Advisors ponder the smartest financial investment of their careers

Advisors help clients make smart investments. So it figures they practice what they preach.




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Successful advisors don’t just manage portfolios wisely and try to pick winning stocks. In a broader sense, they invest in themselves and their business so they can provide better service and accelerate growth.

Like true entrepreneurs, advisors starting their own business need to manage cash flow and get the most out of every dollar they reinvest in the business. And if they join a large company, many still choose to invest in their training to hone their expertise.

For Monica Dwyer, earning the Certified Financial Planner designation propelled her career. Seeking to deepen her knowledge and establish herself in her field, she passed the CFP exam in 2009.

“It was a huge commitment,” said Dwyer, an adviser in West Chester, Ohio. “At the time, I was working at Fidelity and I wanted to make myself as marketable as possible.”

She estimates that she invested around $4,000 to get her CFP, although her employer reimbursed some of it. In terms of time, she spent nearly nine months in the classroom, followed by another three months studying for the test.

“It was intense,” she recalls. “But it was a much better investment than my undergraduate degree, even though it takes an undergraduate degree to get a CFP.”

The experience also proved eye-opening for Dwyer. Through her degree program, she gained a better understanding of how she could help clients with a range of financial issues.

“It taught me that there was everyone out there with all these different areas that I could explore, from taxes to estate planning to trusts,” she said.

Draw your own path

Some advisors have long careers with large financial institutions. Others come to a point where they decide to go it alone.

Tom Balcom, a certified financial planner in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida, spent more than a decade in private wealth management before launching his business in 2010. He calls it his best investment professional.

“It was a risk to go from having a nice, stable paycheck to no stable paycheck,” he said. “You go from certainty to uncertainty. But it has improved my quality of life in so many ways.”

Since Balcom had already earned an MBA, he knew how to write a business plan and plan his expenses. Such diligent planning mitigated his risk.

“I created a budget that included rent, overhead, and how much I would need to charge to survive,” he recalls. “I set aside emergency savings for cash and made sure I could pay all my bills.”

After persevering through what he calls a “scary” first year, he knew he would be successful in the long run. Today, he raves about all the benefits of running his own boutique: the flexibility of working with a variety of clients, the freedom to make his own investment decisions, and the financial rewards of growing the business.

Improve your technology

For advisors who are always looking for ways to improve their business operations, technology can be a critical investment. Finding better ways to access and distribute information can pay off.

Sean Curley, a certified financial planner in Greenwood Village, Colorado, said one of the best investments of his nearly 25-year career as an advisor happened last year when he switched to a platform. all-in-one technological form. Previously, he says he has struggled with at least three separate systems.

“There were weak points, including the complexity of the software and the lack of integration,” he said. “We had this disjoint patchwork of systems.”

He says the new unified platform costs $14,000 a year, about 20% less than what he previously paid for multiple systems. But the cost savings are just the icing on the cake for Curley.

“Ease of use is the biggest saving,” he said. “We now have a very intuitive user interface” that ties together cloud-based performance reporting, document storage, customer web portal management, and customer relationship management features such as taking and archiving of notes on client communications.

Curley hails the new platform for helping improve its customer service. Its staff can also work more efficiently, allowing them to spend more time with customers and less time worrying about technical issues.

“With previous systems, if a customer called, we had a five- to 10-minute process to display their performance history on screen,” he said. “Now we push a button and it’s there instantly. So we can be more responsive to customers.”

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