Practical ways advisers can find the right balance in their practices

Finding enough time for the important things - spending time with family, working on your business, and having time for yourself to do the things you love - can be a real struggle if you’re a financial adviser with your own practice.

In fact, Macquarie’s 2015/16 Accounting and Financial Services Benchmarking Report revealed a clear pattern in the challenges that advisers face, and it is influenced by age, where they are in their personal lives as well as the maturity of their business.

We spoke to three advisers at different stages to find out how they are overcoming their biggest challenges and share their tips.

David Isaacs, Quadrant Wealth

David Isaacs is a 39 year old director at Quadrant Wealth. He set up his own practice four years ago. While his key focus is growing his business and setting himself up as a leader, as a husband and father to two girls aged four and two, he is also focused on making sure he spends enough time with his young family.

This is typical of those in his age group, with under 45s citing their biggest challenge as getting drowned in email, paperwork and compliance, struggling with stress and fatigue, as well as not having enough time to spend with their family.

Isaacs is taking steps to more effectively manage his time and overcome these challenges through strategic staff hires, technology and by having a disciplined focus on the tasks that will make the biggest difference to his business and clients.

“I think the challenge for younger advisers who have opened their own practices is determining the right point in time to employ somebody in order to take on a lot more of the day-to-day operations, to free you up to continue to grow the business and look after your clients. I resisted that up until now, but I'm at a point where I actually have to take that on.”

“It becomes quite important to acknowledge the fact that you cannot do everything. If you want to grow the business and continue to service your clients, you do need that assistance.”

He believes technology will also play a key role in freeing up his time so he can focus on the tasks which will have the biggest impact in his business. To keep up to date with developments in the tech space for advisers, Isaacs attends a number of innovation forums and also makes the time to talk to peers to find out about new developments.

“The challenge as an adviser is to find the time to actually implement what you've seen and liked.” An example of a technology-driven change he is considering is a tool to engage with clients online in real time.

Given time is a scarce commodity, by adopting such technology, it means you and your client can both see each other as well as the content you are discussing on the same interface at a time and location convenient to everyone, and can make changes as you go.

 “What you'll tend to find is that younger clients will adopt this type of review process a lot sooner, rather than having to see you late at night.”

By freeing up time, Isaacs has been able to purposefully spend his time and energy on growing his business. One key area Isaacs has focused on has been finding the right strategic referral partners to work with.  “I’m finding that very fruitful from a client and lead generation perspective.”

Going forward, Isaacs would like to come up with more ways for clients to become entrenched.

“That way they’ll be clients of yours for life as opposed to the potential risk that comes with exposing them to other businesses where you could lose them over time.”

Isaac's tips:

  • take the time to hire the right people to free up your time
  • use technology where possible to drive efficiencies
  • find the right referral partners to look after your clients and grow your business.

Brendon Cox, Brendon Cox Investment Network (BCIN)

Brendon Cox, aged 48, started his practice 22 years ago, and now has a well-established and loyal client base.

With such a mature business, acquiring new clients is not BCIN’s biggest challenge. Cox’s main area of focus is determining his next step when it comes to succession planning. To help with this, Cox taps into the industry knowledge of his business development managers and licensee contacts.

“The reason I use my business development managers as my first port of call is because I feel that they can bring an external perspective to my business and I see them as key partners. They speak to lot of other advisers and have a feel for what’s going on in the market, so they are well positioned to provide me with guidance.”

However, one of the most valuable sources of expertise for Cox is his industry peers. Speaking with other advisers who have gone through similar challenges can mean avoiding making the same mistakes.

“I think most advisers are generous with their time – it’s in their DNA, they help people.”

“I know if an adviser knocked on my door and said ‘I’m in my fifth year of practice, what did you go through when you were at my stage’ I would give them my time and share my experience.”

With two young children at home, Cox’s family is his passion. Spending time with his wife and children is his priority, but it’s not always easy to strike the right balance.

“Any adviser with more than two hundred clients probably feels as though they are not spending enough time on all of their clients, or with their family and on the things they love to do. There is always a compromise.”

That’s why for Cox, outsourcing is key to freeing up his time and allows him to focus on his strengths. In particular, Cox outsources the production of statements of advice (SOAs).

“It would take me a day to create an SOA, whereas I can outsource it to someone who creates SOAs every day and they can do it in three to four hours and charge me for it. It means I’ve gained those hours in servicing clients, bringing on new clients or even taking my family to lunch.”

His advice for younger advisers starting out in business is to have a simple business plan outlining where you want to be in 12 months, and how you are going to get there.

“It will keep you focused, help you articulate your value proposition and help you map out how to best spend your time.”

Cox's tips:

  • learn from others and know how you compare by reaching out to BDMs and peers
  • outsource time-consuming tasks so you can focus on your strengths
  • have a business plan.

Justin Hooper, Sentinel Wealth

Hooper, aged 58 has been an adviser since 1982 and, other than a relatively short stint as General Manager of ipac Financial Planning, has always had his own practice. In his view, business challenges should be welcomed.

“Every challenge creates an opportunity for improvement in the business; either the processes or the service offer. Both will grow the value of your business, which is important considering one of the main reasons for being in business is to grow value. Ultimately, how you deal with difficult times will give you confidence in yourself and this will come out in front of clients when you least expect it.”

Hooper believes one of the most important steps he took in his business was to spend time creating his value proposition, and creating a framework to communicate it to clients.

“It was a major watershed moment when I became absolutely clear about what our value proposition was and how we were going to deliver it. Ever since then it's been incredibly liberating,” says Hooper.

Hooper says while many advisers pay lip service to having a value proposition it’s worth doing authentically.

“You've got to know why you exist as a business and understand what your contribution is to society. If you know this and it’s genuine, you’ll be amazed by the benefits.”

“I’ve always believed that the biggest challenge is a regular flow of new clients. And to do that, you first need to understand your value and why you exist, build a process to deliver it, and then learn to communicate it. Once that’s in place you can optimise the process and scale it up.”

For Hooper, having the right team is a key part of the puzzle when it comes to running a successful business. To build a better team, Hooper believes is essential to be clear about the culture you want to develop and select people accordingly.

“I’ve made many mistakes in employing people and most have been the result of a belief that people will change or that I could make them into what I thought they could be.”

“I’ve learned that it’s not that easy and the most important element of selection is track record. Assume that people will continuing doing what they’ve done. Then make sure your culture is what you want it to be and look for a fit.”

For younger advisers in particular, Hooper’s advice is to specialise.

“I would pick an area where there's a lot of concerns, pain or anxiety around money, and I would pick something that's very difficult technically - something that most advisers wouldn't want to go near because it's too difficult. Whatever it is, it has to be something that would take four or five years to really understand.”

But like all advisers running their own practice, finding enough time to get through his to-do list is a constant challenge.

“I find it impossible to do everything and ‘complete my list’ so one has to focus on priorities. Have a plan for the year, then six months, then quarter, month and week. It helps me focus on my priorities” “I have the projects for the quarter in my calendar at 7am every day to remind me of my focus”.

“This business is mostly about understanding the client’s concerns and if you lose that because of being too focused on process, you will lose everything.”

Hooper’s tips:

  • get to know your client at a deeper level – understand exactly what’s bothering them and why, which will help you know what true value looks like to them
  • clearly articulate your value proposition and communicate it
  • build a great team.

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