Money & Life contributors draw on their diverse range of experience to present you with insights and guidance that will help you manage your financial wellbeing, achieve your lifestyle goals and plan for your financial future.
Starting out as a paraplanner, Michael Back was on a journey to becoming a fully-fledged financial planner. When he discovered ways to add value to the advice process and outcomes by supporting other financial planners in their success, he found his calling.
In November 2021, his session on How to make life easier for your clients as part of the FPA Masterclass Event Series promises to deliver practical insights to financial planners motivated to lift quality of service as well as business performance.
When Michael Back talks about the value of financial advice, he’s very passionate about his profession and the advice community he belongs to. But his commitment to excellence in advice took an interesting turn when he joined an education session while working as a paraplanner. “I wanted to be a financial planner but I also knew it wasn’t quite scratching my itch as a way to align my strengths and interests with my career,” says Michael. “I had psychology and business degrees which demonstrates my curiosity about what makes people and organisations tick.
“When the practice I was working with invited me to a session on using neurolinguistic programming to engage with clients, it opened my eyes to all these services that could help financial planners do better. From this point on, I started to see things from a consultant’s perspective and noticed how things could be improved in how we operated and delivered our service to clients. Fortunately for me, my practice created a role for me as Marketing Manager so I could build my skills in business improvement by focussing on better ways to engage with our current and future clients.”
Since then Michael has made several career moves that have further developed his ability to help financial planners implement best-practice ideas. In 2016 he founded Human to Human, his coaching and consulting business focussed on improving client experience and loyalty. The service he offers couldn’t have been more timely, as the five years since have seen a significant transformation of the financial advice industry and the planner/client relationship.
“Regulatory change and introduction of better education standards have definitely created both challenges and opportunities to improve what we offer to clients,” he says. “But we’ve also seen technology enter as a disruptor. Just like Uber or Netflix, we can play with technology to enhance our advice service and business profitability.”
Given the complex regulatory requirements advice businesses now have to contend with, they’re often too busy to dedicate a lot of time and energy to exploring new technologies and ways to improve client experience. Michael suggests four key ways to get started and keep making progress towards business and service improvement :
Get closer to your customer
Knowing where to start with changes to technology and process is important. The best tool to choose is the one that’s going to solve your biggest problem at any point in time. So you can start by asking yourself what part of the client experience needs the most work? Asking clients this question is definitely the ideal way to go but you can also make sure you’re measuring the important numbers at each stage to see how many new enquiries you’re converting and how many clients are staying or leaving. This data is your canary in the coalmine, letting you know where your effort and focus is needed.
Another important way to prioritise improvements is by having more empathy for clients. You can do this simply by thinking about quick wins that would make their life easier. And when someone new joins the team, it’s the perfect time to get their feedback on your advice process. Taking them through from start to finish gives them a chance to reflect on what it’s like being in the client’s shoes and what makes things hard for them.
Tap into your team for innovation
Turning these pain points around starts with ideas for how to solve them in an efficient way. And when it comes to innovation, what you’ll see in any industry, including financial advice, is that you need vision and creative thinking across your whole team. One person won’t have all the answers and often you need to have different perspectives to ask the right questions in the first place.
To get your team thinking in a different way about solving for better client service remind them that we’re all customers and clients. Ask them to think about the last time they were blown away by customer experience and how those insights could apply to your business. This way of thinking is like a muscle and you need to get your team to step up and bring their energy and ideas to conversations about better client service.
Ask peers for best-practice insights
Having lots of great ideas is definitely helpful when working on improving how you look after clients. But when it comes to choosing the best way forward for your practice, some people get option paralysis. This is particularly the case with technology solutions as there’s so much out there and it can be way too time consuming to research every possible tool. This is where it’s good to remember that saying “don’t ask what, ask who”. You don’t need to work everything out for yourself when there are people who’ve been there before. Look for podcasts or other resources available from leaders in the profession who are all over this stuff.
Keep it simple and keep going
Ideas and solutions can generate a lot of excitement and momentum – at first. But it can be very hard to prioritise these important changes when everyone is extremely busy with the urgent business of looking after clients. Plus it can be easy to get ‘bright shiny object syndrome’ which can make you feel like every new idea is something you should do immediately.
To address the first problem, make these changes more urgent by running a 90 day plan and keep people accountable by asking them to report back to the team on assigned tasks. For the second issue, be clear on what your priorities for improvement are at any one time and then create a parking space for ideas that don’t match your current goals. They might be useful in the future, but to try and do everything now will just slow you down.
This is perhaps the most important advice for continuous improvement in your customer experience. Make it an evolution not a revolution because no business has the capacity or budget to get a grandiose plan up and running in a matter of months. There’s no harm in having a very clear idea of the future state you want to reach but you also need to work out steps that will get you there. Just as a financial advice client with $100,000 credit card debt isn’t going to become a millionaire overnight, you have to move steadily at a pace your team can sustain. And even if you finish the year 10% closer to where you want to be, you’re moving in the right direction.