Overcoming the Adoption Challenge

Advisor adoption remains the single most significant challenge facing firms who are focused on the integration of planning into their offering model. Two previous blogs - The Adoption Challenge in Financial Planning and Changing the Planning Paradigm – The Key to Overcoming the Advisor (and Client) Adoption Challenge - discussed some key strategies firms can use to address this challenge. This blog, however, provides the first-hand perspectives and insights of four financial planning industry leaders – two from an organizational/strategic perspective and two from the front-line advisor perspective.

The organizational perspectives are provided by:

Joseph Sicchitano (JS) – SVP, Head of Wealth Planning and Advice Delivery
George Fernandez (GF) – VP, Practice Management

The Advisor perpectives are provided by:

Bill Newburn (BN) – SVP, Wealth Advisor
Bradford Hutchins (BH) – Private Banker

For this blog, we asked Joe and George about the obstacles to adoption and their strategies to overcome those obstacles. For the front-line Advisor perspective, we asked Bill and Brad about how they overcame the obstacles they faced in adopting planning into their practice.


ORGANIZATIONAL PERSPECTIVE

Greene Consulting: What challenges have you experienced in getting your advisors to adopt the planning process into their practice? And what are the keys to overcoming these challenges?

Joseph Sicchitano: We have identified a distinct difference between “adapters” and “adopters”. The former are advisors who will modify behavior and practice mostly due to external reasons, including manager pressure, scorecards, etc. The latter are advisors who will modify their behavior and practice more because they are internally shifting and fully adopting a mindset and philosophy focused on planning and advice. Obviously, you can achieve results with either; however, we have found that a purposeful strategy that endeavors to build “adopters” is more scalable and sustainable from a strategic and results perspective.

The key to creating adopters is to devlop a planning ecosystem rather than simply a planning group or planning tech platform. What I mean by this is to reinforce a planning mindset across a wide swath of integrated ways within an overall wealth management strategy. For us, this starts with making planning less “a thing” or “a deliverable” and more “a way”. Planning is simply “the way” of diligently uncovering priorities, assessing gaps in outcomes, evaluating alternatives and proposing a customized set of solutions directly targeted towards helping clients achieve what matters most to them. It is wrapped within the overall sales process and arguably indistinguishable from it. Bundling this approach with complementary strategies around client strategy and client planning across wealth teammates anchors everyone in the same approach and with this consistency, every team member is aligned to the same “true North”. Coupling advisor education and development within each area or element of financial planning reinforces this ecosystem and consistently echoes the mindset and expectation of leading with planning. Reinforcing it all should be complementary measurement and incentive programs that balance client outcomes with a fiduciary approach to business results.

Most advisors don’t argue with the virtue or intent of a planning-driven approach; they more often are unsure of where to start or believe the changes necessary to be too great to even start the transformation. To expect advisors to “experiment their way to success” is at best naive, but more often, poor risk management and strategy. To overcome this, start by shrinking the change and setting smaller milestones on the way to “adopter”. With each small success, nurture that momentum through the next incremental step and thoughtful debrief and after-action coaching. Peer models and mentors are effective ways to keep an advisor experiencing success and hungry for the next level. This extends throughout all aspects of the planning process. Effective discovery, efficient and thorough financial analysis, providing actionable, easy-to-implement advice, and reinforcing a diligent monitoring method are all areas that advisors seek coaching with, and the best organizations address them all.

And don’t overlook the power of identity. Most advisors trace their roots in the advice business back to a sincere and heartfelt commitment to make a difference in clients’ lives. This is a very powerful identity-based motivator that can fuel the hard work, resilience, and stamina needed to constantly stay focused on the long-term benefit of building a planning driven, advice and client experience-centric practice.

George Fernandez: In my experience, most advisors use some basic form of the planning process, even those that are more product centric. This process can run that gamut of using a yellow pad and a calculator to integrating the most current software. So, it isn’t as much about adopting planning as it is about adopting planning software.

Regarding software adoption, I’ve experienced the following types:

  • No adoption: For many experienced advisors, shifting a time-tested client experience to new technologies can be an intimidating process. Moreover, clients that haven’t had access to technology often struggle to adopt it or see the need for it. For these reasons, many seasoned advisors have chosen to only adopt technology that is required to manage their business (i.e., investment management systems, business submission systems, CRM, etc.). This often leaves financial planning software out of the mix.
  • Low adoption: Low adoption typically comes in two forms. First, the use of financial planning software to support the sales process for specific products. For example, if an advisor primarily focuses on risk management solutions, the planning software is used to support their needs analysis.The second form of low adoption is determined by the advisor’s skill as a planner or the overall needs of their client. For example, if the advisor has a limited knowledge of in-depth planning, they’ll focus on what they’re comfortable with and will not use the deeper capabilities of the planning software. This might also be the case if the needs of their client don’t necessitate the full capabilities of the planning software.
  • Full adoption: This level of adoption occurs when advisors are well-trained as financial planners and they’ve integrated technology into their holistic client experience. The integration of planning software is still based upon the needs of the client, but the advisor in this case is able to establish a very collaborative and personalized approach so that each client experience is integrating as much of the planning software that is needed.

In terms of overcoming the obstacles for those who are in the no adoption or low adoption categories, firms may want to consider the following:

  • Begin by defining your client experience and how planning and technology can be integrated into that experience.
  • Create a systematic method to assess the true planning skills of your advisors.
  • Create training programs that include role-playing, peer-sharing, and real-life shadowing/coaching/mentoring.
  • If resources are limited or if you need to create scale, partner with a third-party trainer.
  • To broaden your group’s understanding of the industry or to support the next generation of advisors, partner with associations such as the Financial Planning Association or local universities.

ADVISOR PERSPECTIVE

Greene Consulting: There are many advisors out there who are reluctant to use planning because it can be such an onerous, administratively intensive, time-consuming process, and the use of it does not automatically assure enhanced productivity and revenue growth. Were you initially hesitant to use it? If so, why?

Bill Newburn: I was initially hesitant to use financial planning for two reasons. First, I thought it would be tremendously labor intensive to put in all my client/prospect information. Secondly, I was unsure of how my clients were going to respond to financial planning and what benefit it would provide them.

Bradfford Hutchins: I was initially hesitant due to the length of time, with emphasis on how this would affect the sales cycle.


Greene Consulting: What is the process you use to minimize the time demands that can come with planning?

Bill Newburn: My assistant inputs most of the data into the financial planning model, which saves me significant time. Additionally, I focus on “lite financial planning” where the goals and scenarios are fairly basic. If my client requires a more complex plan, I utilize my financial planning group. In those situations, my team will load all the relevant data, then we will set up a precall with our financial planning group to go over their specific situation. Once my financial planning team finishes up a plan, we will review it together and decide on who would be the best to present it to the client.

Bradford Hutchins: I have never looked at this as a problem and am never looking to minimize the time required. For me, it is about the planning. For me, more time spent on planning results in more business and, as I stated before, stronger relationships with my clients.


Greene Consulting: What is the most challenging aspect to executing the planning process? How do you address that challenge?

Bill Newburn: Sometimes it can be very easy to move to the recommendation phase without really testing into what the best solution may be. Many times, we hear similar themes from client to client and it can be easy to jump to a solution. This does an incredible disservice to the advisor and the client. I’ve decided to make financial planning non-negotiable in my practice. Our goal with each client is to understand their priorities and to “test” into them to see if they are on track to meet them.


Greene Consulting: What one or two pieces of advice would you give to an advisor who is questioning the value of adopting the use of planning software in his or her practice?

Bill Newburn: Don’t worry about having all the data. In fact, I would argue that less information is better in many cases. The goal of using planning software is to have better conversations with your clients. I met with a prospect recently who was considering investing a significant amount of money from a sale of a business. At the time, I only knew his name, amount he was looking to invest and his age. He came into my office and said that he wanted a 6% return on his money. I told him that was great and asked how he determined that 6% was what he needed. He told me that he wanted a certain amount of income and wanted to leave a certain amount of money to his grandkids after his death. With this limited amount of information, I entered it into the financial planning software while the prospect was there. We determined that a 4% return was sufficient to meet his goals. This process allowed us to have a better discussion with our prospect about what his “personal benchmark” of success was instead of an arbitrary benchmark that was not connected to his priorities.

If you want to be looked upon as the trusted advisor to your client, you need to consider using planning. I’m not aware of any impactful way for an advisor to demonstrate that they care than to test into a client’s priorities. Not only will planning allow you to develop deeper relationships with your client, but it also sets the stage for multi-generational relationships because you help tie their passions and their money together. Many times, those plans involve legacy goals for future generations that you can serve.

Bradford Hutchins: My one bit of advice is to trust the planning process and be sure that you are fully commited to having this tool be a part of your process and practice.