PANC 2010: Team Building

If “one is the loneliest number,” why would anyone choose to work alone? 

Panelists who partook in the “Team Building” discussion at the PLANADVISER National Conference in Orlando last month suggest that your business–and lifestyle–could improve by working with a team.

The three panelists shared several persuasive arguments with the audience of financial advisers, as to why growing a retirement plan practice into a team effort, rather than running it yourself or even with one partner, can be beneficial.

Making the pitch 

Michael Brown, a retirement plan consultant and partner with Clearpoint Financial, an NRP member firm, said that when it comes to making a pitch to a prospective client, the team aspect makes a huge difference. He said it’s a big confidence booster when you know you have something that others don’t.   

“If we’re up against an individual or partnership, it really has a different pitch,” said Brown. “Clients understand the importance of a team and are able to perceive the support of a team.”    

Personalities play a vital role when it comes to closing deals, said Vincent Morris, vice president at Bukaty Companies, an NRP member firm.People respond differently to different types of personalities–some clients might prefer the “funny guy” to the “serious guy,” and if you go into the meeting with both, you’ll better your chances of building a healthy rapport.   

And then there is the matter of expertise, which Tony Duggan, a wealth management adviser at Merrill Lynch brought up.“If you try to be all things to all clients, it just doesn’t work,” he said. For instance, if you say you’re an expert in the retirement plan space, you can’t throw in the fact that you’re also an expert in the wealth management field. But if you have each person on a team have a field of expertise, that knowledge is much more credible.   

Making the team 

Many advisers start a practice on their own, said the panelists.  And if they start to succeed, they may realize they have too many clients to handle without any assistance. So how should one go about finding a partner and eventually, a team?   

One of the biggest traps advisers can get caught up in is dealing with egos and individual career paths–which everyone has.  Brown pointed out that many partnerships come together, but “both partners only think about what they want to get out of that partnership; what can you do for me? That just doesn’t work,” he said. The partnership or individual leader of a team must be able to “chart a course,” he added, which is difficult.  “But once you do, things become much easier to manage…then you can spend more time selling and interacting [with clients] and less time dealing with people problems.” 

Part of that course should be setting clear roles and levels for team members, suggested Duggan.  His team introduces new employees as interns.  The interns are evaluated for a year or two, in order to determine who has the right work ethic, he said.  The next step would be as a sales assistant, where they continue to learn the ropes, followed by being an education specialist, then into relationship management, and eventually “they go out and sell plans.”Clear roles are essential to a successful team.   

And reaping all the benefits… 

If the advisers weren’t convinced at this point as to why working in a team is a good ide  then what Michael Brown said about his lifestyle would certainly persuade any holdouts.    

Brown spends every January (and sometimes February too), in Hawaii.  His practice is based in Seattle and he explained how he hates the never-ending dreariness of Pacific Northwest winters. So, knowing that his teammates will be able to handle any matters that require an in-person visit, he’s able to work from sunny Hawaii.  And when an account director on his team had a brother with cancer in Florida, Brown had enough trust in his teammate that she would be able to work from there.“It’s a different camaraderie than a big company which tells you how many days you can take off every year,” he concluded.

Morris also brought up the “institutional” factor – no matter what happens to the founder, the practice will live on.   He also mentioned that having a team structure and being able to hire more people allows your practice to grow more smoothly.  And lastly, he mentioned what so many advisers (and business professionals in general for that matter) deal with–burn out.  Having a team you can trust if you need a mental-health day is invaluable, he said.    

The panelists described how it’s the most efficient way to work–allowing each teammate to focus on the part of the business where they naturally excel.  Whether its client relationships or logistical prowess, a strong team typically has a strong bottom line.