Friday, March 17, 2017

Client Attraction, Fiduciary Standards and Business Outsourcing Ideas: New Insights from Industry Insightfuls


These three subject matter experts spent some time conversing with me about the challenges and opportunities they see in the financial services profession. Don't miss these audio interviews (linked below) or scroll down to read the transcripts.

In this trilogy:


Wealth advisor Bill Keen (www.KeenWealth.com) talks about marketing in the digital world and why the right clientele are perpetually drawn to his RIA.
Download link | Stream online


Fintech executive Daniel Satchkov (www.RiXtrema.com) shares his thinking on the future of the DOL fiduciary rule and ways to earn new business even if the new administration delays or derails it.
Download link | Stream online


Practice management expert Nicole Newlin (www.EfficientAdvisor.com) talks about overcoming the three big challenges advisors face and how partnering with the right business partners can help.
Download link | Stream online

Take a few minutes and listen now!

As seen in NAPFA Advisor magazine
February 2017 print edition

Friday, March 10, 2017

Wealth Manager Bill Keen Shares Business Strategy and Client Service Insights with Best Practice Advisors


Sometimes you meet a person and you just know there’s something special about the way they do business and live life. Bill Keen, founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors in Overland Park, Kansas, is one of those people. Over the years that I have known and worked with Bill, I’ve had a good opportunity to see what makes him tick – but this interview really peels back the curtain to reveal his formula for life, living and business success. 


A transcript of the interview is posted below.

MARIE SWIFT: Hello and welcome back to Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry. This is your host, Marie Swift. I'm joined today by Bill Keen. Bill is the founder and CEO of an awesome wealth management practice, Keen Wealth Advisors, which happens to be based here in Kansas City. I've known Bill for a number of years and I'm just so delighted that you decided to join the show to talk about your clients, your business, and why you are growing and doing so well and attracting attention in the community.
 
BILL KEEN: Well it's a pleasure to be with you Marie. I've appreciated your help over the years and it is an honor to be on your program.

SWIFT: I know a couple of things that I'll just throw out to get the conversation going. So, recently you had a very cool event. Why don't you tell us a little bit about that and why you think that was so exciting and helpful to your business and community?

CYCLING SUCCESS

KEEN: We hosted a regional cyclo-cross race Marie. It was a race on bicycles but not on the road – on grass, a hilly terrain. You might know in our prior talks that I sponsor a cycling team. Approximately five years ago, I had a client come to me and asked if I would be involved as the title sponsor of his competitive cycling team. He just retired after a long career in engineering and he got back into something he really loved doing when he was younger. Within about six months to a year, he lost 90 pounds, got his health back and was very engaged in the cycling community. When he asked me to get involved, I had never cycled before. I never had a "passion" in that area but after looking at the community and the outstanding opportunity, I agreed to sponsor the cycling team.

Fast forward now five years and I’ve been asked by the Kansas Cycling Association to sponsor a Total Team Trophy that will go to the best team in Kansas each year. So, that engenders participation from all these teams coming up, as well as encourages youth to participate. So, part of my sponsorship for the Kansas Cycling Association is to sponsor every junior entry for every child in Kansas that enters a race. That sponsorship led to this race this past weekend. We had people from all over the Midwest and nearly 160 participants. I was there handing out trophies and putting the awards around people's neck.

I've learned a lot about the cycling community in the last five years. It's just a really wonderful community of folks. There is a lot of fellowship and camaraderie involved with cycling. I just appreciate that, with the divided world we live in today, it’s great to be involved in a community like that. It's easy for me to get behind it and allocate resources towards type of event. Some might say, “How does it work with clients?” or “did you do it to promote Keen Wealth Advisors?” Not really. I did it to support my client. I did it to support him with no expectation of his immediately coming back to our firm. For me it's about getting behind things that I can see or that make a difference in the community. If you do it with that intention upfront and expect nothing in return, things come back naturally. As a result of being involved in these things, we've had folks come our way, but it’s more about attraction than promotion, if you will. It was a great day and I sure appreciate your helping make the public aware of that event.

THE LAW OF ATTRACTION

SWIFT: Bill, I love what you just said about it's about attraction, not promotion. You and I are cut from the same cloth as far as that goes – it's about finding the people and having them drawn naturally to you and your solutions where you are not pushing your agenda. They come to you because they see the character, the quality of the human being you are first and foremost. So maybe you could talk about your educational initiatives. I was able to attend one recently and was impressed with the caliber of the event, the guest speaker you had and also the presence your team brought.

KEEN: It's important for me to step back and look at the key components that make a client successful. What makes them successful? What are the key components? For me it's about clients being educated and being engaged in the process. We also speak to a whole specific type of client, a client that understands relationships, a client that understands the need for consulting in areas outside of their own specific expertise. I always say our client base is made up of people that have already naturally lived within their means over time. They've saved. They've invested. They’ve had that intuitive nature about them. It's important for me to bring the very best information to those folks.

In the 24/7 news that we live in today, there are so many messages bombarding us that it's nearly impossible to sift through what we should be paying attention to and what we shouldn't. For me, it's about a commitment and an investment back into our clients to bring them the information that they should be focusing on.

We brought Greg Valliere in this summer. You were in attendance and I was so grateful you were able to be there along with several hundred clients. He spoke very candidly about what was happening in Washington and what we were going through in this election process. As a Registered Investment Advisor, I want to avoid any conflicts. I don't take money from any outside vendors. So, anything we do education-wise, I’m making a decision to invest the money, the firm’s capital, back into the client. That's exactly how I look at it. If you are committed to that, that creates a real barrier to entry for competitors who aren't willing to make those investments back into their clients.

That event was just one of many that we do. It was a commitment but it came off very well. You know, Marie, the video is on my blog so that folks can still go back and watch it. It's very professionally done and came out very well.

ENRICHING CLIENT LIVES

SWIFT: It sure did. To your point about investing back into the client relationship, I'm going to tie over to your blog and your podcast series because not only does this help perspective clients get a sense of who you are and the expertise you and your team bring to your clients, but I would say it also helps educate and enrich your clients’ lives as well. So, could you talk a little about the motivation and your commitment to this blog and podcast series Keen on Retirement?

KEEN: It speaks to understanding what you believe as an advisor. What are you about? What are your core values and what do you believe about how people are successful over time? Then it’s about putting your resources behind that belief and not being afraid to have a voice. Some people will like your voice and be attracted to your voice and your beliefs. Other people will not be, and you have to be okay with that. The things you say are not going to appeal to everybody. But the energy that comes from identifying your belief system as an advisor is based on experience and what has worked, and then not being afraid to voice that in the forums available today is very powerful. It makes getting up and coming to work and talking about what you believe very effective and energizing. Again, in this median we live in today with technology, we are able to promote our beliefs via our blogs and our podcasts.

Talking about commitments, I committed over a year ago to hosting a podcast. It comes out every two weeks so there is a fresh episode every two weeks. It's out on iTunes and can also been accessed through our website www.keenonretirement.com.

Having a podcast always pending keeps you engaged. I can speak from my personal experience, because I don't want to put something out online that hasn't been well thought through and that isn't relevant. If I'm asking a client or prospect to listen to this, I want them to say, "that was a good use of my time." Maybe they were on the treadmill or driving in traffic and it was something to listen to and fill the time, but I want it to be meaningful, relevant and impactful. As an advisor, doing the podcast keeps me on my game and up in stride about what I believe about what works for people.

Again, in this world of technology that we live in, we all have choices. I realize my clients have many choices. They could choose to go somewhere else. The prospects we talk to, the friends of the firm we talk to, they all have choices. In a world where 25 years ago, the brokerage firms owned all the information, you couldn't even get information without going through your broker. Today those walls have come completely down. We are in a position where we have to provide relevant value out there into the marketplace for free just to compete. Again, education and engagement help people understand who and what we are about and help them to that effect.

SWIFT: One of the things you do really well on your podcast series is you keep the conversation going through a couple of neat tactics. So, could you talk about your strategy and some of the famous guests that you've had on your show? How do you keep the show interesting for you as well as for the listeners?

KEEPING IT FRESH

KEEN: One thing I realized right off the bat was that I'm going to be authentic. I'm not going to try and be anything I'm not or something more than I am or anything of that nature. I'm not going to worry about what people think about what I'm saying. I respect everybody, but realize that I need to be authentic first. That requires some soul searching when you are going to put things online that are going to exist and stay out there forever. My co-host, Steve Sanduski (www.BelayAdvisor.com), who has been around the industry for years and is a well-respected gentleman, does a great job co-hosting the show for me.

It's just Steve and me. We will talk about a topic that is of relevance and of importance. A lot of times it's things I've just gone through in the practice. I'm still a practicing financial advisor, although I have 5 advisors at the firm in total at this time. I still stay in the business and in the client meetings with a certain group of clients that I handle. So, it keeps me really focused on the issues that are happening out there.

In the podcast, we talk about things that I'm seeing in the practice weekly and then we'll rotate other experts in. I brought in Dr. Daniel Crosby, a behavioral psychologist, as a guest recently. I brought Mitch Anthony on the program. He's talked for years about retirement planning and thinking. That was a great show. We actually had to break that up into two episodes because it went so long. I have also brought on the managing director at my firm, Matt Wilson, who is a CFP®. Joel Hamilton, who’s a wealth advisor and CFA at my firm, has come on in the past. Also, I even had one of the younger gentlemen who joined the firm on the show one day. It allows clients to hear the depth of the firm, the thinking of the firm, but also provides information that is relevant.

One last thing, Marie – if you haven't listened to this you should. Two episodes ago I had my very close personal friend and mentor on the podcast who is also an expert in the cruise industry. He specializes in river cruises. My wife and I just returned from a European cruise, which sparked a thought. Yes, we like to talk about taxes and social security, estate planning and what's going to happen with our new administration. But, why not have one about taking a cruise to Europe? So, that was a good one where people related. I had an elder law attorney on recently talking about making sure our grandparents are taken care of and are safe as they age You can probably tell I have a good time with it. It is a little stressful because I do have to be prepared and think through things, but I have a great time with it.

Energy comes from being in this business. So many things are coming at us as business owners and financial advisors that we try and navigate for our clients and be out in front of. It's important to get in touch with what we believe works for people. By having to blog and podcast, in addition to the educational events that we do each year, it keeps you up in stride. You just don't want to wing that type of stuff.

ATTRACTING TALENT

SWIFT: You mentioned having a younger staff member on your podcast. One of the things I've learned, having been in conversation with you for a couple of years now, is that you do have a really good career path. Recently you were profiled in InvestmentNews, one of the top industry publications, about what you do and don't do to attract the right talent. So, could you talk a little bit about how you attract all these great people to your firm and how you've grown over the past couple of years?

KEEN: I started in the industry over 25 years ago when you had to walk into a brokerage firm and you were required to hire a certain number of people every year. The brokerage firm manager literally handed you a phone book and said, “Start making calls.” The pep talk from the manager was basically telegraphing: “You're not going to make it, but we are required to hire x number of trainees every year.” That was an interesting time to start in the business back in the early 90s.

Today for an advisor to come into their own in this business, they face so much competition out there. I mean right here in Overland Park or Kansas City we have some pretty heavy-hitting wealth management firms what with Mariner, Creative Planning, us and others. The Mutual Fund Store was founded here within a 5-mile radius. So, a young person trying to come into the business and compete would have a difficult time.

To create a firm that is able to attract good quality young people, I start that with having an intern. Right now I have five interns at the firm. It allows the interns to get a sense for what the business is like. Some of the interns end up going on working behind the scenes in accounting or finance. I have had several go on to work on Wall Street and investment banking. I've had others go off and work in their own practices or become financial advisors in other firms, which is wonderful.

Matt Wilson, who I mentioned earlier, has 15 years with the firm as managing director and wealth advisor is pretty much my right-hand person. Matt started as an intern 15 years ago and he's been with me the entire time.

For me it's about exposing the young people to all aspects of the business, evaluating what part of the business speaks to them and really giving them the experience. Letting them see what we have to do to analyze portfolios, asset allocation, and what it means in the real world, not just in finance class. What does it mean in the real world to have real clients going through these emotional things we go through, giving them a chance to see that. Letting them sit in on seminars we deliver, learn how the business functions and seeing if there is potentially a position that could make sense to them in the long term at the firm. Eric Savio has been with me two years. He was an intern for a year. Now he's been fulltime with me for a year and taking his investment exams. He's an Investment Advisor Rep and he's making his way.

For me it's about providing an environment for young people to get an understanding of the industry as a whole, and see if there is a fit for them to come work in the practice. I tell the younger people here that it's a privilege that you have to earn to sit across the table from a client. A client comes in and they have their life savings. That's the client we are talking to: people that are going to be living on their assets for the rest of their lives. This isn't some speculation here.

This is something that is very serious. It's a privilege to be able to sit across from a client and help them think through the issues and problems they are going to be dealing with. To sit across the table from someone that’s just lost their spouse and is asking our advise because of the relationship is an honor. I drive home to my advisors that it is a true honor to be in that position and you have to earn that right. Earning that right doesn't mean you have to make a thousand cold calls a day. Earning that right means you have to be focused; you have to be attentive; you have to be willing to be a continuous learner; you have to be willing to get advanced degrees and you have to be committed. You can tell I'm passionate about that.

I believe if you look at the demographics of the advisors out there that, at age 48, I'm kind of in the middle, but there are a lot of advisors that are somewhat older than me. We have a missing piece here. We need to seed good young men and women who need to be able to provide this service that folks so desperately need.

THE CHECKLIST DRIVEN PRACTICE

SWIFT: Here’s another question that I just can't resist asking you about. It's about this checklist driven process and I know we are getting a little long on this podcast so I want to give you that last opportunity to tell us about the checklist driven process and then just give me a final word of wisdom to the advisors who are listening that would like to take a page out of your playbook and emulate some of your success.

KEEN: I’m a pilot, Marie, and I'm not afraid to talk about that on my podcast and blogs. So much of what we do in the financial services business is helping people contemplate holistic wealth management and planning to make sure money lasts. We also deal with the dynamics of the family and all the things that go into the taxes, estate planning and insurance. The decisions that are made are life and death. It's very similar to being up in the air for me. It's a life and death matter. It's serious business. I use a checklist in my airplane before lift off every single time because there are so many things that you could miss. You can't keep track of it all, even though you've done it many times. As a result of my experience as a pilot, I implemented a checklist in our practice and use it very single time.

We talk about the fiduciary standard and the things we want to accomplish for clients. There is no way you can sit down and have a cursory conversation with somebody even if you did it every year or six months or so. Could you remember all the issues that need attention? We've created a very detailed checklist and we ensure we run through that checklist every single year for every client. Many of the items on the checklist don't apply every time, but you will see things that do apply to certain folks. For instance, do we want to convert to a Roth one year because of a huge deduction? We had a client move into a retirement community and a lot of the buy-in that year was considered a medical expense. So, they had this one-off deduction year where they could convert a substantial amount, six figures, from their IRA to a Roth and have it be a virtually tax free event. If you are not walking through a checklist like that, you are missing things and most clients don't even know they are missing opportunities.

We have an 80-point checklist for the client review meeting. As tax laws change, you change your checklist. I don't want to be using a checklist from a 1940s airplane in the airplane I fly today. I want the updated checklist, of course. It's about execution. I make the assumption when I talk to advisor groups that we are all experts at what we do and we do what we say we do. We execute for people very efficiently, so we are fundamentally sound. Our planning and investing is excellent or outstanding. That checklist is such a key to it. I hope that makes some sense to you with respect to making sure that nothing gets missed.

THE THREE P’S

SWIFT: I'm looking at your website, www.KeenWealthAdvisors.com, where your tagline is, "Perceptive, Personalized, Precise." From everything I know about you and your firm, Bill, I’d say those three words are totally on the mark. Any final words of wisdom for our listeners today?

KEEN: The two things I would have to close with would simply be, first, know what you believe. Really get serious and conscious and take time away from the office to figure out what you really believe about this business and then go do what you believe. I'd share with our listeners that, Marie, you helped me come up with our tagline, “Perceptive, personalized, precise.” You spent an entire day with me, vetting what we are and were about. Those 3 P's mean the world to us and I can articulate what they mean to clients when they ask. It wasn't just some marketing thing to come up with something catchy. It means everything to us. I on-boarded a couple of new employees here this week, new team members, and one of the first things I cover is what the 3 P's mean to us as a firm.

Second, I would just encourage our listeners to listen to the podcasts that are out there. Be continuous learners and step out of the business to be open and willing to try new thinking, new perspectives. Go to the Barron's conference, go to your custodian conferences, listen and have an open mind. Look for things that could work for you. I always think I never have all the answers. I'm always looking for answers. I want to expand my belief system, hang out with people that bring me up and be willing to grow in this endeavor.

SWIFT: It's been delightful talking with you Bill, as always. Thank you for all your kind words on the work that we've done together, but I want to shine the spotlight back on you. You are a shining star and it's an honor to work with you. In closing, I will steer our listeners to the Keen Wealth Advisors website where you can find a link to the blog, podcast and just to get a better sense of what Bill and his team are all about. Thank you again, Bill, for being here today and I look forward to seeing you again soon.

KEEN: Thank you so much, Marie.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

How to bubble-wrap, scale and grow your financial advisory business. Practice management tips and advice from a long-time industry coach


In mid-November 2016, just a few days before Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to “talk turkey” with practice management expert, Nicole Newlin, president of Efficient Advisors, a turnkey asset management platform for independent financial advisors. Click here to listen to the audio recording.

A transcript of the interview is posted below.

MARIE SWIFT: Well hello and welcome back to Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry. This is your host today, Marie Swift. I'm joined today by Nicole Newlin who is President of Efficient Advisors. Nicole began her financial services career at First Union Securities and later in her role as VP at Wachovia Securities she crafted the vision and oversaw the implementation plan for all technology advisor education across the private client group and independent channels.

Prior to joining Efficient Advisors in 2016, Nicole was a partner at Pathfinders Strategic Solutions, a coaching and consulting firm. There she worked with financial advisors to build specific targeted plans for their practices that focused on business development, marketing, client experience, and staff development. Prior to Pathfinders she served in executive roles at both Symmetry Partners and Loring Ward. Today Nicole leads the charge at Efficient Advisors, a turnkey asset management firm that is commitment to bringing proven principles and fresh thinking to the professional management of your client’s wealth.

You can learn more about Nicole and Efficient Advisors at: www.EfficientAdvisors.com. So Nicole, welcome and thanks for being here.


NICOLE NEWLIN:
Thanks Marie.

SWIFT:  Nicole you've been working with independent financial advisors for many years now and I'm just wondering from where you sit today, what are some of the greatest challenges and opportunities for RIAs and dually-registered advisors?

BIGGEST CHALLENGES FOR FINANCIAL ADVISORS TODAY

NEWLIN: Well, think there are three – which may not come as a surprise but because they are the same three perhaps we need to work harder at supporting our independent advisors.

One, of course, is compliance – managing that and dealing with even a tougher regulatory requirement. I'd say the second has to do with fee compression – something that everyone is dealing with in some fashion. And third, the oldie but goodie still remains: “how do I manage my business, offer superior client service and at the same time run it effectively as I market and grow the firm?” – so sort of the infrastructure. Those three items always seem to be rearing their head in some way, shape or form.


SWIFT: Yes, I agree with you. Could you please drill down a little bit into each of those? Let's start with number one – the tougher compliance and regulatory landscape.

NEWLIN: Just yesterday I was talking with an advisor; we talking about cyber security. He mentioned he compared cyber security to compliance because he doesn't know what he doesn't know and he thinks he's doing everything right and hope he is until the day comes. We talked a little bit about that and part of what he's been doing and also what our firm does to really to provide more education and interpreting the new rules that have come down the pike – bringing in expertise. We have quite a few ERISA attorneys with whom we partner closely. We've worked a lot around the DOL rule, giving advisory firms support in that fashion. So part of it, I think, is understanding and then interpreting – and then, on the flip side, getting the advisor into an action plan.

For instance, providing them the right verbiage, let's say in a client agreement, so that they've buttoned up and crossed all the T's and dotted all the I's.  We've helped advisors review their agreements, run them past folks to say, “you're meeting the fiduciary” or “here are some things you need to adjust.” Some advisors – and I think this is not a bad idea at all – are starting to contemplate this question: “do I want to be an IAR? If I'm really focused in on one investment philosophy and one methodology then maybe I should outsource that to a third-party provider who supports an IAR program. Maybe I want to get out of this whole being on call as the regulatory expert and instead let my third-party manage that for me because I can still brand myself as my own firm but I have compliance support.”

Then there are others that are looking at technology and tools that kind of take some of the steps out of the process so that the advisor doesn’t have to interpret every single component but instead the advisor can work with the client or prospective client in a digital fashion that makes it a little easier to get the right investment solution.

SWIFT: One of the things I have here in my notes to ask you about, Nicole, is around the Smart 401k program.

SMART 401K PROGRAM

NEWLIN: Yes. One of the tools and resources that our firm has worked pretty diligently on is around a 401k solution. We have a Smart 401k program that is built to meet the fiduciary standard. That's been the mode of operation of Efficient Advisors since its inception in 2009 – we try to anticipate advisors’ needs and create solutions before they are commonly in rogue. What I really think is interesting about the Smart 401k dashboard is it helps advisors who are working with qualified plans to not only outsource the 338 responsibilities to Efficient but we give them a four-step process that actually makes it actionable. There is the “plan finder” feature that allows the advisor to research the plan and gather the data they need. There is the “diagnostic step” that really allows them to benchmark a retirement plan against others that they may be competing against. There is a whole “efficiency analysis” as well that really allows them to look at the plan specifications and determine where they can make improvements and then the proposal builder. Now they can go to that business owner / plan provider and say, “here, I can take the worry out of what you are doing day-to-day, I can compliance off of your shoulders. I can do it at a lower cost; it's a level-fee solution. It's totally transparent.” And when the advisor walks away they, too, can now know they have a 338 provider that is supporting them. And even through the process of working with that particular perspective client, we work closely with the advisor too, so they know they are staying within the right guardrails.

So programs like that I think are really important, especially in this regulatory world knowing that advisors, need to “bubble wrap” themselves – this isn't my term, I'm stealing it from someone else, but I think is a great way to describe the Smart 401k program we have.

BUBBLE-WRAPPING THE ADVISOR

One other tool I'll mention as a potentially “bubble wrap solution” is an IRA Rollover tool that we are working on – it puts everything online and helps from the advisor’s perspective. It's really that end-client making some of the decisions and a very protective rollover program that takes commission-based scenarios into a program with a level fee. It's something we are in the midst of now and are hoping to roll out in a couple of months. I think those are the things providers who work with financial advisors should be offering and always thinking about so advisors out there know they have places they can get compliance and regulatory help.

SWIFT: Let's talk a little bit about your second item, the fee compression, particularly dealing with small accounts and managing clients service levels especially for the smaller investor and this whole thing we call “the rise of the robo advisor.”

NEWLIN: The robo advisor is interesting to me and, and my personal opinion is that there is a place for the robo advisor. I think it depends on the client-base you’re looking to work or need to work with. I would argue that there are other ways to outsource a lot of the heavy lifting that goes on with any client of any account size, or needs / desires to get an advisor’s support. I've always said if an advisor is spending a bunch of time digging through paperwork, or doing a bunch of research or on the phone talking with a custodian or what have you about where an account is, or even if they have their staff spending a bunch of time doing that instead of doing proactive calls out to their clients, then they are missing opportunities and they are spending a bunch of time in a place where they don't need to be spending it.

To me, if you are considering outsourcing some of that heavy lifting to a TAMP or an asset management firm or a third-party provider when it comes to putting together the portfolios, then I think you are actually using your time more wisely and can be spending it with the client doing the things you need. Maybe the robo advisor isn’t quite as necessary if you have a good third-party provider like Efficient Advisor. The time you may be spending with that smaller client, for instance, the grandson of the larger client that you need to spend time with, may seem ok to you because its building the relationship with an important existing client. You are not doing all the other account management and marketing things I just described.

Then I think that helps with the fee aspect of it. Tamps and third-parties often, if they are doing their job right, can get pricing that a smaller shop or even an independent IRA can't get. I would expect any of that lower cost saving. That should be provided to the advisor. So for instance at Efficient, we've looked how we run our back office. We thought a lot about how we manage our portfolios, we've looked at the pricing we've received from our custodians and vendors and in turn we run a lean shop so in turn we can provide the best pricing possible. Often times we're providing great service at the lowest price compared to a lot of competitors. To me, if I'm an advisor out there, and I can have all of this back office outsourced at a much lower rate, get all the tools, get all of this back office support, now my fees can come down. I can spend my dollars if I want on different kinds of staff instead of staff that's moving paper around.

SWIFT: You make some really good points there Nicole. The bottom line for me is that outsourcing to a TAMP should really give an advisor that scale in staffing and pricing. It's just not all about technology. It's about the right partnerships.

NEWLIN: Oh absolutely! In fact, I was spending some time with an office, a larger RIA that has multiple locations that is trying to make that decision about moving away from just being the RIA they are today with a large operational staff and how can they utilize Efficient Advisors as their outsource solution. At first, and rightly so, there was some fear among the operations team. “I'm going to lose my job” or “what does this mean for me?” And my challenge to the principal was if these folks are great at what they do, well, then just think—you want to keep them, right? You're going to be saving costs in the long-run with a lot of the ways Efficient Advisor is going to make you more efficient. Maybe some of these folks in turn can be the outreach folks you've always wanted. The client service representative you've always needed. All the marketing you wished your folks could do, they can now do.

So there are a number of ways you can streamline a team. It doesn't always have to be people are leaving because you are using a TAMP, it could be just repurposing them into much more critical roles.

SWIFT: Yes, that is really important because as you and I well know many of the advisory firms were built to be family owned and operated. They are staffed by people the principal knows and loves—nobody wants to cut employees, especially family members. So there is an emotional component too and I think your point about repurposing those people and streamlining the team could be very important and help with the profitability and help that firm grow.

Let's talk about your third point, about the client service and keeping the business running effectively as the firm tries to market and grow.

NEWLIN: It speaks to a lot of what we've covered in terms of outsourcing. But I think the bottom line, really, for advisors and their teams, is it’s really really hard to try to run your business and be strategic about your business and then at the same time have some sort of personal life and feel like you are in the role and always running the firm of which you've always dreamt. I've mentioned this before to a lot of advisors: the E-Myth, the book that I absolutely love and read every single year. Advisors that haven't read it, I really encourage you to read it because it's such a good reminder of why you're the entrepreneur that you are and why you set out to do this. It talks a lot about how you are managing your time. Are you being a technician instead of being the entrepreneur? Are you being the manager and not using the people you have effectively? I think it speaks to that whole, you know what I mentioned, that oldie but goodie: how do I manage my team and run the business effectively?

I think it really boils down to three points. It's looking at your firm structurally, strategically, and personally. These aren't new ideas Marie, I think everybody intuitively knows it but I think what advisors forgot is there is a lot of help out there to step in and give them some guidance. When I say structurally, I do mean staff and partners. Are you using a CRM? Sometimes I go into advisors offices and (I'm sure we all do it) there are sticky notes all over the place and paper everywhere and nine times out of ten times there is a CRM but no one is using it, or it’s garbage in, garbage out. Well if you are with a broker/dealer go to them or go to a CRM provider or find a consultant to come in and fix that for you. Anyone listening to this, if you need help I can give you some ideas who to call. People can come in and get you set up so quickly and effectively.

Strategically it goes back to what we were talking about before with looking at your business and asking yourself are you sitting here all day putting together portfolios or are you out meeting new clients? Or are you out strengthening those relationships? How many client events are you having? Are you really setting up those types of opportunities to deepen that connection?

The personally piece is taking a moment to ask yourself if you are happy with how you are spending your time and if you are being effective? I think there are all kinds of help out there. There are online assessments that don’t cost a dime that you can ask questions of yourself. But sometimes you just need to sit down with your team and ask them how they think its going or what could be improved upon or maybe ask your spouse or someone in your life what their impression is of you, when you go off to work and when you come back? All of these things are really telling. I think you need to get help to take a look at how your business is running? I don't think any of us can do it on our own. I think that's the tough thing.

I would reiterate that a good partner, a broker/dealer, a TAMP, a third-party or whomever, I would expect them at whatever cost they are to you to be offering good solid practice management support. It's their responsibility, in my perspective, to support you as much as possible—so reach out to those third-parties or custodians and so forth and ask them what they can do to help you and what support they can provide. Because we all see the studies, and there was even that Schwab Advisor Services independent study that came out a little bit ago talking about how IRAs are spending their time. So these entities are obviously surveying and asking lots of questions of advisors so there is no reason advisors can't ask for support back.

SWIFT: Nicole before we move on, can you repeat the name of the book? I didn't catch the title?

NEWLIN: It's the E-Myth by Michael Gerber.

SWIFT: Nicole you make a really good point about practice management and expecting your third-party providers to provide that for you or at least offers some ideas there. Could you talk to us a little bit about what you offer not for just your own advisor clients but for the advisor profession in general?

NEWLIN: Sure. For our advisors, we do a lot of writing for them as well as creating materials they can then utilize with their clients. We pick every month. So for instance, last month we were focusing on cyber security. A typical routine for an advisor of ours is that they would receive something we call Advisor Insight which is about a couple pages long. Last month I wrote about the cyber security topic with tips, suggestions, where to go for help, etc., and always the offer to call me if they want to talk further. Coupled with that, we write an Investor Connection piece, which is something about the same topic that the advisor can then re-brand and send out to their clients. And then we always have a webinar on the same topic as well in that month, whether it's me or different experts we are bringing along. Then each week we have an Investor Connection, which goes out on various topics of what's going on in the world that the advisor can re-brand as well.

But personally, having been a consultant in the past with my own practice management firm for 4 years, and knowing the value and importance of that, I work pretty hard on spreading the message to all advisors in the profession not just those working with Efficient. So a lot of times the same Advisor Insights I write, I might expand on them. I've written for other publications, for instance, the Journal of Financial Planning and InvestmentNews, and we are working on an upcoming webinar for ThinkAdvisor on cyber security. We've done some work on outsourcing and surveys, so really anything that my team and I can to help and be of assistance. I still have advisors that are not at Efficient that I coached for years that I still talk to, offer advice, and connect them. I think that's one of the best things we can do in our industry is when you can find someone to connect you to someone with an expertise I think it's your duty to connect those folks. I've done that for many many people. I think that's how we should all be operating.

SWIFT: Any final words of wisdom for our listeners?

NEWLIN: I would just say that while we are all competitive we are all on the same team as well. We are all trying to do what's best for our clients and also grow our businesses at the same time. I would just encourage more conversation, more roundtables, and more discussion of advisors. At the Efficient Advisor conference this year we had an advisor panel discussion and all I heard back from the rest of the advisors was we should do more, we should do more—and we should. There are so many ways we could be sharing intel together. There are plenty of clients out there, and if you have a great value proposition, a little competition never hurts anybody. But there is sure a lot we could be doing to help each other maneuver through these challenges that we all facing.

SWIFT: Amen to that. In conclusion, I want to say thank you, Nicole. This has been a great conversation. I always learn so much in talking with you. Listeners, my big take-away here is that working with the right priced TAMP is a great way for smart advisors to scale and grow. Nicole, I will be joining you for some of your webinars because I want to continue that conversation.

In closing that website is www.Efficientadvisors.com. Thank you so much Nicole and hope you have a great Thanksgiving.

NEWLIN: Thank you Marie have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 21, 2016

THE DOL FIDUCIARY RULE IS HERE TO STAY. SO SAYS RIXTREMA’S DANIEL SATCHKOV. HERE’S WHY.



On November 11, 2016, just three days after the shock of the U.S. Presidential Election results were settling in, I had the opportunity to discuss with Daniel Satchkov, president of RiXtrema, the future of the DOL fiduciary rule and possible outcomes for the financial services industry. Click here to listen to the audio conversation.

A transcript of the interview is posted below.

MARIE SWIFT: Hello and welcome to Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry. This is your host, Marie Swift. I'm joined today by Daniel Satchkov. Daniel is the President of RiXtrema, a company that is known for providing DOL fiduciary software solutions to the financial services world. Daniel, welcome.

DANIEL SATCHKOV: Thank you, Marie.

SWIFT: Here we are three days after the Presidential election and all the things that are happening in the US. There is a lot of speculation about the DOL fiduciary rule. What do you think the election means for the DOL fiduciary rule?

Daniel Satchkov of RiXtremaSATCHKOV: That's a $100 million dollar question actually. Probably a few billion dollar question because so much spending has already been done around the rule and obviously we all know that one of Trump’s advisors, I don't know if he has an official role of an advisor, but the Head of SkyBridge Capital, Anthony Scaramucci, has stated he "hopes" that Trump will repeal or remove that rule completely. If you do a Google search you find a lot of articles on the fact that the DOL rule is likely going to be gutted or totally finished under the Trump administration. Now my opinion, and this is actually very close to a very good column that was written by Bob Powell, I think it was on MarketWatch.com, I do not think that the DOL fiduciary rule is finished under President Trump. There are many reasons.

[Click here to read Robert Powell’s excellent article on MarketWatch: The Fiduciary Rule Won't Change Under President Trump]

First, Trump himself has never stated any opposition to the DOL fiduciary rule. He talked about Obamacare a lot. But he hasn't talked about the DOL fiduciary rule and in fact today he announced his plan for his first 100 days the office – his first priorities. Among those priorities we see building “the wall” that he talked about during the campaign; we see repealing Dodd-Frank which I didn't think would be one of his top priorities right off the bat, but apparently it is. Apparently he's going to repeal Dodd-Frank. This is really important. There is no mention of the DOL rule right there and the DOL rule is actually a law. It's been a law since June of 2016, and I believe and it fully goes into effect April 2017. There is not enough time to stop it from going to effect. Does Trump really want to spend his political capital to remove that law when he is trying to do so many other things such as removing Obamacare and repealing Dodd-Frank? I really don't think he can fight all of those battles. And on top of that, he's positioned himself as defender of the little guy, whether it's true or not, and for him to take so many steps that are favorable to the large banks and large Wall Street institutions in the eyes of his voters, well, I think it would be suicide to repeal Dodd-Frank and at the same time kill or gut DOL fiduciary rule. I'm more inclined to believe what Bob Powell wrote, that he may use it as a bargaining chip, but it doesn't look at all like that's one of his main targets.

CHALLENGES IN THE FINANCIAL SERVICES INDUSTRY

SWIFT: These are very challenging times for the financial services industry. We had a lot of challenges before the Trump election and the leadership changes in Congress. So, how are you seeing things from where you sit at RiXtrema? I know you've been an observer and a participant in the industry for a long time. How do these challenges land for you?

SATCHKOV: Well I think one of the biggest challenges, if not the biggest of the whole industry, is trust. This trust was undermined following the 2008 crisis and it really hasn't returned. I think the DOL fiduciary rule is actually a net-positive for the industry. In general I myself am against regulation. I think it has to be proven to be necessary. But in this case, the DOL fiduciary rule actually helps the financial sector by establishing more trust. I think this trust starts with transparent communication. That is a huge issue in the industry. How do we communicate the fees to investors? How do we communicate how they actually get charged? Right now, it is very confusing for consumers. The types of disclosures they get – and the type of advice they get – can be very conflicted, very confusing, and ultimately quite unfair.

We just did a major research study where RiXtrema studied 9,000 retirement plans in the US. We actually took their holdings and ran some sophisticated quantitative models to see if those plan line ups were too expensive. We can use quantitative models to actually create a similarly line up from less expensive funds. What we found is just basic algorithms and basic transparency only the retirement plan industry, I'm not talking about IRAs, that part of the industry could save well in excess $12 billion per year for retirees.

The fact is, there so much money wasted in the industry – this means that there is not enough transparency in what is really going on. I think that's the main issue facing the financial sector and firms individually. I think the DOL rule actually helps in that regard. It sets the standard for transparency. It sets some fairly straight-forward rules for disclosing fees, for disclosing conflicts of interest within the best interest contract exemption, and so on and so forth.

In my worldview, the DOL rule is not a problem for the sector. The problem is lack of trust and unclear communication and the DOL rule is kind of an attempt to solve that.

SWIFT: So how can advisors and financial services firms address this problem? How do they build that trust and transparency?

SATCHKOV: I think in today's day-and-age, it all starts with technology – and technology has gotten less and less expensive. So without spending huge amounts of money, firms should think about how they present their data. The time of long winded confusing disclosures are gone. Now it's like a prisoner’s dilemma. Nobody is going to do it first because it's now profitable to do it but because of the fiduciary rule. I think it's a great push in that direction to bring everyone to a level playing field and start disclosing things in a clear matter. It lays the groundwork. And a lot of technology firms, ours included, are working to provide solutions. We at RiXtrema actually have a solution that has been already used by investors – it provides simple and clear reporting, something highly visual, something that isn't confusing, that doesn't have a lot of text or a lot of data tables. Our solution presents something that is like an app, something that people can read and understand about what they are actually spending in their retirement accounts.

This is what advisors and financial services firms should be doing around the DOL rule. It's documenting the client's best interest – that's a requirement in any rollover situation. The requirements for disclosure in the 401(k) space should be improved but ultimately with the DOL fiduciary rule it requires the firm document the best interest of the investor under a rollover. It also requires advisors to stick to reasonable fees. What does “reasonable” mean? Advisors or financial institutions should really think about data and benchmarking. We live in an age of big data. So you can gather large data sets and compare yourself to others and have adequate benchmarking to show that you are actually doing good things in terms of portfolio construction and that you are charging reasonable fees.

RIXTREMA SOLUTIONS FOR DOL FIDUCIARY RULE

SWIFT: Can you talk a little bit about the solutions that you have created and developed at RiXtrema?

SATCHKOV: We released a tool just over three weeks ago called IRAFiduciaryOptimizer. That tool does a number of things and it's based on some of the quantitatiive methodology we've built for large institutions that we've been doing for years. We build customized stress-testing and risk models, but it also has a lot of new components geared towards this new age of transparency. It satisfies DOL fiduciary rule requirements in that it creates clear, simple, visual reports to document the best interest of the investor in a rollover transaction or in any kind of transaction really. It also uses some of the benchmarking data that we've curated.

We've also used some technology breakthroughs to gather a database of advisory fees based on the Form ADV that advisors file with the SEC. There is something called Part 2 to that Form ADV where there is a lot of textural information. Again, that disclosure is not as good as it should be but we've used some advanced technology to extract the necessary information out of it to help financial institutions and advisors measure the reasonableness of their fees, benchmark, and so on. So beyond documenting client's best interest, the defending reasonable fees are a big aspect of the IRAFiduciaryOptimizer.

The third important thing we are doing is building a solution that is modular and integrated with other types of solutions. That's also a challenge in the industry right now. Technology is developing very quickly but what’s needed are solutions that are modular and open based around API. We built IRAFiduciaryOptimizer with that in mind, and we are working with some large organizations right now to actually embed it in a customized manner into their workflow. Pretty much you can think of these different applications like pieces of a puzzle that you can just put together. The puzzle is in gathering information and data in different ways depending on how you want to put it together – if that makes sense.

RESOURCES FOR THE FIDUCIARY ADVISOR

SWIFT:  It does make sense. I know you are always writing and speaking in the industry and I'm fascinated to know your thoughts on this Daniel. Don't you have some webinars and videos that would be helpful for our listeners? Could you talk a little bit about resources that you offer?

SATCHKOV:  Yes, on our website we have a ton of videos. It's www.Rixtrema.com. We are actually preparing a number of webinars, unfortunately I don't have dates for you today but we hope to release dates soon.

One webinar I’d like to spotlight: We are preparing a webinar with a partnership with a company called Larkspur Data. This is a very important piece of the IRAFiduciaryOptimizer DOL software solution. Larkspur Data has been around for a longtime and they run over a million retirement plans, pretty much every plan in the US. They have fee data and other various data sets that advisors can use when they run reports for investors. Quite frequently investors cannot really get the adequate disclosure from their planned sponsor about the fees that they pay. Now under the DOL fiduciary rule they are supposed to get it. The plan sponsor has that obligation but frequently the disclosure doesn't come.

The DOL recently released an FAQ where they explicitly said if advisors have proven they were trying to get this data and couldn't, then they can use the other types of data from benchmarking or data curated from reporting. So the Larkspur database is a huge value added to our system where advisors, let's say the prospect comes to them from a retirement plan XYZ, if they don't have the fee data through Larkspur already, they can just pull that into our application with just a couple of clicks. So we are going to be doing a webinar on that right after Thanksgiving.

SWIFT: As always Daniel I really appreciate your comments today. Listeners, you can learn more about Daniel and the good work they are doing at RiXtrema at www.RiXtrema.com. Thanks again and have a great day.

SATCHKOV: Thanks for having me, as always, Marie.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Technology, Business Growth and DOL: New Insights from Industry Insightfuls


These three subject matter experts spent some time conversing with me about the challenges and opportunities they see in the financial services profession. It is a real honor to speak with tenured professionals such as Brian Stimpfl, Mark Klein and financial advisor Tony D’Amico, who impressed me with his passion, perspective and purpose. Please take the time to listen to these three audio interviews – I promise you won’t be disappointed.

In this trilogy:
Industry veteran Brian Stimpfl (www.Advisor.Scottrade.com) talks about the digitalization of financial services and what advisors should be thinking about now.

Recovering ERISA attorney Mark Klein (www.TheAdvisorLab.com) tells us how to use the new DOL fiduciary rule to win new business.
Download link | Stream online

Independent financial advisor Tony D’Amico (www.TheFidatoGroup.com) shares how he built his “elite advisory firm” from scratch and what’s next on his roadmap.

Take a few minutes and listen now!

As seen in NAPFA Advisor magazine
September 2016 print edition