According to Mathew Birch, Count Financial Practice Development Manager, accountants and advisers need a strong vision for their firm if they want to survive and thrive in the changing financial services landscape.
“It’s about creating a blueprint for their business, and then continuously building and improving on that,” he said.
Not sure where to start? Here are the 7 things Mathew believes every firm needs to get right.
1. Provide coaching-infused services
Today’s consumer can access a wealth of financial products and investment information online, without the need for a go-between. So instead, clients want more from their adviser than a simple intermediary relationship.
“If that’s all you’re offering, it’s not enough – clients want advice, not merely information or access to financial products,” Mathew said. “People want to be coached towards their financial and life goals. They want someone to hold them accountable.”
As the first step, show your clients how you’ll guide them on their financial journey. That includes helping with their decisions along the way and keeping them on track so they can reach their goals.
2. Be life-stage aware
While financial advice has traditionally focused on the needs of retirees and pre-retirees, forward-thinking firms are exploring new opportunities within other client segments.
“Even though the pre-retiree market will continue to grow, Australia’s ageing population highlights other needs around intergenerational wealth transfer,” said Mathew.
Mathew also says Gen X and Gen Y have specific advice needs that aren’t being met, and this is where firms can really carve out a niche for themselves.
“Younger people need help with their cash flow and budgeting,” he added. “Many firms don’t provide those kinds of services, even though clients are willing to pay for them.”
3. Strive for practice excellence
Practice excellence involves regularly reviewing and updating systems and processes to ensure maximum efficiency throughout the business. It also demands a robust management structure that incorporates not only core business activities, but ancillary functions like marketing and recruitment.
And while small firms may have fewer in-house resources to support all these activities, it doesn’t mean they have to be left behind by the larger practices.
“The advantage for small businesses is that they can be more adaptable,” said Mathew. “In some firms, the accountant or adviser might take on more of a project management role – if, for example, they identify a client’s need for insurance and don’t have the requisite expertise or authorisation, they might choose to outsource the actual product selection to an insurance expert.”
4. Be experience-centric
When it comes to curating the client experience, Mathew says it’s worth paying attention to each client’s preferences so you can tailor your services accordingly.
“Clients have different expectations of what their advice experience will be,” he said. “Some want to see you once a month while others are happy to communicate by email.”
According to Mathew, small details that show you care can make a real difference for your clients.
“Even if a client only sees you once a year, they don’t want to feel like they’re walking into a stranger’s office,” he said.
5. Demonstrate thought leadership
As the needs of individuals and businesses become more complex, clients want their advisers to be innovators and thought leaders.
Mathew commented: “Firms that embrace innovation have greater growth potential than those that don’t. It’s not good enough to just keep doing things the same way you’ve always done them – you need to think about new ways to deliver advice to your clients.”
According to Mathew, being a thought leader also means doing your part for the greater good. For instance, some firms might focus on helping women overcome barriers to financial security, while others may align themselves with a charity or a particular social issue.
“Firms that position themselves as part of the community are more likely to prosper, because they’re seen as positive contributors to society,” he said.
6. Harness the collective intellect
Successful firms believe in the power of collaboration. They also know the benefits that can be gained from tapping into a pool of combined knowledge and expertise.
“The world is changing so rapidly – if you don’t look beyond the four walls of your own business, you’ll struggle to keep up,” said Mathew. “That’s why it’s so important to leverage the collective intellect available through professional networks and associations.”
By drawing on the experience of your peers and sharing ideas, you might even find new ways to serve your clients better.
“It’s doesn’t have to be about re-engineering the whole advice process – it could be something as simple as what you put in your client introductory pack,” Mathew added. “By sharing ideas on how to improve client engagement, everyone benefits.”
7. Be digitally driven
While many accounting firms view technology as a threat, firms of the future aren’t backing away from the digital ecosystem. Instead, they’re find ways to use it to their advantage.
Mathew commented: “Digital and robo-advice tools should enhance the client–adviser relationship, not replace it. It’s about leveraging those technologies to improve the advice experience.”
Harnessed correctly, technology can also be a powerful tool for gaining valuable insights about your clients.
“It’s amazing how much we can learn about our clients just by analysing data around their spending habits,” Mathew said. “By understanding what drives them, you can better cater to their needs.”