Journal of Financial Planning: February 2022
Matthew Jarvis, CFP®, ChFC, is the founder of Jarvis Financial, a Seattle-based investment management and financial planning firm with $240 million of AUM for 170 families and works with clients around 100 days a year. Jarvis is a member of FPA. Find him at www.jarvisfinancial.com/team/matthew-jarvis/.
For many financial advisers early in their careers, expanding a practice means endless days in the office figuring out how to serve the most clients by being as efficient as possible. But when you’re responsible for the day-to-day operations, you can’t spend time growing your business. You need help, whether that means hiring your first employee or relying on a small but capable team.
In this article, I’ll explain why delegation is critical to your practice’s success, how to determine what’s really worth your time, and how to empower your team to deliver consistent value to your clients, even when you’re nowhere near the office.
Delegation Helps Growing Businesses Thrive
When you’re smart and resourceful—as financial advisers tend to be—it’s easy to fall into thought patterns that feel productive but, in reality, limit your growth. Have you ever thought about delegating a task but decided it’s easier, faster, or cheaper to just do it yourself? While this may be true, if it becomes a habit, you’ll soon find yourself trying to cover so much that you’re spread too thin.
It isn’t just that time spent on day-to-day tasks means time away from thinking big. Constant disruptions actually reduce our productivity and stifle our ability to do our best work. In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport explains that our brains require up to three hours to reach their peak state of performance. If we’re constantly on call for every client, staff member, vendor, and unexpected event that requires our attention, we aren’t applying our best efforts to our business. Tipping the balance of how you spend your time means embracing the power of specialization.
Where Do You Add the Most Value?
Think about all the tasks that cross your desk in a given week, from answering emails and phone calls to managing client accounts to creating internal documentation and procedures. While some of these tasks certainly have to be done by you, the primary financial adviser, many of them just have to be done. Relying on the expertise and skills of the people you hired allows your practice to deliver consistent value, even as you free up your own time to recharge, strategize, and grow.
For example, when a client calls your office, they don’t really want to speak with you; they only think they do. What they really want is the answer to a question, and they’ll be just as happy with that answer if someone else gives it to them. If you’re still answering your phones, the very next thing you need to do is assign that task to someone else—and authorize that person to schedule available time on your calendar instead of patching the call right through. No matter how critical you think it is for your clients to have direct access to you, constantly being on call leaves you with no time to grow your business.
Accepting that you are not the only person who can do all of the important tasks that keep your practice running can be humbling, but a good leader knows the difference between what is and isn’t worth their time. Embrace those core, has-to-be-you tasks as your own, then commit to moving the rest onto someone else’s plate.
And what if yours is the only seat at the table? How many employees will it take to increase your office’s efficiency and autonomy without destroying your bottom line? If you’re a solo practitioner struggling under the weight of your own clients, now is the perfect time to hire your first employee, but try to wait on your second hire until AUM has hit the $100 million mark. You might be surprised what two smart people and a handful of good systems can accomplish.
Be Honest About Your Management Style
Weak leadership does more than squander the potential of your best people; it may even discourage them from helping your practice grow. Some leaders like to be consulted only about high-priority issues, leaving employees to use their best judgment on a case-by-case basis. Others expect to be consulted on all decisions. Either approach could impose unexpected challenges on your team. If your team doesn’t feel empowered to take an active role in increasing value and efficiency, the answer may lie in your management style.
How much time do you spend in a typical week signing off on the same sort of work or being available for clients? How much time in that same week do you use for high-level business growth or professional development? If you’re working right alongside your team to keep the ship moving, there’s no one left at the helm.
Or, if you already rely on your team to take key actions on behalf of the business, consider that what feels to you like empowerment may feel to them like being left hanging. If you don’t formally clarify your expectations, individual employees are stuck making up the rules as they go, which leads to a fragmented customer experience. Striking the right balance will allow every member of your team to make good decisions and understand what’s expected of them.
Support the Team that Supports Your Practice
When you have a great team and everyone is pulling in the same direction, magic happens. But by asking your team to take on more responsibility, you will ultimately place them in situations they may not be comfortable with or know how to address. Your team may work for you, but as their leader, you need to support them as they take on additional responsibility and commit to being a source of authority when needed.
Set Expectations Early and Often
Any big change will come with a transition period while everyone finds their footing. A good leader will do everything they can to manage expectations leading up to that transition and continue to reinforce them to clients and team alike. Even so, while most of your clients will approve of these obvious signs of growth and commitment to excellence, some long-term clients may resist the change. That’s why it’s important to explain how the change isn’t just for your benefit; it’s for theirs.
Here’s an example. Many successful financial advisers use a surge meeting schedule, where client meetings are grouped into just a few weeks per quarter. This is the very best thing you can do to free up time for big projects and big-picture thinking, and having someone else schedule your appointments is the perfect time to adopt surge meetings for your own practice. But how do you convince a client who wants to meet with you next week that you’re not taking meetings until next month?
Luckily, financial advisers have a reliable tax calendar that makes this explanation an easy one. Milestones like year-end planning or tax returns happen at the same time of year for everyone, so it’s easy for your team to explain why you’ll be able to offer the highest value at certain times of year. And if the client still isn’t satisfied, you’re available to step in and offer your own explanation.
Good Systems Breed Consistent Outcomes
The secret to any successful practice lies in its systems; this applies just as much to how your team manages your office operations as it does to how you manage their accounts. When everyone knows they can trust the systems, they can focus all their efforts on contributing the most value.
Early in my own career, when a series of unexpected events forced me to cut my five-person team down to two, we knew we needed to develop systems that could make us hyper-efficient and help us thrive. Parkinson’s Law states that any activity will take exactly as much time as allocated; by building good systems, we were able to condense an entire office’s worth of work into the systems and processes that have allowed us to grow to where we are today.
As you formalize your systems into written processes, keep them short and simple; stick to one page if possible. Walk your team through each process as you demonstrate each step, watch until they perform the same steps adequately, let them know you’re available if they need help, then step aside and give them space to succeed on their own.
Client Scripts Keep Everyone on the Same Page
Enabling your team to keep your practice running without your direct involvement means you can spend more time away from the office—but what happens when a client calls and you’re in Mexico with your family? If your team has never been briefed on this situation, they might not know how you expect them to address it.
Now that you’ll no longer be answering the phones, you need a reliable system so that each client receives the same information and the same excellent care. In my office, everyone answering the phones consults a script containing preapproved answers to predictable client questions. This may sound like micromanagement, but in fact, these “reply prompts” give my team the confidence to address any situation without needing my approval.
To help you create your own client scripts, here are a few we use in my office.
Client: “Can I talk with Matthew?”
Team: “I’m sorry, but Matthew is unavailable. Is there anything I can help you with right now?”
Client: “Is Matthew in the office?”
Team: “Because modern technology allows Matthew to stay connected from anywhere in the world, he is currently in Mexico with his family. Is there a convenient time for him to give you a call back, or is there anything I can help you with right now?”
Client: “I have an emergency and I can’t wait until Matthew’s next availability.”
Team: “I’m sorry to hear that. Let me schedule a time for him to call you back to discuss this matter. Please know that Matthew is always just a phone call or plane ride away.”
Don’t overcomplicate your answers. They should be simple enough for a team member to work into a phone call naturally and broad enough to apply in most circumstances. Invite your team to suggest improvements and additions to the script; as the front lines of your business, they have the best understanding of how clients respond. And when a client calls with something that can’t be easily solved by a team member, they can consult the prompt that says, “It sounds like this is a good question for [your name]. Let’s schedule an appointment for [your name] to call you back and talk about it.”
As the leader of your team, you have more important places to be than on the front lines of your business. By building a dedicated support team, honing your management style, and putting strategic systems in place, your team can achieve their potential to help bring value to your clients so you can get back to growing your practice, even when you’re not in the office.
Newport, Cal. 2016. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.