Although “statements of purpose” have, in one form or another, been around for centuries, it wasn’t until the 1970s (and especially into the 1980s) that the corporate mission statement really began to gain traction as a tool for businesses to state publicly what they do and who they do it for. It wasn’t long after that mission (and vision) statements began to elicit eye rolls, particularly from those who were all too familiar with businesses that would go through the motions of writing up such a statement… and then completely ignore it in practice (as Enron infamously included “Integrity” as a core value… right up until it collapsed in an accounting scandal). Yet, the practice of creating mission statements has persisted. And for the plethora of financial advisors who are striking out to become first-time entrepreneurs and are facing a mountain of tasks that need completing and decisions that need to be made, the question arises: is it really worthwhile to take the time and effort to come up with a mission statement (when starting the firm, or later once it is more established?).
In our 62nd episode of Kitces & Carl, Michael Kitces and financial advisor communication expert Carl Richards discuss what it means for financial advisors to have a mission statement in the first place, some of the key benefits mission statements bring to the table, and some practical and actionable ways that financial advisors can uncover and codify their core principles and personal code, both as advisors and as business owners.
As a first step, it’s important to recognize that most financial advisors who started their own practices did so because they decided that the only way they could help the clients they wanted to help in the way they wanted to help them was by simply going out and doing it themselves. In other words, there’s some core reason that they get out of bed in the morning, and that, in effect, is the anchor for a mission statement that clearly defines what it is that the financial advisor can uniquely do that their clients can’t get anywhere else.
From a practical perspective, the biggest benefit that a mission statement brings to the table for financial advisors is that it makes subsequent business decision-making exponentially easier. Because in practice, a mission statement can serve as a filter through which advisors can be intentional with the choices they make as they build their practices. Without a clearly articulated vision, it’s hard to be consistent when making key business decisions… which can eventually result in the business losing traction.
When it’s time to actually codify a mission statement, advisors have a few options. A less formal approach could be a brainstorming session facilitated by a series of questions that starts with, “Why does this firm exist?” and then digging into that answer by asking, “Why is that?” and “Why is that…” and “Why is that!”, several times over to uncover the advisor’s (and firm’s) underlying Why. Advisors who prefer a more structured approach can look into the EOS framework, which relies heavily on establishing a foundation of purpose and value, from which literally everything else that the firm does is built.
Ultimately, the key point is that a financial advisor’s mission statement is something that is already in them and is being used to make business decisions, regardless of whether they are aware of it or not. But without being cognizant of what that mission is, it’s easy to unwittingly make business decisions that aren’t well aligned. Thus, by discovering and articulating what that mission is, the financial advisor can gain the clarity of purpose that makes all the subsequent decisions around owning and operating an advisory firm much easier. In turn, when the advisor starts to add team members, the mission statement becomes even more important, because once there are more team members than can be practically managed by the advisor/owner (which usually happens once the headcount reaches about five or six), then the mission statement becomes the reference point from which the rest of the team can base their decisions on as well. As in the end, when team members have the tools to make the same decisions as the advisor/owner would make, it gets much easier to take the practice to the next levels.