Fostering teamwork

By Thane Stenner, Rod Bower, Rory O’Connor | February 12, 2007 | Last updated on February 12, 2007
4 min read

(February 2007) How strong is your team? It’s an important question — for those working with the high-net-worth population, a critical question. It’s not possible for a single professional to address the myriad financial challenges that a HNW client might conceivably encounter over the course of their lives. There simply isn’t enough time in the day to learn all you need to know.

For the most part, clients understand this. When they come to your office, they expect to work with a team. They expect you to draw on your relationships with experts and specialists from both inside and outside your office to solve their complex wealth problems. In many ways, they will evaluate your worth on your ability to supervise and manage this team and motivate it to achieving their individual financial goals.

You could build such a team “organically” — by hiring individuals directly as employees and partners, gradually bringing them into your practice as the need arises. But for many reasons, building a team of outside specialists is often the more practical approach.

By working closely with established specialists, you can instantly access top talent that can solve specific client issues quickly and efficiently, all the while positioning yourself as a “quarterback” who can effectively manage the team and propel it to success.

Identify your team’s “knowledge gaps”

The first step in building a winning team is to identify gaps in your current team’s knowledge and expertise. This will give you a better understanding of the specialists you’re looking for.

Some of these gaps will be obvious: If you’ve spent the bulk of your career managing client portfolios, for example, chances are you’re not an expert at estate planning. Clearly, your first priority is to find someone who is.

The best way to do this is to take a “skills inventory” of everyone on your current team. Identify a variety of “core competencies” that your ideal client needs from their financial team. Then, list every member of your team and rank their ability in those core competencies on a four point scale: (1) excellent, (2) competent, (3) familiar, (4) unfamiliar. You’ll want at least one person on the team to be “excellent” in each of the core competencies. In the HNW practice, nothing less will do.

Think multiple levels of specialization

Once you have the basic knowledge gaps identified, it’s time to dig a little deeper and consider the multiple levels within each area of specialization. For example: Finding an estate planning specialist is one thing, but finding an expert who can create charitable foundations is quite another. Do you need to fill in every sub-specialization? Probably not. But the more you can fill, the better you can serve your clients.

In our practice we thought about specific scenarios that our top clients might face over the next few years. For example, your top client Mr. Smith has mentioned the possibility of selling his business over the next few years. You might know someone who can help him with succession planning, but what if he approached you looking for a business broker? Or how about Mr. and Mrs. Jones? You know they have wintered in the Bahamas for the past several years. Would you be able to help them if they wanted to live there permanently? You know several excellent accountants, but do you know someone skilled in the tax and legal implications of becoming permanent residents of another country?

These scenarios may never come to pass, but that’s not the point. By being proactive and thinking about possibilities now, you’re better able to address the gaps and to demonstrate to clients that you’re constantly improving your practice in order to serve them better.

Foster a win-win attitude

Let’s face it, as a group, financial professionals tend to be a competitive bunch. That can lead to a defensive or protective attitude when it comes to sharing information about our practices, or about our clients. For obvious reasons, this line of thinking can be a serious detriment to those looking to build a team of specialists.

You can prevent this problem by fostering a win-win attitude with every professional you meet. Be free and open when discussing opportunities to help each other. Be proactive in passing on referrals to other professionals you know and trust.

Even if these referrals don’t generate income for you, if it’s in the client’s best interests, do it. In our practice, we often find that it can take months for a referral to be reciprocated. But if the professional in question is an excellent one — and we do enough homework to know that they are — we take the long-term view. It’s difficult to appreciate this dynamic unless you’ve seen it for yourself, but it does work.

Keep your eyes and ears open

Once you’ve established relationships with a number of experts and specialists, don’t rest on your laurels. Always be on the look out to build your team. Read through trade publications and magazines, and see who’s making a name for themselves. Attend industry events, and find out who has a good reputation. Get into the habit of asking your peers, colleagues, and even clients who they’re working with, who they trust. Just like your clients, you want to work with the best, and you need to find out who they are.

There will always be work for generalists in this business, but they won’t be working with the wealthy. If you’re serious about working with HNW individuals, you need to be able to work as a specialist, who brings other specialists together as a well-coordinated team. As the saying goes, two heads – or more – are better than one.

Thane Stenner, Rod Bower and Rory O’Connor are investment advisors with the T. Stenner Group of CIBC Wood Gundy. The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect those of CIBC World Markets Inc. this article is for information only. CIBC Wood Gundy is a division of CIBC World Markets Inc., a subsidiary of CIBC and Member CIPF.


Thane Stenner, Rod Bower, Rory O’Connor