Posts Tagged ‘wealth management leadership’


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 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.


Wealth Management 3.0 Is Here– Are You Ready? (Part 2 of 3)

July 17, 2012

Last week in Wealth Management 1.0, we explored the origins of the wealth management business in America. As in that post, I will again disclaim any notion of deep academic research and thorough economic analysis in favor of getting to the point.

The most important formula in banking used to be the 3-6-3 rule. Bankers brought in deposits by paying 3%, they lent that money back out at 6%, and they were out on the golf course by 3PM. Economic conditions were generally supportive of this plan. Periods of high unemployment had the good manners not to be associated with such distasteful concepts as high inflation. But they joined the same commune in the 60’s and 70’s, and Keynesian economists shook their heads and clucked their tongues as disapprovingly as if a Jefferson Airplane concert had broken out down at the local VFW hall.

Things got so bad that we had to invent a new formula to describe the economic mess– the misery index, which combined the unemployment and inflation rates. It peaked in 1980 at 20.76 (7.18% unemployment + 13.58% inflation), as did the U.S. Prime Rate, at 21.5%. Bankers, particularly those of the S&L variety, found themselves stuck with paying double digit deposit rates while they still had 4% 30-year mortgages on the books. Presumably, golf handicaps spiked as well.

Wealth Management 2.0 (1982-2008)

A 1982 reduction of income tax rates, combined with various rounds of deregulation for financial firms and markets, ushered in the next era of wealth management; amidst a booming stock market and falling interest rates. Most experts agree that the launch of MTV on 8/1/81 did not have an appreciable impact on  financial flows, even as it was implicated in the death of the radio star.

Demographics also came in to play as Baby Boomers moved into the management ranks and characteristically began to make sweeping changes to the institutions they encounter– financial institutions, in this case. Formalized bank training programs were cut in favor of higher profit margins, and branch banking became more focused on the mainstream consumer. Branch automation– everything from ATMs to electronic ledgers and loan accounting systems meant that you could now sell home equity lines to suburbanites without having to spend 10 years working your way up from Assistant Cashier to Associate Loan Teller.

This rapidly grew the profitability of consumer banking, but it also meant that the wealthy business owner who was used to his three martini lunch with the local bank VP down at the club was now seeing his 23 year old ‘Branch Sales Manager’ carrying his tuna melt into the branch break room after the owner renewed his term note.

The rise of comprehensive wealth management

Those local businesses were important to the commercial side of the bank, so teams of experienced bankers were assembled to take care of those business owners and other VIPs, often as a loss leader. ‘Private banking’ departments for the affluent became widespread in U.S. commercial banks, though they were not typically built for purposes of secrecy and private investment arrangements like their Swiss inspiration. A typical day in a U.S. firms was much more likely to involve converting a Kroger executive’s bonus into a Swiss chalet style vacation home, rather than converting Krugerrands into Swiss Francs.

Before long, private banking departments were being merged with trust departments and investment operations (many of which also managed the investment of the banks’ own assets), and even brokerage and insurance subsidiaries. Bank trust departments whose most sophisticated investment strategies to date were a couple of variations of domestic stocks, bonds and cash now had to confront the rise and proliferation of mutual funds. Financial innovation continued on throughout the era to include a panoply of packaged and structured products– hedge funds, funds of funds, separately managed accounts, unified management accounts, etc.

The more innovative firms began separating ‘manufacturing’ of financial products from ‘distribution’. This meant a tremendous expansion of choice and capabilities; as if the local diner with a blue plate special and three standard entrees on the menu could now suddenly serve you virtually any meal, prepared by your favorite celebrity chef from the other side of the country. This was great news for the clients, but the advisor now needed a lot more than a green ticket pad and a pen behind her ear to be successful.

Exogenous factors

Consolidation was a driving force in the industry throughout the era– banks, brokerage firms, insurance companies, investment advisors and financial planners established competing operations and bought one another in every combination imaginable. As in other industries, the strong bought the weak and the big got bigger, but there were lots of strategic drivers as well. Firms sought capabilities they didn’t have to retain and attract clients.

Other factors exogenous to the industry also begin to chip away at traditional ways of doing business. Large firms established modes of self-service during the era such as ATMs and online banking and brokerage, usually to reduce operating costs. Now, Generation X , whether through their stereotypical skepticism of large institutions or by necessity, embraced the control and flexibility of doing things themselves. Technology pioneers such as Quicken, Fidelity, Schwab, Ameritrade and others began to build new business models. Suddenly many traditional firms were bloated with too many people who couldn’t do enough of the things their clients were actually willing to pay for.

Some of the best advisors established their own Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) firms to cater to niches and the industry simultaneously became even more fragmented even as it continued to consolidate.

Key attributes of Wealth Management 2.0

  • Key characteristics: Consolidation of services into ‘financial supermarkets’, separation of manufacturing from distribution, rise of self-service
  • Key firm capabilities: Distributing and coordinating a broad array of products, eventually from multiple partners
  • Key client goals: Accumulation of wealth, rise of investment niches and specialists, philanthropy for the masses
  • Key advisor skills: Holistic financial planning, coordination of multiple specialists and strategies, sales  and ‘cross-selling’ skills
  • Key advisor activities: New client acquisition and expansion of existing relationships from transactions to fee-based business, dealing with the pressure of sales and cross-sell goals

Up Next: Wealth Management 3.0 (2008-?) Where do we go from here?


Banker Jones and the Last Crusade: Is Wealth Management the New Holy Grail?

June 14, 2012

In my June 6 post 9 of 10 Banks Are Mulling an Overhaul I linked to the American Banker article that cited the findings from a KPMG study that also said:

Forty percent of the respondents said that asset and wealth management would be essential to expand revenue over the next few years.

But another article in the same issue of  American Banker (Missed Opportunities Abound in the Bank Channel) reported from the Prudential Wealth Management Leaders Forum in New York, which I also attended:

…banks haven’t exploited the opportunity too well. From 2009 to 2010 banks’ and insurance broker-dealers’ assets under management shrank to $600 billion, less than 5% of the $14.5 trillion wealth management market. Meanwhile, discount brokers grew to $2.5 trillion, cornering 19% of the market. Also growing in that time were registered investment advisors, which command 13% of the market, and private banks and trust firms, which command 8%.

Is Wealth Management the New Holy Grail?

Bankers seem to be acting like Indiana Jones in his Last Crusade (…well, last until he sought the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but that’s another post… OK, probably not.) in their pursuit of the Holy Grail and its promise of immortality.

A flat (and further flattening) yield curve, low loan demand and regulatory pressures on fee income and capital needs are causing bankers to seek new avenues for growth. (See also Is Bank Merger Mania Imminent?)

It’s easy to be attracted to the net overall growth of the affluent, high net worth and ultra high net worth segments and the impending transfer of $17 trillion in wealth from the baby boomers to younger generations.

But as the American Banker article points out, there is a huge gulf between “opportunity” and “success”. Over the past thirty years, a ‘build it and they will come’ strategy worked at some level for nearly everyone. Those days are long gone and they won’t be coming back.

No Easy Fix

Firms that want to gain market share from others will need to deliver true value to clients.

At the same Prudential Wealth Management Leaders Forum, Wallace Blankenbaker of the VIP Forum described the key drivers to loyalty– serve, tailor and teach. Clients want firms that are easy to do business with, firms that look out for their best interests and firms that can help them make better decisions.

If firms fail to deliver on those key drivers, funds will continue to flow from them to competitors that can deliver.

Wealth management isn’t the Holy Grail. It’s a specific set of services designed to solve the unique issues and meet the unique goals of a specific set of clients.

As I have said before, Don’t repaint the walls when you need to fix a cracked foundation.

“You must choose, but choose wisely. For as the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.”

-The Templar Knight guarding the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

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