Because it’s so easy to fall into the trap of creating a complicated financial advisory practice, one of the keys to sustained success is the ability to say no.
Most successful financial advisers really care about their clients and go above and beyond in their service to them. That’s commendable, but if you’re not careful — disciplined — you’ll add a layer of complexity that makes it almost impossible to grow and scale.
When I first started advising 30 years ago, when someone would ask me, “What do you sell?” my response would automatically be, “What do you need?”
Like most inexperienced advisers, I was young and hungry and did just about whatever it took to add clients. In addition to financial planning and investment management, I sold several types of insurance while also doing education and business transition planning.
Just about anyone who wanted to do business with me was a potential client, regardless of the complexity of their situation.
As my practice grew, I became more selective about which clients I would work with. It’s not that I didn’t like serving all those who needed quality financial advice, it’s that I wanted to offer very specific services along with a defined set of financial planning and investment solutions.
Partly by design, but also by trial and error, I found that by narrowing the clients I would work with, as well as the types of products and services I offered, I was able to develop a level of expertise within a subset of clients. Simply, not only was my expertise viewed as more valuable in comparison to my “generalist” competitors, but this focus also enabled me to command an above-market rate for my services.
So rather than serving anyone who wanted financial advice, I narrowed my scope to serve those who were transitioning from the workforce into retirement. Even more specifically, I served people who typically had professional careers, worked for large employers and had saved well over the years. Even more descriptively, these were people who usually had 401(k) balances, a home that was paid for and perhaps a mutual fund or two in a brokerage account.
That was typically about it.
When people would reach out to our firm in need of other types of financial services, such as funding a buy-sell agreement, setting up advanced estate planning strategies, or building complex portfolios? I would politely refer them to other advisers.
Over the years, we’ve become very disciplined about saying no. No to ill-fitting clients (including difficult or rude clients). No to complicated investment products. No to nontraded securities. And again, flatly no to myriad other types of offerings.
This approach has yielded immense dividends to all concerned parties because our narrow focus on retirement transitions enables us to provide highly specialized guidance that sets us apart from the competition.
By saying no to that which isn’t within our core expertise, not only have we been able to gain so much more as a firm, so have our clients.
Scott Hanson is co-founder of Allworth Financial, formerly Hanson McClain Advisors, a fee-based RIA with $15 billion in AUM.
Andrew is half-human, half-gamer. He’s also a science fiction author writing for BleeBot.