What you’ve done in the past isn’t enough for the future. That which has differentiated you enough to become successful thus far in your career likely isn’t sufficient to set you apart and perpetuate your success going forward.
At one point, pushing product for a recognizable company gave you an edge. Then, being an asset manager turned some heads. Evidence-based investing gave you an even better story to tell. Offering comprehensive advice as a Certified Financial Planner™ practitioner was once novel, and full-time fiduciary status made you a more evolved advisor.
But now some recognizable names are offering a version of the above for less than you pay for your streaming television subscriptions, all while one of the most recognizable names in finance just announced the end of a sales practice for which it is legendary. The net result is that there will only be more—and lesser priced—competition for financial advisory services. What, then, will it take to continue to set you apart?
One of the answers has to be message management through skilled marketing and branding to tell an effective story to those you hope to serve. But the substance has to match the narrative. Here are three foundational keys, therefore, to elevating your client experience by bolstering the substance of your service:
1. Altruism: Every advisor and most “advisors” can claim to be a fiduciary these days. Even if it’s only one of the hats they’re wearing, just about everyone can say, “Yeah, I do that too,” checking a regulatory box. But the true heart of acting as a fiduciary is more about the spirit of the law than the letter. If we are truly putting clients’ needs ahead of our own, ours is more than a job, it’s a helping profession—closer to clergy than clockmaker on a continuum.
From this core of altruism springs a service model that requires genuine empathy, bespoke customization, and true client-centricity, not just because it’s good for business, but because it’s inherently good. It’s the right thing to do.
2. Anticipation: Financial advisors must normally scrape and claw at the beginning of their careers just to get enough clients to amount to a practice. But invariably, as advisors grow in experience and attract more and larger clients, they never stop long enough to consider their aggregate client base and all that it takes to ensure each individual they serve is receiving an elevated client experience.
Advisors are driven, often by their own success, to a business model that becomes necessarily reactive more than proactive. They’re putting out fires every day merely to “keep everyone happy” rather than delighting their clients with unexpected outreach and new solutions. So yes, the point here is to cultivate a habit of anticipation and proactivity with your clients, something I think we’d all agree is the ideal.
But to get there, you must pause long enough in growing your client base to consider your client base—to identify your ideal client, those who you’d hate to lose and would love to duplicate. Then you must acknowledge your own limitations, articulate what it is going to take to create sufficient space to exercise an anticipatory client experience, and likely make some difficult decisions about limiting your scope and/or hiring additional help to preserve your ability to do your best work. And we can all do better work, by the way.
3. Authenticity: Yet it all comes down to this. You’ll often see lofty words and phrases adorning company mission statements—like honesty, integrity and excellence. But still it begs the question, Why? Yes, we’d all prefer to deal with product and service providers who are honest, who have integrity, and who deliver excellence in their work. But don’t we trust all the more when we feel that these exterior actions are representative of an authentic interior? Excellence can be delivered by a product or service, but authenticity is an experience that comes through relationship.
And that word—relationship—is the key to it all and the unchanging element in a building wave of change in financial services. Yes, change in our world has been coming for years—decades, really. Yes, this change has been accelerated, especially by the financial crisis of 2008-2009 and more recently through the pandemic. But the very best delivery mechanism for your client experience—and the optimal vehicle for altruism, anticipation and authenticity—remains as old as time. Relationship.