Commonwealth recently contracted Cerulli Associates to survey how our affiliated financial advisors spend their time and identify the factors that drive their productivity.
The results of the study highlighted some interesting outliers within our community. By separating advisors based on revenue managed, growth rate and time spent in client meetings, we found that the top 10% of our affiliated advisors spend 37% of their time with clients, compared with 24% for their peers.
So, what drives this underlying productivity? Here are the five central themes that help these outlier advisors operate more efficiently than their peers, along with ideas that may help you free up time to focus on what’s most important.
- Strategic Focus
A firm’s overall productivity starts with strategy. In our industry, it’s easy to get sidetracked by different opportunities because, as a successful business owner, you’re hardwired to pursue them.
When we spoke with these outlier advisors, we realized they were laser-focused on where their businesses were headed. They’re deliberate about reaching their goals, and they’re willing to make trade-offs. In many cases, it’s easier to say “yes”—but when determining your firm’s strategy, it’s just as important to say “no” in order to quiet distractions and streamline priorities.
- Alignment and Uniformity
As your firm grows and adds partners, it’s crucial to ensure the alignment of all advisors and staff in order to build a scalable business. If everyone operates with autonomy, the firm will ultimately lose economies of scale. So, alignments need to happen across both methodologies (e.g., investment management and financial planning) as well as core processes (e.g., client onboarding and reviews). Use the client experience as a litmus test and ask questions, such as “Does the client experience vary depending on which advisor they work with?”
- Human Capital Investment
We found that the outliers in the study operate with a staff-to-advisor ratio of 1.4-to-1.0 versus their peers at 1.0-to-1.0, which shows how their investment in people powers their growth. How they achieve this advantage depends on the type of firm.
In the solo model, outlier advisors tend to have at least one highly efficient, right-hand staff person and a strong tendency to delegate, allowing them to focus on client-facing activities. We’ve found that our affiliated advisors who hire a service advisor to expand their advisory capacity grow top-line revenue by nearly two-thirds. When adjusting for the added expense of hiring that person, they outperform their solo peers in added revenue by 45%–50%.
Outliers operating in ensemble and enterprise models can benefit from economies of scale and develop specialized roles. As your firm grows in size, deliberately design the organization to reduce its dependency on your personal involvement. Add leadership and management functions, such as COOs and CIOs, so you can offload day-to-day oversight of critical firm functions and focus on strategy and client-facing responsibilities.
There isn’t just one factor that drives efficiency—it’s an aggregate system that’s built as a continuous investment. The outliers I spoke with were adamant that they systemize everything; this means analyzing, simplifying, and documenting core processes and then using automated workflows that are connected to the firm’s CRM system. By creating tools, such as checklists and email templates, you’ll ensure that you’re not re-creating the wheel when executing repeatable tasks.
Systemization needs to be a concerted effort and a priority of the firm’s leadership. For many firms, procedural responsibility is often delegated to members of the operations team and deprioritized by advisors in the firm. But the actual execution of a process spans across staff and advisors, which means that everyone should make it a priority.
- Scalable Client Model
Optimizing your time with clients doesn’t just mean spending more time with them; it means spending time with the right clients. When it comes to outliers, we found that they serve a higher-net-worth client base compared with their peers. While these clients may require more time for advanced planning needs and ongoing support, this extra demand is offset by the additional revenue they generate.
You may also consider using niche strategies to gain efficiencies. By working with clients who have similar needs and preferences, you can apply the same intellectual capital, processes and resources in a repeatable manner across your client base. You can also be intentional about your service model to ensure that you are delivering services and resources (notably, your time) to each client segment in a profitable manner.
Taking Charge of Your Productivity
Driving productivity and boosting efficiencies so you have more time with your clients doesn’t happen by chance. It takes time and ongoing investment to create and sustain a model that works for you and your firm. But by setting goals and focusing on the outcome, you, too, can become a productivity outlier. And that, in turn, can lead to greater success.
Kenton Shirk is vice president, practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network.