Financial advisory firms looking to expand their business should form a strategic plan and implement it, many of the industry’s top leaders say. Coming up with a vision for success and a way to execute that vision within the organization is key. So is getting staff on board in the process of achieving those goals.

By developing a strategy for growth and implementing it, in a disciplined way, financial advisors are better able to stay focused and to influence the future of their business. Creating a concrete plan for success can also help facilitate accountability at the firm. Staff respond best when they have a path to follow and are given the responsibility to implement it, these advisors note. Bringing employees into the fold when implementing a strategic plan for the company will also help them to better evaluate their success.

Several leading financial advisors have shared a few of their own insights for creating success in the book, “Be Greater: Why Being Good Enough is No Longer an Option,” which was published by Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services. (To learn more about the book and download it, click here.)

Establishing Goals, Monitoring Progress

Russ Hill, Chairman and CEO of Halbert Hargrove, suggests conducting a strategic formal planning process each year and sharing it with all of the firm’s staff. The plan should include changes or goals that the employees need to be on board with and will be expected to implement over the course of the year. A disciplined approach to monitoring the firm’s progress in achieving the plan should also be set up. This will better allow all employees to meet their objectives. Involving all of the firm’s employees in the process will help to foster a strong degree of enthusiasm for the strategic process.

Hill uses a pyramid structure to outline major areas of focus in the plan and uses a spreadsheet to track process. This helps him to stay on top of progress and decisions as they occur. (For more, see: Financial Advisors are Feeling Cyber-insecure.)

Seek the Input of Employees

Greg Erwin, a managing partner at Sapient Private Wealth Management, says that strategic planning should be a collaborative effort. The executive team should remain open to input from employees at all levels of the firm and should listen to their views on what is and is not working well within the organization. This information can be used to help the firm’s executives further establish goals and priorities. Erwin also goes one step further by conducting review meetings with members of the staff to discuss the team’s goals and obstacles they foresee ahead. By taking steps to fine-tune a firm’s strategic planning, management can provide more clarity and accountability across the board. (For more, see: How Advisors Can Fill the Talent Gap.)

Keep All Eyes on the Ball

CEO of Buckingham Asset Management, Adam Birenbaum, notes that senior-level team members at his firm always take time to identify potential opportunities and challenges that may arise in years ahead. He has come up with four overarching themes that drive the firm's strategic initiatives as well as areas where the business could move forward more quickly. He also outlines challenges it may face.

After looking at hundreds of bullet points, the executive team began to see certain trends emerge that it has divided up into four categories or goals. Their first was to attract and develop top talent, the second was to create an unrivaled client experience, next was to develop a robust infrastructure, and last was creating financial strength. The team agreed that if they focused on those four areas, they could become recognized leaders in the independent wealth management space, Birenbaum said. (For related reading, see: How Financial Advisors can Adjust to Robo-Advisors.)

Bring In the Experts

Michael Nathanson, ceo and president at The Colony Group, hired a professional facilitator to help the executive team begin brainstorming and sharing ideas about the company's future. The executives came up with a strategic plan for the firm and set out to actively implement it, with the goal of driving the change it wanted to achieve. After The Colony Group merged with Mintz Levin Financial Advisors, the executive committee pulled together to discuss the new firm’s path forward. The plan included interviewing employees at all levels of the firm to better understand what their value proposition was, and how they were doing in terms of achieving it. (For more, see: Why Financial Advisors Need to Earn the CFP Mark.)

Assign Responsibilities

After completing its executive brainstorming session, The Colony Group divided up responsibilities among its executives, said the firm’s vice chairman and senior financial counselor Robert Glovsky. Each executive on the team took ownership of a specific area and followed through on that part of the strategic plan. Glovsky along with several of his colleagues took responsibility for overseeing the business development elements of the plan. The chief investment officer took over investment performance, and accountability was assigned to Nathanson. Glovsky believes that any organization would have a hard time maximizing its potential and growing without setting up a strategic plan that sets the direction for the firm and assigns responsibility for making that change happen. (For more, see: How to Be a Top Financial Advisor.)

Join Forces to Gain Talent and Financing

CEO Bob DiQuollo of Brinton Eaton Wealth Advisors says that the firm joined forces with Mariner Wealth Advisors in order to be able to hand over some of the time-consuming back-office functions it was handling. It also saw the merger as an opportunity to add an array of specialists to the firm. The plan included obtaining access to financing for the next generation of management, which the firm needed in order to execute a succession plan. DiQuollo said that Brinton Eaton originally had a simple succession plan in place, but after the financial crisis, when growth had slowed, there were implications for the firm’s finances that would have affected the newer members of the team and their ability to buy out the older advisors, who would eventually be leaving the firm. DiQuollo noted that doing a deal with Mariner Wealth Advisors provided the firm with the funds necessary to help facilitate the transfer of ownership and any future transfers that may need to occur. (For related reading, see: How Financial Advisors are Leveraging Social Media.)

Share Ownership

Brian Dombkowski, chief investment officer at Sand Hill Global Advisors, joined the firm just as it was emerging from a previous relationship with a bank. The firm had a strong brand name, a long history in the business and critical mass. At the time, its Chairwoman and co-founder, Jane Williams was also gearing up to put ownership of the firm into the hands of its employees. Dombkowski took over the role of president, and then chief executive officer and chief investment officer. He also took control of the business’s operational functions. Dombkowski believes that in order for a transition to be successful a founder must be ready to hand over responsibility to a new leader who can appreciate the opportunity he or she has been given. (For more, see: Growth Strategies for Financial Advisors.)

The Bottom Line

Management at financial advisory firms need to set up strategic plans for growth, financing and succession. Executives should include the input of all employees and keep tabs on progress in order to achieve success. Merging with other firms can also expedite growth plans. (For more, see: Key Steps to Building a Great Financial Planning Practice.)


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