4th Annual Dollars & Sense Survey: Turning up the heat

(March 2003) My father took me aside at the age of 15 and taught me the importance of asking myself two questions. He encouraged me to ask them every quarter. I have been faithful to that request and since then, I have repeated this process every 90 days. It has contributed a large amount to the success of my team and to our ability to be ahead of the curve in our business.

One of the biggest difficulties that we face as advisors in the financial services industry is trying to realize what is coming down the road and how to prepare for it. There are so many factors at play — technology, client demographics, new products and investment vehicles, the state of the markets and the geopolitical environment, to name just a few. These elements often lead to tremendous confusion and prevent us from capitalizing on tremendous opportunities.

Time to focus

To take advantage of the trends that are developing around us, you need to take some time each quarter to focus. Prior to your quarterly planning session with your team (if you don’t meet quarterly, start to), get away by yourself to where you will be undisturbed by phones or personal contact and spend half a day thinking about the answers to these two questions:

  1. What is my industry going to look like in five years?
  2. What can I do today to prepare for this?

The results you’ll gain from this exercise will amaze you, as will your ability to concentrate on what is most important. With this new focus, you will also be able to better direct and guide your team.

Question #1: What is my industry going to look like in five years?

Although you have an idea of where the industry is going and what trends are happening, you probably rarely take the time to actually concentrate on them and their implications on your business and your clients. To stay on top of future trends and events and what they mean to you, be sure to take full advantage of the education and resources offered by your professional associations and organizations, financial services publications and Web sites, advisor conferences and professional consultants.

Here are some factors to consider when thinking over the first question:

  • What is going to change in your clients’ lives?
  • What investment vehicles are going to rise to prominence?
  • What new technology is going to exist that you can take advantage of and use to better benefit your clients or to streamline the business?
  • How are your clients going to change?
  • What are the new markets going to be and what new sources of assets will be out there?
  • What is your team going to look like in five years?

Each of these questions will help answer the broader question, “Where is the industry going and what will it look like?” Most advisors take a reactive approach, waiting until an event happens before doing something about it. We do not realize that during the time this event or trend is developing, we could be preparing our team and ourselves for the transformation.

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  • Take at least an hour or so and concentrate on your vision of the future.

    Question #2: What can I do today to prepare for this?

    The first question helps you identify what is going to happen. This second question helps you identify what you need to do to prepare your team and yourself for the coming trend. Without thinking about the answer to the second question, knowing what the trends are does you no good at all — it is just information. But knowing what you need to do now and outlining steps you need to take gives you an action plan for the future. This plan allows you to take advantage of the opportunities that are out there.

    So spend another hour on the second question. Once armed with the answers to both questions, you now have a couple of hours left to formulate strategy. This proactive approach will allow you to prepare your team, clients, technology and yourself for change while the trends are still developing. Instead of being overwhelmed by the wave, you ride the wave in and benefit from its strength and its power.

    If you ask yourself these two questions every quarter going forward, you will identify the changes that will most likely impact your business. And by being prepared for these changes, your clients, your team and you will benefit.

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    Lloyd Williams, CIMA, is a nationally recognized author, executive coach, trainer and speaker. He has conducted seminars, workshops and keynote addresses in the financial services industry for over a decade. Lloyd’s free monthly eLetter is available at www.finishwell.net. For more information about Lloyd Williams & Associates, please visit www.lloydwilliams.net.