My Dad was a radiologist.
Many Saturdays, after watching me from the sideline of a sport-field, I would accompany him to his rooms as he worked his Saturday morning of patient appointments.
I enjoyed these mornings working with his dark-room technician in the dim red lights needed by his film-developing machine as it created the back plastic x-ray film from the radiographer’s images.
I still remember the sharp, acidic smell of silver salts during those enjoyable mornings working with Dad.
My current radiologist lives in Vietnam.
Times have changed.
The choices, costs, and access to the talent needed to run advice firms are phenomenally different from my Dad’s era.
However, you wouldn’t know it when talking to some financial advisory firms. The ability of advice firms to attract, skill, retain, and manage their advisory teams is the most significant contributor to their enduring success.
It is also the most challenging job for advisory firm owners, as the talent needed is becoming more scarce, expensive, and demanding.
Good talent is attracted and retained due to unique career opportunities, collaborative teamwork, innovative skilling, and management that enables them to leap-frog the many tedious tasks for the ‘real work’ with clients.
How is the medical profession enabling the spread of Vietnamese-based doctors, while much of the financial services profession is limiting their outsourcing responsibilities to IT, administration, and paraplanning?
Outsourcing has a role to play for advisory firms hoping to better manage the careers of their advisory teams for higher levels of productivity, collaborative teamwork, and client satisfaction without bursting capacity constraints.
But where are today’s advisory firm owners steering their teams’ careers?
WHAT TO OUTSOURCE?
Assuming the management of talent of comprehensive advisory teams will not get easier, defining what will be the most productive use of future talent is not easy.
Many advice firms continue to seek and manage their talent using the same job descriptions, induction and training plans they have always used while expecting better productivity, capacity and profitability outcomes.
Delegating some technical diagnosis, advice, and report writing to a Vietnamese doctor does not reduce the local doctor’s duty of care.
It probably increases it.
I’m pretty sure if my Dad had this option when he was practising, he probably would have jumped at the opportunity to remove much of his essential but tedious daily tasks as it would have allowed him to have greater focus and time on what he most enjoyed and was most prized by his patients – caring and managing them.
That’s a central issue when determining what to outsource and what won’t.
What are the long-term durable work practices that a firm believes can’t be performed by a third-party firm?
Is investment management core?
What about tax work, client cash flow management, financial planning, paraplanning, estate planning, property advice, underwriting, management accounting, client business management, or convenient parking?
The potential list of core durable work practices is endless.
Before considering what might be outsourced, there are hurdles to overcome.
Some teams confuse task authority with task responsibility.
For similar reasons why every sports game at every level requires an umpire or referee, task authority cannot be outsourced.
Consider a thankless yet necessary responsibility of office cleaning: the job is commonly outsourced, but the authority of cleaning (maintaining cleaning standards) remains an internal function – it would be ridiculous for those providing the service to determine the standards for the service.
Outsourcing has many enemies.
The biggest is perfection.
Many rugged individualist advisers believe if a job is going to be done well, they have to do it themselves.
In so doing, advisory teams forget their own challenging path to competency.
Some advisory teams cannot forgive the incompetency or lack the patience to endure the inevitable frustrations of forging relationships with potential outsource providers who need time, coaching, support, and commitment to an agreed plan.
The seeds of successful outsourcing relationships never grow quick enough.
Developing outsourcing relationships is as challenging as developing internal team members. The authorities overseeing outsourcing often ‘pull the pin’ too early as they compare and expect initial outsourcing returns to equal their own hard-earned, well-tested standards of perfection.
As in any quest for perfection, many outsourcing searchs are doomed before they begin.
Building outsourcing partners, like building team careers, is an investment to be maximised rather than a cost to be minimised.
There are also unknown, less obvious, but effective enemies of outsourcing.
What is of most value for advisory clients?
The product or service provided?
Or the expert who provides it?
Or something else?
The power comprehensive advisory teams place on their technical skills can become an overgrown opportunity cost if it steers the firm’s careers into highly dependent ‘technical traps’.
While technical skills are always a crucial element of valuable advice, comprehensive advice clients engage (and, more importantly, re-engage) due to the feelings they experience more than the product, service or specific technical expertise they experience.
How should a comprehensive advisory firm that seeks to grow beyond the founder’s technical skills determine what to outsource and what not to outsource?
WHAT CAN’T BE OUTSOURCED?
Control can’t be outsourced.
Firstly and most importantly is the control needed to manage the daily execution of workflows, ensuring each client progresses towards the value they seek and are paying for.
Secondly is the control that the projects within the firm, both client and non-client related, are progressing on time, on budget and within capacity.
Thirdly is the control that ensures every team member and resource, whether internally or outsourced, is operationally aligned and motivated to a collaboratively agreed strategic plan.
The core functions of future advisory firms are controlling the firm’s client, project and strategic management functions.
Those functions are core for every advisory team.
There is little doubt about the need for comprehensive advisory teams for years to come.
There is, however, much doubt about how today’s firms best prepare their teams for their future.
As per the growing supply of Vietnamese doctors, the range and depth of outsourcing services for financial services firms will only increase.
Success lies in selecting and leveraging the most appropriate outsourced offerings that enable a firm’s team to do what they do best.
What do you reckon?
Photo credit: shutterstock_495256738
ABOUT JIM STACKPOOL
For over 30 years, Jim has influenced, coached, and consulted advisory firms across Australia. He founded a training firm, Certainty Advice Group, to coach, skill and build advisory firms delivering comprehensive, unconflicted advice with fees priced purely on client value. He has grown a solid and collaborative community of advisory firms aligned to his firm’s comprehensive advice model – Certainty Advice – Australia’s only Certification Mark accredited by ACCC and IP Australia for comprehensive financial advice. He presents at conferences, has judged professional advice awards, written industry white papers, chaired practice management curriculums for tertiary institutions, and authored four books on financial advice – his latest – What Price Value – was released in March 2022.