Secrets of Professional Presenters

Bev Flaxington@BevFlaxington, The Collaborative

Unless you are growing your business by giving presentations, you might not think about the importance of learning strong presentation skills. But it’s important for financial advisors to realize that each time you speak to a client or prospect, host a seminar or educational event, or speak to your team about firm goals and objectives, you are presenting. Being able to present your ideas in an effective manner is critical to success. You might be very intelligent and even creative, but if you cannot communicate in a manner that “wins over” your audience, you might be missing opportunities.

What makes the difference between a good presentation and a poorly delivered one? Often times it is the material; either we like what we hear or we don’t. Often times it is the presenter – if they are engaging and interesting, we pay more attention. Whether your next presentation is sitting one-on-one with a client, presenting to a board for a not-for-profit client, or standing in front of a roomful of people you’d like to gain as clients, the following six secrets from professional presenters may help:

  1. Establish what you want to accomplish at the outset. Is your presentation meant to persuade or to inform? Are you hoping to gain a client’s agreement on something or just wanting to tell your staff about a new change that’s happening? Always think about why you are doing the presentation and what the desired outcome is before you put together your material.
  2. What does the listener want from you? What are their goals in the exchange? Learn as much as you can about your listener or group. In a meeting with several people, ask them to raise their hands to questions about the material: How much do they know already? What prior experiences have they had? What do they hope to learn? In a one-to-one, get the other person talking. What do they hope to accomplish? The more you can engage and learn about your audience, the more engaged they will be with you.
  3. Put your information into a segmented format so that your audience can follow along with you. If, for example, you are presenting on the first-quarter market activity, you might segment: (a) Last year’s first quarter, (b) This year’s performance, (c) Changes from one year to the next and the meaning, Impact on you as the investor, and (e) Next steps you as the investor want to take in your portfolio. You want to take your material and put it into chunked segments so the audience knows where you are, and what you are talking about, at all times.
  4. Don’t assume the audience knows what you mean and why the material is relevant to them. It’s critical to provide context. Help the listener understand why they should care – the “so what?” and relevancy for their lives. If you are simply offering information, that’s fine, but let the audience know. When hoping to persuade a listener or set of listeners, it is absolutely critical to make the connection and allow them a clear window into the “why?” of the information to their needs and their lives.
  5. 5.13.13_Flaxington_Secrets of Professional PresentersCheck for understanding. Watch body language as you speak. Are people staying engaged? Are they nodding or shaking their heads? Are they focused on you? You want to make eye contact, smile and be engaged, and you want to watch the listener, too. Find ways to put questions in, or ask the audience to raise their hands. Work on engagement throughout your presentation and ask for questions to allow for deeper understanding.
  6. Have a clear next step. What do you want the audience or listener to do as a result of your presentation? Be clear what you want the listener to do. If you stated a desired outcome at the beginning of the dialogue, refer back to it now. And if you can get the listener to commit to a next step, have them do so in writing or to you verbally. A public commitment is always best.

Find ways to work on your presentation skills, and incorporate some of these ideas the next time you have an opportunity to present.

What to Do With All Those Receipts?

Sue BerginSue Bergin

There are many little annoyances that an advisor must deal with as a cost of doing business. Tracking expenses is a prime example. Out of necessity, advisors have developed systems for tracking expenses that vary in sophistication. Ranking high on the list is the empty-the-pockets-on-the-assistant’s-desk-and-let-her-deal-with-it system and the stack-the-receipts-in-a-pile-for-a-slow-day-project approach.

While these systems are second nature, the beauty of living in the digital era is that annoying tasks have spawned clever digital solutions.

Such is the case with tracking business expenses. For those who have embraced mobile devices, the days of the crinkled and barely legible receipts can be gone forever. Shoeboxed, Lemon Wallet and ABUKAI Expenses are some of the apps available that make managing receipts painless and efficient. You can download these apps on your Apple, Blackberry or Android device(s), and then simply take photos of your receipts. The expenses are digitally categorized and stored, and in many cases, the data can be imported into a spreadsheet or an accounting program like Quickbooks. With Shoeboxed, you can mail in old receipts and they will make digital copies for you. You can even get multiple “seats” on an ABUKAI account, allowing staff members in your office to contribute to the expense report. Other expenses management software programs, like Expensify and Xpenser, also have mobile applications that result in efficiency gains.

shutterstock_111610157Neat Receipts takes a slightly different approach. They offer a mobile scanner and digital filing system that allows you to scan receipts, business cares and documents. The Neat Receipts software system then identifies, extracts and organizes key information. While these applications might help you to make your practice more efficient, they could also help clients who own businesses. Clients often look to their advisor for tips on how to gain more control over their financial world.

With tax deadlines rapidly approaching, the inefficiencies of traditional approaches are top of mind. Take this opportunity to suggest this small way to remove one of the little annoyances in their lives. You may find that they are quite receptive and appreciative of your efforts.

Search and Selection: Finding the Right Hire for Your Firm

Bev FlaxingtonBev Flaxington, The Collaborative

It is often said that this isn’t a numbers business, it is a people business. Understanding the criticality of the human factor, it is interesting how often an advisory firm will simply hire to fill a role instead of putting the time and energy into search and selection to determine the right candidate, for the right role, in the right culture.

Success in a job comes from a number of factors. Let’s touch on a few and then talk about one in more detail, that of search and selection:

  • Behavioral fit – is the employee’s natural style right for the role? If he or she is a deeply analytical person, but the job calls for constant people interaction, will she or he be able to modify for success?
  • Cultural fit – are the values of the company in line with the employee’s values? Does the employee show a willingness to understand and uphold the company’s values?
  • Clarity of job expectations – does the employee know exactly what is expected of them? Has the employer clearly identified what success looks like for this role?
  • Compensation and motivators – are the right ones built in for this person, in this job?

In addition to these factors, advisors must consider where they find candidates (search) and how they determine who they will hire (selection). When looking for a new job, oftentimes people will focus on networking. However, in hiring for a new role networking may not be the best approach. In many cases, a person may get referred to the advisory firm and because they came from someone the advisor knows and trusts, they are assumed to be a good fit. An advisor may not go through as rigorous of a screening process in that case.

When searching for a candidate, ensure that you are pursuing all available avenues to locate candidates. In addition to the traditional posting options, be sure to include posting to groups such as the CFA Institute, or the FPA, or other financially oriented organizations. LinkedIn is growing in popularity and can be an excellent place to find candidates. Interview a minimum of three people for a role just to get an idea of different people.

Finding the Right Hire

Before you begin the interview process, establish how you will select the person. Who will be involved in interviewing? How much weight will each person have? Will you have an organized list of questions for each person to ask, or a matrix to assess feedback? What will be the feedback loop and how will people follow up on their thoughts? You want to establish final criteria for making the decision. In many cases a firm has a set of requirements but makes an exception based on “liking” a candidate. This might be okay, if all other criteria are met. Define this in advance.

Be sure to ask behavioral questions. Don’t just take a person’s “track record” for granted – ask how they found clients, what they did to work with them, how they go about generating referrals, how they work with COIs, etc. Pick those things most relevant to your firm and be sure to dig, dig, dig in your questioning until you really understand the background.

Lastly, be sure to check references. Don’t just do a cursory check-in with the three or four people that were listed on the person’s resume. Instead, try to do some digging on your own and find others to speak to. If the person is on LinkedIn or has relationships at prior firms, see if you are able to use your connections to learn a bit about the person outside of the given references.

It can sound like a great deal of work to find the right person, but the truth is that making a bad hire is costly for any firm.

There’s Mud on Your Face: The Advisor Smear Campaign

Sue BerginSue Bergin

Remember when you were a kid how snowball fights typically erupted totally unannounced?  You’d be hanging out at the bus stop when – WHAM! – out of the blue you got smacked right on the side of the head with a snowball that you didn’t even see coming.  When it happened, you’d quickly dust the snow out of your eye, set your sights on the assailant, and launch your counterattack.

While you didn’t know it at the time, you were, in fact, honing an important skill that might now come in handy to help you defend your practice.

The advisor profession has been hit on the proverbial head by a whole lot of mud.  Our credibility, integrity, and worth have been called into question in a smear campaign launched by companies that profess a noble mission: to help Americans become better financially prepared for the future.

They are going about it by “reinventing” financial services and eliminating the need for an advisor.  They are giving consumers tools to learn more about financial management, become better organized, and evaluate the effectiveness of their portfolios.

The functionality and sophistication of these personal financial management sites and mobile applications are evolving at warp speed.  Take SigFig, for example.  SigFig aggregates all investment holdings and then makes recommendations based on current holdings.  It compares the holdings in a user’s portfolio against other investments in the same category and share class.  It then suggests different, less expensive investments that perform better than the user’s current holdings.  It even goes a step further.  After reviewing the user’s trading patterns, it evaluates the brokerage fees.  Advisors are evaluated according to the fees assessed and the performance obtained.  This functionality has led to all kinds of provocative headlines, such as the one inviting you to “Find Out if Your Financial Advisor is Overcharging You.”

Another media darling is Jemstep, which served up this headline: “Use Jemstep to See if Your Broker is Wasting Your Money.” Jemstep’s ranking engine analyzes 80 attributes of more than 20,000 mutual funds and ETFs.  Jemstep helps clients identify their financial goals, provides a ranked list of the “best investment options,” and tracks aggregated investment performance.

While the functionality of these tools may have been the baton that the media picked up in launching the smear campaign, Personal Capital marched to the front with its own marketing efforts.  Personal Capital is a little different from some of the other personal financial management sites because it actually manages money.  It positions itself as the next generation of financial services that has evolved by moving away from a paternalistic, craftsman-like approach.  Its pitch is that clients should move money to them because they can invest it in cheaper, better performing funds while giving clients full transparency.  One of its hooks is the “How Much is Your 401(k) Costing You?” calculator.

These services and dozens of others are gaining in popularity.  They are free or come at a modest fee, and they have seized the attention of both venture capitalists and the media.

If we have learned anything from schoolyard snowball fghts and political campaigns, the best way to deal with an attack is to launch an immediate counterattack.  If the suspicion, exaggerations, and fear prompted by the smear campaign are left to linger, credibility is destroyed.

It’s time for those in the business of giving financial or investment advice to wipe the mud from their faces and launch a counterattack.  Here is an effective, three-pronged approach to take with clients:

  1. Ask clients whether they would be willing to turn over their life savings to a computer program. Most personal financial management services offer a mathematical approach to an emotion-filled process.  They aggregate holdings, use algorithms to evaluate investments, and spit out recommendations based on a computer model.  It is not only black and white and cold; it ignores the uncertainties of life.  It also ignores the single most important role that a financial advisor fills: to act as a sounding board for clients throughout their lives.
  2. Demonstrate the enduring value of the professional advice model. The premise of many personal financial management sites  is  that  the computer can do all the work better than an advisor.  It has never been more critical than now, therefore, that you demonstrate your worth.  You are your expertise.  You are the knowledge, resources, and guidance that you provide.  A computer program can’t begin to offer the sense of comfort and confidence you deliver to clients.  Remind your clients that you are savvy and accessible, and that you genuinely care about their goals.  Because the smear campaign seeks to create doubts about your motives in recommending certain products and solutions, make sure to remind clients that you always have their best interests in mind.
  3. Deliver a better online experience. An estimated 30,000 Americans are flocking to personal financial management sites every day! The word has spread.  An organized, online financial view helps make money management easier.  Personal capital, however, is asserting that advisors are unable to offer clients an online experience.  The CEO has been quoted as saying that personal financial advisors are still stuck in “pre-electronic practices.”

Prove him wrong. Show clients that an organized, online financial view is most beneficial when it is part of a wise collaboration with a trusted advisor

Republished with the permission of eMoney Advisor.  For more information about eMoney, visit http://www.emoneyadvisor.com/emacorp/default.aspx.

A Conscious Delay: The Argument for Filing Tax Returns After March 15

Sue BerginSue Bergin

While few people would admit to being eager to file their tax returns, it is one of those chores that can weigh heavily on a person’s mind. Many Americans like to get their returns filed as quickly as possible so that they can check it off their list of things to do, and go on with their lives.

As recently reported on MainStreet.com, the two-week period leading up to the April 15th deadline is when the majority of Americans file their tax returns. The second most active two-week filing frenzy occurs between February 1 and February 14, with 20% of Americans choosing to file shortly after they receive all of their 1099’s.

Filing early may increase your chances of receiving a quick refund if you are so entitled. It may also lead to more work for you in the long run.

The IRS mandates that federal tax forms such as the Form 1099 series be postmarked by February 15, unless an extension is granted. While the likelihood of receiving amended forms is described on the front page of the Form 1099, many filers overlook it and are surprised and/or annoyed when their mailbox is stuffed with amendments.

The key to remember is that the fact that there is an amendment to the form 1099 does not mean that there was necessarily an error in calculation or reporting.

While every effort is made to provide clients with accurate 1099 forms, timing is sometimes an issue.

The brokerage and clearing firms that issue 1099’s are dependent upon mutual fund, Regulated Investment Companies (RIC), Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), and Unit Investment Trusts (UIT’s) issuers to provide accurate and final information early in January. These fund companies tend to analyze their portfolios throughout January into February and beyond, and may discover data that requires the 1099’s to be amended. Although rare, issuers have been known to revise dividend information one or two years after the payment date.

In addition, many companies take financial actions that the IRS may ask them to reclassify. This is common for REITs, UITs, mutual funds, RICs, and foreign-based securities. A reclassification does not indicate whether a security has merit; it means the IRS may classify something differently than the filing company.

The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (JTRRA) has caused a delay in income reallocation information from many, resulting in a spike in amended tax forms. Since there is currently no centralized source for this information, the brokerage industry continues to struggle with determining whether foreign securities meet the complex JGTRRA rules in order to pay qualified dividends. Therefore, receipt of late and revised information will again this year result in multiple changes to tax forms.

The bottom line is this: Wait until mid to late March to file your tax returns. This helps ensure that you have received all the amended 1099 forms that will be issued on your accounts.

This information represents our understanding of federal income tax laws and regulations, but does not constitute legal or tax advice. Please consult your tax advisor, attorney or financial professional for personalized assistance.

Buzzwords

Sue BerginSue Bergin

Buzzwords, jargon, and clichés have gotten a bum rap.  They can actually be useful communication shortcuts. So why do they aggravate people so much?  If we can say, “If you have a guaranteed lifetime annuity, you can sleep well at night knowing that you will always have a paycheck,” why go any further?

The problem is that the clients have heard “you’ll sleep better at night” from every product ranging from home security systems, to baby monitors, to long-term care insurance.

Every cliché, jargony phrase or buzzword probably started out as fresh and compelling.  Overuse, however, has rendered them impotent. Your client might instantly know what you mean, but the terms fall flat and feel like a shallow promise.  These phrases don’t conjure up riveting insights or evoke any depth or emotion whatsoever, except maybe mistrust.

When an investor becomes accustomed to his or her advisor’s buzzwords, does the investor picture a worry-free future? Probably not.

It’s unlikely that offerings like, “a holistic approach to financial planning”,best-of-breed investment solutions” and “objective advice that give clients peace of mind,” give clients much confidence, yet countless advisors use such sentences.

Some people think that buzzwords exist for the sole purpose of allowing their users to hide.  They feel that buzzwords and clichés can confuse the audience or act as an enabling device for the communicator to avoid an issue.  Others feel that these phrases are mere fluff.  These sentiments are born out in AARP’s study of how Americans felt about financial services communications. 73% of survey respondents ranked financial professionals higher than car mechanics in their use of jargon; 52% said financial professionals use even more jargon than doctors.

  • 54% believe jargon is used instead of simpler terms to distract people from focusing on fees.
  • 63% say jargon is used to make products or services seem more impressive.
  • 49% believe jargon is used is to make consumers feel less confident that they can handle their own finances.[1]

Clichés are easy, and often come with a regulatory stamp of approval.  We’ve used them before on compliance-approved marketing materials, so we know we can use them again.  They’re safe.  We don’t have to put a lot of thought in them.  The problem is, clients don’t put a lot of weight in them either.

15 of the most over-used phrases by advisors.

  1. Sleep at night
  2. Peace of mind
  3. Holistic approach
  4. Full transparency
  5. Put clients’ interests first
  6. Objective advice
  7. Financial quarterback
  8. Best of breed (investment platform)
  9. Best-in-class
  10. Cutting edge technology
  11. Bleeding edge technology
  12. Thorough due diligence
  13. Client-focused
  14. Client-centric approach
  15. Bottom line oriented

Just for fun, run your web content through the BlaBla meter.  This gimmicky tool rates the amount of fluff that is contained in text.  A high score, such as the 76 that I got when I put a randomly selected advisor’s home page through the tool, generated the following feedback:

“This reeks (of BS). I bet you’re a PR-Expert, Politician, Consultant or Scientist.  If there is a message, it’s unlikely it will reach anyone.”

The tool is easily dismissed.  Its methodology isn’t spelled out anywhere, and it was not designed for specific use by the financial services industry.  It might be crass.  Then again, it might be on to something.


[1] AARP, April 17, 2008.

The Seven Deadly Mobile Phone Sins

Sue BerginSue Bergin

Prospects have always looked to attire, office location, furnishings, and framed degrees to get a sense of an advisor’s expertise. While those things are still influential in shaping perception, they are often trumped by the role technology plays in making an impression.

Technology can make you look smart. It gives you access to more information and helps you deliver better service. You can perform research in minutes that used to take you days. You have access to answers and can get those answers to clients quickly. Technology makes you appear progressive. You may have insights into the next cool trend that the client or prospect is eager to learn about.

Turn Off Your PhoneOn the other hand, technology can tarnish your image. Commit the seven deadly mobile phone sins, and you may leave clients with the wrong impression of you.

The Seven Deadly Mobile Phone Sins:

  1. Taking a call or returning a text or e-mail during a meeting with a client or prospect.
  2. Checking your cell for anything other than an update on the client’s portfolio.
  3. Making your digital device the star of your pitch.
  4. Leaving your headset in your ear during any client interaction. It’s distracting.
  5. Taking your device with you during a meeting break. It implies that your return will be delayed because you are too busying doing making a call, returning an e-mail, Tweeting, checking a sports score, or any of the other gazillion things you can do on your phone.
  6. Blaming technology as the reason you failed to respond to an inquiry. Clients buy the “my system crashed” excuse as often as a teacher buys “the dog ate my homework” excuse. Even if it’s true, they just won’t buy it.
  7. Forgetting to shut off or mute your device. There is little more distracting during a meeting than a constantly ringing or vibrating phone.