The challenge seems as old as time itself: How do you manage your time to be more effective? And in the modern world that's continuously connected through smart phones, email and social media, how can an advisor balance the need to be instantly accessible to both clients and new business opportunities without becoming lost in the black hole of today's office white noise.
The solution may lie in a three-step approach that has as much to do with business planning as it does time management. Those steps include segmenting your client base, defining your service standards for each segment, and then setting the appropriate client expectations.
Segment Your Book
According to Barry Papa, a regional director with Raymond James' Financial Institution Division, the first step is to segment your book. "Not every client is an A or B client," says Papa. "It's not unusual for a typical bank advisor to have 1,000 clients or more. Many of these have only a tertiary relationship but take up the same amount of time as your best clients." Papa says that you should limit the amount of time spent with less profitable customers so you can focus on serving and acquiring the more profitable clients. "There's definitely an opportunity lost by not focusing on the A and B clients," he says.
While many advisors utilize a typical A-B-C rating system, Lloyd Worth, an independent advisor with LPL Financial in Brighton, Colo. utilizes an alphanumeric system that indicates both the present value of the relationship and the future potential. "The numeric portion of the rating indicates their current assets under management, while the alpha portion represents their potential," he says. "That way when I see that an 'A3' client has called or emailed I know right away that while they may not have a lot with me now, there's good potential there."
Papa suggests that the evaluation and segmentation of an advisor's book of business is critical to freeing up more time and capacity to pursue more profitable clients. "We've helped some of our advisors take very conscious action to eliminate some of their smaller accounts," says Papa. "In reviewing some of those, we determined that it was neither in the customer's or the advisor's best interest to keep that relationship with the investment program, so we've helped the customer move that relationship back to the bank."
The results of this trimming of the client base have been impressive. Papa cites one advisor who reduced his client roster by 12%, and in the process saw his assets under management increase by 13%, average account size increase by 24% and GDC increase by 48%.
Define Service Standards
After you've identified who your best clients are, you can begin establishing service standards for each segment. Many advisors would like to provide the same level of service to all clients, but realistically that becomes a problem when servicing so many accounts. To provide the same level of service to all often means your best clients may not get enough attention and become ripe targets for other advisors.
Again, defining the levels of service you offer to your different client segments has as much to do with your business plan as time management. Defining how often you will meet with each client segment, what kinds of information or services you will provide and how often you will proactively contact them can all vary among segments.
In terms of access, Papa says, "It can be as simple as giving your A clients your cell phone number, your B clients your direct office line, and your C clients your assistant's 800 number."
The same holds true for email, says Rosanne Roberts, a time management consultant and Principal of R.M. Roberts & Associates in Santa Fe, N.M. "Email is like any other kind of interruption—it causes you to lose momentum and focus. Therefore you need to put structure around it and create a routine as to when you look at it."
Roberts suggests scheduling "planning pauses" throughout the day to check email, voice mail or any other unplanned activities that require your attention. "You don't want to take care of each thing as it comes in, it will take you too far off course," says Roberts. "When you see something actionable, you need to set up a system to flag that item to come back to it at a set time," says Roberts. The immediacy of when you come back to that item will be determined by the service level of the client segment the request came from.
And the idea of segmenting applies here too. "You need to set both a base service level commitment and enhanced service level," says Papa. "But in either case it needs to be reasonable—usually by the end of the day or no later than within 24 hours."
Set Suitable Expectations
The final step to managing your time is to set appropriate expectations among your various client segments. Among top clients, the expectation of immediate access might be very appropriate. "For some advisors, 24/7 access is their brand. It's their differentiator," says Papa. "They want their top clients to know that they can call them anytime, anywhere, and they'll be happy to take their call."
But Roberts warns that unlimited access can be too much of a good thing, especially at the critical client acquisition juncture. "What kind of precedent does it create when you set the expectation that you will drop everything for that prospect the moment they call? What kind of client relationship are you setting expectations for? You're creating a client who will demand you be on call 24 hours a day. You're creating a monster."
Both Roberts and Papa agree that time blocking—setting aside distinct hours in which you will return client calls and emails—is helpful. "Time blocking allows you to be proactive with your daily activity," says Roberts. "Without it you end up reacting to outside influences all day and never get around to doing what you really want to get done."
Papa adds that the most efficient advisors he works with tend to plan activities for roughly 80% of their day, leaving 20% blocked off as "reaction time" to deal with the inevitable demands that arise. "Setting the appropriate expectations is all about making a personal lifestyle choice," says Roberts. "Do you want to be tied to your phone and email all day, or do you want to accomplish what you really set out to do?"
Keith J. Weber is a founder of Weber Consulting Group, a financial advisor training, coaching and practice management consulting firm.