Advisors: If You Don’t Have One, You Can’t Be Effective

A few weeks ago, I sat down with a very impressive younger advisor. He leads his office in new accounts, has created a few traditional and BusyProfessionalnon-traditional COIs that are feeding him leads, and his advisory business is booming. On the personal side, he was recently married, bought a new house and even acquired the pre-kid little puppy (which many newlyweds seem to use as a test of their domesticity). From the outside looking in, everything looked great, but as my colleague and I sat in the advisor’s office, I realized (fairly quickly) that he was about to hit a wall. Not just a little wall, but a huge brick wall – with spikes on it!

Let me explain. The office was a blizzard of paper, there was a desktop with two screens, a cell phone on a stand and a tablet open on the desk. And here’s how our appointment went:

  • 10 a.m. – our appointment time.
  • 10:15 a.m. – when we actually got started, as he was on a client call. (Totally understandable; clients should always come first.)
  • 10:20 a.m. – he gets a text from his best COI, confirming their lunch appointment later that day. “Sorry, I have to respond to this, we have been trading voice mails for days and we are supposed to meet at noon.”
  • 10:22 a.m. – He apologizes and complains about how busy he is.
  • 10:30 a.m. – he gets a call from a client, asking about changing her address on statements., as she was preparing to head to Florida for the winter.
  • 10:33 a.m. – He apologizes and complains about how busy he is.
  • 10:35 a.m. – the advisor asks multiple, specific questions around forms and paperwork to facilitate the setting up of an automatic RMD from a particular client’s IRA.
  • 10:50 a.m. – the advisor explains the purpose of our meeting: to find out additional growth opportunities and what other advisors are doing to ramp up their growth.

Frankly, I don’t think he liked my answer. I didn’t tell him small, intimate events are one of the most effective strategies to build your business. I also didn’t tell him about segmentation (at the client level, not by what is important to the advisor) and building a niche. And I certainly didn’t ask him about setting up a client survey to get client feedback on services that he could offer that would strengthen relationships and build referrals.

Instead, my answer was a simple question – one that I ask a lot of advisors (young and old): “Why don’t you have an assistant or “admin?” I agreed that he was very busy, but I asked if he understood the difference between busy and effective.

Excuses are no excuse
Over the years, I have heard almost all of the excuses.

  • I just can’t afford an admin – they are too expensive.
  • Why? I can do it myself and it is easier than hiring someone and when I do it, it’s done right. I don’t have to worry.
  • I don’t mind doing the paperwork.
  • My clients expect me to be there, personally, for them.

These excuses may be valid in advisors’ minds, but I look at these people knowing that what they are building is unsustainable (as well as unsalable). To me, having an admin is not rocket science, brain surgery or some difficult math equation. If I am worth x dollars an hour and I can offload non-critical tasks to someone whom I can pay percentages less than my x, then I have more time to do the critical functions of my business… Right?

The value is there
The role of the admin is key to building a growing, professional advisory firm. The admin is the glue that holds the firm together. The admin takes the non-critical tasks like paperwork, scheduling, and some client service aspects off of the advisor’s plate so the firm becomes more efficient and professional. Personally, I think the client actually expects a successful firm to have staff, instead of one person that does everything. My rule of thumb has always been that there should be at least one admin for every 75 clients in your book.

When you get home at night, ask yourself: were you busy today or were you effective? A busy person gets the paperwork done and answers the phone; an effective one does the planning required to grow their business.

Is your firm heading towards a wall?

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John Anderson

John Anderson

John Anderson is the creator and lead author of Practically Speaking blog and Managing Director of Practice Management Solutions for the SEI Advisor Network.

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