For most of the financial advice industry’s history, before financial advisors could become successful, they had to survive. And more often than not, those who survived had exceptional “people skills”, which gave them a leg up when convincing people to purchase whatever financial products their companies sold. However, as the industry has become less about infrequent transactions and more about ongoing relationships, financial advisory firms have increasingly needed to hire “support” advisors whose job isn’t to bring in new business, but rather to service (and be awesome for) existing clients. The good news is that there’s been wider opportunities for people to enter the profession who aren’t necessarily business-development oriented. But because bringing in new clients is harder than keeping existing ones, those who do the former necessarily earn more than the latter. Which means that support advisors who decide that they want to level up their careers often have to learn the interpersonal skills necessary to develop (and lead) client relationships.
In our 60th episode of Kitces & Carl, Michael Kitces and financial advisor communication expert Carl Richards discuss some steps that that support advisors can take to learn how to communicate effectively, habits they can adopt to develop their own approach when taking point on client relationships, and ways they can position themselves within their firm to get the opportunity to expand their role.
As a starting point, it’s important to recognize the amount of progress that the industry has made in prioritizing ongoing relationships with clients and that there’s no longer just one pathway into financial planning as a career. And it’s equally important to acknowledge the fact that advisors can craft a very rewarding career as a support advisor without having to worry about bringing in new business. However, for those support advisors who do want to move into a lead role, the key is to develop solid communication skills. And while not everyone is born with the proverbial gift of gab, the good news is that learning to strike up a conversation, listen actively, ask good questions, and build rapport are all skills that can be learned.
Accordingly, initial steps that advisors can take include joining groups and taking courses designed specifically to help get people comfortable with speaking with (and in front of) strangers, communicating effectively in professional settings, and thinking quickly to respond in real-time to the unexpected (or incongruous). Some examples include Toastmasters and Dale Carnegie (for public speaking and professional training, respectively), as well as improv classes, where advisors can practice responding genuinely to what’s happening “in the moment”.
Other proactive measures advisors can take to learn how to lead client relationships is to seek out opportunities to sit in on meetings with lead advisors (especially discovery meetings where the client/advisor relationship is just starting to taking shape), not with an eye towards participating in the meeting, but rather as a silent observer in order to listen and absorb as much as possible. From there, advisors can look for opportunities to develop proficiency in a specialized planning topic (think ESG investing, equity compensation planning, or student loan planning) and become their firm’s internal expert for a subject that’s impactful for their clients.
Ultimately, the key point is that there are specific actions that support advisors can take to give themselves the tools they need (beyond “just” solid technical chops) to move into a lead advisor role. Becoming a good communicator is an essential first step, and lead advisors within the firm can be great resources to learn from as well, but developing unique expertise in an area that will bring additional value to clients can really give those looking to advance their careers a big leg up!