Gain an edge: Boost firm productivity in 3 key areas

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Keeping up with job demands is challenging for many advisors. But success is possible. Learn how to make time for firm growth—possibly 50 more client meetings a year—by becoming more efficient.

Everyone's looking for ways to get more done, faster. But independent advisors wear more hats than most. For advisors like you, making the minutes count can mean the difference between driving business forward or scrambling to keep up.

Doing More with Less: A Report on Time Management and Adviser Productivity
This study, conducted by the FPA Research & Practice Institute, was based on input gathered February 11–26, 2014, from more than 750 advisors across the country.

Read the study

Advisors are always in work mode. A Schwab study shows that 86% of advisors work while on vacation, and more than half feel that the job follows them wherever they go.1 But are they working smarter?

To find out, we dug into the results from a Financial Planning Association (FPA) study on time management that surveyed more than 750 advisors nationwide. The FPA discovered that the lack of hours in the day to get everything done has more than half of advisors feeling like they are not in control of their time.2 

But some firms have figured out how to make their hours work harder—a lot harder.

The FPA study found that advisors who felt in control of their time held 50 more client meetings a year. It turns out that advisors who handle time efficiently have the potential to improve their firm's bottom line and allocate more energy to life's other pursuits.

In a world that advisors have described as full of administrative tasks, overflowing checklists, procrastination, and scheduling snafus, how are these super-firms taking control and cracking the productivity code?

Julie Littlechild, founder and CEO of Absolute Engagement, analyzed the FPA study findings and identified three types of productivity that could have the most positive impact on advisors' ability to get more out of their time: strategic, structural, and personal.

1. Strategic productivity: Is your firm's strategy clear and focused? 

Sometimes you need to take time to make time. Strategic productivity is all about pinpointing a clear path to where your firm is heading. The best strategic plans incorporate measurable business goals, such as revenue or assets under management, as well as specific client-retention goals. Then, they clearly outline the ideal client experience and the roles and responsibilities for the entire team.

According to Schwab's 2017 RIA Benchmarking Study, 47% of firms with $250 million or more in assets have a written strategic plan that reflects a five-year time horizon.3 Stepping back to plan and think strategically about your business can pay off in the long run—and quality matters. While many advisors may document a formal business plan, the FPA study showed they gave their plan effectiveness only average ratings.4

The real secret to maintaining a quality strategy is planning more than once a year. Successful firms refine their strategies weekly, or even daily. And then they let the strategy guide their operations. Ask yourself: Does each task that your firm prioritizes ladder up to your strategy? Then strive to make sure it does. That way, you’ll know you’re focused on the most important things.

Tips from survey respondents:

  • Share firm goals (both long- and short-term) with your team, and tell them to hold you accountable.
  • Allocate a block of time on Monday mornings to think about your business and help set the direction for the week.
  • Slay the dragon early—start your day strong by tackling your most important item first thing in the morning.

Try this:

One advisor in Schwab's Firm of the Future Study offered this advice: Involve your whole firm in strategic planning. Ask employees, "What are our strengths?" and "What are our weaknesses?" And then really listen to the answers. By giving employees that platform, you ensure everyone can buy into a shared vision—and help create a culture of trust, partnership, and motivation at every level.5 When the whole team is on board, you can trust that every decision they make will be checked against your strategy.

2. Structural productivity: Does your process make every minute matter?

Structural productivity is about having the right processes and tools, the right team, and the right structure in place to support operational efficiency. Tracking productivity metrics like revenue, AUM and clients-per-professional is a great way to evaluate how efficiently your firm is using its resources. It also helps you set firm-wide goals.

Adjusting operations is one way that advisors are adapting to financial industry changes. They're starting to look at operations more strategically. And Schwab's Independent Advisor Outlook Study shows that advisors will increasingly leverage the technology, tools, and intellectual capital that have emerged to support them.6 In fact, 76% of advisors think advances in technology will help keep their firms ahead of the curve.7 And it's true—automation can help you remove back-office tasks from your plate so that you can spend more time on your clients. The first step is to take a look at your technologies and workflows.

 Defining and standardizing processes is the best way to become more efficient.

Next, look into the structure of your team and the roles they play. Firms tend to hire administrative employees first. But management hires, like marketing and compliance leads, are also on the rise.8 Delegating these responsibilities to specific individuals and roles can help eliminate the burden of handling everything yourself—allowing you the freedom to focus on growth.

Delegation does make a difference. The challenge is figuring out which tasks are the right ones to hand off. In her analysis, Littlechild identified five areas of responsibility for advisors:

1. Meet clients and prospects, manage business. 
2. Organic growth, client outreach, initial planning. 
3. Research and plan updates and execution. 
4. Workflow management, communications plan. 
5. Business processing, new accounts, frontline triage, and administration.

The first two areas are important for advisors to own. But think about handing off the rest to other people within your firm. Number two can even be handled by a more junior advisor. Freeing up your time can be a matter of trusting your team to support you.

Tips from survey respondents:

  • Use an online CRM system to color-code your activities and help you group them into time blocks of similar tasks.
  • License an assistant to take paperwork off your shoulders.
  • Assign a specific staff member to attend all client meetings to take notes and be responsible for follow-up.

Try this:

Take time to scrutinize how your firm manages processes. More than half of FPA survey respondents said that defining and standardizing processes is the best way to become more efficient.6

Schwab Business Consulting recommends choosing a time-consuming, error-prone, or success-critical process and empowering a team or individuals to examine and change it: 

1. Diagram the current steps, important decision points, and output. 
2. Gather information such as who is doing what and whether clients are happy. 
3. Analyze what really happens versus what should happen. 
4. Brainstorm solutions to eliminate problems and streamline the process. 
5. Implement change, assign responsibilities, and document procedures.9

3. Personal productivity: Are you using your own time wisely?

Personal habits play a big role in workplace efficiency. Team members who prioritize their work to align with activities that support their firm's strategy will drive greater firm productivity.

Schedules can make all the difference. The FPA study found that respondents who felt in control of their time were more likely to have a set schedule. Things weren't rigid, but priority activities were always locked down. Setting aside time for responding to emails and phone calls can be especially helpful. Think about how many minutes you could save by checking your devices twice a day rather than in five-minute intervals.

Accommodating client meetings can also sap your time. On average, client meetings last one hour and prospect meetings are 75 minutes. To manage this, some advisors rely on time blocking, a scheduling tactic that allows you to dedicate pockets of your day to certain tasks—and mark it on your calendar. Your schedule shows it. Your team knows it. And all related meetings are placed within that window. Many advisors find that time blocking leads to greater productivity.

But how can you know if you’re gaining ground? Tracking your time can help you assess whether the week you had aligned with the one you wanted to have. There are tools to help you do this (check to see if your CRM includes this functionality), or you can do it informally on a white board and adjust for the coming week.

Tips from survey respondents:

  • Set a "buffer day" each week (e.g., Monday or Friday) that is always free of client meetings.
  • Schedule your most important or difficult tasks for when your energy levels are highest.
  • Block time on your calendar just for responding to emails, rather than replying to each email as it comes in.

Try this:

Make the most of your internal meetings by following Schwab's Meeting TIPs checklist and utilizing these scheduling best practices:

1. Block time for specific routine activities by using Outlook (or your preferred work calendar). 
2. Schedule intervals between meetings to provide transition time from one meeting to the next (e.g., try 50-minute meetings instead of defaulting to one hour). 
3. Allow time for interruptions. Consider implementing "office hours" as planned time to be pulled away from what you’re doing.

Ultimately, change begins with you. Adopting one efficient habit each day is a manageable way to lead your entire firm toward making every minute go a little further. And in the end, those minutes can make all the difference for your firm’s strategic growth.

We hope these ideas inspire you and help you build a disciplined approach to productivity. Your Schwab Relationship Manager can help you capitalize on these tips and create a customized plan for meeting your goals, including an annual peer group report to see how your firm is performing compared with like-sized firms.  

If you're thinking about becoming an independent advisor, consider a custodian that invests in your success. Contact us to learn more about the benefits of a custodial relationship with Schwab.