Fundamentals helped firm flourish

By Philip Porado | November 19, 2010 | Last updated on November 19, 2010
3 min read

From a basement office in 1997 to a stand-alone building that houses their business and serves as a gathering point for more than a dozen local charity groups, O’Farrell Financial Services Inc. in Kemptville, Ont., has seen a lot of change in the past 13 years.

But, amidst all the change, the firm has stuck with some fundamental client management tools that were put in place when Dermid O’Farrell and wife Donna Lee first opened their doors.

At the outset, the firm implemented a binder system to keep track of client needs and objectives. Over time, the system has gone more high-tech, but the premise of keeping client materials in one place for easy review remains intact.

The firm starts the process of working with a prospective client by explaining it will require between six and 10 hours of the person’s time to do a proper job. O’Farrell says they’re then told that if they’re not ready for something that involved, it’s okay. “But they’re always ready,” he adds.

“Some advisors are in the business of holding on to clients for the trailers—but that’s not the business we’re in. If we’ve earned a client, then they’re a serious and valued client and we treat them that way. The result is that it brings us a lot of referrals, and that’s a good thing to have.”

During client meetings, it’s the firm’s policy to have a marketing associate in the room along with the advisor. This team member takes down the conversation, and the notes from the conversation are transcribed into a software program so advisors can review them prior to future meetings.

But, in addition to serving as scribe, the presence of a marketing associate establishes the idea that the client can bring questions to multiple people. It emphasizes the client is dealing with an advisory business, as opposed to an individual.

“In the end,” says O’Farrell, “you have to have a business that people recognize, not just an advisor that people recognize.”

Having a team of advisors for the clients is important, because O’Farrell sees himself doing less advising in the future. Instead, he’ll be looking for acquisition opportunities to grow his business. Taking a critical look at his own operation led him to a key conclusion a few years ago.

“I saw that by bringing on good advising partners, we could see more people, increase revenues and help others succeed.”

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Further, he determined the returns would be greater on purchasing an existing financial services business, as opposed to a book of clients, and concludes that’s where O’Farrell Financial ServicesInc. will be leveraging for growth. In the long run it provides more contact with clients and increased revenue.

“I can go in and buy an existing, solid operation and plant our systems and processes into it,” he says. “That’s where we need to be leveraging.”

He says it’s important existing advisors and clients feel stability during this transition. Inevitably there will be clients that don’t fit the business model and the critical task will be to align these clients with a more suitable advisory practice.

“One of the things that frustrates most advisors is the inability to meet with all their clients,” he says. “They simply have too many clients to service and opportunities are missed. We believe it is more profitable to maintain deeper client relationships with fewer individuals. This leads to more satisfied customers and more referrals.”

O’Farrell asserts advisors need to pay more attention to the business side of their operations, and that those who don’t have the business acumen should hire people who do. To give advisors a leg up, he suggests manufacturers could spend more time guiding advisors on how to run a business.

“I love the contact with people. I love giving advice,” he says. “But I also love the buzz of running a business.”

Philip Porado