Whitepapers

The Conscientious Advisor

by Agota Alvarez
on

Executive Summary

In the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008 and amid continuing volatility in our global financial system, investors have radically changed how they view and make decisions about their investments and overall financial affairs. Investors today are far more skeptical and risk averse and, therefore, make financial decisions based on a different set of priorities and expectations.

In response to these changing investor attitudes, advisor-client dynamics have also changed drastically. Advisors/Sales Officers (for simplicity, we will refer to these professionals as “Advisors” in this paper) must look beyond the sales transaction to focus on long-term client interactions. Such relationships are built on trust and require focus on the right activities and actions. Moreover, Advisors themselves need to develop a new repertoire of communication skills that are efficient, effective, and demonstrate a deep understanding of client needs. Today’s Advisors need to hone personal qualities to succeed in this new advisor-client paradigm. However, many Advisors still rely on transactional, or “old world,” techniques and skills. Many have yet to foster new skills that will enable them to succeed in this new environment. Furthermore, wealth management firms may fail to recognize this new paradigm and, therefore, not provide the critical support these professionals need to successfully adapt.

BNY Mellon Wealth Management, a leading U.S. wealth management firm, and Caliper Corporation, a global organizational development consulting firm, partnered on a study to examine the relationship between sales performance and personality dynamics. Using the Caliper Profile, a robust assessment tool that measures 23 different personality traits and motivational factors, this study found that Advisors with well-developed attributes related to competence, credibility, and empathy—the key qualities of the “Conscientiousness Advisor”—are more likely to succeed. Based on this study, the emergence of a Conscientious Advisor became apparent. This paper describes how those attributes and skills should and can be applied in the new advisor-client dynamic, and what a firm must do to cultivate and empower Conscientious Advisors.What Makes a Conscientious Advisor?

In the post-crisis business environment, an Advisor must demonstrate a different set of attributes and motivational strengths to succeed. For example, in today’s environment, persuasiveness and gregariousness have become less predictive of success than before the crisis. Instead, problem-solving and a thoughtful, conscientious approach to relationship development and management seem to work better with today’s high-net-worth clients.

The study noted some important trends in the archetype of a successful Advisor. For instance, current top performers appear to score higher on ‘conscientiousness-¬related’ traits such as:

  • Abstract Reasoning: These Advisors are good problem solvers and have the ability to understand complex problems.
  • Thoroughness: These Advisors tend to take ownership of jobs and tasks assigned to them. They are likely to be consistent in their follow-through with clients, the goal being to ensure problems are assessed correctly and solutions are on point.
  • Cautiousness: These Advisors are thoughtful. They are inclined to make decisions carefully and think through relevant facts and alternatives. They consider the implications of each alternative.
  • Skepticism: These Advisors question motives, which helps them understand the conscious and subconscious issues their prospective and current clients are facing.
  • Structure and Attention to Detail: These Advisors are more structured, with high attention to detail that facilitates their consistent and diligent follow-through on the decisions made between them and their clients. This is key to building trust.


Conversely, while still important drivers of success, the current top performers appear to score somewhat lower than those who were successful pre-crisis on many interpersonal-related traits such as:

  • Assertiveness: The ability to express one’s thoughts forcefully and consistently; a direct and straightforward style, even when addressing a somewhat unreceptive audience.
  • Aggressiveness: A tendency to be heavy handed in one’s communication approach.
  • Risk Acceptance: An individual’s willingness to take risks and possess an optimistic desire to try new things.
  • Ego-Drive: An inner need to persuade others as a means of gaining personal gratification.
  • Sociability: The ability and desire to be with and work with other people; a tendency to relate well in one-on-one and group situations.
  • Gregariousness: A comfort with people and crowds; an outgoing nature that enjoys working with large groups.

 

In the post-crisis environment, the study indicates that today’s successful Advisors tend to take a well-thought-out, consultative, and conscientious approach to developing and closing deals and retaining business with high-net-worth clients.
Successful Advisors typically:

  • Exhibit self-confidence to interact effectively with high-net-worth individuals. They are likely to ask the right questions and, at the appropriate time, educate their clients. They understand that words matter and, therefore, tend to engage in extensive pre-call planning by scripting their questions. They also understand the need for prospective clients to feel they have ownership of identifying and resolving their own financial issues with the Advisor as their trusted partner.
  • Use a straightforward but adaptive communication style and active listening skills to demonstrate understanding. These Advisors are very skilled at relevant storytelling to gain commitment, by allowing the client to see
    themselves in the story.
  • Enjoy the persuasive nature of their role and exercise empathy. They articulate real value and share opinions. In essence, they demonstrate that they care and are confident by providing insightful comments. They are not afraid to take a position and explain their point of view.
  • Are willing to ask for business at the appropriate time in the process. They build the business case and identify the pros and cons of the alternatives then propose a reasonable commitment to working together.
  • Exercise self-discipline, thoroughness, and follow-through at every stage of the client-advisor relationship. They provide a window into what the experience will be like for a client from the very first interaction.


Amid so much economic uncertainty, market volatility, and policy headwinds, these qualities help top-performing Advisors establish themselves as credible business partners who can deliver results, while always working in the interests of their clients.In addition to having the attributes described above, the successful Advisor must exhibit a high level of conceptual thinking to be able to obtain, synthesize, and use technical investment, economic, tax, and wealth planning information from a variety of sources. This involves:

  • Staying current with market trends, industry developments, and competitor offerings and fee structures. Advisors must develop and employ a vast network of information resources in order to be successful.
  • Obtaining specific and often sensitive information regarding clients’ financial and personal situation and goals.


The Conscientious Advisor

  • Understanding the criteria by which a client and other stakeholders decide to partner with a firm. Preparation includes asking “why” questions about previous decisions.
  • Sifting through this information to better understand a client’s needs and, in some cases, help the client articulate these needs.
  • Reaching conclusions and making recommendations that are logical, pragmatic, and compelling.


Additionally, the study found that successful Advisors set their own goals and see them through to timely completion without the need for excessive supervision or controls. They value input, direction, and coaching from experts in efficiency and effectiveness, but are self-motivated and operate independently. Conversely, if a coach does not provide value, successful Advisors know when to end a coaching relationship, as time is money for them. That is, a successful Advisor will have high personal standards for his or her own performance, will embrace a healthy competitive environment, and will consistently exert extra effort to exceed increasing performance expectations. They also demand the same from those around them.

How Can Advisors Transform Themselves into Conscientious Advisors?

They should first assess their own inherent strengths by considering the following questions: (add table here from link below)Depending on the answers, an Advisor may identify areas for development and, with the appropriate support of his or her manager, adopt strategies to improve in these areas.

How Does a Conscientious Advisor Work with Clients?

A Conscientious Advisor confidently builds a strong positive image of his or her own character and expertise, as well as that of the firm. He or she does so not only with prospective clients but also with the intermediaries—such as accountants, lawyers, and other advisors—who serve them.

In working with prospects and clients, the Conscientious Advisor shares thoughts and listens carefully as a client describes his or her concerns and desires, and then engages in dialogue to help the client uncover issues that underpin those concerns. In this process—which can extend over a period of weeks, months, or years—an Advisor displays empathy and demonstrates to the client that he or she understands their concerns and needs and will work toward the client’s best interest.

To that end, the Conscientious Advisor must conduct research regarding his or her clients’ needs, develop a logical strategy that will address those needs, and articulate that strategy clearly, concisely, and persuasively. Persuasiveness is far more than merely being assertive and persistent; the Advisor must demonstrate to the client that he or she is a competent, credible, and trustworthy partner capable of managing substantial wealth.

In addition to developing a prospect’s trust, an Advisor must nurture and sustain effective working relationships with intermediaries. Most of the Advisors in this study are apt to rely on intermediaries as a key source for generating leads, so it’s important that they maintain a friendly, reciprocal business relationship that fosters trust and respect. The successful Advisor possesses the interpersonal acumen, insight into the motivations of others, and pragmatic urgency that allows him or her to focus on cultivating relationships only with those intermediaries who will provide significant leads.

Developing the practices of a Conscientious Advisor can help to create a prospect and client experience that is both efficient and replicable. In his white paper, Trust and the Sharing economy: A New Business Model 2, Charles Green cautions that getting the trust factor right when building a business model, or replicable processes, is critical. He identifies four pitfalls:

1.     Trust is only weakly transitive. Business models that focus on testimonials are inherently weak. Behavioral indicators are far superior

2.     Trust requires context. Business models that treat trust as a single attribute will be unable to migrate across multiple business cases

3.     It takes two to trust. Business models that do not clearly distinguish metrics for each role will be erratic

4.     Trust is risk mitigation. Business models that do not clearly identify the risks and the risk-takers will be vague and confusing.

 

Developing the Relationship: The Three Phases of Conscientious Advising

As the Conscientious Advisor works with a prospective client, the relationship develops over three phases. Advisors’ business models should be examined in each of these phases for efficiency and effectiveness.

1. The discovery phase. This phase of the relationship requires a combination of qualities, including both empathy and a sense of urgency. A Conscientious Advisor’s role with his or her prospective client is akin to a primary care physician who must gradually gain a patient’s trust by listening carefully to his or her concerns and identifying what the patient needs. Then, with the help of specialists, if necessary, he or she develops a treatment plan that the patient understands and believes in.

What the patient doesn’t say is just as important as what is expressed. Drawing on his or her empathy, as well as an array of other interpersonal skills, the Conscientious Advisor must tease out the client’s fears and aspirations. The Advisor then orchestrates the expertise of a carefully selected deal team to work with the prospective client in developing an integrated “treatment plan,” or solution. This plan may include issues and opportunities on both sides of the balance sheet, asset and investment management, and wealth planning issues, including estate and tax planning, family governance, wealth transfer, and philanthropy.

At the same time, through both actions and interactions, the Advisor is also laying the foundation for the next phase of the relationship.

2. The transition, or onboarding, phase. This phase is intended to introduce the firm and its philosophy and processes to the client.

In many ways, this is the point at which the real work begins for a Conscientious Advisor. Having persuaded a prospect that he or she and the firm are best able to serve the client’s needs, every subsequent step must demonstrate to the client that he or she has made the right choice.

Clients pay more attention to what an Advisor does than to what he or she promises. Conscientious Advisors have detailed check lists outlining steps for the “Year One” onboarding process that are repeatable and efficient. This includes, pre-call planning, scripting, and defining the success criteria for each meeting as this stage of the process unfolds.

3. The relationship management phase. This phase shifts the relationship’s focus from sales to service.As the relationship grows stronger, the Advisor’s team must leverage its insights to become a trusted partner and advocate for the client.

Through a conscientious approach that is transparent and consistent, the Advisor’s responsibility to act in the client’s best interest becomes more apparent. This phase also requires that the Advisor be comfortable taking calculated and studied risks. In many ways, this stage demands many of the same skills and attributes as the first phase of the relationship, such as:

  • Taking a straightforward, persuasive, and consultative approach
  • Building strong working relationships, based on a solid foundation of trust with clients, intermediaries, and stakeholders
  • Eliciting sensitive, timely information from clients, their families, and advisors in an ever-changing and evolving world and helping them articulate financial and personal goals
  • Conceptualizing and articulating how the firm’s products and services can help clients realize their financial and personal goals


Fostering Conscientious Advising Infrastructure

As firms grapple with increasing competition, investors’ information overload, and volatile economic conditions, they must actively encourage their sales and service teams to embrace this new advisor-client dynamic. A successful firm’s infrastructure creates capacity and reduces interference. To that end, firms must re-engineer their culture and create infrastructures to provide:

  • More defined sales and advisory processes to foster interaction over transaction
  • Vigilance in pre-call planning and preparation
  • Clear, detailed efficiency models
  • Repeatable, consistent processes that can be used for each new client
  • Continual sales training, emphasizing conscientious client interactions
  • Transparency about fees, investments, and other processes
  • Strategic use of technology to serve prospects, advisors, and clients in a 24/7 world
  • Enhanced recruiting processes and tools to ensure new talent has the skill set and is a cultural match with the new wealth management paradigm

Based on today’s changing environment, three key areas should be considered when considering infrastructure investments: sales management, platform, and execution.

Sales Management

Institutions don’t prepare advisors, people prepare them. A top priority should be to develop the management team to be leaders, both for their sales team members and for the conscientious advising process. Far too many sales managers see themselves as there to solve problems and support people, rather than coaching and developing their team. Investing in the management team’s coaching processes and skill development is critical for success. Firms like Efficient Marketing, LLC and PeopleReader can help galvanize the culture change. At BNY Mellon Wealth Management, for example, average production by the top 10% of the sales team increased by over 70% through a combination of partnering with efficiency and effectiveness experts, as well as internal coaching for the sales management team.

It is critical to leverage the sales management team to develop Advisors, deliver content, and create consistency in the sales and client experience. Firms that make their sales management team the primary coach and trainer, both in the classroom and the field, can imbue in their Advisors a common language and set of norms in a highly cost-effective way. Most importantly, by investing in their own talent to drive this training, firms are able to underscore their own commitment to the client-centered ethos that ultimately drives results and profitability.

Often, sales managers need improved training programs that provide a common language, as well as a toolkit, to help them effectively develop their Advisors. In the post-crisis world, there needs to be a focus on both hearing and understanding client needs and on deep product knowledge. It is about the questions an Advisor asks, and how they ask them, that make the difference. Words matter, and preparation is critical. Advisors need to be taught a straightforward communication style that includes active listening. Storytelling is also a critical component in gaining a prospective client’s buy-in. It is an art that many training programs don’t address.

Platform

A well-defined product and service offering that is efficient and effective allows Advisors to focus on their conscientious process and deliver a consistent experience to the client. A streamlined and simplified management toolkit separates the best from the rest. A robust team of in-house and external experts also allows for integrated solutions that are consistent and effective (deep investment offerings, wealth planning, tax planning, banking, etc.). Finally, the strategic use of technology is becoming more critical to serving clients in a 24/7 virtual world.

Execution

It’s all about the execution! To successfully execute requires a playbook that defines roles and responsibilities, as well as efficient and effective team processes. Test how well your playbook is defined by answering the following questions: Do you and the Advisors you work with have processes mapped out for:

  • Assigning deal teams?
  • Pre-call planning?
  • Meeting preparation – who, what, where, when, and how?
  • Rules of engagement for prospect and client meetings?
  • Post-meeting debriefs and check lists?

Talent Acquisition

Once a firm’s management team has defined the skills, attributes, and processes to promote conscientious advising and has inculcated it in their existing team, the team can expand its internal and external recruiting. Many firms that focus on organic growth face a talent shortage within their industry and are in a war for talent. This focus hampers their ability to expand their Advisor teams. Firms can address this by widening the search to include the talent pool from other industries and identify candidates looking for new careers. Conscientious employees exist in every industry; it’s actually easier to teach a new recruit the technical aspects of a wealth management sales process and practice than to teach an employee the subtle and complex personal qualities of competence, credibility, and empathy needed for a client-centered culture.

Conclusion

Conscientious Advisors outperform their peers. Becoming a Conscientious Advisor requires attention to the details of both practice management and client interaction. Advisors’ actions become their personal brand, and many underestimate the power of developing efficient and effective processes and skills. Like many things, a talented and effective coach can have a major impact in helping an Advisor develop and refine conscientious skill sets and strategies. The best coaches use tools such as the Caliper Profile to help them assess recruits and existing employees. These coaches also have developed playbooks and are relentless in their pursuit of excellence for themselves and their teams. Firms that invest in developing their sales managers’ coaching skills, as well as the infrastructure needed to support this new advisory paradigm, will not only win the talent war, but will also be more cost effective, while improving profitability.