On just about every measure, 2019 did not turn out the way many people had forecast. Financial markets and geopolitics confounded by the pundits. Likewise, our industry is evolving in ways that few anticipated. So how can you approach 2020?
If you had asked many professional forecasters a year ago whether they expected 2019 to end with global equity markets up by between 20 and 30 per cent, most would have accused you of looking through the telescope the wrong way.
The US-China trade war, the ongoing Brexit stalemate, slowing expectations for global growth and a myriad of geopolitical and economic uncertainties argued for caution. Here in Australia, a change of federal government looked almost certain.
By the end of the year, however, the US and China had reached a tentative consensus, the UK was set to leave the EU at the end of January, and here in Australia, the Morrison-led Coalition had defied every poll to secure another term.
Given the record of pundits on these ‘Big Picture’ themes, how confident can you be about forecasts for financial advice in the post-Hayne world? And what can individual firms do to set themselves up for success in such a rapidly evolving landscape?
Just look at the upheaval in 2019 – with advisers either moving away from existing licensees, contemplating self-licensing or quitting the business altogether. Even for those who made no substantial change, this environment has demanded significant non-productive work and thinking time.
There have been significant and ongoing changes to the regulatory landscape since Hayne – including the new requirements under the Financial Standards and Ethics Authority (FASEA).
Just before Christmas, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) released for consultation proposed new powers on the design and distribution of financial products aimed at hastening the shift to consumer-centric advice.
Many advice firms linked to AMP were upended by the company’s plans to renegotiate a long-standing arrangement to buy back advice practices at an agreed multiple.
At a wider level, there is the continuing debate around new pricing models, vertical integration, the best interests’ duty and remediation.
The important point is while we may all have our own particular views on the issues affecting our industry, we have little or no control over them, just as we have no control over economic, market and geopolitical forces.
In the meantime, however, there remains an ever-present and growing demand among the Australian population to help them make smart decisions about their material circumstances. And it is around this simple need I see a way forward in 2020.
While not all advisers are intent on growing their business, my experience is that this is the goal for the vast majority. The reality, however, is that few firms are enjoying substantial growth. Many more are stagnant. Some are going backwards.
Wanting growth on its own is not a strategy. If you’re stuck, you need to do something different to what you have done up till now. So here are three specific suggestions:
My experience is that few advisers and advice firms have a plan in place – a documented road map plan that gets regularly reviewed.
Business Health’s latest data-set on the future-preparedness of Australian advice practices, unfortunately, supports my experience and shows most business owners are seriously under-prepared for any type of transition, now or in the future.
Interestingly and unsurprisingly, for the minority of advice businesses who have planned effectively and prepared, their efforts are being rewarded with greater profitability and an increase in the value of their business.
The irony is that we are in the business of helping to realise the goals of clients by planning but we don’t use the same structure for ourselves.
Intent is not good enough. Make a plan and document it. Review it regularly. If you don’t know where to start, find a way. Get someone to help you; a friend, a peer, a coach, even a BDM may be able to help you.
Ian Thorpe won five Olympic golds medals, but he still had a coach.
Second, disrupt yourself
Yes, the financial advice industry is undergoing digital disruption as have many industries before it. But vulnerability is not overcome by standing still.
Indeed, a study published in the Harvard Business Review found those who survive disruption are more likely to see it as a positive force.
The key is examining the client experience at every step of the chain. Ask yourself whether you really are delivering an experience that people want. This is not a matter of granting yourself a simple pass or fail but looking at what can you do better.
In many countries, I see advice businesses that are helping people make smart decisions about their money without selling product. Completely product agnostic, these businesses have moved 100% above the line and many are thriving.
Third, turn your practice to business
To plan and to regularly disrupt yourself, you need someone to work on your business, not just in it. That sounds easy, but the reality is that in smaller, more boutique-style practices, it tends to be harder to come up for air.
Achieving some scale can help you get the bandwidth you need for someone to allocate time on the business.
Consider what you might do to get the scale you desire, to operate more like a business, with a person such as a CEO, COO, or practice manager able to allocate dedicated time to work on the business.
So, a few points to reflect on over the break.
- What do you plan to do differently?
- What do you need to do to get a plan in place, and check in on it regularly?
- What do you need to change to achieve growth?
- What do you need to do to have someone be able to work on the business, rather than be stuck in the reeds?
None of us can predict the future. But we can future-proof our businesses by looking at them from the outside, letting go of old assumptions, setting a long-term strategic plan and meeting disruption head-on.