Incorporating cashflow modelling into the heart of the financial planning process is an approach that all good firms have adopted. However, many of them have over-complicated this process by doing too much preparation before getting together with a client for the annual planning meeting. In a mature firm, the annual planning meeting forms the bulk of the work being undertaken week-to-week and month-to-month by the business, so an over-complicated process is a hugely expensive business mistake.
For a lot of firms that seem perpetually stuck at £400,000 – £700,000 of turnover, this is the key blockage to work on.
So what approach should you be taking to improve the productivity of your business in this key area?
Don’t do too much preparation pre-meeting
Many firms who use cashflow modelling seem obsessed with getting new personal expenditure data each year from their clients. What a faff! I’ll be brutally honest, if you asked me for this new information every year I’d leave you. My expenditure patterns haven’t changed much in the last five years, so why are you asking for this stuff?
Of course there are some regular tasks that need attending to each year for clients, but I recommend doing them after the annual planning meeting, not before.
Let’s say you prepare all the paperwork for the regular stuff like an ISA, but this year the client arrives and informs you they’ve got new plans or lost their job or got divorced. I know it doesn’t happen often, but it’s amazing how these little things can pop up and derail the preparation work you and your team have done. You then find yourself having to re-work what you’ve prepared, which is an absolute no-no in process terms.
The key to great productivity is do it once and do it right, first time. ‘Measure twice and cut once’ as the old saying goes.
Remember, there are two aims for your annual meeting:
To show the client that everything will be alright;
To remind the client what you’ve done for them lately (in cash wherever possible).
You don’t need much preparation to achieve these aims. For most clients, writing to them beforehand to ascertain every little thing that’s changed for them is totally unnecessary.
The cashflow model can be prepared by updating with the information you already know and all other tweaks can be made at the meeting itself.
The Chamberlyns Example
Here’s a real life example of how Chamberlyns Financial Planning (a firm I work closely with) simplified their annual planning meetings.
Chamberlyns are very good financial planners and the whole team are committed to doing the best possible job for their clients. There were two key steps they took:
The first step (and biggest mental hurdle for the Chamberlyns team) was to cut a whole load of stuff out of their annual planning meetings.
The mental hurdle was recognising that doing less didn’t mean doing a lesser quality job. When they revisited the two key reasons for holding the review meeting (‘show me everything’s alright’ and ‘remind me what you’ve done for me lately’) it was easier to strip the process back. However, don’t kid yourself; it is still a major mental hurdle for a lot of detail-minded financial planners to jump over and you should get some external help if you need to.
Having significantly trimmed the process, Chamberlyns then categorised their clients’ annual planning meeting requirements as follows:a. Simple b. Simple + Some Issues c. ComplicatedThis allowed them to adopt two approaches: one for categories a and b (‘Simple’ and ‘Simple + Some Issues’) and another for category c (‘Complicated’).Their approach for the ‘Simple’ and ‘Simple + Some Issues’ clients is to turn up for the meeting having done almost no preparation. Any changes to the cashflow or other issues are modified when the client is there for the meeting, because (generally) they’re pretty simple to adjust right then and there.With the ‘Complicated’ clients, it isn’t so easy to do updates live in front of them and it would slow the pace of the meeting. So for these clients, they do quite a bit of preparation and chase up the latest information to ensure the meeting runs smoothly. Generally, the complicated clients are larger clients paying a larger fee, therefore doing work pre and post meeting makes sense and is still profitable.
What are the benefits?
By streamlining their approach to annual client meetings, the team at Chamberlyns have experienced three key benefits:
Firstly, the ‘Simple’ and ‘Simple + Some Issues’ clients are expressing satisfaction at not having to go through the rigmarole of providing updates prior to the meeting. This was stressful for the clients and the Chamberlyns team because they were constantly having to chase and harass people to obtain the required information.
Secondly, many of the tasks for the ‘Simple’ and ‘Simple + Some Issues’ clients have now been moved to the administration support person within the firm. That’s reduced the paraplanner’s workload.
Thirdly, the expensive resources within the firm (the paraplanner and advisers) are working on the biggest fee earning clients. That’s how it should be!
Removing this blockage by reducing and re-organising the workload has been a significant breakthrough for Chamberlyns, providing an immediate impact on productivity and profitability.
If over-complicating your client processes is an issue in your firm, it’s vital to take steps to resolve it if you want to grow and improve profitability.
Remember the two steps: ‘Cut’ (simplify the process) and ‘Sort’ (look at the needs of your clients).
As Jim Stackpool said in a recent guest blog, “only your best clients deserve your best and that’s about 20% of your clients”.
This two-step process is a practical way to put that advice into action.
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