Running a financial services firm can at times be a little bit like stealing from the rich (areas) in order to give to the poor (areas).

    We know that traditionally there are areas which will continue to get the lion’s share of an owner’s time, effort, love, resources and – of course – money. But sadly, this allocation is often way out of sync.

    The obvious areas such as big salaries for planners, advisers and paraplanners are high up the list – followed closely by the front-office environment (client meeting rooms in particular). Marketing literature and information sheets, courses, exams and qualifications see a big chunk of the money and resources – which is great, but very top heavy.

    Out of sight, out of mind?

    I always like to see where money is spent in the areas that the clients don’t see - the areas that sit quietly behind the scenes. These are often the areas that add depth to the business and the team in ways that may not be so obvious at first glance. Areas such as above-market ‘salary’ packages, sickness and holiday policies, team wellbeing events and initiatives, business development and coaching, and training and development for non-advisory staff.

    For example, I recall a firm where the owner and main financial planner spent thousands of pounds on overseas conferences and personal development, yet only paid statutory sick pay to the employees. Now I get it but come on?! The company would be nowhere near as successful without the team, but this is a classic case of not only a top-heavy spend but the totally wrong message being sent to the team. The worst bit about this story is that the company’s strapline was: ‘We believe ‘you’ should be at the heart of everything ‘we’ do!’ Really?!

    Another case I can recall is a visit to a client (who actually didn’t stay a client for long). When I walked into their central London office, I was blown away by the luxurious feel that welcomed me. It was spotless, it was bling, clad in leather with lots of beautiful furniture; it’s not my style but it suited them and their clientele.

    But as the day went on, I got the feeling something wasn’t right… also they seemed reluctant to let me access any other areas of the office or meet any of the team. My gut feeling was that something was a little off so I constructed a plan. I was going to make a run for it and sneak upstairs while the door upstairs was open.

    As I made my way up the stairs, I could see a single door. I entered and was confronted with what I could only describe as an overcrowded, stuffy and clearly sub-standard office. The team were crammed in like sardines. What a contrast to what I’d seen downstairs.

    Straight away I could see this business had its priorities all wrong. They were way too focused on spending money on the external-facing areas and pretty much as little as they could get away with on the internal ones. Poor show!

    And don’t think that’s just one example – unfortunately I could go on.

    But what can you do? Well, we recommend that business owners and firms focus on the eight key principle areas at all times.

    These are as follows:

    1. The purpose of the business, its vision and mission
    2. The plan and projects required to deliver on the business’s purpose and objectives
    3. The people, including their personal and professional development and wellbeing
    4. The protection of key business areas and methods of working, including all operational procedures and processes
    5. The price strategy and the effective management and oversight of financial control
    6. The proposition and consistent delivery of high service standards
    7. The internal and external pitch and communications strategy and processes
    8. The platform and structure in place to provide leverage and a springboard to achieving the business’s full potential.

    If all 8 areas are given the same amount of attention then you’ll have a balanced, well organised firm with a long-term future ahead of it.

    If you don’t – or you focus too much on one or two areas without taking care of the rest - then there’s always going to be something unbalanced and that will hold you back. The damage might be gradual, but you’ll notice it eventually. Let’s hope your team – or your clients for that matter – don’t first.

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