27 MIN PODCAST
If you want a succession plan to work, start building it years before you retire. That’s the strategy of the team behind Weber Wealth Advisors in Yorba Linda, California. Founder Mark Weber has taken a whole-team approach, in which everyone has the same client and investment information, and everyone shares in the revenue. The strategy helped make Weber Wealth a top 10 firm within Woodbury Financial Services, a group with 1,500-plus offices.
In this episode, we talk to Mark’s son, Kyle Weber, and fellow advisor Nick John about how the team approach to succession, branding and personalized client service has helped the business grow while supporting the next generation of advisors.
A model of mentorship
While he didn't participate in the conversation, Mark Weber looms large in the discussion. He is the firm's leader, and he played an important role in the careers of both Kyle Weber and Nick John.
Joining the profession right out of college in 2005, Nick struggled early on to establish himself, become a certified financial planner (CFP) and make a living. Things got even worse after the Great Recession in 2008. In 2011, Nick saw Mark Weber speak at a local industry meeting, and was impressed with what he had to say.
“His message really resonated with me, you know? ‘Educate first. There's no point in selling. Just tell them what they need to know, and the sale will happen. Do the right thing,’” Nick says. When the meeting was over, he invited Mark to lunch. The encounter led to a mentorship. The two would meet quarterly for years, with Mark offering advice on how to build Nick’s business. “There was really nothing in it for him, other than helping me out,” Nick says.
A few years later, Nick had a chance encounter with Kyle on a golf course, and the two bonded over their mutual respect for the elder Weber. Kyle mentioned that his dad wanted him to join the business, but he hadn’t decided what to do. While Kyle had grown up thinking his dad had the greatest job in the world — one that afforded him plenty of family time — he wasn’t as sure as Nick that financial planning was right for him.
“At this point, I'm like eight years in, grinding it out, desperate for business. And I looked at him like, ‘You're crazy, if you don't take this opportunity!’” Nick says. The encounter may have been fate, they say, because a few years later, the two would be working together in the same firm.
“My dad will say that I've been interviewing for my whole life for this position, and Nick's been interviewing for the last seven years for this position. He didn't even know it,” Kyle says.
Succession planning “the right way”
Bringing in a younger team would become part of Mark’s plan to grow the business while building a solid succession plan, but the evolution happened over time. Mark started as a planner in 1991, working in the employee credit union of a large corporation and helping educate his clients about benefits and retirement.
“Most of the employees did their banking with them,” says Kyle. “He began hosting workshops, educating them about their pension and 401(k). We have people today calling, ‘Hey, I spoke to your dad 20 years ago, he told me to do this, this and this, and I'm ready to retire.’"
Mark and a partner left the credit union to join a broker-dealer in 2008, while continuing to engage the corporation’s working-class employees and other individuals and families like them. In 2015, when his partner decided it was time to retire, Weber saw an opportunity to bring Kyle in to take over the book of business.
Then in late 2017, after six years of mentorship, Mark reached out to Nick. “He said that a good friend of ours, and another advisor within our broker-dealer, died after a battle with cancer. And he had been asked to take care of his clients and be his succession plan,” Nick says. He needed help and wanted Nick to take over.
Having watched other firms manage succession poorly throughout his career, Mark was determined to get it right, says Kyle. He even brought in a business coach to help create a plan that would grow the firm and support the next generation of advisors.
The well-supported team
Part of the firm’s strategy is sharing all information equally across the team. “It's monumental in our practice,” Kyle says. Each person on the team can pick up where another left off in a way that feels seamless to the client experience.
It starts with a shared investment philosophy. “In the event my dad passes away,” Kyle says. “I can look into his book of business and know exactly the rationale and why he [chose] these investments for this client or put them in this certain product. I'll know exactly what's going on.”
The same is true for the other members of the team as well. They all know exactly what’s going on in client investment portfolios, sit in on conference calls and meetings together, and take and share the most detailed client notes. It’s all about providing continuity to the client. “Really, the only way to provide continuity is if everyone knows exactly what's going on with the family,” Kyle says.
The benefits of revenue sharing
The team shares more than notes and an investment philosophy. Another aspect that helps them succeed is a revenue sharing model for compensation. Nick explains how it works: “We all work with a group of clients throughout our book, but our compensation gets pulled into one giant pool, and then we get our cut out of that pool of money,” he says. “It allows us to take care of everyone equally. When Kyle's clients call in, I'm incentivized to make sure everything gets handled correctly,” he says. “It also really levels our compensation.”
“When we came on board, my dad took care of us really well,” Kyle says. “So when we walk into a meeting, we don't have ‘commission breath.’ We can educate the client, give them information, and do the right thing for them no matter what.
Also, part of the succession plan is a buy-sell agreement that spells out what will happen if something happens to Mark. “We all own life insurance policies on each other. So if the time comes, the business will have the funds to buy out our shares, and we're hoping that day never comes. But we're ready for it,” Nick says.
Each team member has a role
Another important thing the team has done is clearly define everyone’s role on the team. “Our primary role here is be good stewards of what we already have,” Nick says. “That's our main focus: Take care of your clients. But each one of us has a unique secondary role,” he says. Mark is the vision, the person providing direction on books of business to acquire. Kyle deals with marketing and personalized client service (“No robo anything!” he insists). Liz Almazon and Jackie Lacy set the tone for client experience and handle the day-to-day tasks of making sure things get done. Another planner, Reid Williams, runs his own book of business.
Nick handles client engagement, and he is always in search of great new ideas (and invites those who have them to visit the Weber Wealth Advisor website and reach out). For example, after working with Capital Group’s Advisor Practice Management team on our Elite Engagement program for financial advisors, he says, he reconsidered his approach to referrals.
“The Elite Engagement program forced me to think about how you generate referrals. Not every client is going to refer you. It's not in their nature. They don't like it. So why force it on them?” Nick says.
After the training, he went through his book to identify the clients most likely to refer business, and those who are more social in general. “Once a week, part of my process is to do something with one of them — go grab lunch, have a long conversation about whatever they want to talk about,” he says. “We host client events, and usually we'll offer up an entire table to one [client] to fill it up with whoever they like.”
Process and brand
Another thing that the team learned from Elite Engagement is the value of a strong brand. “Elite Engagement really forced us to take a scrambled and unclear process and organize it,” Kyle says.
On the website today are the three words that represent the firm’s approach: diligent, simple, informative. The team was challenged to apply that to every aspect of their business.
Advice for young advisors
When asked what the two would offer to other young advisors out there, Nick had some advice. “This is an aging business,” Nick says. “There’s never been a better time to be young advisor in the business.” But you have to put in the work to get where the senior associates are. That can mean showing up early, staying late, working on side projects, coming up with new ideas. “If you find yourself in a position to join an established firm, I think it's really important to stand out.”
“Do it their way first, learn how they're doing it. Wait. And then your opportunity will present itself,” Nick says. “The minute I displayed value, [Mark] was open to hear anything I had to say.”