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An old business friend, Frank Capek, coined an expression “Beyond Better Sameness.” While there has been increasing attention and spending to improve client experiences, Capek said that change has been slow to come to the retail brokerage industry. For example, financial planning itself has an almost five-decade history. Forms of technology have been used for financial planning for perhaps 40 years or more. However, as Michael Kitces says, “For much of its history, financial planning software was basically just an elaborate calculator. Advisors could gather client data, feed it as input to the calculator tool, and the software would spit out the projected results…which were then used to facilitate the sale of a product.” Financial planning is evolving, however, and as Kitces says, “has increasingly become a tool for real-time collaborative scenario planning.”

While financial planning tools have improved significantly, the purpose and quantitative aspects of offerings have not changed dramatically. The qualitative side of the process has changed, with an increased focus on the emotional needs of clients and their families, such as how they see living the next 20, 30 or more years in retirement.

From a service perspective, advisor’s primary deliverables relate to financial planning, estate planning, insurance, various communications services from in-person meetings to phone calls to mailings as well as various administrative functions. Some advisors provide education-funding solutions and banking services (in the case of a broker, if they are part of the broker-dealer or alternative offerings). A few firms offer “personalized” investment policy statements. These can even be developed using technology. Some advisors offer technology solutions that scan and upload pertinent family documents in a secure encrypted online vault that allows controlled access for family members and advisors. Estate planning documents, insurance and banking documents, contracts of any kind and supporting paperwork can be stored and retrieved safely.

But most of what wealth managers are providing today do not significantly change the state of services offered to clients or differentiate an advisor.

The reason that is so critical is seen in the “Kano model”. It says that over time, client expectations grow such that what once excited clients becomes everyday service expectations, and eventually become so basic that clients only notice them when they are missing. With growing client expectations and very a competitive marketplace, financial advisors must continue to seek more and better ways to differentiate themselves, i.e., “beyond better sameness,” such as prettier reports or improved credit card offerings. Certainly, excellent and consistent delivery of the above mentioned services are critical.

However, there must be services that advisors can offer that are needed and/or wanted by individual investors and that have the potential to differentiate by adding significant value where and when needed. In other words, to keep your clients loyal and attract new business, you need to continually create “delight” with strategic updates that excite or re-excite the client. Kano suggests some of these services are “latent” client demands. In other words, in some cases clients may not yet recognize these services as being wanted or needed, i.e., you may be “ahead of the curve” – a leader, which could be a differentiator.