“You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” – Zig Ziglar
In any industry, the best remunerated people are often those who solve problems. First, they identify the problem. Second, they provide a solution.
If that is the case, what problem are we trying to solve in the financial advice industry? Are we really clear on it? Can we really articulate it if asked?
Perhaps one of the reasons many advisers are struggling to grow right now is that they are trying to solve yesterday’s problems.
The harsh reality is the days of easy pickings are gone. A decade or more ago, good competition was so scarce that you could simply set up a product-agnostic, independent advice firm, charge 100 basis points and away you went.
Now it’s not so easy. There are more independent, impartial, product-agnostic firms all offering the same thing – at least in the consumers’ eyes.
Trying Googling ‘independent adviser’ and see what comes up. Many are offering services such as investment management, superannuation, lending, risk insurance, estate planning, retirement planning, managed funds and ETFs.
The only substantial difference between one and another is the person delivering the service. The offerings are not particularly distinct from each other.
Get clear about the problem
Given that backdrop, how do you grow as a business, beyond your own friends and friends of friends organically, before you acquire? Currently in many cases you are the asset, and if that is true, it’s going to be difficult to grow.
The real stumbling block, from my perspective, is that most advisers don’t have a clear view of the problem they are being paid to solve.
Years ago, it was about investments. More recently, the focus has been holistic financial planning. But technology is doing much of this as well or better than humans can. Many investments are becoming commoditised, while traditionally active approaches are struggling to demonstrate value for money.
The upshot is that advice firms will struggle to justify charging a percentage point more than a robo without tough questions being asked about the value they bring.
In the meantime, many advisers are charging for what they should be giving away for nothing and giving away for nothing what they should be charging for.
So the challenge we face is in how to evolve to the next phase. How do we determine how to add value, how do we demonstrate that value and how do we provide a great client experience?
From the clients’ point of view, the first question inevitably is: “How do I not run out of money?” Once clear on that, it becomes: “How do I make the most of my money? How do I live my best possible life? How do I achieve maximum happiness? How do I live as richly as possible while I remain physically and mentally healthy?”
So in approaching our role as advisers, we need to determine first what money means for clients. What is important about money to them?
In essence, our job is to narrow the gap between the lives people say they want to live and the ones that they are currently living. We need to help them to live richly, to live their best possible lives and to show them how to be satisfied.
Of course, many people will sacrifice happiness every day to strive to reach an imagined future state of satisfaction, only to discover when they get there that it wasn’t what they wanted anyway. This means there is value in helping them enjoy the journey they are on as well as in getting them to their desired destination.
What we are providing, then, is clarity and structure and a bridge between their material reality and the lives they want to live.
Of course, this is sort of service is possible only if we focus on building better and deeper relationships with clients. The good news is that this will become easier as more efficient systems and technology help us systematise processes so we can focus on these higher value services.
Ultimately, through strategic open questioning and shedding light on the purpose money plays for clients, we can help them design better lives for themselves, not only in the distant future but in the here and now.
Using this framework, the focus shifts from money in isolation to the outcomes that the money delivers. And by getting clients to focus on outcomes, they can see more clearly what their choices are and the trade-offs involved in each. After all, we can have anything in our lives we want, but we can’t have everything. More of one thing typically means less or something else. Life is a series of trade-offs.
By providing this sort of clarity, we can improve the client experience enormously, while building much more enriching and fulfilling businesses for ourselves.
In other words by being clear about the problem you are trying to solve, by helping people get what they want, you are maximising the opportunity to live the life you want as well.