We have been experiencing a crisis of epic proportions. Financial institutions have gone bankrupt, others have been forced to merge and change identity, and the retail financial advisor has been left to deal with affluent clients who lost significant amounts of their personal wealth as well as their trust in the financial services industry.

To paraphrase an excerpt from the Harvard Business Review, reflect on your professional world. In times of crisis, people change how they think and behave, and a new set of societal norms evolves. It is to that end that The Oechsli Institute and Dr. John Eatman decided to investigate how the affluent client/financial advisor relationship has changed, if at all. There were a number of questions we wanted to answer.

What are affluent investors looking for in a financial advisor? What are the best advisors doing to successfully attract, serve, and retain their affluent clients?

Based on institute research culled from online surveys, a number of trends emerged. Few financial advisors are meeting the needs of today's affluent investor. Affluent investor distrust and skepticism towards the financial services industry are at unparalleled levels; 85 percent of investors have enough dissatisfaction with their current financial advisor relationship to consider making a change. The affluent investor wants a primary financial advisor to oversee his family's financial affairs, but the investor does not know where to find this primary financial advisor.

Advisors themselves are in desperate need of sales training for the affluent market; only 1.3 percent are successfully acquiring new clients in that wealth space. One problem: Today's affluent investor does not like sales people. Sales skills must be refined.

Marketing efforts, both by institutions and individual advisors, directed at today's affluent investor must become “relationship” based — they need to change.

Through our research, we've been able to develop a clear profile of what we call the New World Advisor, a term that exemplifies the qualities of today's elite financial advisors. This new set of norms is now a requirement for any financial advisor who wants to succeed in this ever-changing world of the affluent.

Let's start with a quick overview of the seven factors that make up this New World Advisor.

Leadership

Top advisors are leaders. Like all strong leaders, they have superb communication skills that go hand in hand with masterful sales skills. Today's best advisors are masters at inspiring and directing fellow team members, clients, prospects, referral alliance partners, and anyone else with whom they come into contact. They are masterful sales people with skills so refined that although they are omnipresent, they are virtually seamless. In some capacity, their leadership is always present, and one could make an argument that they are always selling.

Our findings regarding today's affluent tell us they want a financial advisor who is not dependent upon Wall Street. They are looking for someone who can gather, assimilate, and provide them with sound unbiased advice and direction. There are aspects of each of the other components found in leadership, as it is the foundation of every elite financial team. Which is why we consider it to be the core of our New World Advisor model.

Practice Management

Practice Management is the glue that holds a practice together. Without the proper policies and procedures in place, the right people in the right roles with the right responsibilities, and an atmosphere of continual improvement, clients, team members and strategic partners all suffer — and none stays around to suffer very long.

In order to meet the needs of today's highly skeptical and overly skittish affluent investor, advisors must operate their practices on the level of a Ritz Carlton hotel. New World Advisors recognize the importance of practice management, invest the time and resources in it, and embrace the concept of Kaizen — the Japanese concept of ongoing improvement.

This is the unglamorous arena of operations, administration and support. It is where written procedures, clarity of roles, and team oversight are at work.

Elite teams recognize the importance practice management plays in every aspect of working with today's affluent investor. Financial advisors who do not take practice management seriously struggle; items fall through the cracks, priorities become muddled, and things will not get done in an efficient manner.

Wealth Management

Today's affluent investor wants a solutions provider for the multi-dimensional aspects of their family's financial affairs, which is a long-winded way of saying that they want comprehensive wealth management. Therefore, by continually evolving and expanding the wealth management solutions they offer, New World Advisors are able to deliver the goods in a variety of financial areas where their affluent clients want assistance.

Former Harvard Business Review editor and marketing guru Theodore Levitt put it best when he said, “The client is never really aware of the value they are receiving until they perceive they did not get what they were promised — until they are dissatisfied.” Therefore, “In the intangibles world it is important that you consistently demonstrate, communicate, and quantify your value to each client — to make absolutely sure they are satisfied.”

Accompanying new “societal norms” are new expectations of wealth management services. Gone are the days of lofty promises. Now the focus is on the timely and professional delivery of services promised. Regardless of whether a particular wealth management solution is time-consuming or profitable, New World Advisors deliver. The affluent want a solutions provider to oversee the multi-dimensional aspects of their family's financial affairs.

Business Development (Affluent Client Acquisition)

New World Advisors excel in affluent client acquisition. They understand the affluent, have loyal affluent clients, and have mastered the art of selling their services to the affluent. They are very adept at penetrating their affluent clients' centers of influence. However, our research indicates that the average financial advisor isn't marketing at all, and those who are marketing are either engaging in the wrong activities or lack the skills to execute the right activities the right way.

The average financial advisor has numerous issues. First and foremost, if they are not functioning as a New World Advisor in the eyes of their affluent clients, they will not be able to penetrate these affluent centers of influence. They will also find themselves challenged in establishing quality referral alliances with CPAs, attorneys, and other professionals. The rest of their issues are likely to revolve around their sales and marketing activity. As our research indicates, many are doing nothing, while other advisors and teams might be actively marketing but don't know what to do, so they are doing the wrong activities. Even when some financial advisors do the right activities, if their sales skills are rusty and they execute these activities the wrong way, they run the risk of coming across like sales people.

Loyal Clients

Recent events have put a serious stress test on client loyalty. The average financial advisor has lost clients he never thought he would lose. Yet the major reason he lost these good clients was poor service, not investment performance. This is a major ‘aha’ for many financial advisors. Performance is important but only one of many criteria today's affluent investor considers important.

Life-Long Learner

Guiding and advising affluent families through this financial crisis requires a depth and breadth of knowledge. Elite advisors are true knowledge workers. They are open-minded, understand the nature of this crisis, and develop recovery strategies for their clients. In today's world of information overload, these advisors understand that they must go much further. New World Advisors transform information into useful knowledge and then, when appropriate, communicate this knowledge to clients, prospects and team members. This requires old-fashioned hard work. Life-long learning is not for the lazy or the closed minded.

New Balance

New World Advisors understand the importance of maintaining balance in their lives. They pay close attention to their health; both mental and physical. They do not harbor unnecessary stress and although they are in no way pleased about the current financial crisis, they are not accepting the blame or harboring guilt over the decline in their clients' portfolios. They are proactive, spending quality time with their clients, implementing recovery strategies, and have remained extremely active in every aspect of their lives. The old adage, “If you really want to get something done, give it to a busy person,” holds true for these elite advisors. They make time to exercise, eat properly and spend time with their families. As a result, they are more calm and confident under pressure, their mind is clear, and they exude positive energy.


Matt Oechsli, a long-time columnist for Registered Rep., is the president of The Oechsli Institute. This article was adapted from the New World Advisor research report published by the Oechsli Institute.