Advisor Value: Turning the Question Around

May 31, 2018


Last week I did something unusual, I attended an industry conference. Sure, I speak at a lot of conferences, but for this one I was attendee-only. Overall, my time was well spent. I enjoyed hearing about changing client preferences and journey mapping from one speaker, and how advisors are using (and succeeding with) working with the media from another. One of the more interesting conversations came at the end of a session on workflows, technology and staffing. I ended up inserting myself into that conversation when I thought the room was going the wrong direction.

Owns, manages or does: Where are you?

In the session on processes, the speaker did a great job working with attendees to demonstrate how firms can begin to document and create workflows for their businesses. She had an exercise to help examine technology in workflows to judge where to create efficiencies. Then she handed out a responsibility chart with a list of advisory business job functions (such as marketing, sales, client service, planning and compliance to name a few). Each advisor in the room considered his/her firm’s functions and filled in the boxes:

  • Who owns the function?
  • Who manages the function?
  • Who does the function?

For example, the owner of the advisory firm may “own” marketing; it’s his/her final decision for branding, activities and expense. Though the marketing function may be outsourced, or handed off to a junior planner/staff to create the marketing plan and reporting. The office manager may actually “do” the social media, newsletter and coordination of the event, etc.

I think the exercise was enlightening for many. While they knew deep down, they do many tasks, seeing their name in almost every box made a number of advisors uncomfortable. One advisor quickly raised her hand and asked the room, “What should I do when I am in almost all the boxes?” The speaker asked the group for suggestions.

Many, if not all responses, suggested considering what you do best, what you’re good at, and what you like the most. The audience discussed hiring additional staff and outsourcing. One advisor suggested hiring interns to fill the holes. I sat in the back trying not to talk or disrupt the meeting, but finally, I felt I had to raise my hand.

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Talking the talk

First, for those who don’t know me, you may find this surprising but I don’t consider myself a “talker.”  I’m not the guy who asks a lot of questions in large groups, I tend to keep to myself. Sure, I’m fine in a room where I am the presenter, I can hold my own in a meeting or with a small group if I have to, but my preference has always been to sit in the back of the room and listen. The introvert in me prefers to take notes, only think about what I would like to say, and never offer my opinion unless directly asked. This time, however, I had to speak. I wanted to challenge the assumption that it’s all about what you  like to do or only  what you’re  good at. I needed to tell them, it’s not all about them!

A new box to write your name

I spoke up and suggested to the room that they are looking at their businesses in an advisor-centric way. What you’re good at is irrelevant if the client does not value it, or if it’s a commodity. For instance – and I know this example is extreme – how many of us got in to the business to rebalance portfolios? I would argue that some of you may be very, very good at it. And yet technology has surpassed most of the need to do it yourself (commodity). Does the client care that you are good at it, will they pay a premium for that value added service?  Probably not. To me, we need to consider more what we do from the eyes of the client not what we think we do best. In a client=centric model, we place our most important resources –time and focus – on what the customer is willing to value. Here is how I look at it:


The table above is my suggestion. If you think your clients differ, start with an objective client questionnaire, or a focus group of your ideal clients to find out. Ask your clients what they value, then delegate or get rid of what they don’t.

I loved the exercise that the speaker used. It makes a lot of sense for each advisor to consider the tasks that they own, manage or do. I would, however add another box. A box that fits above the “own” and it would say “value”. What do your clients really value?

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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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