Financial Advisors Is Your Practice Upside Down?

Financial Advisors Is Your Practice Upside Down?A recently released industry white paper authored by Fox Financial Planning Network entitled The Rise of Automated Workflows in Financial Advisory Practices: Why Developing a “Starbucks” Client Experience is the Key to Sustainability, Profitability and Growth urges independent financial advisors to systematize their practices through automated workflows to create a consistent and outstanding client experience.

The report concludes that many independent advisory firms have been developed “upside down”, meaning independent advisors started with a reactive business model and were not well capitalized to be able to invest in the infrastructure and systems necessary to build an efficient business. Instead, these advisors had a strong need to acquire clients for startup cash flow to fund their existence. As a result, they then “layered on other aspects of the practice to create their firms.”


The “other” critical pieces of the business were developed in reverse priority of what they should have been, leaving systems and operations – what industry experts all agree to be the most important part of a sustainable business – as an afterthought.


Today, many independent firms are wrestling with how to serve their client base profitably and also grow and scale to take advantage of the opportunities facing them. In addition, advisors are also dealing with a more complex and changing regulatory environment and are afflicted by capacity constraints at a time where macro forces, like baby-boomer retirement, are driving growth.

How can independent advisors develop a systematized, efficient business that can not only weather storms, but also scale with growth?


Industry experts agree that the answer is standardizing and systematizing operations to create a consistent, proactive and outstanding client service experience – what many in the service industry call the “Starbucks” experience.

Since opening its first store in Seattle’s Pike Place Market in 1971, Starbucks has created 19,767 stores worldwide, with 11,962 stores in the United States. The company continues to restructure, innovate and expand and has consistently managed to stay on top, to continue to draw loyal customers.

How does the company do it? A large chunk of the company’s recipe for success can be found outside of the cup: There’s more allure than just good coffee for the company to meet such widespread success.

Everything that a customer experiences at a Starbucks coffee shop from the moment he/she walks in the front door is thought through and meticulously planned – from how the shop is physically set up; the décor on the walls; what music is playing; the shape and feel of the paper cup with your hand; to how the baristas make your coffee facing the door, so their backs aren’t turned to their customers.

In addition to a remarkably consistent Starbucks experience no matter where you go, every step of the coffee-making production, itself, is highly standardized, as that allows Starbucks to improve its efficiency further. Every ingredient that the barista may use is stored where it needs to be to keep the process efficiently. The machines used for everything from brewing the coffee to preparing the right amount and consistency of milky foam, have been iterated upon over and over again to make them better, reducing, over the years, the time it takes for Starbucks to produce that cup of coffee from several minutes down to 30 seconds, which, in turn, allows the store to serve even more customers faster and better.

Starbucks has turned its process into a consistent, customized, individualized experience that enables it to charge a premium for what is otherwise a commoditized product, all while building and keeping a loyal customer base. How it has done so, is through a detailed set of workflows and checklists which are consistently executed upon.


Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, told Time magazine, “Consumer companies have a burden to provide real value and a compelling reason for a customer to be loyal.”


In the financial planning environment, this means it may be time to recognize that bringing better consistency to the process may actually be the thing that allows advisors to create more trust and make that personalized financial planning experience for clients better than ever.

Building systematized processes and checklists which can be automated offers many advantages to advisors: gaps in service delivery don’t occur, things don’t fall through the cracks, compliance is automated, problems can be averted, and an efficient infrastructure is created, enabling staff to work proactively, not reactively, and focus on higher value tasks.

Since people can now find their financial information in all kinds of new ways, Schultz told Fox Business, “Companies can no longer talk to the consumer. You have to engage in a discussion and let people create, discover, and share information, not just try to sell them things.”

Fox Financial Planning Network offers 10 ways the “Starbucks Experience” can help advisors revolutionize their practice:

Keep it simple. When designing a systemized workflow, keep it logical and simple. This will make it easy for staff to implement and increase your chances of better leveraging CRM technology while ultimately allowing you to adopt best practices of industry consultant and experts.

Team Commitment. Make sure everyone on staff is committed to doing their part, no matter how long it takes. Don’t begin with unrealistic expectations. Send the message to your staff that it will take time.

Clarity Counts. Have a clear picture of what you are trying to create. This will allow for a better design and also allow you to develop a fully documented, systemized practice.

Let Staff Play the Game. Include your staff in building your vision. They can provide additional ideas and perspectives and could be more willing to assist in setting up the workflow system if their input has been recognized.

Have an Online Storage Place. Create a central online area for easy access to the workflow system. Easy access to the workflow system enables staff to work off the most current version of the workflow procedures.

The Workflow System Framework. Create your workflow system framework, which comprises all areas of your practice that are included in your system. For example, processes for opening new accounts, managing office inventories, and client engagement.

Set a Project Schedule. Block off at least a couple hours of time on specific days of each month to focus on the workflow process. This will help you prioritize what is most pressing and break down a large project into manageable pieces.

Document Workflows and Procedures. This allows staff to see a train of thought as you continually build toward a perfect workflow procedure document.

Test Your Product. Make sure documented workflows and procedures are ready before putting them out there. This will save a lot of pain in the long run and ensure that the final product is suitable.

Remember to Update. As with most things in life, your practice will evolve and grow, technology will change, and new employees will arrive. As a result, it is imperative to update your workflow at least a couple times a year and to keep staff members in the loop while also encouraging them to come up with new improvement ideas.

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