Chris Gies: Hello, and welcome to the PracticeLab webinar series. I'm your host, Chris Gies, director of advisor practice management at Capital Group. I want to thank you for joining us today. Today's session is focused on how you can drive business growth using the findings and strategies from our proprietary advisor benchmark study that we call Pathways to Growth. We have three great speakers joining us today — Leslie Geller, Eric Grey and Wassan Kasey — to share insights. Importantly, also powerful marketing, planning and leadership ideas that not only work, but that you'll be able to put to work in your practices immediately following this broadcast.
Now, before I introduce them, let me cover a couple of housekeeping details. CE credit's available for both certified financial planner and CIMA and CFP designations. You're going to see that on the screen. To get credit, you've got to stay to the end of the event, that's at least 50, five-O minutes, and complete a short quiz. I promise it's not difficult. You can find that quiz in the additional resources portion of your screen. You'll also find, in that same place, today's slides and PracticeLab articles that'll be covered in depth in today's call that you can use for follow-up.
Also, you're going to see the question-and-answer window. We love getting your questions and your comments. And we'll try to answer as many as we can throughout the event, so keep them coming. Type into that Q&A window anytime. And I also may check in with you, depending on how quickly we make it through this content, on a few questions during the event. So again, we'd love your participation there. If you do end up with any technical problems, please let us know in that same Q&A window.
With that, let me introduce our speakers. And I would add, these are fast becoming regulars on this program. First, Leslie Geller is a senior wealth strategist at Capital Group. Leslie has 14 years of industry experience; she's been with us for over three years. Prior to joining Capital, Leslie was a tax and estate attorney. She received her master’s in taxation from New York University School of Law, her law degree from Boston College, and a bachelor’s degree from Washington and Lee University. Secondly, Eric Grey. Eric is registered investment advisor national director of sales at Capital. He has 29 years of investment industry experience; he's been with us for 20 years. His bachelor’s degree is in English literature, from Hamilton College. And Wassan Kasey is an advisor practice management consultant, also at Capital Group. She has 19 years of investment industry experience. She's been with us for five of those years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Southern California. Fight on, Wass. All three are based here in Los Angeles. Leslie, Eric, Wassan, welcome, and thank you for joining us today.
Some of you may remember, last year, we revealed the findings from our proprietary advisor benchmark study that we call Pathways to Growth. And, since then, we doubled the number of participants in the study. And frankly, we've been blown away by the magnitude of interest in this really unique study that quantitatively links specific practice behaviors to practice growth. Mike Van Wyk, our research director, and I have had the collective pleasure of presenting these findings at more than 50 client events, and are excited to share the updated findings with you today.
Quick summarization of the key attributes of the research, if you didn't remember: It's based on the input of more than 2,300 financial professionals like yourselves, over more than two years. Participants were carefully chosen to represent the full range of ages, tenure, assets under management — from under $100 million to well over $2 billion — channel and business models that exist across our country's spectrum of financial advisors. This includes more than 300 high net worth-focused advisors and more than 500 who concentrate on retirement planning business. But the key distinction between this study and others that you may have seen is that it ties specific practice behaviors to the success outcomes of growth.
As we started sharing the results of our research with top advisors, the (laughs) first thing they asked was, "Could I be benchmarked, too?" So starting February 1st, we're going to make this survey available, on PracticeLab.com, for advisors across the United States. At the end of today's event, I'll give more details. But I'll leave you with this teaser for now: It's a one-of-a-kind personal business analysis for advisors. It leverages the power of the robust advisor benchmark research I just spoke of to provide each of you with your own comparative assessment and your own personal growth plan. Again, stay on to hear more about this service while I get started with some of the highlights of the research, and we'll have our specialists share actionable ideas and strategies that support what we've found to be the key drivers of growth in this research.
We focused our research on a pretty universal goal: business growth. Right? The ultimate driver of all businesses, and certainly of advisor practices. During the analysis, we noticed a segment of high-growth advisors who grew at double the rate of their peers. And when we dug in further, we uncovered that practice optimization was the primary driver for these advisors. In fact, our research shows that shifting just 30 minutes a week from lower value activities to higher value activities can provide 3% greater growth. And let me be clear: This is just the baseline. In other words, if you invest more than 30 minutes in these high-growth activities, you're likely to see multiples of the 3% increase that I just mentioned.
So you’ve got to be wondering, "What are those difference-makers?" Let's take a look at them. Three success factors jump out. And the beauty of this is that they'll feel familiar, they'll feel intuitive. It's not rocket science. We're not saying these study results mean you should approach your practice in a way that's completely different than what you're likely doing today; instead, it's a reminder to refocus and refine the tactics that you're probably already using. Client acquisition, the first factor, it's about bringing in new clients. And if you're not growing your client base, it'd be pretty hard to be a high-growth practice, right? And this requires strong branding, effective marketing and a focus, an intentional focus, on prospecting.
Relationship alpha, our second factor, is broadening and deepening your relationships with the clients that you already have. High-growth advisors offer the personalized services their clients want, and therefore, create more value for them, which generates client loyalty and referrals. For many, those services may include the offer of retirement plans, retirement planning expertise, and even retirement income planning expertise. Strategic scale, the third pathway, it's about finding efficiencies that free up your time to grow your practice through the first two, client acquisition and relationship alpha. Rather than simply asking you to put in more hours in the week, we help you find ways to operate more efficiently. Thinking like a CEO, planning and productivity, managing the goals and standard operating procedures, and strong leadership and team management — all ways to achieve these things.
So now we want to go deeper on each of the three pathways to growth, starting with client acquisition. And this is our opportunity to give you some actionable ideas, as I promised, that you can use right away. Clients, as we know, are the lifeblood of every practice. And new clients are the key drivers of asset management and revenue growth. So it makes sense to have intentional strategies in branding, in marketing and in prospecting. But the data shows a lot of advisors are still relying, overwhelmingly, or even solely, on referrals for new business. The high-growth advisors in our study showed significant ability to drive growth through acquisition, which contributed to over half their asset-under-management growth. Over half their asset-under-management growth. Even more, those high-growth advisors broadened their strategies to include a focus on marketing, and specifically digital marketing, to expand their sources of prospects. In fact, these highest growth advisors in our study had twice the level of confidence in their marketing skills and were twice as likely to use digital marketing strategies. Additionally, in 2021, when times were challenging, you remember 2021, they leaned in even further on those efforts, and it paid off. They spend more on marketing, they improved their digital skills, they increased their focus on growing new clients.
So let me bring in our first panelist, Wassan Kasey. Wass, thank you for joining us. Wass, while digital marketing is a critical component of new client growth, it is also shown to be an area within our study that advisors generally were not the most confident in. I know this is an area you work with advisors on pretty regularly, so I'd love for you to share what you think are the most important things our audience should know to have a strong foundation as it relates to marketing and digital marketing today.
Wassan Kasey: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And, Chris, you know, thanks for having me, first off, and I hope everybody's year is starting off really well. So, you know, Chris, as I work with advisors, I definitely get the sense that the digital marketing piece is absolutely a source of anxiety, ambiguity. I mean, let's face it: When we all entered this industry, we didn't get a crash course in digital marketing and search engine optimizations and things like that. These are new, relatively new things for us. So I'm going to, hopefully, you know, lessen that ambiguity, give you some tools that allow you to simply and potently put things into action, pretty much right away.
One thing that I did want to note though: You know, in the last couple of years, like Chris was talking about, you know, we had COVID, we had the lockdown, we had a lot of stuff that really impacted the way that we serviced our clients. And what happened was the agility of our industry actually increased. So if you haven't done so already, I would really encourage you to reach out to your compliance department. See if you have an internal marketing resource that's available to you. A lot of companies rejiggered the way that they allow advisors to show up digitally. So it's not, you know, obviously, LinkedIn was always part of the equation, but it's, for some firms, it became a lot easier for advisors to get on LinkedIn. You can actually post more. Podcasts are coming into play for advisors across different firms, radio shows, different platforms. So I would highly, highly encourage you to reach out, if you haven't done so in the last six to 12 months, and learn about your firm's capabilities.
So, all right. You know, Chris mentioned, you know, growing beyond referrals, and this is a really big deal. When we're thinking about the age that we're in, we're absolutely in the digital age. Think about everything that's transpired over the last 20 years. We knew that this was coming, but we were really thrust into it over the last couple of years. So when you think about marketing, a lot of it is actually inbound, you know? We're pulling; it's a pull strategy. We're pulling prospects in with information, and we're trying to validate their experience and give them solutions for their financial questions and their financial requests. So even referrals, when we get them, they're probably going to Google us. That's something that's absolutely happening. It's the age of information. So what we're going to do is, like I said, some really small, simple things that everybody can do with pretty minimal resources, that you can implement pretty much right away, and the hope is that you're going to have a high level of output from there.
So let's start with Google.
Wassan Kasey: What I would always encourage the advisors that I work with one-on-one is Google yourself. If you haven't already done so, do it. And more so, what I would really encourage is typing in "financial advisor" and then either your zip code or the city that you sit in, and see if you actually pop up.
Type in "retirement plan advisor," or type in "estate planning and advisor." Are you popping up? If not, that's OK. I'll give you a couple of things to do that are going to make you a little bit more prominent digitally. So, the first thing is, you know, when I'm talking about this, it's really about search engine optimization, and I just got to give everybody a really quick quip.
My husband's in the tech industry, and he said, "Why are you talking about search engine optimization?" SEO, that's what he calls it, SEO, and I said, "Well, I coach advisors, and believe it or not, our industry is now leveraging digital even more.” So, this is something that's absolutely becoming more prominent for us. And like you heard Chris say, the highest growth practices in the country are becoming even more expert in using the digital interface to bring in prospects and acquire new clients, and then, really, just build their brand.
So, the first thing you'd like to do, you should do, is register your business with Google. This is a really simple step. Register your business with Google, and then even better, make sure that the business name, the address, the phone number is fully in there. And the reason that's important is because that helps the Google search be more efficient, and it'll help you actually pop up a lot more fluidly.
The other thing is you can embed a Google map and link it in the About Us page about your team, about your practice. So, if you're able to do that, like I said, some firms are going to allow this, other firms won't. If you're able to embed a Google map on your website, that's actually going to increase the likelihood that somebody will find you.
And then, think a little outside the box. If you're able to get a link to your practice via a linked source, so think about, you know, the Chamber of Commerce, think about any referral sources that you have, and like I said, think a little bit outside the box. If there's a local business that serves the same types of clients that you serve, ask them if they would be willing to feature you as a trusted partner.
If there's other businesses that are linking you to them, that's a really great advantage as well, and one that not a lot of people are using right now. And then, the other thing is targeted words. Words matter. You've probably heard that from a lot of people at Capital Group, and we really feel that. You'll hear us say, "We don't use the term performance. We actually use the term results," and that's with purpose. So, words absolutely matter, and I'll get into that in a second.
OK. So, now they've clicked on the link, they found you, they found your firm. What does the website actually say? What does it say about you, about the experience of working with you, your value system, how people feel, and how they connect with you? Does it exude any of your brand, or is it simply a financial services website?
These are the types of introspective questions that I tend to get advisors to think about in my one-on-one meetings, and I'm hoping that it gets you to think a little bit more broadly. So, what can we do? You know, I coach this advisor, and I loved what he said. I'm actually going to read it to you because I don't want to flub it. But this advisor that I coached, what he said once was that, "Many people can file your taxes, but not many people can employ tax planning."
And that's the caveat that we're trying to achieve here, is that lots of people can say, "I file your taxes," but not very many people can say, "I employ tax planning on behalf of you and your family to get you to achieve your financial goals." So that's the sort of language that we're trying to get. And when you think about your website, obviously, we want it to be up to date. We want it to look credible.
You think about content and what's on it. The more recent the activity is, the higher the benefit to you will be. People want to see that somebody is current, that they're working on their website, that everything is updated, et cetera. This really showcases a sort of modern approach. And here's a really interesting tidbit. A lot of advisors don't actually fill out the About Us or About Me page.
When you think about the About Us page, it's really an opportunity for us to bring to life everything that you bring to the table, as it comes to your relationships. Something that I always ask advisors is, "Why are your clients paying you? What are they paying you for?" And a lot of advisors will tell me, "It's, you know, for the coaching that I provide. It's for the trust that we garner. It's the relationships that we create, it's working with the family, it's educating, it's reassuring them, it's guiding them through the ups and downs of the markets, et cetera."
My follow-up question is, then, "Is that reflected on your website?" Here's the opportunity for you to reflect that on your website in the About Us page. Whether it's your bio, About Us, a team profile, there is an opportunity for you to really kind of bring this to life in a meaningful way. And then, on that, I just wanted to mention that plain language is the best. Our industry is so guilty of using jargon.
Even using things like the term "estate planning." When you think about somebody who's not in our industry and that person is met with the term "estate plan," let's say that person even makes $200,000. They're married. They have a house, et cetera. Do you think that that person thinks that an estate plan is related to them? Or do you think that that person thinks an estate plan is for somebody who has $5 to $10 million and above?
My point with that is that some people may not understand what our industry jargon is really about. So, the more simple that we can be with our language, the better that it will be. For those of you who can actually customize your own websites, go to a company like FMG. That’s a really good company. They can help you customize things.
And now, we've been hearing a lot about social media and the negative effects of it. But when you think about consumers and what they're really doing, they turn to social media quite a bit to increase their knowledge about things. So, they're going to seek financial advice through those media sites. There's actually, in the About Me section, 45% of financial advisors or financial professionals don't have a photo.
Nearly 25% are actually missing their bio. So, just doing those two things will actually help you differentiate yourself. And then, when it comes to LinkedIn, there's a rule of thumb: Post three times a week, you're good to go. So, again, being current, being on top of things. There are advisors who leverage YouTube channels. They'll go on Facebook and go live and do a river stroll. People are doing podcasts.
So, again, check with your company, see what flexibility you have, and see if there's any opportunity for you to kind of push the boundaries a little bit more and start using all of the digital storefront that you have. And then, finally, content marketing. So, when we think about content marketing, it's a really great way for us to maintain an active digital presence.
This really helps us illustrate our expertise. This isn't about showing or promoting my brand or my services, but it's really helping me build a digital presence so that people know that I'm somebody that they can come to with questions, as a resource, et cetera, and then I can provide content that's meaningful. One thing that you can do is link to things. For instance, we have the My Retirement Plan workbook on PracticeLab. So, you can actually link to things such as those types of workbooks and make it easy for clients to access things that will help them think about retirement or help them think about financial planning, et cetera.
So, I threw a lot out there, Chris. But hopefully that was helpful, and hopefully it answered some of the questions or ambiguity that's out there.
Chris Gies: Thanks, Wass. You know, as I always do, when I'm with you, I learned a lot, specifically in this case about marketing, digital marketing. What a great idea about the workbook. We've heard from a lot of advisors who say that the workbook has prompted terrific conversations with clients on their retirement goals.
Let me ask, and I've promised you all a question or two. I'm curious, for all of you watching today, what digital marketing activities have you found to be the most impactful, or conversely, which areas of digital marketing do you feel you need to brush up on the most? If you'll put that into the question-and-answer box, we'll try to feed that back to you shortly.
In the meantime, let's move on to relationship alpha. It's best reflected in the ability of high-growth advisors to generate three times the number of referrals versus the average advisor in our study, and they achieved this level of loyalty and advocacy through personalized services, such as estate planning and generational wealth transfer. Also, retirement plans for small-business clients, and they have a set of accountability goals specifically around achieving client satisfaction and retention.
Leslie, I know this is your favorite topic, and it's an area advisors love working with you on. Let's say an advisor's interested in working on improving their relationship alpha. Is there a strategy that you've seen that's particularly effective?
Leslie Geller: Yeah. Thanks, Chris, and I'm so excited to share this information. I think it's so important and so impactful in such a small package. So, in my travels, and in thousands of meetings I've done with advisors, I've really found that wealth advisory and guidance, some of those things that are shown up here on the slide, can be the biggest difference-maker when it comes to making yourself stand out from the crowd.
It's one of the most universal of all of those guidance and wealth planning strategies that are applicable for all types of clients across demographics. It also is great from a COI perspective, building that network, building those personal relationships with the attorneys and CPAs that help build your business. So, what is an advisor's role in the estate planning process? And we have this great slide that we've developed. There's some good animation on this.
So, in developing this content, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I found most helpful when I was an attorney, from advisors. There were advisors I loved working with. There were advisors that I didn't like working with as much. And the advisors that I liked working with were those that helped me do my job better and helped the final work product, particularly around estate planning and gifting, be better for the client.
So, we brought them into this really fun analogy, this movie production analogy, with the different roles that you can actively plan in the estate planning process. And I think this'll really help you remember them. So, the first one, producer. So, this is the role where you provide the big-picture view, and so often we lose the forest through the trees. But this is a role the advisor can plan in the estate planning process.
So, help the client sort out their financial goals and priorities. Get the process started. That often is the easiest thing to do for you, hardest thing for the client to do, makes the biggest impact. Assess the need for specialized services. Right? So, do they need an appraiser to come in? Do they need a valuation expert? Do they need a tax professional to come in and do some complex spreadsheeting?
And then, create a comprehensive financial picture. Make sure that you have the full universe of all of the things that you need to really help the client go the distance when it comes to the estate planning.
All right, next one. We've got the agent, right? And, just quickly before we leave producer, I think it's really helpful to also think of yourself as the coordinator, right? To be that quarterback, to bring in the football analogy to our movie production analogy. But I think being that central spoke is really, really significant when it comes to, especially, those more complex estate plans.
Okay, the agent. Drive the parties towards a common goal. So in addition to the estate planning attorney, your client, as we referenced, might be working with an accountant, a valuation expert, a real estate lawyer. If they aren't talking to each other, chaos is absolutely possible, and I saw it happen. So you are the central communication hub and can help keep everyone on the same page. And there's a stickiness in being that central figure. So provide that coordination, ensure everybody involved is on the same page, and has a consistent understanding of the client's wishes.
The third role you can play: the director. So leading the process. So, with so many moving parts, particularly as you move up that high net worth spectrum, it's essential that you have one person, namely you, with a hand in each part of these processes. So make sure that the client's working with the right expert, the one that matches their personality, the one that matches their cost expectations. Ensure that this project is going to be a priority for that specialist, right? That they have capacity to handle it. That they have the expertise. Your client's not going to be thrilled if they go to interview an estate planning attorney and they realize they're out of their price range, or they don't have the specific niche expertise that the client is looking for.
Make sure that everyone is moving in the same direction, right? Make sure that on the corporate tax return, on the gift return, on the income tax return, that all of the positions are consistent. So often you see that when you don't have somebody in that director role. There are different positions taking on different tax returns, or other types of planning documents, or file documents, which can, as I said, inevitably lead to chaos.
And then, probably my most important tip here and the biggest value add is updating the attorney on client life events that could warrant an update to the estate plan. Oftentimes, the clients just don't know what's relevant, and the lawyer doesn't know what questions to ask. They don't know what questions are relevant to the client's particular situation. So you can help bridge that gap by bringing some of those more subtle issues to the forefront.
Next role, critic. The critic provides perspective and context. So you are the client expert, and there's tremendous value in being the client expert. You are the one person with that comprehensive knowledge of the client. And you also know how the experts work, the other professionals that have been brought in. But oftentimes, we see this information gap between clients and the estate planning team that's working with them. From understanding estate planning concepts and techniques, to how to make important decisions, and which decisions are best. And feeling like the client firmly understands the issues at hand, and the attorney and the other parties firmly understand what is most important to the client. There's also the restrictions of the billable hour, when you're talking about tax professionals, when you're talking about attorneys, right? It's hard to have a really full and completely comprehensive relationship for the client and the attorney because of those restrictions of the billable hour.
So a few things you can do here. Be the interpreter for the client. Explain the summary that the attorney sends, explain underlying reasons for certain recommendations, help the client understand those complex things that maybe those attorneys or other tax professionals take for granted. Grantor trust, that alphabet soup of planning technique, DGTs, GRATs, help the client understand what they are actually doing and what their estate plan documents actually say.
And then, finally, you can think about it in a reverse way too, this critic role, is help the attorney understand the client's wishes, right? A lot of times, as I said earlier, the client doesn't know what is relevant all the time for the attorney's purposes, particularly when you're dealing with family business situations, complex family dynamics, blended families. And so you can be the one who helps the lawyer understand why sibling A doesn't get along with sibling B, or why the grandchildren can't all be trustees of the same trust, because chaos would ensue. So it's this critic role, I think, really goes both ways, helping the client and helping that COI understand the client's wishes a little bit better.
And then, finally, and we'll close out: The editor keeps the process on track. And if I were to pick one on this slide that is the most important, this is it: the editor. Keeping that process on track. This is where the advisor cleans up, tying up loose ends and making sure that everything is in place to make the plan effective and successful. So a lot of times we see plan documents are drafted, right? So you draft living trusts, everybody makes all those big decisions, they're sent to the clients for review and they just sit there, right? Because the clients think they've done the hard work. They don't really want to review this big draft of documents that they probably don't understand at first glance, so drafts end up sitting there for months and months. They could halt the process, drafts become outdated, reworking them adds cost, derails client goals. You can have what I call the airplane scramble, before you jump on the plane to Africa and want to get the estate plan documents done.
So this is where you can help by setting a timeline and sticking to it. Hold everybody to it, not just the client, right? But also the other experts. Ensure that the client actually executes the documents. I know that sounds so elementary and such a given, but so often I see trusts that a client gives me, "This is my completed insurance trust," and it's not even signed. So little things like that are so value-add, because attorneys oftentimes leave those loose ends cleaned up. And we also see them too after the documents are executed. The attorney typically sends that closing letter detailing that final administrative task to be completed, right? The funding of the living trust, updating beneficiary designations for retirement plans and insurance policies. This work is administrative and it's time-consuming, and clients won't do it on their own, right?
And attorneys often don't do it because they're going to have to bill for it, and clients are not going to pay hundreds of dollars an hour for administrative tasks. And so, just retitling the accounts in the name of the living trust, right? Making sure that the proper deeds are filed to change the title of the home to the living trust, updating those beneficiary designations in the correct way, those are easy things that administrative staff can do that make a really big difference.
So I feel like I say this every time we're on one of these calls, and I think it's so important because it drives the point home, none of these things are really complicated. You can do them today, in your next meeting with the client, right? So everybody gets very intimidated by tax and estate planning, but the way to really add value, particularly around the estate planning process, is just to focus on those tiny little things, those loose ends that nobody else is going to do, and there's so much value in you being the one who gets them done in the end.
Chris Gies: Leslie, thank you. That is a really creative and memorable way to think about how we, as advisors, can play the critical role in this important part of the planning process. I can even imagine advisors creating their own playbook out of this. So now I want to move to our third and final pathway, strategic scale. Before I jump over there and before I jump to Eric, just want to give you a couple of responses to the question I asked you all, and thank you for providing those responses. I think these might be representative. One from Brad Keel, "I'm using Snappy Kraken." Also, Brad goes on to say he gets exposure on LinkedIn and Facebook, but he also says, "What I don't get is engagement or real leads. I don't know if it's me or the content." The other one we got was from Michael Battey, who said, "Using LinkedIn, need to talk to compliance about what's feasible in terms of a more personalized website and branding." Again, these may hit home for you also, and hopefully it's a little helpful.
So it's clear from our study that high-growth advisors spend their time wisely and focus on the most impactful aspects of their practice — the things they can control. For example, spending less time on investment management, and are more likely to use models, and spend more time on client and business management, of which a big part is on leadership and managing their team.
Eric, I'm sure this is not a surprise to you, given what you've seen across all of the channels, including your specialty, registered investment advisors. I know you also have an RIA advisory board, and I imagine it's an area that's of particular focus and priority. From your perspective, can you share what you think are the most important aspects around team management for our audience to kind of know and take away?
Eric Grey: Thank you, Chris. Yeah, in conversations with the Capital Group RIA advisory board, dozens of other large, successful wealth management practice leaders, it's clear that having the right team empowered, equipped to win for their organization, is top of mind. It's only getting more important, and in the current environment, it's getting harder. The best candidates today want to be part of something meaningful. They want to have an impact, and they want a path forward. And the right associates, to your point, matter. The data is straightforward.
We know that engaged employees, those that show up leaning into your business, believe in the firm's mission and vision, and contribute at their highest potential. They drive much greater results. But only about a third of our associates fit that description. The good news is that you and your leadership team, and our leadership team, have a tremendous impact on our associates' engagement. Seventy percent of how our associates feel about their job, the business and even you comes from their direct manager.
So how do we think about maximizing our leadership impact and spending some moments there? I think it's important to start with the drivers of associate engagement. Here are 12 dimensions that wouldn't be bad to capture and revisit from time to time. Yes, as always, compensation and interesting work matter, but your best associates are constantly asking themselves these questions. "Do I feel appreciated? Do I have a path forward? Do I have what I need to be successful? And even do I feel socially connected at work?" And they'll stay or leave depending on how they answer those questions. These seem obvious when you read them. We ask ourselves as associates these questions ourselves, but how many of us have thought about these in context of leadership team and explicitly built them into our team practices? By keeping these things in front of us, we'll have more success leading the total associate experience and developing a winning culture and a winning team.
Along those lines, here's a framework that you might find useful. Your leadership team's importance is there on the top. Beneath it on the left are the hard elements it bears thinking about: the recruiting processes, the infrastructure needed to execute well. And complementing them on the right are the soft elements, those things we think about in terms of investing in associate growth and satisfaction, building the culture that brings out the best in our teams.
Let's start at the top, with the leadership approach, and a couple things I've seen from some of the large and successful firms. There are many leadership styles. Each one of us has one or two that they're our defaults, but it's important to realize that some leadership approaches are better suited to different functions, different times, situations or moments in our business, or even to different kinds of associates.
You may like to generate consensus as a democratic leader, but if you need to lead to a unique vision to make organizational change, that's best done through a transformational leadership style. One useful exercise I see at a large firm, was part of a large firm doing recently, was the leadership taking a look at these styles together. They asked themselves whether the leaders thought about themselves the same way the team thought about them, what were their styles, were they complementary, did they have any gaps? And it created awareness and engagement in that team and helped them think about how they led the organization generally and different functions in a more effective way. And some things that come out of this are just plain important, regardless of your leadership style.
Bain Research has shown that inspired associates are more than twice as effective and productive as even satisfied associates. Inspired associates, more than twice as productive. So, regularly taking time to make sure you're communicating your mission and vision, engaging your team in discussions about the inspirational, the aspirational aspects of what you're doing, and reflecting back on that, the impact and the success they're having in an ongoing way is a must-have for any business looking to optimize engagement and competitiveness in the future.
So, you've had a conversation about leadership, you've determined how you want to go forward. How do you get the right members on the team to begin with? That's getting harder as well. Let's first consider the hard processes and systems. The first is, have you captured a picture of your ideal associate? And I would ask that you think about both characteristics and capabilities. Characteristics are those qualities that make a great associate in your culture regardless of the role they play. Capabilities are an associate's learned skills and expertise that they bring to a role.
As example, hiring for characteristics, Capital is a long-term, innovative and collaborative culture. To succeed in a team at a firm like ours, an associate needs to be confident but humble. They need to be curious to learn and try new things. And they need to enjoy winning as a team. Those characteristics are fundamental, and no amount of technical expertise will make someone successful here if they lack them. Once you know someone has the characteristics to succeed in your culture and on your team, now you can turn your attention to whether they have the skills and experience to excel at the role you have in mind. Write those cultural characteristics down, pursue them. They're actually more important, in my opinion. It matters.
What else are some of the best teams thinking about? We're seeing a lot of innovation where they're sourcing candidates. In today's environment, many successful practices are building alliances with schools. They're expanding internship programs so they can test potential candidates. And for those that are looking to add diversity to their teams, they're looking to close blind spots, add differing perspectives. They're partnering with organizations like BLX Internship and Diversitas, to name just a couple. There are organizations like those out there that connect diverse candidates to firms looking to increase their breadth.
What about the soft side? A couple easy and brilliant ideas borrowed from some great leaders that I've encountered: When you're onboarding a new associate, consider pairing them for a day or two with a peer ally, one of your most energetic and passionate associates. We all have them. You know who those people are. They're coming to mind right now. They leave everyone with more energy and commitment to the mission. A couple of days with that person will do wonders and have a profound long-term effect on a new associate's commitment and belief in what you're trying to accomplish.
Another simple but brilliant idea, one you could put together and put into practice today: Find the right quiet moment to take an associate aside and tell them why you'd hire them all over again. Take a step back. Remind them of the qualities you saw in them that attracted them, you to them, in the first place, and celebrate those qualities as they have an impact now. You'll see them light up in that conversation. Wonderful idea.
But let's spend a minute on bringing it all together across the organization, enabling infrastructure and team culture. No faster way to associate frustration and disengagement and stifling of associates' passion than them not having what they need to be effective and efficient at their jobs. Too much effort in, too little return out, the recipe for associate disengagement. So, a couple of things that I see some of the better firms do. Does your leadership team regularly ask the team, the broad associate base that they have, what they need to excel in their roles? And then think about how they can adjust to improve that efficiency and make them better equipped to complete their tasks.
Have you established a regular process of improvement? Generally, the biggest areas of improvement are clarifying processes and installing standard operating procedures to take labor out of all the low-value, repetitive work that's part of our business. A couple of examples. Seventy-eight percent of high-growth firms use models to streamline their investment process, taking individual and human work out of the loop. Eighty-seven percent use tech tools for efficiency as a rule. Anything mechanical or repetitive should have a standard operating procedure. Any minutes spent on those activities is one we can't spend on finding new clients, building networks, or creating presence in our community. Everyone on the team can be empowered to look for ways to take work and friction out of the system.
One real simple way to do this, one of my mentors introduced me to this many years ago, was to use four simple words, four simple questions at the end of a meeting, at the end of an effort, on a quarterly basis, at whatever level makes sense. And those words are “more,” “better,” “less,” “stop.” More, better, less, stop. What has high value and we should do more? What should we do better? What do we not see value in that we should do less? What should we stop outright? And what you find through time is this will help your associates find their voice in improving what they do and how the overall organization operates. They will be more engaged, valued, and you'll see your business improve through time.
What about the soft side? You've got great associates on the team, because you hired for strong cultural characteristics. How do you keep them engaged and leaning in? Let me suggest three Cs to keep your culture alive and vibrant, just different ways to think about common approaches. The first is communication. The best articulate their mission and their vision again and again. They make it visible. They live the talk. But they have ongoing messaging plans to recommunicate that mission, vision and progress to include the impact the team is having.
Celebration as well. So, communication, celebration, compensation. Celebration as well should not be an event. It should be an always-on process. Associates take more from those things that you draw out and celebrate in an ongoing way through the year than they do from the year-end wrap-up or the new year kickoff. So make time to pull forward those aspirational contributions and celebrate those. Celebrate what you want to see.
Lastly, compensation. And this is an interesting view. One of the large firm CEOs I spoke to recently said, "When are goals limiting?" And his point was that sometimes the compensation plan doesn't support the best of what's possible in each function. It doesn't make headroom for the very best associates to exceed by going above and beyond, to have maximum impact, and reward and incent them for doing that. I thought it was a wonderful way about thinking about your compensation plan: not just clear, not just fair, but actually within the compensation plan, drive the kind of outperformance that you're looking for.
Chris, those are just a few thoughts that I've been lucky enough to take from a range of wealth managers and advisors, and I'm happy to share them.
Chris Gies: Eric, thanks. What a great way to think about your role as a leader. I love the idea of creating the total employee experience. It's such a good framework. And after all, any practice is only as strong as the people who are that practice. Thank you. I've gotten a couple of questions about the countdown clock behind me. And so, I'll tell you what it is. I'm retiring on June 30th, and that's the countdown between now and then. It's a great reminder for me that I've got a relatively limited amount of time to do a long, long to-do list to which I've committed. So, thank you for asking.
As I mentioned earlier, we're going to offer each of you the opportunity to get your own benchmark assessment and growth plan on practicelab.com. Here how it'll work. On February 1st, mark your calendars, you'll get an email with a link to Your Growth Plan. That's our name for this new service. You'll go to practicelab.com and log into the advisor site. Now remember, this is not the client accounts login, but your advisor site login. And if you don't have a login, you'll need to get one, and instructions are available on the site for how to do it. It's really easy. Even I could do it. You'll take a short 20- to 25-minute survey, and you'll get your own personalized growth plan the same day.
Let me take you through what you'll get as part of this exclusive program. Importantly, you'll get your own 20-page personalized growth plan. It'll give you a practice profile that compares you to your peers in the areas I talked about earlier: experience, client demographics, practice size, assets under management. Your Growth Plan will also provide you with a temperature check on how skilled your practice is for each of the three pathways that we've been talking about. It'll offer you ideas and techniques to optimize each one. In other words, ways to make you and your practice even better. Plus, there's a worksheet that you can use with your Capital Group American Funds wealth management consultant, retirement planning consultant, division wholesaler or internal wholesaler to identify the areas on which you'd like to focus that we can help you with.
I can't tell you how excited I am, how excited we are, to bring you the advisor benchmark service on February 1st. What you're seeing here is just a glimpse of the kind of support that you'll get to accompany your personalized growth plan. On the screen, you can see the best of PracticeLab content that supports the levers within each pathway. So when you're ready to dive into your action plan, you'll have a ton of resources to support you. Importantly, you can also talk to your Capital Group American Funds wealth management consultant, retirement planning consultant, division wholesaler or internal wholesaler about other support, like coaching and consulting, from experts like Wassan and Leslie, from whom you heard today.
Again, look for your email on February 1st to get access to your growth plan on practicelab.com, Capital's website for everything practice management. In the meantime, you can find the corresponding PracticeLab article for each of the three strategies that Wassan, Leslie and Eric shared today, digital planning for FAs, your role in estate planning, and driving team performance through employee engagement.
Let me end the way I began, by thanking you for taking time with us today. Most of all, thank you for the great work you do in providing wealth management excellence to your clients, and importantly, great leadership to your team.