Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

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Secrets of Successful Wealth Managers

November 15, 2012

Firms that succeed with affluent clients over an extended period of time do a number of things well. Through the work of my consulting firm Clientific we have distilled the twelve core principals that successful wealth managers follow.

The 12 C’s work like building blocks, from the bottom up. Begin with the first four, components of a strong strategy. Once those are set, work on the next four, the key elements of executing that strategy. Finally, the final four are the things that differentiate top firms from their competitors.

A solid strategy and strong execution provides a fulcrum upon which your differentiation can be leveraged. I have listed some sample questions to ask yourself for each point, but this is in no way an exhaustive list. Feel free to contact me at clientific.net if you have any questions or would like a custom assessment.

Strategy- What are you trying to accomplish?
  • Clientele– Who are your target customers? Who are your best customers today? Are you targeting high net worth clients, with over $1 million in assets? Or the ‘merely affluent’, those with $100,000 to $1 million? What about the ultra high net worth– those with $25 million or more? All are attractive segments, but the keys for success are different for each segment.
  • Clarity– What exactly is your value proposition? What problem(s) are you solving for your clients? What do you stand for? What do you not stand for? If you don’t have clarity about why you’re in the business and why others should do business with you, how will you expect your clients to know?
  • Context– How does your firm fit in to the competitive landscape? Are your competitors big banks? Community banks? What about independent brokerage and money management firms? How do the legal and accounting communities address wealth management needs– are they referral sources or competitors? How will you balance all of your stakeholders– clients, shareholders, employees, community, centers of influence?
  • Culture – What’s it like to work with you? What’s it like to work there? What kinds of things do you reward? How do you make decisions? What roles do you expect your team members to play, and how do they fit with one another? What kind of individual and team incentives do you have?

Execution- How are you going to do it?

  • Competence– ‘Great service’ alone is not enough in wealth management. Your team has to have the technical skills needed to meet the complex borrowing, investing, financial planning and estate planning needs of your clients. They also have to have the ‘EQ’ to attract, retain and grow client relationships. How will you assess your team’s talent? How will you develop skills and hold people accountable? Are your current processes adequate, or will you need to adapt new talent management protocols?
  • Consistency– Having great technical and interpersonal skills will only matter to your clients if you deliver results consistently and in a way that meets or exceeds their expectations. How will you manage consistent delivery and a consistent client experience?
  • Client Intimacy– It’s easy to assume that positive, friendly client relationships are close and intimate; yet their are countless examples of advisors being shocked to learn important details from a client that are already well know by a competitor. How will you advisors move from information to insight? Think of the difference between a monaural AM radio broadcast and a Dolby THX surround sound experience. Often the difference involves understanding and addressing non financial goals and issues of your clients.
  • Courage– It takes managerial courage to truly execute. The best plans and strategies are worthless without the tenacity and discipline to execute and make necessary course adjustments. General George S. Patton said “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”  Change management, sales management, coaching– all kinds of leadership– require courage and discipline.

Differentiation- What makes you different?

  • Client Advocacy– The old saying “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is trite, but true. Clients have to trust you, and the most important element of trust is truly looking out for your client’s best interests. Character and integrity are table stakes, but you must be a true advocate for your client’s best interest. How do you demonstrate this to your clients?
  • Client Experience– What’s it really like to be your client? What are all the touch points clients have with you, and do they represent your brand the way you want? What about the automated letter they will receive if they accidentally overdraw their account that typically maintains six figures? Will they receive the same letter as every other customer? What will that do to their perception of your relationship? Do your call center, web presence and mobile offerings support your brand or detract from it?
  • Content– How do you communicate your ideas? You have already established what your company does and does not stand for, how do you demonstrate it? How do you present yourself as a thought leader? Do you have and communicate a distinctive viewpoint?
  • Connection– Content is usually outbound, but you have to have inbound communication channels too. What kinds of events do you attend and organize? How do you use social media to engage your clients? How do you really understand what your clients think about your brand, what they like and don’t like about your policies and practices?

We have entered a new era and the days of simply ‘build it and they will come’ is over. Firms that successfully address these and similar questions will be the ones that will succeed in this complex new era of wealth management.

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To All Veterans on This Veterans Day…

November 11, 2012

Thank you to all of you who have served and to those of you still serving. I am grateful to be able to honor your service to all of us.

Command Performance Leadership

THANK YOU!!!

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Freedom isn’t free.  Men and women throughout our history have paid the price, sometimes the ultimate price of their lives, to ensure your life of freedom is preserved for you now and long into the future.  On this Veterans Day, we honor…we thank…we celebrate their courage, commitment and sacrifice for us; your fellow Americans.

Freedom Isn’t Free

And, this is why they fight and why we honor:

For freedom, they stand and fight:

Thank a Veteran today! Thank them for paving the road to continued freedom and fighting to ensure that our Country’s ideals are secured.  We owe them more than a dedicated day on the calendar.

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Five Shifts that Define the New Era for Wealth Management

November 6, 2012

(This post was also published today on the blog of my consulting firm clientific,  follow me there too.)

Five massive foundational shifts are impacting financial service providers of all types, and they are impacting those that serve affluent clients in especially unique ways. Many of the strategies, skills and behaviors that enabled success in the past are now at best ineffective, and completely irrelevant in some cases. Advisors and firms serving affluent clients must adapt to these new realities to be successful in the future.

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” 

— General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff, U. S. Army

The first shift is economic. The global financial crisis begun in 2008 is still having a long-term impact on the creation, growth and preservation of wealth. Today’s low growth, low yield environment will likely stick with us for some time, and today’s advisors have to be able to help their clients navigate the realities of the new economy. Firms cannot count on rising portfolio values to increase revenues.

The second shift is regulatory. Partially as a result of the financial meltdown, central banks and regulators all over the world are the in middle of redefining the rules and regulations that today’s financial advisors will likely have to live by for the rest of their careers. Some of the important revenue streams of the past have been curtailed or eliminated—think overdraft fees, payday loans, interchange fees, some mortgage fees, etc. And we are not even close to done, as of October 1, 2012 only one-third of the provisions of Dodd-Frank had been finalized, and another third have not yet even been proposed.

The third shift is demographic. Various research projects that anywhere from $18 Trillion and $56 Trillion of financial wealth will be passing down from the Traditionalist and Baby Boomer generations to their Generation X and Generation Y children and grandchildren over the next several years. Gen X and Gen Y could have a combined wealth that exceeds that of the Baby Boomers as early as 2018, and they do not want “their father’s Oldsmobile”. Even with the more conservative estimates, this is a huge threat for those advisors and firms who don’t adapt to the changes. And it is a massive opportunity for those that do.

The fourth shift is competitive. The global financial crisis caused the weakest firms to disappear while the biggest and strongest got bigger and stronger. (In some cases, only bigger.) It is more important than ever for smaller firms to differentiate themselves in ways that are really relevant. Simply being “the bank” of, say Cozad, for example is no longer enough.

The fifth shift is technological. The tools are already here to radically improve client intimacy and client engagement. The rapid adoption of the iPad and other tablets give wealth managers the opportunity to change the dynamics of the across-the-desk transaction into the shoulder-to-shoulder collaboration that really engages the client. Big data and analytics give firms the power to better understand client behaviors and preferences, if they bother to listen. Social media opens up whole new avenues of client contact.

The challenge will be for firms to adopt the right strategies and then have the discipline to execute. As in every era, we will have winners and we will have losers, and success will go to those who embrace the possibilities of the future while staying relevant to their clients.

You might also like:

Wealth Management 3.0 is Here, Are You Ready?

The Convergence of High Tech and High Touch in Wealth Management

© 2012 JP Nicols. All rights reserved.

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Why More Experienced CEOs Will Stay At the Forefront of Tech Innovation

September 5, 2012

This is as encouraging to me personally (“the average age of founders of technology companies is a surprisingly high 39 – with twice as many over-50 executives as those under 29 years old.)”, as it is generally (“The United States might be on the cusp of an entrepreneurship boom—not in spite of an aging population but because of it.”).

But I especially like the described “four character traits of a successful CEO – Sensemaking, Relating, Visioning, Inventing.” I couldn’t agree more, and I have seen an abundance of these traits in the CEOs I admire the most (and a dearth in those who leaving me scratching my head).

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USB CEO Davis Gives Advice to Bankers

August 30, 2012

Over the past two weeks I have been a Faculty Fellow at the Pacific Coast Banking School, the premier graduate school of banking, held at the University of Washington. It is energizing and humbling to be surrounded by so many talented students and faculty members.

At  last night’s keynote address, U.S. Bancorp CEO, President and Chairman Richard Davis gave his advice to the assembled crowd of over 500 banking leaders. Davis is known to like sports analogies as metaphors for leadership and strategic concepts, and he described the industry as being at halftime in a basketball game.

Richard Davis at PCBS

First, he described the industry in basketball terms:

The Rules: Changing

With Dodd Frank still only roughly one third finalized and work still being done to finalize global capital and liquidity standards, the rules are changing even as the game is being played. He urged the crowd to get with the decision makers and advocate for changes that might be needed, but not to complain. Complaining only gives permission to others to complain, and unless and until things change, the rules are the rules, and the team who executes the best under the rules in place will win the game.

The Venue: Poor

Davis likened the economic and regulatory pressures on the industry to playing in a poorly lit arena with a tilted floor, warped floorboards and where the air conditioning doesn’t work. What’s important to realize though, is that the competition is playing under the exact same conditions, and the team that figures out how to adapt their game to the conditions will win.

The Fans: Confused

The fans represent the customers, and they are confused because they thought they understood the rules of the game and some of their favorite teams didn’t perform very well. Some are fed up for good reason, but they will support a winner.

The Referees: Aggressive

Davis was clear in explaining that legislators and regulators all over the world are keen to prevent another global finanical meltdown, and thus are right in calling a tight game. It’s exactly what he would do if he were in their shoes, he said. Bankers need to understand this, accept it and step up their play to be successful.

The Owners: Seeking Success

Shareholders want their team to win, that’s why they invested in their franchise. Davis cautioned that the ROEs of the past few years for most banks are not covering their cost of capital, and that is unsustainable. Firms need to focus on growing revenue, lest they become takeover targets.

Halftime

He wrapped up his sports analogy by playing one of my all-time favorite clips, from Hoosiers. The undersized  team from little old Hickory, Indiana steps into Indianapolis’s Hinkle Fieldhouse wide-eyed and intimidated about their impending championship game in such a cavernous venue. Coach Dale (Gene Hackman) hands the boys a tape measure and asks them  to measure the distance from the foul line to the basket and from the basket to the floor. The players become visibly more confident as Coach Dale winds up the tape measure and says “I think you’ll find it’s the exact same measurements as our gym back in Hickory”.

In other words, we are all playing by the same rules on the same court. Don’t over-complicate it. Focus on what you need to do to win the game.

Davis then declared the game as being at halftime, and halftime is great because anything is possible. He urged the bankers to use the halftime break to assess what is working and keep it up, and to make the necessary adjustments, and most importantly to rally the team to a strong finish in the second half.

Not Just Another Lame Sports Analogy

Lest you think this is just another shopworn, hackneyed sports reference from just another executive too stupid or lazy to use his own words to describe what’s happening in his industry, you should realize that U.S. Bancorp is widely considered one of the best managed financial institutions on the planet. Their bond ratings, price to book, ROE, ROA and efficiency ratios are all absolutely at the top of the industry, and Davis has been at the helm since 2006, and has been a key senior leader there since 1993. He has a unique knack for using simple words to convey complex concepts, and the crowd gave him a rousing standing ovation.

Of course, I have my own biases. I worked for the bank for twenty years and saw Davis up close in a wide variety of situations, from one-on-one to very large crowds, from broad strategic issue to very deep operational details. He does it all very well, and he is simply one of the best leaders I have ever seen.

Even if sports analogies are not your thing, and even if you are not a banker, I think the core of the message is universal and enduring: Spend less time complaining about the rules, the refs, the venue, the fans, the owners and the other teams– just focus on what you need to do. And win regardless.

As Jim Rohn said:

“Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better.”

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Lessons from a New Entrepreneur

August 15, 2012

One of the hidden benefits of mentoring others is that you usually learn something too. I am glad to have helped a young entrepreneur, and I suggest keeping track of whatever he starts…

kevinfromcleveland

A few months ago I had the opportunity to head out West and meet some awesome people in the FinTech industry.  I had long been interested in technology and entrepreneurship and  a family friend figured his conference in San Francisco would make a great opportunity to travel along and meet up with some big influencers – marketers, developers, and even a start-up CEO.  The trip was a huge success.  On top of exploring both Seattle and San Francisco I was able to meet some extraordinary people who not only provided inspirational stories, but valuable insights and advice I could put to use as I finish up school and start-up my own entrepreneurial career.  Here’s a few things I learned…

People are out there who are more than willing to take their time to share stories, answer questions and give advice

I had no idea that connecting with people would be…

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Wealth Management 3.0 Is Here– Are You Ready? (Part 3 of 3)

July 23, 2012

Over the past couple of posts we took a fairly irreverent whirlwind tour through the last 150+ years of those financial services oriented specifically towards helping successful families grow, protect and share their wealth– the very essence of wealth management. [See Wealth Management 1.0 (1853-1982) and Wealth Management 2.0 (1982-2008)]

Today we will bring this three part series to a close, but we will revisit often the idea of the changing nature of the wealth management business and discuss how firms and advisors must adapt to compete in this new era.

Wealth Management 3.0 (2008-?)

If the forces of change burgeoning at the beginning of this current decade stuck out their collective feet and tripped the industry and sent it reeling, then the global financial crisis begun in 2008 and its resulting round of bank failures, mega-mergers and new regulations knelt down behind the backs of the industry’s knees and sent it tumbling noisily and unwillingly into the latest era, Wealth Management 3.0.

More banks failed in the last four years than the prior 15 years combined. Financial giants like Bear Sterns and Washington Mutual went out of business, once swaggering players like Merrill Lynch and Countrywide Mortgage ran to the protective arms of a lowly commercial bank, and Masters of the Universe like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley actually sought bank charters.

Brokerage firms all but hired costumed characters to stand outside suburban strip malls and dance and twirl signs that said “Giant Clearance Sale! Stocks as much as 80% off!”. It was, as Bill Murray’s character Peter Venkman said in Ghostbusters, a “disaster of biblical proportions”.

“Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!”

–Dr. Peter Venkman, Ghostbusters

Frogs in boiling water

Even firms that weren’t dying from mortal wounds– self-inflicted, or otherwise– began to realize that they were like the proverbial frogs in water that was approaching the boiling point. The persistent bull market and deregulation of the previous era had masked the steadily rising water temperature.

Former Citigroup Chairman Chuck Prince famously remarked in 2007 that “..as long as the music is playing you’ve to get up and dance”. But even MC Bernanke’s extended dance mix had to spin down sometime. And when it did, even firms without severe asset quality or liquidity issues came to realize that they had a problem in their cost structure.

The troubled airline industry provides an apt, if unfortunate, analogy. All clients deserve a safe, courteous and on-time flight, but wealth management groups were designed to deliver an experience above and beyond the minimum– they are the first class cabin of the firm. But many firms began to realize that in their blind quest for growth that their gate agents had been allowing some holders of deep-discount coach tickets to take up first class seats and drink all the champagne.

In other words, there was not always the discipline to ensure an appropriate matching of marginal expenses to marginal revenue. Worse, the industry conditioned clients to expect the first class experience for blue-light special pricing. The talent and technology needed to provide comprehensive wealth management services are not cheap; and providing them economically is a challenge (though not impossible).

But the crude cost cutting axes swung in the prior era won’t work today. Managers instead must skillfully wield a discriminating scalpel to trim away unjustified and unproductive expenses, while simultaneously investing in the things that matter to the clients. (Hint: It won’t be mahogany, marble and fine china for the clients of the future.) Firms that cannot do that will likely attract a new management team that can. (See Is Bank Merger Mania Imminent?)

Reregulation

Just as deregulation was a driving force in Wealth Management 2.0, reregulation will be a driving force in Wealth Management 3.0. This past Saturday, July 21, marked the two year anniversary of President Obama’s signing into law the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

So far Washington’s paper multiplication machinery has managed to turn the 848 pages of the bill into 8,843 pages of rules– and they are only 30% done with writing the rules and regulations! If this pace continues, we will have nearly 30,000 pages of new rules for firms to wade through by the time they’re done– likely sometime early in 2017.

When I was a young boy I was always intrigued with the ad in the back of my Archie comics for the machine that turned ordinary pieces of paper into $5, $10, even $20 bills! They have that machine’s evil twin in Washington. It turns massive stacks of money into prodigious piles of dense prose.

Many of the new rules will, at best, fight the last war in 20/80 hindsight; and it is very likely that the next crisis will not be anticipated therein, let alone thwarted. Nonetheless, today’s firms and and advisors are already spending time, money and cultural energy ensuring compliance with all of the new rules and regulations.

Firms and advisors also need to devise new ways to generate revenue, as some provisions severely curtail some of the most profitable business practices of the past. No wonder so many firms are looking to new wealth management initiatives to offset these challenges. (See Banker Jones and the Last Crusade: Is Wealth Management the New Holy Grail?)

For extensive reporting and resources on Dodd-Frank, excellent information is available from the law firm DavisPolk, and this infographic is a good primer on the current status.

The next generations

As formidable as are the heaving changes wrought from within the industry, those generational and technological changes from the outside may be even more profound and devastating if firms and advisors do not embrace the winds of change rustling through their own Rolodexes.

Advisors: Generation Y, the Millennials (born roughly from 1982-2000), are joining your workforce and your client base, and they will not even consider your firm’s services if you aren’t relevant to them. As my friend David Stillman likes to say:

“This is the most connected and most collaborative generation ever… They not only accept diversity, the expect it… Millennials will experience as many as 10 career changes in there lifetimes. That’s career changes, not job changes.”

— David Stillman, co-author, When Generations Collide

They have all but ditched email because it’s too slow. They communicate not only with their peers, but with other modern firms, via text messages and directly through Facebook. Your paternal smile and shake of the head as you explain that those things really aren’t your style will only confirm their suspicions of your paleontology.

They “crowdsource” recommendations for everything from restaurants to car purchases and they trust the wisdom of the crowd far more than any marketing message you can possibly craft. If other people they trust aren’t talking about you, they will will look at you like someone crashing their favorite hipster music festival in sandals and black socks (which is to say, you actually have a shot if you are cool enough to pull it off).

If they are unhappy with their experience with you, it can hit their Twitter feed and their Facebook wall, and in the matter of minutes, you and/or your firm have some viral bad PR on your hands before you can even say “Do you want those funds wired, or do you want a check”? And no, they do not want a check, thank you.

Some firms still aren’t even present on these social networks, so they aren’t even aware of the conversations underway about their brand (good or bad). Others are present, but mistake social media as merely a soapbox to push their own one-way marketing messages.

The firms best positioned to thrive in this social era are actively participating in the conversations and using these interactions as ways to build relationships and deepen client engagement.

Key attributes of Wealth Management 3.0

  • Key characteristics: disruptive innovation is the new norm; rise of mobile, social media, big data and analytics; reregulation
  • Key firm capabilities: transparency; acting in clients’ best interests; active and relevant social media presence; clear value propositions; goals-based advice
  • Key client goals: mass luxury; seamless integration for self service and full service; social responsibility (in many forms), capital preservation; social and peer validation of advisors and strategies
  • Key advisor skills: comfort with technology; social media literacy; not being lame
  • Key advisor activities: customized client intimacy; monitoring social media for risks and opportunities; tailoring holistic advice (and reporting) to relevant goals

 Coming Up: Becoming an Advisor 3.0

In upcoming posts we will continue to explore the rapidly changing landscape and discuss the skills and activities needed to move beyond Advisor 1.0 or 2.0. To be relevant and successful in the new era, you must be an Advisor 3.0.

© JP Nicols – 2012

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