Finding the efficiencies to add value to your financial planning practice

11 March 2013

Financial advisers can add value to their clients’ and their own businesses by capitalising on doing the things humans do best – and automating or eliminating the rest, says Zurich Australia’s Philip Kewin and AFA Adviser of the Year Olivia Maragna. 

For most of us summer represents one of the best times of year.

Nothing quite evokes the nostalgia and feeling of peace and relaxation than memories of kids running through sprinklers (water restrictions permitting of course), the sound of cicadas on a balmy night, or the cool breeze from a whirring overhead fan.   

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But summer is also special for the reason that it is the one time of year when many of us take holidays, meaning we can choose how we spend our time.

As a business owner, having more time on your hands can give you a choice about how to spend it – on the business, or enjoying summer outside the business?

Of course for many small businesses – as many adviser practices are – such a choice remains an elusive luxury.  

The question for them becomes “‘how can I get more time?”. 

Becoming more efficient is certainly one way. Zurich recently released survey results that showed that 40 per cent of advisers rate ‘becoming more efficient in the way they deliver advice’ as the single biggest change the Future of Financial Advice (FOFA) changes will force on their business. 

Enhancing the efficiency with which advice can be delivered is not just about cost containment, it’s also about value; the value advisers offer to their clients and the value they are able to capture for their business.

And it’s not about depersonalising your service. It’s about automating or abandoning processes that add no value, so you can focus on the ones that do.  

To use a recent example, how many Christmas cards did you receive from suppliers or clients via email, who in the past would have sent a hand-written card? 

The email is quickly swallowed up among the many other messages in your in-box and soon forgotten about.

The hand-written card however, demands far more attention.

Funny or heartfelt messages are somehow more memorable and meaningful when seen on paper than when embedded in an email.

It is also usually then displayed on a desk, serving as a semi-permanent reminder of the good wishes of the sender.   

What is important therefore is looking at your business and working out which parts can be simplified, automated and made more efficient. An increased use of technology is one natural outcome.

Bill Gates once said: “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” 

So meeting with your clients for coffee but submitting the insurance application electronically is a good example.

Just emailing your client may seem efficient, but it may not yield the same long-term benefit for your business as a face-to-face meeting. And spending hours filling out forms is also not likely to be valued by your clients.

So as you become more efficient, you stay focused on the areas where you add value. 

A survey* conducted by Beaton Research in December 2012 (commissioned by Zurich Australia) found that the majority of advisers think that technology – including mobile technology – has the biggest capacity to improve efficiency.

We have also seen an increased use of social media, including video, which is making customer communication and networking more efficient than ever before. 

The current reigning AFA Adviser of the Year, Olivia Maragna, recently shared some her thoughts on efficiency with us.   

If you work smarter, and work on your efficiencies, you gain capacity and you gain time. That’s time that you can use to invest back into the business or just enjoy the things you love doing. 

There are five key points to efficiencies that I want to share with you.  

1. Work less, work smarter: delegate 

Delegation creates capacity and it creates time. It also builds skills in your team and aids in team members’ career development.

Being an efficient delegator takes skill, but you must learn to be good at it. Systems and processes are essential, as is making use of technology and software. 

In our business, we have a system for everything right down to buying flowers. Delegation without the systems and processes leads to inconsistency with the delivery of your service.   

2. Constantly improve and refine 

We have an approach at Aspire Retire called the CANI approach – constant and never-ending improvement.

Things are only as good as the day we came up with them, with the resources we had at that time. They can constantly be improved – and we encourage our entire team to improve them. 

With improvements comes efficiency. Even small changes can make a big difference to the way your work. For example, using different-coloured folders for different parts of your business can save you time when looking for files.   

Our approach to change is dynamic. We take immediate action to change it – as opposed to layers of management delaying improvements. This helps improve efficiencies and enhances the delivery of our client service. 

3. Achieve more with less: use technology  

Don’t underestimate the power of technology. Using it effectively creates time and capacity that can be invested back into the business.

Technology allows us to connect with more for less. We are active users of social media, which aids in referrals, alliances and business efficiency.   

4. With clarity comes efficiency: be clear  

Being clear about your business plan, business strategy, ideal target clients and value proposition is also essential.   

Be clear as to the best role for you in your business – are you doing things that don’t add value? 

What tools are you using to understand what clients do in fact value? For example, we have a series of questions that get to the core of what really matters to clients, what’s really significant for them and the value we can add. 

Don’t be afraid to say no to taking on clients that don’t fit with your business. As advisers we mustn’t take on clients if they aren’t going to see the value. 

Always think – who will be your advocates? 

5. Gain efficiency through experts: outsource 

Engage experts – outsource what you’re not good at to those who are. Why spend hours doing something you know you are not good at? Acknowledge your strengths, but also your weaknesses. 

If you asked me what my driver is in business, it’s all about efficiency. And how can we make things bigger and better to enhance our clients’ experience with us. 

My mantra is that there are never any problems, only solutions.

There is no such thing as a mistake, only learning opportunities. Make 2013 the year of efficiency in your business.

Embrace the tools of delegation, CANI and the use of technology.

Be clear about your value and outsource to gain capacity, to gain time to do the things you want to do, to enjoy the endless summer. 

Conclusion 

The year 2013 is no doubt set to be a watershed year for our industry.  

With every advice business needing to ensure they adapt to the new market paradigm, it is not time for complacency or simply waiting out the storm.

And by using this year, as so many of you are, as a time to develop new business practices and processes that will take you forward, you can ensure you build a practice that is sustainable and successful. 

We believe that with the right mindset, the right equipment and the right business partners there is no reason why 2013 could not be your best year ever. You could even enjoy an endless summer. 

* The Beaton IFA Market Pulse is an omnibus survey, run on a quarterly basis among a representative sample of Australia’s independent financial adviser (IFA) market. A telephone survey was utilised, with responses gathered 13-18 December 2012. A total of 213 risk advisers completed the survey. 

Philip Kewin is the general manager of retail, life and investments at Zurich. 




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