My wife Anna loves book club.
She comes home from their dinners with a new thought-provoking discussion sparked by the book, regardless of whether she liked it, read it or hated it.
Their latest was Lessons in Chemistry, which also recently began as a series on Apple TV.
It is quirky, a bit tragic, and a fascinatingly patriarchal story of the heroine – Elizabeth Zott – and her journey against the odds of overt sexism, institutionalised structures, and inequality.
It’s a story about the power of existing structures.
The financial services industry also has structures that may serve advisory team members less.
I’m a fan of Professor Steven Lukes’ work.
He advocates that the source of all power is structures.
The common structures underpinning many financial advice team structures are the subject of this, the fifth in my series of six blogs supporting better growth in 2024.
The significant changes caused by technology, COVID-19, regulations, off-shore resourcing and work-from-home trends suggest a review of traditional team structures is sensible before 2024.
For instance, most team structures assume clients will build the deepest relationships with individual advisers, not the broader team.
They also assume that ambitious team members will craft their career steps upon the careers of their seniors despite the vastly different marketscape their seniors earned their success.
Glancing through LinkedIn profiles full of self-congratulatory fervour of achieving yet another competency milestone suggests the financial services yellow brick road to success is best travelled with financial qualifications.
Notwithstanding the importance of financial expertise, there are other equally vital expertise to support advice clients on their best possible life paths.
Is the stoic, rugged individualist with lots of initiative, good financial qualifications, and an ability to grow loyal client bases the most prized possession of an advice team in 2024?
The fundamental reason for re-examining the assumptions behind the everyday structures that have built advisory firms is time.
The lack of time.
Henry Ford reportedly said – “…be ready to revise any system, scrap any method, abandon any theory if the success of the business requires it”.
Today’s structures seem to doom ‘successful’ firms beyond their reasonable limits of capacity.
Always aiming to work ‘on’ their firms rather than ‘in’ their firms (which could also be part of the problem), principals of advisory firms are too busy juggling old and new systems, their teams, their client responsibilities and sometimes their partners, before having the time for their clients and more importantly, themselves.
Their day-to-day schedule resembles the doctor’s life in a one-doctor country town, always on call, always in demand, and exhausted by the endless mayhem. Even though outsiders may see their activity levels as a sign of their ‘success’, this adds to the frustration of their daily reality.
Today’s structures ensure there is only so much a support team can do as current structures and connections train clients to overly rely upon their adviser for the confidence, capabilities and direction they seek.
The problem is less about a team’s inability to lighten the principal’s workload and more about the gravitational pull of too much dependency for too long on key people that ensures too many issues require input from the firm’s busiest resource – the boss.
Even the language in firms encourages the gravitational imbalance as the gaps between the roles of “the advisers” and “the support” are based upon technical rather than professional skills.
Altering the foundational power structures that have guided the growth of successful yet highly dependent firms requires new priorities.
Better delegation may seem an obvious solution.
A better approach is less obvious.
COLLABORATION v DELEGATION
For advisory teams, delegation is a much better-understood concept than collaboration.
Delegation is when the “boss” clarifies what needs to be done.
In a hierarchical structure, the boss delegates specific tasks to team members whose role includes ensuring they follow her instructions for elements of a work project, with the ultimate decision-making remaining with the boss.
Collaboration is different.
It is less hierarchical than delegation models, ensuring a more collective effort with each team member actively involved in understanding the objective, the planning, the approach, and working together to deliver upon the value each client seeks.
The critical difference is connection.
The connection between client and firm in a collaborative team is a collaboration, not an individual performance by a principal.
Importantly, the engaged client totally understands and values the collaborative approach.
The connection cannot be delegated, so it is vital for collaboration from the beginning and re-beginning of each valued client relationship each year.
Collaborative advice and decision-making are driven by the collective team, often with equal input, focussed on delivering client value.
While common in IT, this is an agile advice team for financial services teams.
The shift from hierarchical team structures to agile is more than operational – it is a new cultural and workflow mindset.
Agile teams are busy teams, delivering valuable services collaborating around the understanding, management and delivery of the client’s best financial path linked to a deep connection and understanding of the value sought by each client.
Agile teams adjust as they go, working within the boundaries of the firm’s culture, without constraints of a founder’s obsession with perfection or dependency habits that insist on the ‘check with the boss’ before passing ‘go’.
To balance the senior team members’ concerns about their team starting to ‘step too far’ and risk losing valuable relationships, the connection between team members and clients must be real, deep and based on client value.
The ultimate indicators of client retention, loyalty, referral rates and profitability will speak for themselves.
Connection is achieved by methodically building the team’s valuable engagement skills with constant exposure and feedback of new and existing client conversations in collaborative client meetings, regardless of a team member’s technical qualifications.
Once adopted, the Agile engagement and workflow mentality extends throughout the firm into client strategy, pricing, reviews, advice partners and business planning.
Advisory teams strive to make a valuable impact in the lives of their clients.
While it makes sense that skilled teams can achieve a more significant, consistent and productive impact than an individual, collaboration attempts like agile teams must overcome their biggest hurdle.
Lack of time – caused by too much dependency, which creates too little collaboration.
Breaking this cycle requires new priorities, new mindsets, and an implementation plan that respects the power (and fears) underpinning existing hierarchical advice structures, allowing agile pilot projects to demonstrate better returns, better levels of client satisfaction, and better team productivity that prove beyond doubt their potential.
Lessons in Chemistry portrays Elizabeth Zott’s determined fight against the structural injustice of 1960s sexism, patriarchy, and status.
The structural misalignment in financial advice teams is less of an injustice and more of a legacy when financial advice was a product-based industry.
What do you reckon?
Photo credit: shutterstock_125987363
ABOUT JIM STACKPOOL
For over 30 years, Jim has influenced, coached, and consulted financial 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 is growing a 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 impartial financial advice. He presents at conferences, has judged financial advice awards, written industry white papers, chaired practice management curriculums for tertiary institutions, and authored four books on financial advice – his latest released last year – What Price Value.