(June 2007) Most financial professionals don’t think too much about the information that crosses their desks. Sometimes it’s useful. Often it’s distracting. But it’s always there. And that’s about as much time as we ever spend thinking about it.
Truth be told, however, information is a key component of the successful wealth management practice. Professionals who can manage information well — gathering it from the right sources, filtering important information from unimportant, passing the right information to the right people, then acting on information quickly and efficiently — will be rewarded with a healthy and thriving business.
Those who don’t will quickly find themselves overwhelmed by it, as it distracts them from important tasks and forces them to waste time doing the wrong things for the wrong people.
Over the past several years, we’ve been working hard to develop a well-coordinated process for managing information in our practice. Through this process, we’ve been able to turn information into a powerful competitive advantage in the high net worth market we serve.
Allow us to explain that process in more detail:
Step one: Gather information
Information enters the typical financial practice from a variety of sources. Each of these sources demands a different response from us, and a different management method.
Mass media: If you’re like most advisors, you start you day by catching up on financial and economic news. While this can be a great way to ease into your work and stay on top of market events, we believe most advisors pay far too much attention to the very general information the broadcast media provides. Instead, we should be limiting our intake of general information to a half-hour a day, and spending more time on the information that has a more direct and lasting impact on our practices.
Team members: The feedback and suggestions of your team can be an important source of ideas on how to improve business processes or office efficiency. While it’s not practical to have a sit-down meeting with each team member every day, it’s a good idea to touch base with key team members from time to time (say, every month), to gather their thoughts and to ensure your team is working well together.
Specialists and centres of influences: It’s impossible for a single professional to do it all. That’s why successful professionals rely on specialists and centers of influences to expand the range of services they can offer clients. Such relationships can be the source of critical information on strategies and concepts that have a direct and powerful impact on a client’s financial affairs — strategies and concepts you might not hear about otherwise.
Peers: Peers are an often-overlooked source of information. A brief discussion with colleagues and peers in your community can teach you a great deal about how to run a successful financial services practice. By using other people’s experience (both positive and negative), you can capitalize on business opportunities while steering clear of business dangers.
Suppliers: By “suppliers” we mean the firms and individual managers who invest money on behalf of your clients. Often these sources can offer market hints and economic information that’s more detailed and more insightful than what you would read or see in the mass media.
Clients: Ultimately, it is our clients who determine whether our practice survives or fails. For this reason, it makes sense to hold regular “information gathering” sessions and one-on-one meetings with clients, asking them specific, targeted questions about their experience working with you. This is the best way to identify ways you can improve your practice and ensure ongoing client satisfaction.
Step two: Filter
Once you gather the right information, you need to pick through it and prioritize it. The first step is of course to identify which sources of information deserve special attention; after that, try the following suggestions:
• Establish a basic e-mail sorting system — every e-mail you receive goes into one of four self explanatory categories in your e-mail server: 1) act now 2) act later 3) to file/FYI and 4) trash.
• Delegate information review to team members — one team member becomes responsible for sorting through the newspaper every day, another scans industry magazines, another keeps on top of market news, etc.
• Take advantage of third-party filtering services — RSS feeds, web portals, and other resources that filter relevant information often pay for themselves in saved time.
• Keep your office and computer clean — excess information leads to confusion and wasted time.
Spend a few minutes at the end of each day to return client files to their proper place, and clean your computer’s hard drive of unnecessary information.
• Establish collective responsibility for information — team members know and understand what kinds of information needs prompt response, what can wait, what needs to be passed on to other team members, and what belongs in the round file.
Whichever of the above ideas you implement, the goal is to free up your time so you can spend it on your core duties (i.e., meeting with clients), rather than pushing paper from one side of the desk to the other.
Step three: Pass it on
Once you’ve determined which information is important to your practice, you’ll need a system for informing other team members about it, and, if appropriate, facilitating discussion about it. Some suggestions include:
• General team meetings — to discuss important business developments and changes to the practice.
• “Specialist” meetings — where specific portions of your team (i.e., the client contact team, the estate planning team, the administration and support team, etc.) get together to discuss specific business and client information in more detail.
• “FYI” library — a general archive of client and business information that any appropriate team members can access at their leisure. Could be hard copy information or an online archive.
Keeping other team members “in the loop” is an important part of a thriving practice. Without proper consideration given to who knows what, and when, errors and oversights are only a matter of time.
Step four: Act
Finally, once you have the right information in the right hands, you need a process for acting upon it in a timely and efficient way. Of course, different information will require different responses at different times, so it’s hard for us to provide pointers here. But if you establish a general process for how specific information should be acted on, and how quickly, it will be easier to maintain an efficient and well organized practice.
Speaking from our own experience, the time we’ve taken to develop a well-coordinated system for managing information has been well spent. We’ve seen a dramatic improvement in office efficiency, just by clarifying what happens to information once it reaches our office.
In addition, clients know that we are committed to remaining up to date and “in the loop” on important issues of the day. This has been a key competitive advantage that has allowed us to build our practice quickly and efficiently in a relatively short time. It can work that way for you too.
This article first appeared in the April 2007 issue of Advisor’s Edge Report.
Thane Stenner, Rod Bower, and Rory O’Connor are senior investment advisors with Stenner Investment Partners of GMP Private Client, a private family office group. The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect those of GMP Private Client. This article is for information only. GMP Private Client is an affiliate of GMP Securities, a subsidiary of GMP Capital Trust and a member of the CIPF. For more information visit www.thestennergroup.ca.