Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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We are a recent breakaway team from a difficult situation. It’s a long story but we had been aligned with a lead advisor who essentially created connected “pods” of advisors under his umbrella. He is a great guy and the concept made sense. But over time (nine years) we (my partner and I) found we were paying for a lot of things out of our own pockets that should have been covered by the 40% overhead fee we were paying to “John,” the lead advisor.
We decided it was time to split off and go on our own. John was not terribly happy. We are one of the bigger teams under his umbrella, so it created difficulty for us in making the move. We were in a position to find new providers and have our clients sign new paperwork. We have spent endless hours just to get the new firm up and running.
I’m not writing about any of this – that’s the backstory. I’m writing to ask why the advisory profession isn’t set up to provide more human-oriented support to advisors who are trying to transition. The amount of signatures we are getting from clients, the unanswered calls we place to partners who are supposed to be “supporting” us, the run-around we get at the firms our clients have products with (insurance and annuities) – it is exhausting. It was hard enough to make the decision and to take the steps to do what we are doing. But our experience with the teams who are ostensibly set up to partner with us and provide support and, by the way, who want our assets in one form or another… it’s been challenging.
I know you talk about the human element for advisors in dealing with their clients. But why aren’t we as a profession looking at this more broadly? Advisors are also in need of support and it’s crazy how complicated it gets.
As often happens, the timing is interesting to me because I was working with my own advisor this week who was lamenting a very similar experience in making a transition from one platform to another. Unfortunately, it is a bit of an existential question, like asking, “Why isn’t it easy to get someone live to talk to when you call a 1-800 number?” We know the importance of the personal touch and needing human interaction to get things done. That doesn’t mean the larger firms are in favor of something that will obviously cost them more in terms of man/woman-power. “Push this button” is a much more cost-efficient way of managing.
That said, here are a few reasons why you are experiencing what you are. Then I’ll give you a few ideas on how to navigate more effectively.
- People and organizations (and people run organizations so they are one and the same) don’t like change much. To implement new high-touch, personalized ways of doing things means reviewing the processes and teaching the people how to interact differently. It takes months, if not years, of focus and investments of time and money. The organization is likely to encounter resistance, so even if the senior leaders believe it is the right thing to do, oftentimes getting people to do it is a daunting task.
- Cost efficiency is the name of the game. “How can we deliver what is needed at the optimal level of cost with the highest rate of return?” is most often the question senior leaders are asking themselves in their boardrooms. I’m not judging this or suggesting it is bad. I’m illustrating that if you are going to aim toward those things that answer this question most effectively, most often that means less people we need to pay, more technology to do the job.
- Many people who are in service-oriented roles are wired to focus on process and procedures, not on the human factor. We use behavioral style in our firm and we often point out the people who are getting things done are those who are head down and focused on the steps to take, the repeatable processes and making sure things are right – quality control. If this is the focus, and it takes time to make sure you are being thorough and accurate, there isn’t a lot of time left over for dialoguing and hands-on help. Think about it – if the person has to serve hundreds of advisors in a given week, how would they be able to do the job accurately and also pay attention to making the process more human-oriented? It’s a quandary with no good answer.
- In the balance of time to be “real” with an advisor and efficiency, every single time efficiency is going to win. Ultimately the advisor needs responsiveness and timely information. If the person in a support role is taking their time to engage on a more personal level with every advisor, it means the advisors in line waiting for their information are going to wait a long, long time. Then the complaint would be lack of attentiveness and speed.
Your insights may be appropriate and infusing a bit of the human-factor/element could be helpful for advisors making a significant transition. I am an advocate of the personal touch. You could do a few things, some of which may be uncomfortable:
- Be the squeaky wheel. Many times advisors just give up and assume that’s the way things are. You can get the attention you need by being persistent and outlining exactly what you need for support. Maybe your provider isn’t aware of how important a one-to-one conversation would be, or maybe there are more streamlined ways of doing things but you haven’t asked about it. Be sure you have pursued all avenues before you assume this is the only approach you will get.
- Make suggestions for improvement. Instead of just saying “there is too much paperwork,” make suggestions about what could be removed, how alternatively the information could be conveyed to the clients, what steps could enhance and support the easier approach you are seeking. It’s easy to identify the problem. It’s often harder to figure out the best way to address it so if you have ideas, be the change-maker!
- This is a paper-intense, rules-intense, compliance-oriented business. Unfortunately, the people who are serving you are also working with dozens if not hundreds of other advisors at the same time. They might be as frustrated as you are, but don’t have the time in the day to even think about how to do things differently. Try and have compassion and understanding for your colleagues. They need the human touch too!
The issues you are raising require wholesale change in how to do things in new and different ways. It takes a lot of time for an entire industry to shift its way of operating. Each person, however, can be a change agent. Find the places where you might be able to make a difference and start the change. Call me an optimist, but we all have the responsibility, if we see something that needs to be fixed, to put some effort into fixing it!
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry, in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. The firm has won the Wealthbriefing WealthTech award for Best Training Solution for 2022 and 2023. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.