Since 2003, I have been a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, or NAPFA, which is the largest professional organization of fee-only advisors. Several years ago, NAPFA created a number of small study groups. The group to which I belong has nine members, and all of us are either solo or have one partner.
Over the past few years, my fellow group members have become trusted confidants and friends. Essentially, they are my external board of directors. We have a bimonthly conference call and meet twice per year in person; we had our winter get-together in Phoenix at the end of February.
When we meet up, it’s more like a reunion than a business meeting. On the first night of our most recent meeting, we caught up over happy hour and introduced one of our members to Mexican food at a local joint.
However, we soon got down to business. The agenda over the next day and a half was intense and focused. We compared our year’s progress against last year’s goals, and we presented business goals for the next year to the other members. Full disclosure was the group rule as we recapped the prior year’s financial reports and projections for the current year.
Because we all work on our own or with one partner, these meetings are necessary to evaluate how we’re conducting our business and to get feedback from peers. During the discussion of my goals for 2011, several group members offered some very constructive feedback suggesting that I might be spreading myself too thin. At last year’s meeting, I urged another member to charge more for her services, given the value she provides to her clients.
While these meetings are not required for continuing education, over the years we have gone above and beyond, discussing client issues, technology, countless financial planning topics, and more. Additionally, over the course of the year, these folks tend to be the ones I call to bounce ideas off of or for help in dealing with a client issue that might be outside of my knowledge base.
Why should you—or anyone—care about what I’ve just described?
Our willingness to open our books and business plans is a leap of faith. We all took this leap of faith as a means to gain feedback on our businesses and to look for ways to improve what we do and how we do it.
But mostly you should care because our conversations are all centered on how to be better financial advisors for our clients.
The next time you talk with your financial advisor or are interviewing a prospective advisor, ask if he or she meets on a regular basis with any advisor colleagues. If the answer is no, it may speak to the way the advisor runs other areas of his or her business. If the answer is yes, you can then ask about the content and subject matter of the conversations–is the advisor simply learning new sales techniques or is the advisor learning about new strategies and planning tools for the benefit of his clients?
Roger Wohlner, CFP® is a fee-only financial advisor at Asset Strategy Consultants. Roger provides advice to individual clients, retirement plan sponsors and participants, foundations, and endowments. Follow Roger on Twitter; connect with him on LinkedIn.