Advisors: Time to Get Schooled, With Class

Aug 29, 2013

Today is the day my wife and I have been silently dreading for the last few weeks. As summer began to wind its way down, we knew the Backtoschoolfirst day of school was coming – and today, it is here. I know many parents can’t wait for their little ones to get out of their hair during the summer but I enjoy the hazy days of summer – it’s less rushed, there’s no school lunch making, and no worrying about whether they did all the homework that was assigned (rather than the homework they told us about).

The one thing I do like about this time of year is the school uniforms. Blue pants (shorts for warmer days) and white polo shirts make it easy every morning for our sons to go to school dressed like everyone else and ready to learn. (I’ll save you and not post the many first day of school pictures that I took – I’m sure your Facebook feed was full of them.)

So now that you are starting to see the yellow school busses around your neighborhood and little kids walking or riding their bikes to school (do they still do that?), I have two questions for you:

  • Are you ready to learn?
  • What is your school uniform?

Ummm, nothing?

A favorite of every parent who has school-age kids is to ask over the dinner table, “What did you learn today?” (And the favorite answer of every kid is, “Nothing.”) But when is the last time your kids, spouse, or staff asked you what you learned? And what would you say?

I think the best part of our jobs is that there is a real opportunity to learn something new every day about the markets, the economy, planning techniques, or the most important thing – our clients. This fall, commit yourself to learning by:

1. Asking follow-up questions. In a 2012 study by CEG Worldwide, 50% of wealth managers had annual net income of over $1 million vs. only 30% of investment advisors and 10% of financial advisors. What’s one of the differentiators of a wealth management firm? A deep discovery process. Do you really know all there is to know about your clients?

2. Committing to learning. Matt Oechsli and the Oechsli Institute study affluent clients and their advisors (they do a great job of coaching advisors, too.) They say one component of a “new world advisor” is lifelong learning. To be an elite advisor, you need to be able discuss projected changes in things like the tax code, not guess on market fluctuations, and to be open minded and identify appropriate experts to assist clients, not opinionated and focused on selling what is hot right now.

Let me get this out of the way: I am a tie guy

Over my almost 30 years in the financial service business, I have noticed a trend of advisors moving from suit and tie, to business casual, to golf shirts and khakis. Frankly, I’m not a big fan. I’ve walked into offices and met advisors whom I thought, at first glance, were maintenance people or someone off the street. I’m not saying that an advisor needs to dress in a full suit, cufflinks and tie for every meeting (women, you are on your own here; I’ve learned to never comment on how you dress), but serious planning deserves serious attire. My rule of thumb is for advisors to always be just a step better dressed than their clients. You want to look professional (and I don’t mean a golf professional).

While we are at it, take a look at your office. Over the last month, we all have been inundated with “back to school” commercials and ads for various stores. Our sons left today with brand new school supplies, backpacks and even some new school sneakers. Maybe it is time for you take a cue and look around you:

  • Does your office need a new look?
  • Do you need a new work “uniform”?
  • How are your marketing materials? A bit dated?
  • What about your website; does it need a fresh image or two?

The kids are getting a fresh start to a new school year, as they have graduated to the next level. Have you graduated? Is your uniform (and office) fresh? Are you still committed to learning?


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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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