Rules of engagement – Learnings from Adviser and Practice of the Year


Giving clients the 5-star treatment.

How do you eat an elephant? We all know the saying, but you may be surprised to find out just how many advisers fail to apply this lesson to their own business.

The answer is, of course, one bite at a time. This is consistently one of the most valuable lessons that the winners of the AFA Adviser of the Year – and more recently Practice of the Year award –reveal as a key contributor to their success.

This is also one of the most wonderful things about the AFA Adviser and Practice of the Year awards process – the open and generous sharing of best practice. You’d be hard pressed to find another profession that is as collaborative as financial advice, and where the ‘best of breed’ would openly share their secrets to success. And luckily – for the fifteenth year in row this year – we all get to be the beneficiaries of that.

One of the most enlightening aspects every year – as unanimously voted by both the judges and finalists– is the ‘business showcase’, where advisers lift the lid on the processes within their business and take the panel through their business and client engagement strategy.

On the surface, this sounds like a simple ‘tick a box’ activity however Zurich’s research has revealed that almost 60 percent of advice firms don’t have a conclusive business plan in place – not because of ignorance or incompetence, but because they think the only way is to eat the elephant whole.

By viewing every change within your business as one giant goal, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment. The good news is, with fifteen years of best practice sharing under our belt at Zurich, we can categorically confirm that any business, of any shape or size can be successful – not because they have hundreds of staff, big marketing budgets, or a complex software system – but because they’re committed to mapping success and diligent about pursuing bite-sized improvement.

The Rules of Engagement

Research on behalf of the FPA shows that 3 out of every 5 Australians daydream about their future throughout the week, but 3 in 4 have made no plans or very loose plans for how to practically achieve that life[1]. This is a clear opportunity for advisers. If you are able to progressively put small changes in place to help create a great client experience, while at the same time helping to motivate your client towards achieving their hopes and dreams, they are much more likely refer your services. It’s that simple.

So what is best practice? How do we eat this elephant exactly? Our learnings from winning advisers and practices over the years has revealed that there is inherent value in client journey mapping and ‘chunking’ actions into three distinct categories: pre-meeting, meeting, and ongoing client management.

We explore these areas in more detail below:

1. The rules of the pre-meeting

Online positioning: Web presence is no longer a game-changer for a business, it’s just basic hygiene. Be aware when someone knows very little about you, social cues speak loudly. The first impression of your business will be shaped though your online content, with clients now meticulously researching online long before they decide to come in for an initial meeting.

Advisers who have invested time in building high quality, relevant collateral have reaped the rewards by being viewed by clients and their wider referral networks as a trusted authority in their field. Throughout the Adviser and Practice of the Year judging process, we have also observed that high-performing advisers are tapping into the powerful commercial benefits of the new trust equation – where trust is being generated from the bottom-up by individuals (passed on through online communities, ratings websites, and social networks) rather than top-down from the big bellies of institutions. A great example of the leveraging of peer trust comes from Wealth Enhancers, who have fostered their own online community of high-achieving, interesting people, who share recommendations, advice and personal stories on their website to organically promote the business.

Key questions to ask of your own online business presence:

  • If your ideal client was to Google your business, would it resonate as a community that they want to integrate with?
  • Does your online content provide valuable insights into issues that effect your target audience?
  • Have you leveraged the collective peer power of your advocates?

Welcome process: Money is an emotional thing and embarking upon a life-changing conversation with a complete stranger is particularly daunting. Leading advisers understand this and have invested significant time into mapping a clear and consistent client welcome process for their business. These small but consistent interactions have been proven to help alleviate the clients’ anxiety of the unknown.

For example, soon after confirming a new client appointment, a welcome phone call or video is automatically actioned. This may be followed by a beautifully packaged welcome pack being sent to the client’s home with the business’ information and some pre-work, but with the important small touches, such as a note pad and a coffee or cake voucher for a nearby café that can encourage the clients to sit down together prior to the meeting and nut out what is important to them.

The welcome process of the more established firms also incorporated a ‘rules of engagement’ element, which sets expectations for clients. Several businesses emphasised the importance of this tool, which helps increase efficiency by eliminating clients that don’t fit your value proposition, so you can spend more time servicing clients that do.

2. The rules of the meeting

Goals oriented: Peita Diamantidis, winner of the 2016 AFA Female Excellence in Advice Award, best captures the essence of this with her belief that “you can’t assume what people want”. For example, many clients under the age of 40 are totally uninspired with the traditional expectations. Peita’s winning philosophy is to “get people dreaming again and facilitating that dream.”

Solution focused: If advisers are going to help a client deliver a diverse range of goals, it makes sense that their firm is also “solutions equipped”. Of course, not every business has an in-house service to help facilitate every need of the client, however leading advisers understand the power of establishing a proficient referral network, and having professional solutions at the ready. For example, 2015 AFA Adviser of the Year, David Reed, has added an in-house psychologist to help meet the mental shift required for many of his retiring clients.

Communication style: The goal here should always be simplicity. Money can be complex and the advisers that are skillful at distilling the complexities into everyday language fair far better in terms of overall client engagement scores. One finalist business mentioned before their junior advisers could lead any meetings, their financial explanations around tax structuring and investments “had to pass the 12yr old test”. We also saw outperforming firms continually refining and experimenting with various mediums to help dissolve the complexities around their multilayered strategies. The most obvious trend was cash-flow mapping that condensed the clients’ financial matrix in to a snapshot view to enable a ‘money coach’ style relationship.

The rules of ongoing client management

The first two phases of engagement will secure a new client relationship, however effective ongoing client management will earn you the right to work with your clients’ friends and family. Technical expertise is presumed but interestingly, the actions that contribute most significantly to client advocacy and higher levels of trust is the ‘simple stuff’ – proactive, prompt communication and growing a client’s financial understanding over time. The key to consistently delivering on these percenters was automation.

This doesn’t need to be as complex as IBM’s Watson. There are back office tools that are already available on the market for as little as $16 a month. A great example that some leading advice firms are now using is called Zapier – an easy automation platform for time-poor business owners. Zapier moves information between all of your web apps automatically, so you can spend more time engaging with clients.

If this seems like information overload, with each rule starting to morph into the proverbial elephant, why not start by implementing the most important lesson from the Adviser and Practice of the Year program: “forget about perfection and focus on progression”. Out-performance isn’t about reinventing the wheel but rather the compounding the effect of continual bite-sized gains.

Applications are now open for the 2017 AFA Adviser and Practice of the Year. To find out more, or to nominate, click here. 

[1] Dare to Dream: Research into Australia’s financial hopes and fears, mccrindle and the FPA, August 2016.

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