Pre-covid, a client of mine was approached by one of their clients seeking assistance with a repatriation of business operations of a family member in Barcelona back to Australia.
They sought to merge some of their fashion and textiles operations in Spain back to Melbourne.
Their Spain-based business had made enquiries with two global consulting specialists which had left them cold.
Both global firms had sought conditions which included project fees based upon assets and the engagement would have required a transfer of all family interests to their Australian operations. Instead, the family turned to their Australian advisory firm, my client, who had been advising the founders and providing some business services for some time.
While my client had experience advising founders of similar family firms, they had limited experience in this type of international advice project.
They were clear about the value being sought by the founders, and they were well aware of the family’s situations, circumstances, abilities and behaviours. However, they required a deeper understanding of the value sought and complexities faced by the family stakeholders overseas.
As our client did not have a precedent for this type of work, we discussed with them a possible approach using a quote-to-quote.
A quote-to-quote is essentially a fee to conduct due diligence to prepare a fee for projects beyond the team’s more common advice projects. It is not a ‘down-payment’ which might be later rebated. Importantly the due diligence would not produce a ‘fixed or guaranteed’ fee for the greater project.
The due diligence would produce no specific recommendations. It would produce a project plan with estimates of fees, timeframes. and sequence of steps, including possible external resources required whose fees would also be additional.
The specific recommendations would come as the project progressed.
It was obvious to my client that this project had the potential to represent a ‘transformative’ project.
Transformative projects have the potential to transform a firm up into a niche of expertise that smaller jobs could never provide.
Crucially, the opportunity could not adversely affect the existing commitments, expectations, capacity, and valuable work conducted by the advisory team with existing clients. Transformative projects have to be fully funded with additional expertise from day one. Squeezing these projects in, while expecting current capacities to cope, will crush most firms.
The due diligence project proceeded.
Unsurprisingly, the due diligence was more difficult than expected, took longer than expected and uncovered more issues than expected. The firm presented their estimates, their project plan, and their desire to undertake the greater project.
The fee was accepted.
The advisory team engaged, bringing on additional expertise almost immediately and ensuring existing client commitments could be best managed. The project was challenging, as all transformative projects are when teams quickly grow in experience and confidence. The presented fee turned out to be too low, with fees from this project more than tripling original estimates as time frames were also extended.
There were many reviews, some more threatening than others as the valuable goalposts changed, some of the client’s stakeholders changed, different third-party experts became involved, economies changed, key team members changed and markets changed.
For this reason, some firms consider transformative projects too hard.
There is already enough stress in the industry, if current models of advice are not broken, is the extra pain worth it?
In the early years of every advisory team member, transformative projects that required performance beyond previous comfort zones and administrative tasks were common. In those years, we understood we were not in control of our destiny as tasks, clients, other team members and situations provided us opportunities to grow, or retreat to something more comfortable and predictable. It was our choice, no-one else’s.
There is additional stress involved with transformative projects or anything that challenges our current modus operandi. But confusing the stress caused by industry’s current growth challenges (e.g. fees for services, FASEA, compliance, licensing, Covid-19, low interest rates, dwindling business valuations) and waiting to ‘get these under control’ didn’t work for most of us in the early years of our careers. Back then, we knew we had to grow by facing the challenges.
We all have transformative projects. If we consistently ignore the opportunity and the challenges they present awaiting the time, the change in legislation, the end of Covid, better clients, or new team members, we might be missing the vital element of growth that could restore our trust, confidence and faith in why we do what we do as advisers.
The stress caused by transformative projects is like confusing the stress of peak-hour traffic with the stress of exploring new paths.
I’d take the new paths stress any day.
What do you reckon?
This is an extract from Jim’s latest book – What Price Value – due for release Spring ’21
ABOUT JIM STACKPOOL
For over 30 years, Jim has influenced, coached, and consulted advisory firms across Australia. His firm, Certainty Advice Group coaches, trains and is building a growing group of advisory firms delivering comprehensive, unconflicted advice, priced on value. The community of advisory firms aligns with Australia’s highest and only ACCC/IP Australia Certification Mark standard of comprehensive, unconflicted advice – Certainty Advice. He has authored three books regarding financial advisory firms and is due to release his fourth book mid this year – What Price Value.