However, after speaking to one nationally recognized advisor, it appears it is in part even more basic than one might imagine. She said:
- You don’t come in the office from 8:15AM and leave at 4:15PM every day except Friday, when you take off.
- You don’t send out portfolio management reports by email with a note saying “if you have any questions, call me.”
- You care about your client’s wealth more than your own and you care about who they and their family really are.
This certainly speaks to part of the differentiation question. Regardless of what you offer as solutions that are different than your competitors, you must work hard and execute well.
Pure and simple, the purpose of differentiation is to gain a sustainable edge over your competition. Differentiation does not have to be in absolute terms, but performance relative to competitors.
Most financial advisors will state they are focused on the client and have the expertise, experience, education, integrity, and performance standards to help their clients succeed. These characteristics however are barely the entry price for a quality financial advisor or wealth manager. Products, pricing, investment strategy and planning including asset allocation, risk assessment, performance monitoring and reporting, are for the most part, commodities and one can rarely gain more than a short lived competitive advantage from a solution or process in these areas.
So, back to the key question, “How do you differentiate yourself?” Here are a eleven concepts, that if delivered holistically and consistently, can help you stand out.
1. Personalization of Service
You must prove that your work focuses on the client from your initial meeting. It’s always about the client or prospect. Your first meeting with the prospect is all about the prospect. It’s not about you, your company, or your investment approaches. It’s all about learning about the prospect and what makes them tick. Get to know them personally…and then professionally.
2. Your Service Commitment
Have a written service level agreement with your clients. The purpose of the agreement is to ensure that the proper elements, commitments and reminders are in place to provide consistent service, support, and delivery to the client by you and your team. The agreement provides accountability and responsibilities of the team and presents a clear, concise and measurable description of service provision to the client. The agreement provides the client and advisor matched perceptions of expected service with actual service support and delivery.
It’s my opinion that many, if not most, clients don’t know the extent of services advisors provide on their behalf. The service level agreement functions as a written reminder, an informal “contract.” Don’t forget the service commitments also become a two-way agreement so the client knows exactly what to expect and can measure you on living up to the plan –a unique experience in most cases.
3. Summary Letters
After each quarterly portfolio review send a letter to the client. Components of the letter should include the following:
- A thank you for being our client
- A meeting summary which would follow the agenda you used as well as any follow-up responsibilities of both your team and the client.
- A summary of the service feedback you received and comments as to what actions you are planning.
- When your next meeting will be.
- Optionally, an offer of service to friends, family, etc. based on the meeting.
4. Hold Clients Accountable
You are a financial planning based practice. In addition to developing a plan with the client, you are holding them accountable to the plan for their actions (spending, saving, investing, other) to make sure they stay on track for their goals.
Your certifications are important, especially the external ones from the College for Financial Planning and/or Investment Management Consultants Association. It’s important to be able to say, the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation is a professional certification mark for financial planners conferred by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. Of perhaps 400,000 or more advisors, only about 68,600 are certified in the U.S.
Consider other designations such as the CIMA, CRPC, CPWA, etc. There are only a total of 6504 CIMA Certificants and 644 CPWA Certificants (as of June 2013). Imagine the differentiation you have with multiple designations.
6. Customized Portfolios