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A Fair Self-Assessment

It’s time for me to tell you some hard truths about yourself, which are extremely important to how you approach your outreach and public awareness efforts. 

You’re different.  In a variety of ways, you are very unusual as a financial service provider.

Of course, you have trouble hearing this—and for an interesting reason.  Chances are you tend to hang out with the advisors who come to our Insider’s Forum conference, or the people who attend other conferences as part of their commitment to continuous learning.  You might be a member of NAPFA and have a strong preference for acting as a fiduciary.  You might be a board member of your local FPA chapter.

The point is, you tend to hang out with the very best people in the profession, and when you compare yourself to them, unconsciously, you come to an unexamined conclusion that everybody in this business is technically proficient and looks for procedural solutions rather than sales opportunities, that everybody puts their clients’ interests ahead of their own in a very real way, that everybody tries to provide more value to their clients than they charge in compensation. 

Everybody is looking ahead to how procedures and service models and fee structures can be continuously improved. 

Doesn’t everybody have the CFP or CPA/PFS designation?

All of this, of course, is very far from the truth.  If any of the above applies to you (and as a member of the Inside Information community, I would bet that most or all of these things do), then you are a highly unusual professional in a world that is filled with sales agents, brokers and under- qualified advice-givers.

What does that mean?  From the perspective of a marketing mindset, you need to realize, first and most importantly, that the clients you work with were very lucky to find you.  The odds were against them.  They had at least an 85% chance that their retirement portfolio would be loaded down with variable or equity index annuities that drained away their net worth, or be put in brokerage separate accounts with high fees and under-the-table shelf space payments going every which way and what. 

If they threw darts at their search engine, they would be working with an advisor with an impressive array of credentials that can be earned by spending a weekend in class and taking a rudimentary test, who would have no idea how to do a proper Roth conversion and no clue of the planning implications of the latest changes in our tax laws—but know everything about how to overcome objections and tell people that “they get paid two ways” in order to vacuum up sales leads.

Why do you need to know that your clients are lucky to have you?  Because when you market yourself, you need to internalize this as a conviction.  I’m not saying you need to bash the competition, but I AM saying that you need a certain sense of urgency when you talk with prospects, and when you go out and educate the community through presentations or blogs. 

You need to help your clients recognize that they not only need advice; they also need a financial bodyguard, somebody who will help them navigate through a world that is rife with conflict and predation.  You need to help them help their friends and neighbors understand that not every financial service provider is going to care more about their clients’ outcomes than their own.

My experience in this profession is that a small number of advisors are committed to lifetime learning, to their clients’ welfare and to giving back to the profession—and these people tend to hang out together.  That gives them the dangerous illusion that they’re somehow the norm in the financial services world—and that dangerous illusion manifests as a certain shyness about putting themselves in front of the world as a unique professional who will be cherished by clients who are lucky enough to find them.

This is one of those columns where I don’t think you have to take my word for it.  Instead, take a moment to self-assess.  Instead of simply, instinctively comparing yourself to the advisors you know, use your conscious awareness to recognize how remarkable your “crowd” happens to be—unique professionals in a sea of bad client outcomes waiting to happen.  Providers of value in a sea of mediocrity.  People who care in an industry that has thrived for more than a century on an attitude of predation.

I suspect that simply sitting with these truths will create a new confidence, and a new energy, to find new prospects and clients who will benefit from a relationship with you and your firm. 

And then, once you find them, do what you have always done: look for ways to help, and improve their lives with your service and advice.