Learning from the best in financial planning

18 February 2013

Marc Fabris outlines some of the key trends he has seen emerge in financial planning businesses over the last decade, and how to make the most of them.

My involvement in the AFA Adviser of the Year Award over the last 10 years as both a judge and on-site assessor of some of the top advisory practices in Australia has certainly been an eye-opening experience. 

While the Award process itself is an opportunity to profile the best of the best and understand how they are running successful businesses, some of the best insights have come from the key trends that we have identified over the years that will contribute to the changing shape of the industry and what best practice advice looks like in future.  

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Over the past 10 years of the Award, some of the key trends we have seen include: 

The transition to a more paper-free office 

Most offices are moving to less of a paper-based office. Whether driven by the need to embrace mobile technology or to have more efficient processes and ways to communicate with clients, this is a trend that continues to grow.  

This on its own has necessitated the need for improved systems and platforms to support electronic processes. 

This has also put the pressure on insurance providers, to better integrate with adviser systems, whether this be quotation processes or automated transfers of policy data to adviser systems.  

Focus on business improvement and planning 

In the last few years it has been notable that most top practices don’t simply rely on their own judgment when it comes to business improvement and planning.

In fact most top practices have put in place a board of advice, used external business coaching or a combination of these. 

When scale has allowed it, many have also sought to employ dedicated practice management support, to help practice owners to focus on what they do best - provide advice to clients.

This is becoming more critical as external factors such as legislative change put greater pressure on businesses and the way they are managed. 

Interestingly we found through recent research that insurers are one of the key points of reliance for advisers when it comes to dealing with business growth or dealing with legislative change.

So insurers do need to play their part in helping advisers grow, adjust, or become more efficient. 

Quality and consistency in the client experience 

When judging practices through this process, client service is measured in a number of ways, in particular around quality and consistency.

The better that systems and processes are employed within the business, the more likely that each client will receive the same quality of service, and the less likely things might go awry during the client journey.  

But a quality customer experience doesn’t just result from efficient systems and processes; it also comes from an understanding of client needs and a focus on the client relationship.

And the top practices do this extremely well. 

The involvement of the Beddoes Institute over the last two years has brought an additional level of science to the judging process in Adviser of the Year, which has introduced improved benchmarking of advisers and their practices.

This is invaluable to the judging process, as the client experience is more than just the advice being provided by their adviser. 

What are some of the key consistencies across these top practices? 

Lead generation is critical for any business, particularly professional services. In financial services, for most advisers client referrals are critical. 

A key way to measure the propensity for clients to refer is using the Net Promoter Score (NPS). It’s a pretty simple methodology, but a great way to measure the perception of the quality of service by clients. 

For the top practices in the Adviser of the Year, the NPS scores were consistently high. It’s then no surprise to learn that the level of client referrals received by these practices is far greater than the average across all practices. 

How can these learnings be applied by other advisers and practices? 

It has often been said that you can’t improve that which you cannot measure. Well, it’s simple enough to measure client satisfaction - it’s just a matter of doing it. Regularly. 

Testing, responding, and re-testing this engagement on a regular basis is a core element in business improvement.

The use of external support for this is not normally too costly and is likely to provide greater rigour than a less formal survey run in-house. 

Consistency in process is critical, in terms of consistency in client experience as well as business processes. When these processes are well documented, it’s much simpler to ‘deep dive’ into each step to consider potential improvements, any automation that may be applied as well as uncovering potential gaps. 

The challenges for advice businesses are certainly not lessening - be these challenges around the simple costs of doing businesses or legislative impacts.

The best advisers are not necessarily the best business managers, so consideration should be given to outside support - during the business planning process, and on an ongoing basis.

This support could come from a Board of Advice, a business coach, or practice managers where available.  

Also consider the input from those who get inside other practices and may have some good ideas to share - such as compliance managers and business development managers. 

Now more than ever is the time to start learning from what the best of the industry are doing in order to create a successful, sustainable business for the future - no matter what the future industry landscape holds. 

Marc Fabris is national manager sales strategies and research at Zurich. 

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