I recently had the opportunity to sit in on a weekly radio show where one of our partners is a contributor. The show host wore a pair of cargo shorts with his dress shirt and sport-coat, and asked a question to each of the four business owner-contributors: “What’s bothering you?”

As a guest in the room, I listened intently. From the owner of a heating and cooling company, I learned why I should hose off my air conditioner this time of year (beware of the cottonwood); apparently many clients don’t listen to this advice and they get themselves in trouble. A restaurateur shared the latest trends in gourmet hot dog stands and how they have invested to have a unique new cart that stands out.  Finally, a physical therapist shared some thoughts about how to stay fit when you’re over age 40…it was an eerie mix of topics for me, given my age and love of gourmet hot dogs.

But it spurred me to think about what I would say if I had a turn at the mic.

What’s bothering me about the financial services and wealth management profession?

Here are the top three things that are bothering me:

It bothers me that most of the clients served by my profession simply don’t understand it.

Too many clients still don’t understand basic concepts like investment fees, expense ratios, surrender charges, diversification and even the difference between a stock and a bond.  Unfortunately, this confusion and obfuscation has been perpetuated by financial services providers who don’t really act in the best interest of the client. It’s almost no wonder many investors simply “give up” on trying to understand investments, or end up falling prey to advisors who aren’t true fiduciaries.

It bothers me that the profession I love has been consistently ranked dead last in the Reputation Institute’s annual consumer survey of industry reputations over the last five years.

Yes, we even rank below cable providers.* I’ve spent my career working hard for reputable firms that help investors work to achieve True Wealth, only to find that bottom-dwellers can still so easily give us all a black-eye.  Given the hidden fees, high commissions, and low barriers to entry, it’s too easy for some in the profession to take advantage of the unsuspecting and uneducated. There are many independent firms who work tirelessly to put the client first, but unfortunately the bad apples spoil the bunch.

It bothers me that independent firms face the risk of becoming irrelevant in the future.

With the advent of passive investing tools like “robo-advisors” and increased attention on fees, how can smaller independent advisors compete with larger firms without building scale?  How can a business owner build scale when they’re busy serving existing clients, ensuring operations run smoothly, evaluating technology needs, weighing if there is capacity to implement change.  Don’t forget compliance responsibilities.  Oh yeah, how about watching the markets, building portfolios, reallocations, and making trades.  Did I mention the responsibility of leading the team and managing human resources issues?  Don’t forget to throw in family time, vacations, and those tempting distractions of business trips, conferences and due diligence meetings. How can the independent advisor do it all and compete? Well, they can’t!

 

But for every problem, there lies an opportunity.

And fortunately for us, the opportunities for our profession are great.

What can be done to improve investor knowledge and understanding?

Education; thorough, ongoing education. Communication; continuous, open communication. In the lack of understanding, we have a great opportunity to educate and serve clients, through a process that emphasizes transparency by advisors. Is transparency through education and communication at the core of your firm?

How can we raise the profile and improve the perception of the financial services profession?

By acting as fiduciary for our clients and speaking clearly about the distinction of this role. By instilling trust through our actions and accountability for the results. We must be accountable not only for investment performance, but to helping them plan a path to achieve their life goals. In delivering a personalized investment experience for each client, advisors can develop a deeper trust and relationship and improve the perception of our industry. Does your firm’s process support this level of service?

How can we serve independent advisors now and into the future, to ensure that they DO have a future?

Through promoting opportunities for learning and partnerships focused on leveraging scale, improving efficiency and increasing productivity, the independent advisor benefits. Knowing that “you don’t have to do it all alone” and having open dialogue around the many options available to help independent advisors compete can help strategically position them for the future. Are you using scalable processes and systems that allow you to compete against any advisor for any business?

Hmm…maybe I should have taken my turn at the mic! So what about you—what’s bothering you about the financial advisory profession? And more importantly, what are you doing to solve it?


 

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