by Tony Vidler
In a time where so many professionals struggle to identify and articulate their value to consumers I have to wonder why aren’t more professional financial advisers using their designations and qualifications better?
Does it mean anything to potential clients?
Often it doesn’t. And the reason it doesn’t is because advisers downplay their professional qualifications and designations, and more often than not fail to educate the market on what the mark means for consumers.
Take for instance those with the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation – which is just one example. The recipient voluntarily subscribes to higher standards of client care and transparency than other advisers have to. They have academic learning supporting their expertise, and that learning is in a broad range of personal advice and planning areas. In other words their foundational professional knowledge base has been systematically built – and then tested. There is then the small matter of “the case study” – which many fail first time around. It is a significant body of work for the adviser which is designed to test their ability to apply academic learning into realistic client planning scenario’s. Moving beyond that learning regime their work is then peer-reviewed and mentored for a significant period of time.
The same can be said of a number of other professional designations and qualifications too of course, and comments that follow apply to those as well. This is not an article which is suggesting superiority of one particular designation over others.
If a professional adviser has gone through this 5 or so year period of professional qualification and now has demonstrable competency and standards which are significantly different to the other “financial adviser” who was possibly delivering pizza for a living only 3 months ago, why would they not highlight that difference? Particularly if those different standards and additional layers of expertise result in better advice for potential clients.
You have an obligation to highlight the differences and help potential clients understand how it may affect their future, surely?
Let’s look at a real example of an adviser I know.
A CFP practitioner of many years standing specialises in risk management. He tells the market he is an “insurance broker”. He constantly deals with customers who want “the best deal”. He goes through the same basic “get the engagement” that ordinary insurance brokers go through, which is convince the client that you understand their situation and needs better than the next broker and are able to source the right solution for them.
Virtually all of his competition seem to try and convince potential clients that the best deal is the cheapest deal when it comes to their insurance.
He knows that cheap is not always good, and nor is it always right. He spends a significant amount of time trying to educate potential clients (at his own expense) on these points. Sometimes they listen to him, and sometimes they don’t.
What is his value proposition to clients? What is his unique positioning? Do clients know?
Does the adviser know?
The designation itself means nothing to potential clients usually. One acronym is as good as any other acronym, right?
Professional advisers need to incorporate the benefits of that learning and the processes and thinking that accompany it into the value which they express to clients if the designation is to have relevance.
I’ll continue the example from above to illustrate the point:
The CFP who chooses to specialise in risk management work brings an entirely different knowledge set to the table for the benefit of the prospect. It is a strategic approach to determining where the optimal balance of risk transferance fits into overall financial wellbeing. In plain english, the objective on the part of the adviser is to find the right balance of cost, benefits and value which enhance the overall financial position of the clients in the near and long term.
To do that properly there is a more extensive data gathering and needs analysis process, and significantly greater research and consideration phase prior to making recommendations. This includes consideration (and recommendation) about policy and premium structure in terms of pricing, legal structure or ownership and its fit with the long term estate planning.
Price is no longer the primary consideration. Suitability for the client is the focus.
This is a distinct point of difference from the typical “broking” approach, and one which the adviser needs to articulate prior to engaging the client.
Bearing in mind the need to convey the value proposition easily for prospective clients, and with minimal jargon, we might express our positioning and point of difference as follows:
As a Certified Financial Planner specialising in insurance the focus is upon making sure we find the right solution that fits in with everything else in your financial plans. We don’t just look for the cheapest price and pretend that nothing else matters. Getting an insurance policy is easy enough for anyone, but I make sure that the type of cover is one that will actually work, that it is set up with the right legal structure to protect your interests, and that its premium structure presents the best long term value for you. It has to be something which makes sense financially for you, but it also has to create certainty and value. When it comes to getting insurance we look beyond price, and make sure it is something that is good value overall, and will work.
This particular set of words may or may not resonate with readers, but that is not really the point. What professionals need to do is find the way to express what their qualifications and learning, together with their area of expertise and business model, mean for potential clients. What is the difference you bring to the process?
What is the value that your commitment to professionalism is creating for clients?
Explain that point in your own words and the acronyms begin to mean something to the market, and will help you gain more business.