What do investors look for in a financial advisor? It seems like a simple question to answer, but it’s not. We spend a great deal of time working with financial advisors and studying financial advisory businesses—thriving ones as well as struggling ones—and it’s no surprise that those focused on the disciplines of Leadership, Team Development, Documentation of Vision and Mission, Consistency of Processes, and Ongoing Communication, have more success than those that don’t.

In this blog series, “Five Disciplines of a Successful Fiduciary,” we’ll talk about what makes a financial advisor successful, and more importantly, how to get there—and stay there. You may not be a fiduciary, and may never be one, but commitment to those principles will put you in a position to best serve your clients. But first, we start with a story of an advisor who lost a longtime client and the lessons he learned from it.

Our advisor, let’s call him James, had been working with a client for 10 years, and they had become good friends over time. Outside of their regular financial planning sessions, James and his client would chat about the markets at quarterly lunches. So it came as a shock when his client announced his decision to leave after he sold his business.

We suggested he have an open and honest interview, despite being a difficult conversation, to identify where he came up short and to learn from this experience.

James organized the conversation into three parts: What have we done well for you and your family? Where have we delivered less than you’d hoped? What advice would you give me so this never happens again?

As it turned out, the client talked a lot about their history together and the great service provided to his family. The client explained that given the new wealth, more complex planning was required, maintaining that he could not get those services from his old friend. That’s when James realized every product and service mentioned was well within the capacity of his team.

At the end of a rich and candid conversation, the client said, “You know, it’s not my responsibility to ask you what you can do for me, but rather it’s your responsibility to tell me what is possible.” The client is right.

Remind clients of what you do—and can do—for them

This experience teaches all of us that client relationships, no matter how strong they might appear, are better protected when an advisor follows a set of well-tested disciplines. We want to put you in a position where you never have to defend or justify your role or your fee, because it’s obvious to your clients how you are earning it.

Here’s a look ahead at where the series will take us:

1. The oxygen mask goes on you first

You have to be able to lead yourself before you can lead your team. How do you encourage your team to take care of themselves?

2. Creating a thriving team environment

Put your team and client first. Help your team members stay curious and dedicated to their work. Do they see the difference they make in their clients’ lives?

3. Live your brand

It’s all well and good to stand for something, but it can’t be just words. You and your team have to live it, not just believe in it. Do your clients experience the benefits of your vision?

4. Repeat after me

Policies ought to be written down, transparent and transferable to your team. Make sure your services are reliable and scalable. Do you have a defined process, or are you just winging it?

5. Earn your fee, scale and grow

Communicating with clients is about having meaningful, connected conversations, which should include the ones where you explain what differentiates you and makes you worth their investment. Again, do you remind them of the breadth and depth of your services?

Rob Kron is the Head of Investment and Retirement Education for BlackRock’s U.S. Wealth Advisory group and a regular contributor to The Blog. Danielle Papandrea is the Head of BlackRock’s Affinity Group and is the newest contributor to The Blog.

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