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.

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