly Hubrig can help make it more manageable:
- Establish a personalized schedule for planning and client reviews.
- Coordinate with internal resources or trusted third parties to deliver a custom 360-degree approach to a client’s financial needs.
- Maintain a database of client milestone events and reach out accordingly.
- Follow up on any client referrals with a note or call of appreciation.
Janice Hammond hosts many educational events throughout the year to attract new clients and build relationships with current clients. She gives a short presentation about her firm and then moves on to financial issues that most concern people, including the following:
- How to optimize Social Security benefits.
- How to design income streams for retirement.
- How to transfer assets to beneficiaries in a tax-advantaged way.
- How the current market environment may affect your retirement.
Doug Bauerband believes a good business coach can add transformational value to an advisory business. Here are his quick tips on finding and working with one:
- Conduct exhaustive due diligence on potential coaches—your practice and clients deserve it.
- Make sure your prospective coach is philosophically aligned with your belief system as an advisor.
- Understand fully what services you will receive and how they will be delivered.
- Design a meaningful and distinctive client value proposition with your coach’s guidance. It can pay huge dividends for your practice.
Advisors from the baby boomer generation often mistakenly believe it is difficult to connect with millennials. While some millennials may be skeptical about the role of advisors, Rob Santoriello finds using these four core practices helps in reaching out to this group:
- Leveraging technology.
- Providing meaningful financial education content.
- Establishing a social media presence.
- Presenting a strong value proposition.