Susan Danzig, Business Development Coach, on How Newly-Merged Independent FA Practices Can Bring Together Different Client Prospecting Teams
While independent wealth management deals that generate headlines involve the largest RIA aggregator and dual registrant firms, the intensity of today’s M&A marketplace extends far beyond the largest and most well-known enterprises.
Beneath the glitter of high-priced deals involving powerhouse firms, there is a white-hot M&A market right now for mid-sized independent financial advisor businesses – Defined by WSR as practices that have been established for at least a decade, with total client assets of roughly $200 million to $400 million, encompassing one to four professionals or staff members.
On the surface, the rationale for dealmaking in this segment seems remarkably straightforward. Many owners of such businesses are in the Baby Boomer segment, rapidly approaching retirement age, and seeking opportunities to monetize their practice upon their exit.
At the same time, capital for acquisitions is easier to obtain than ever for independent financial advisors who want to expand – And the cost of capital remains cheap, with interest rates at all-time lows.
And of course, there is escalating interest among financial advisors in this segment in driving increased scale via “mergers of equals” with like-minded peers who can round out each other’s businesses.
But executing on an acquisition or merger and successfully integrating the two businesses are very separate and distinct challenges. One of the foremost areas where this can get complicated is when it comes to client prospecting teams.
Sure, most people would agree that experienced client prospecting staff members who deliver tangible results are essential. But bringing together professionals who are frequently accustomed to a very particular way of doing things in terms of culture, personalities and relationship management can create significant complexities.
That’s where seasoned professional business development coaches to the independent wealth management space like Susan Danzig add value.
Danzig – a Certified Business Development Coach and Board Member of the National Financial Planning Association – has run her own consulting practice since 1997, working with financial advisor teams as well as individual financial advisors.
Having consulted with over 1,000 financial professionals by now, Danzig’s work involves helping FA businesses develop and align the right tools and strategies to develop their brand, attract ideal clients and grow their assets under management.
Danzig notes that the recent M&A boom has created multiple questions among independent FA businesses on how to seamlessly bring together different business development teams.
WSR recently caught up with Danzig to get her thoughts on best practices for how to approach these kinds of situations.
WSR: Given the accelerating pace of M&A between mid-sized independent financial advisor businesses, what are the top three actions you recommend newly merged firms in this segment undertake to integrate business development and prospective client pitching functions?
Here are the top three “must have” actions that I recommend for firms in these circumstances:
First, a newly merged firm should have a strategic plan that maps out the integration of the merged firm. That strategic plan should project long-term and short-term business development goals and the pathways or marketing channels to reach them.
Second, a newly merged firm needs to create a new firm brand that truly represents the new firm identity. This can’t just be a hyphenated “mash up” of the two firms’ names, unless a serious thought process results in this option as being the best path forward.
Instead, the merged brand should speak directly to the new firm’s ideal client profile, target market, area of specialization and uniquely branded system.
All of these pieces provide clarity for advisors and support team members about what menu of services the new firm provides, how those services are provided and the overall value that clients experience as a result of being supported by your company process.
And third, once you have created your new firm brand, it’s crucial to wrap a clear and compelling sales and communication strategy around that brand. The merged firm will want to teach advisors, other business development professionals and client services professionals how to effectively communicate the vision and values of your brand. Ideally, all team members will be singing the same tune as to why your firm is the best solution for your ideal clients.
This strategy will set the team up to win with business development opportunities including the significant task of maintaining loyal existing clients, generating client referrals, converting prospects to clients, and enhancing relationships with professional referral sources.
WSR: When mid-sized independent financial advisor businesses merge, what are the three biggest challenges or hurdles that the respective teams face with integrating their client prospecting activities?
The first challenge is to create a new shared firm identity that resonates with the entire expanded team. This requires consistent support and training.
The second challenge is the get the newly integrated firm to develop its own newly branded system.
Finally, the whole team needs to align on a new consistent message and implementation system.
It’s essential for all client and external-facing members of the team to be totally aligned on how the merged firm describes itself, and what the shared value proposition is.
You can get out there and have as many business development conversations as you like, but absent the foundation of a very strong and consistent brand message that the whole team buys into, these conversations could wind up being very ineffective, to say the least.
Before two mid-sized independent financial advisor businesses merge, it is important to ask: What are the best ways for the firms’ respective principals to think through future branding for the combined business, and how that branding cascades into ongoing client prospecting and business development efforts?
Strategic planning is required to address the best ways for the firms’ respective principals to think through future branding for the combined business, and how that branding cascades into ongoing client prospecting and business development efforts.
To begin the process, the new firm needs to ask itself “what does the aligned vision for the firm look like?” From there, the expanded firm’s leaders should ask themselves:
- When everything is in place exactly how they want it, what will that look like and what will it produce?
- What are the growth goals for the firm?
- Who are the ideal clients the firm will attract and serve to meet those goals?
- What are the demographics and psychographics to take into account of those ideal clients?
- What are the financials of those clients?
- How many clients will the firm serve?
- What is level of investable assets ideal clients will have, and the firm will manage?
- What are the goals, needs and challenges of those ideal clients?
- And how will your combined area(s) of expertise that your combined team brings set your firm up as the perfect solution to meet your ideal clients’ needs?
The answers to these questions will directly support the development of the new brand. From there, the branding cascades into ongoing client prospecting and business development efforts with a clear and consistent message that will support your team of advisors in confidently attracting new clients to the firm.
The new firm may find it helpful to work with a business development consultant who specializes in brand refinement, communication strategies and sales training to make sure that the new firm lands on the brand that best attracts its ideal clients. Part of such an effort should also involve working with the expanded firm’s team to enhance their success rate with onboarding new clients and keeping the existing ones happy.
These issues are not a traditional part of financial planning, and it is usually helpful to bring in an outside expert who knows precisely how to approach brand and system development.
WSR: When bringing together two separate and distinct independent financial advisor businesses, does setting up a mentoring program that helps pair senior leaders from one team with junior members of another team help to accelerate integration, especially integration of client prospecting / business development personnel? If so, what are the pitfalls and mistakes to avoid in setting up such a mentoring system?
When bringing together two separate and distinct independent financial advisor businesses, setting up a mentoring program that pairs senior leaders from one team with junior members of another team can greatly accelerate the business development education process, implementation and ultimately results.
The guidance and accountability that is built into these relationships can set the foundation to nurture and motivate advisors to take new steps outside of their comfort zone to effectively build relationships and attract new business.
Another benefit to mentorship programs is the comradery that is experienced also enhances the new larger team cohesiveness.
A lack of accountability can be one of the main pitfalls to avoid when introducing a mentorship program. It is important to have buy-in from all participants, including leadership, about the program objectives including a consistent process of mentorship meetings/trainings, action items to be implemented and ongoing mentorship conversations to enhance the learning and results.
As a side note, as a part of this process, it is critical to have a well-designed educational framework to support the comprehensive nature of business development and sales training. With all of these pieces in place, the team will build on existing skillsets and produce greater results in the field.
Michael Madden, Contributing Editor & Research Analyst, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org