By Wade Wilkinson
It’s no secret that in today’s environment, advisors have more on their plate than ever before. Among the challenges are the continuously changing regulatory environment, demographic shifts that are putting pressure on many of their businesses and the influx of new, “disruptive” technologies that are making it harder to stand out and demonstrate value. It all adds up to advisors having fewer interactions with clients and spending more time dealing with peripheral issues, which means a dedicated, professional and knowledgeable support staff has never been more important.
For many firms, it’s common to label anyone working in a support capacity as a “sales assistant,” even though they may not have any actual sales-related responsibilities. The primary reason is that this role is typically filled by a single individual who is forced to wear many hats. Nomenclature aside, here are the top attributes advisors should look for in a sales assistant that will allow them to work on a more scalable basis and focus more attention on clients:
- Having the ability to interface with the broker/dealer effectively. Day to day, advisors are typically focused on any number of things that are important to the business, including staying on top of the market, interfacing with clients and managing the staff, which leaves the sales assistant to take care of virtually everything else. And of foremost importance under the banner of “everything else” is acting as a bridge between the advisor and the b/d, helping to align the tools, platforms and service offerings provided by the latter with needs of the former.
This requires having not only an intimate knowledge of the broker/dealer’s inner workings but the ability to establish relationships with key decision-makers and other important contacts at the firm. Beyond that, it also means acting as a problem-solver, collaborating with the b/d to bring a quick resolution to compliance concerns, client issues or other sensitive problems.
- A willingness to pursue continuing education opportunities. While some large, well-resourced practices have their own in-house compliance officer, most independent advisors can’t afford to make that type of investment. So by default, that role is filled by a sales associate, because it’s crucial for them to have more than just a working knowledge of the broad, sometimes overlapping compliance and regulatory responsibilities that hover above every advisor’s business.
Meanwhile, though firms often have their own internal compliance training requirements, advisors should also encourage their sales assistants to get a Series 11 license, and subsidize that effort. Many are unfamiliar with the Series 11, but it allows someone to take unsolicited orders, though the bigger overall benefit may be the knowledge they will gain about securities regulations. Also, be sure to take advantage of any special events sponsored by the b/d throughout the year that allow the support staff to gather with their peers, learn best practices and hear about the latest hot-button compliance and regulatory issues.
- Being able to organize marketing, brand-building and event planning activities. In the current ultra-competitive landscape, advisors need to seize every opportunity to delight clients, generate leads and build brand recognition within their local communities. At the same time, given all their other responsibilities, it is not always possible to devote the time needed to accomplish these goals.
Sales assistants therefore have to be comfortable taking a lead role in dreaming up ideas for client-appreciation events and tending to ongoing marketing campaigns. Encourage them to organize events around holidays, important community celebrations or significant dates on the financial planning calendar (tax or back-to-school season)—anything to generate buzz and get both present and prospective clients to attend.
Meanwhile, creating a recognizable brand today, in large part, hinges on the quality of a practice’s online presence, from its website to its social media pages. A sales assistant obviously has to be somewhat tech savvy to use client service tools, almost all of which are now digital. But, ideally, they should also have a basic understanding of how to leverage social media platforms to effectively cultivate clear and consistent messages that demonstrate an advisor’s value proposition in their local markets.
There is no question that the independent financial services space has entered a new world, one ripe with fresh regulatory challenges and stiffening competition. For some advisors, being able to rely on a well-rounded sales assistant with the right set of skills will save time and make a crucial difference for the advisor as the environment continues to change.
Wade Wilkinson is CEO of Securities Service Network, an independent broker/dealer and RIA specializing in the creation of operating efficiencies for financial advisors.