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#4: Why Build a Bigger Firm: Consistent Client Service

Have you ever asked yourself: what are the benefits of a large financial planning firm?

One of the benefits, as I see it, is that larger financial planning firms are able to provide exceptional client satisfaction. McKinsey has the “Three C’s” of customer satisfaction that most business owners use as a measuring stick to create a great client experience:

  1. Consistency
  2. Consistency
  3. Consistency

In other words, research has been clear that the primary concern that influences whether or not clients are satisfied is whether or not they’re receiving a consistent experience. Knowing what to expect, and consistently receiving service that meets those expectations, builds trust.

Ultimately, I believe that larger financial planning firms are better able to provide a consistent experience for clients. This is due to five factors:

  1. Redundancy
  2. Specialization
  3. Technology
  4. Human capital
  5. Financial resiliency

Let’s explore how each of these elements plays into a consistent client experience – and why larger firms can achieve them more easily.

Redundancy

Many business owners think that redundancy is something to avoid. However, our team would argue that redundancy helps to provide a better, more consistent client experience. Let me illustrate this with a story from early in my career:

Back when I was running a much smaller firm and just had a couple of staff people, I was still doing due diligence trips to learn about different investment solutions that we might offer to our clients. I was on the road at a large conference when one of my staff members got a call from a client who was ready to make a trade. My staff member, who was unable to perform the trade themselves, had to call the event organizers, who then had to come and get me out of a crowd of 200+ people and tell me to call my client.

I had to navigate the trade while on the road, and even though I pulled it off, it was a clunky experience for everyone involved. Now, with a larger firm, we don’t run into these kinds of issues. We have “redundant” roles on our team so that if someone is out, the client never experiences a drop in service.

Specialization

Another way that large firms can provide consistency is through specialization. A few years back, a business coach recommended that all of our employees be working in their areas of strength 80% of the time at a minimum. If they weren’t working in areas of strength often enough, their job satisfaction would dip, and so would their quality of work.

Within our larger firm, our employees are all given the flexibility to specialize as needed. The truth is that nobody is good at everything. Running a financial planning firm requires such a wide range of tasks and specializations, one person can’t possibly do them all (or do them all well). Specializing allows us to have detail-oriented people in the right roles. Our operations team has a totally different skill set than our wealth management team, and they each have different skills than our client service specialists or our investment specialist – and we’ve set it up this way intentionally.

Putting the right people in the right roles increases company efficiency, and provides key consistency to your clients. Clients know what to expect from who, and always have access to an expert when they need one.

Tech Investment

Want to know one of the fastest ways to create a consistent client experience? Leverage technology in a consistent, effective way. Of course, in the world of financial planning, there is an endless array of tech choices at your disposal. Picking technology could honestly be a full-time job in itself.

Evaluating technology is just the tip of the iceberg. You have to consider whether it’s the best solution for your unique client base, decide whether it will require additional integration or be compatible with existing technology you’re using, evaluate whether engineers or programmers need to be available to make changes or fix breaks when they happen, and so much more.

Managing technology to create a consistent client experience should be your firm’s top priority. When you’re a small firm, that’s just not a possibility. At a larger firm, however, you can have dedicated technical experts who are available to serve your clients and manage your team’s technology – regardless of what else is going on in the firm.

Human Capital Investment

It’s estimated that over 111,000 advisors will leave the financial planning profession in the next decade. Compare that with the average estimate that 10,000 Baby Boomers reach retirement age every day – and we’ve got a problem. We need to be cultivating teams that are growing, specializing and making themselves available to serve current retirees and the next generation.

It takes time to train a new hire and turn them into a valuable contributor to your team. In fact, most advisors have experienced this to some extent – even at a small firm. As soon as you realize you need help, you need to:

  1. Define the role you need to be filled.
  2. Determine how much of your budget can be allocated to the new position.
  3. Post the job.
  4. Evaluate applicants.
  5. Find the right candidate.
  6. Make an offer.
  7. Hire and onboard them.
  8. Initiate a training process.

This process could take months, if not years, depending on the criteria of the role you’re looking to fill. If you’re a small firm or a solo shop looking to make your first hire, you don’t have this kind of time. You’re in the weeds, and you need someone to jump in and immediately make life easier – not spend a year training and mentoring them.

At a larger firm, we’ve been able to develop a unique approach to this process. We hire in cohorts where we post several positions at once, recruit a number of people, then train and mentor in groups. This has proved to be much more efficient than hiring single employees whenever the need arises. Unfortunately, it’s also a costly solution – one that most small firms can’t afford both when it comes to time spent and resources required.

By streamlining our hiring process, and being able to offer a full suite of benefits to new cohorts of hires, we’re improving our talent retention rate. This is yet another way we’re able to provide a more consistent client experience.

Financial Resiliency

Bigger firms often have deeper pockets. Having access to capital, whether through cash reserves or more flexibility to borrow when needed, means we can sustain our current operation regardless of market conditions. We can weather recessions that come better than smaller firms, and retain employees through rough patches. Smaller firms may not be able to do the same.

When the markets are rocky, clients need consistency more than ever. They’re relying on their financial planning team to be their rock and talk them through what’s going on. If you’re a small firm and show signs of losing employees or shifting client service as we head into a recession – it doesn’t bode well for your client relationships.

Providing Consistency is Key to Client Satisfaction

If consistency is the #1 indicator of client satisfaction, small firms will consistently struggle to keep up. Through no fault of their own, smaller firms are faced with a laundry list of roadblocks that they have to navigate in order to maintain consistency. However, when you partner with a larger firm, you’re gaining access to a team of specialized individuals who have a technical and financial advantage.

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