Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks?


Progress begins with dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Old folk don’t take on new technology and new ideas, right? You just can’t teach them. Or is that “us”? Well that theory is getting blown away in a pandemic-like-way…

There has been a continuous lament for years about the ageing of the financial advisory business and it is certainly true when you look back at photo’s after a conference that there does appear to be an exceptionally high proportion of grey-haired middle-aged men. (But gee there are a lot of younger folk too.) . It is also held that because of this ageing that there is a resistance to new technology and new ways of doing things, most noticeably when it comes to using new marketing methods, such as social media or video conferencing perhaps.

Yet these arguments about the aged advisers inability to handle new ways doesn’t seem to quite fit with those same advisers being amongst the earliest adopters of the newest smartphones, tablets and home entertainment technology. It doesn’t seem to slow down their use of new software systems, shifts to online services and purchasing, or ways of sourcing information either. In my experience they tend to be remarkably open to finding new ways to manage and handle their business resources and systems, and are open to new ways of structuring and managing staff and human resources issues.

So who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

I’ve had the pleasure of working with a grey-haired adviser who is embracing entirely new ways of marketing himself and his business. And he doesn’t have to really. He has a well-established financial planning business with 20+ years of success, and a host of happy clients. His systems and support are good; his costs kept well under control; and the revenue very healthy. It is a good business, and one which would be very easy to ride luxuriously into retirement. In other words, he is like many many other advisers in the industry at present: business life has been relatively comfortable really.

But in a perfect storm of massive regulatory overhaul colliding with massive market collapse, together with the prospect of incumbent income streams being systematically reduced by providers together with vastly reduced support by those product providers AND looming recession and digital guerillas ravaging the transactional part of the financial services sector….well things have changed, haven’t they?

Underlying all of that is the real inhibitor to innovation in the financial services industry:  Life has actually been quite comfortable for many incumbents for a very long time.

Too comfortable actually.

And it has suddenly become very uncomfortable.

What many advisers seem to still fail to understand is that in every crisis lies fabulous opportunities to do things better than they were done before. Learning to use video conferencing is not a “friggin pain” as one put it to me recently. It is an opportunity to run one’s business in a far more efficient and effective way for years to come. Being forced to have conversations with clients that are not about products, but about the clients worries and anxieties and aspirations lays the platform for advisers to actually be people who are relied upon for their advice and counsel rather than brokering a product solution.

The ability to take advantage of new business dynamics or marketing methods or to cope with the responsibility of actually understanding what clients value and need from advisers comes down to one simple, and age old, criteria: the individual advisers attitude.

It is the attitude to change…the desire to be different and to create new ways of doing things and to meet new people and to have different experiences….“the desire for something different” which separates the old dogs and the young ones. “Old” and “young” in this business is not a demographic definition. I would contend that the majority of the most innovative thinkers and earliest adopters of tech or new business methodologies in the industry are seasoned veterans with decades of practice under their belts.  They are not resistant to change…they seek it out. They are restlessly relentless in their pursuit of being better and smarter and more effective.

Age or years in the business are in themselves no excuse for not being able to learn new tricks. Resistance to learning is an attitude problem. It requires an attitude adjustment.  And THAT applies to young people as much as it does to older people.

All progress in society begins with someone’s dissatisfaction with the status quo, and it is the same for advisers running their own businesses.

Progress begins with dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Many advisers have been comfortable and fervently wished for the status quo to remain exactly that: they want the industry to remain as it was. Well too bad.  In a whirlwind few months the business world just changed forever. It won’t go back to what it was. It can’t go back to what it was….consumers won’t allow that. We shouldn’t want that either.

Those “old dogs” hanging on to the glory days are definitely the most challenged by the new world order. Their choice is to evolve with or ahead of it, or become rapidly irrelevant. Whatever. The world will move on regardless or what they want.

So here is the tip for incumbent advisers who want to grow, but have found themselves well settled into a pattern of doing business which is largely unchanged for some years: change your mindset.  Next tip: shake it up; do some different things. Learn some new tricks.  Embrace the opportunity of having to figure out how to run meetings differently, or manage client conversations in entirely new directions. Or how to work differently with support staff and industry stakeholders.  These two things – changing the attitude and then shaking it up – are the pathway to the future.

Simply trying something new – learning some new tricks – leads to innovation and evolution. It opens up creative thinking and imagination. Therein lies the real thinking and attitudinal shift that leads to prosperity.  And that all begins with the advisers attitude.

It is a time of massive change. It is a time of massive stress. It is a time of massive opportunity.

Embrace it.

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