Best Practices from Financial Services Industry Leaders: Strategies for Achieving Differentiation and Growth

Greene Consulting recently hosted a forum with some of the best market level leaders we know in the wealth management industry to discuss some of the key opportunities and challenges facing financial services firms.  These leaders who come from a variety of firms from small to large, have a unique perspective with true, “street-level knowledge” as they are not only proven in their effectiveness in leading their teams of advisors to performance success, but also are themselves extremely experienced and effective in directly engaging with clients.

After an opening discussion about the trends shaping the industry, the topics in this day-long session focused on the following topics:

  • Strategies for Achieving Differentiation and Growth
  • Challenges and Best Practices in Coaching Execution
  • Changing the Planning Paradigm: Adopting the Digital Channel
  • Leading with Purpose

The discussions we had were outstanding and highly beneficial for all in attendance.  After reviewing our notes from these discussions, we thought it worthwhile to share with you some of the key points that came out of them, assuming there may be one or two Best Practices that might be of help to you. And while the discussions were wealth management-specific, they equally apply to any financial services provider, whether wealth management, retail banking, commercial banking or insurance.

We will be sending out a separate piece for each one of these topics over the coming weeks, starting here with the Strategies for Achieving Differentiation and Growth topic, answering the question posed to the group:

What are you doing to consistently differentiate your firm in client/prospect meetings so as to drive true, organic growth?  

See below for a summary of the challenges, key takeaways and Best Practices that came out of this discussion.

Confronting the Challenges

The group collectively agreed that the industry is changing and we MUST change and adapt with it, further acknowledging that most firms are struggling with their ability to differentiate from other providers and thereby drive true, organic growth.  They identified the following as the primary challenges financial services firms are facing today:

  • If the industry doesn’t adapt to the new realities, there will be disruption that comes either from legislative oversight and/or the further progression of new competitive disruptors like FinTech.
  • Buyer preferences are changing due to technology, generational differences, etc.
    • IQ versus EQ:  Historically, IQ (professional knowledge and acumen) has been the key element of value and differentiation for firms and advisors.  That is now “table stakes” as it is not only an expectation of all clients, it is ubiquitous given the access clients have to data, information and tools via self-serve channels.  The future is in advisors being able to leverage their IQ and integrate it with EQ (Emotional Intelligence) to engage, connect and guide clients.
    • Clients are increasingly expecting to tap into enhanced digital capabilities.
    • Baby Boomers – it’s about the rèsumè; largely male-led decision-makers.  Gen X could care less – it is about them; more female-led decision makers.

Key Takeaways

  1. Life Planning is the next step beyond Financial Planning
    • Organizations and Advisors are going to have to define their value more specifically and discretely going forward, even to the point of articulating, “Here is what you deserve and should expect from your Advisor” (versus the traditional “Value Prop” focused on what we do, services we provide, etc.).
    • Life Planning/Coaching Dialogue:  Our client conversations need to be less around investing and more around quality of life and peace of mind, organization, understanding dynamics of family, and goals.  To be effective in these conversations, Advisors must be “authentically curious” and skilled in facilitating discussions with clients to help uncover and understand how clients want to live their life to the fullest.
    • Best Practice Offered: While “Life Planning” can be defined in a number of ways, the Fidelity Institutional perspectives on the new “Value Stack” was discussed as a great reference point for engaging advisors and helping them see the broader aspects of what clients ultimately are seeking and define as valuable.  (See “The New Advice Value Stack” Fidelity Study.)
  2. The Future Advisor will have to be more skilled on the emotional side of the relationship to be successful.
    • Advisor 2.0 will be more about EQ  than IQ:  Historically, advisors had an information advantage over clients.  They were the only true source for both information and ideas.  That has changed.  Today’s buyers are flush with information but short on guidance.  Clients can access all the information they need, and the same with products.  What they need is guidance and direction as conveyed in the following graphic.  The true differentiation going forward will be about the advisor’s ability to connect with clients emotionally and provide guidance in helping the client identify the problem(s) they must address and the course of action they should take to address the problem.

      “What is the most difficult part of the Buying Process?”

    • Reference was made to McKinsey and UVA Darden traits of the future:  Critical Job Skills of the Future
  3. Intent is THE key differentiator!
    • Advisors should evaluate their intent before every meeting.  Clients are able to quickly pick up on the intent of an advisor and differentiate between when the advisor is seeking to sell a product/generate revenue and when they are interested and motivated to help the client.
    • A key comment was made about clarifying intent.  “How would you feel if a client were sitting in a sales meeting, pre-call plan, etc.?  Would what they hear leave them confident and impressed by your intent?  Or would it potentially be embarrassing?  Would they recognize that we are focusing on the client, their current situation and their needs or would they see us discussing our own agendas and goals and how to sell our products?”
    • Best Practice Offered: Clearly define the intent of the meeting during the pre-call plan, and then articulate that intent clearly and succinctly at the outset of any meeting with a prospect or client… asking the client to “call me out” if you hear anything that appears to be in conflict with that intent.
  4. It is critical to listen intently to the client to truly understand their perspectives and situation – not just their financials.
    • Clients are seeking out advisors who care and understand them, which is another reference to the reality that while professional acumen and expertise in wealth management remain important, they are no longer the primary source of value and differentiation.
    • Reference to the United Capital Study:  The industry and advisors have an intense focus on “Saving and Investing” while clients, when interviewed about money, talk about “Earning and Spending” and the tradeoffs and difficult decisions in life as they try to balance those elements of their financial life.
    • Best Practice Offered: Engage clients in discussion about their financial life, including their perspectives on “money” and what is most important to them about money.  Ensure that advisors understand that while our function in wealth management might center around defining how clients need to invest and what savings rates will help them achieve success, ultimately, their financial lives are really about how they earn and spend the wealth they have and the underlying purpose for their wealth.
  5. Planning provides an opportunity for differentiation, but not via the traditional view of “financial planning”.  We need to focus on providing a personalized, collaborative and simplified “digital experience.”

    NOTE: Specifics on this discussion to come in the summary of the Planning Paradigm Discussion

  6. Strive to create “Moments” in every client meeting
    • “Moments” are meaningful experiences in the context of the meeting.  For more on this, read The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath.
    • Best Practice Offered: Understanding client preferences allows an advisor or team to deliver specialized service to clients and unique, personalized moments.  For example, something as simple as knowing drink preferences shows an attention to detail as well as the depth of caring you have for a client.
    • Best Practice Offered: When truly understanding the client’s priorities, advisors can create moments when those priorities are achieved in life.   For example, if saving for a child’s education is a key priority for a client, sending a note or discussing a child’s education, even on interim events like entering high school or beginning the college search process when they end their junior year in high school, show a level of caring that goes beyond the general norm or expectation, which is what “moments” are all about.

At Greene Consulting, our purpose is to help financial services providers design better experiences, develop better people, and deliver better results.  In fulfilling that Purpose, we help our clients effectively incorporate much of what was discussed above to position themselves to most effectively grow given industry trends.  Any ideas or feedback on any of these insights is certainly welcome as your insights help us to better help our clients serve their clients.  You can contact us at 404-324-4600 or email Rick Swygman at