Peter SwitzerEarlier last year I addressed a conference of business advisers and was staggered how out-of-control they were as business owners/managers. Clichés about a carpenter’s kitchen cupboards never being finished and a brickie’s fence never being completed came to me, and then my thoughts turned to financial advisers.

Here is a group of people who are in the advice-giving business, but I wonder how many take advice in key aspects of their business where they might have weakness?
One of the great challenges of our industry is to explain the value of the services we hope to sell to our clients. I know many of us don’t see it as selling – it’s a relationship, which we get paid for, some tell me – but there is a thing called relationship selling.

After a year like the last one, some of us get bogged down in the returns we have produced for our clients, but this is only measuring our total “return” on a short-term and narrow basis. If investment returns were everything, an investor could work with a stockbroker or a fund manager exclusively.

However, we are supposed to be trusted partners in our client’s financial journey and that’s why we get to know their long-term goals, their risk profile and create a plan.

I remember when I saw that our plans were drawn up on a 7.75 per cent return basis, I thought: “Gee, that’s conservative!” But 2008 has reminded me that the 7.75 per cent figure is a product of history. Of course, we all shoot for better than this base figure, but in trying market conditions, this low number can look pretty damned attractive.

Ultimately, our offerings of helping our clients manage debt, setting up tax-effective strategies for investment, estate planning, ensuring the right insurance is in place and that the retirement strategy is on course to kick the client’s goals, underline the fact that getting the market right short-term, all of the time, is not really our key job.

As an industry we need to get this important message out to the market. As a group, our industry’s unique selling proposition or USP has to be agreed upon and communicated to the community — our target market.

The big challenge is to come up with a USP that the whole industry can sign up to. I know what it should be, but I don’t know if everyone could or would want to sign up to it.
Thinking about your USP is really important. It is the message that the market should hear all of the time.

For my business coaching business, our USP is “Guidance you can trust”, but I am in the process of adding something to it so it actually says a little more.

This need for change occurred to me after interviewing three business owners who had won their way through to the final of the Optus Yes Coach competition, where the three proprietors had 12 weeks of our business coaching.

The winner took out a $10,000 holiday prize, but what struck me when I interviewed them for the televised final was that they all wanted to win the holiday, but they also admitted that they had already won so much through the changes in their business that resulted from the coaching.

And a standout observation from all three was that not only had their business improved, but their life had also been enhanced.

The eventual winner said that for the first time in her business life she had gone on a holiday and had turned the mobile phone off! Her business could run without her because she had made significant changes in only 12 weeks.

That told me that my USP needs an add-on, something like: “We not only improve your business, we improve your life.”

In financial advising, we are not just selling a plan; we are selling peace of mind for the long term. We’re selling a trusted adviser’s role. We are selling our expertise to manage money and to consider the important things in life that busy or financially unsophisticated types always muck up.

Sure, some of us will have to cope with the embarrassment that goes with this “annus horribilis” but at the end of the day, we must be able to point to our individual and industry USPs that underline how valuable an honest financial planner is in our potential clients’ lives.

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