A common response to the need to lift capacity is to increase the level of resources in the business. This may involve bringing in an additional adviser, hiring additional administration staff or another paraplanner.
Graham Burnard of Elixir Consulting shares “When businesses determine their value based solely on a multiple of recurring income, the focus is on top line revenue growth. As businesses focus on growing the size of their client base, it’s an easy decision to just bring on more staff. If the cost of the additional staff member is covered by increased revenue, then it often made good economic sense, as the value of the business is determined by the amount of recurring revenue. Grow the revenue and it means increased business value.”
Graham continued, “But what we see today is business valuations being increasingly based on a multiple of EBIT (Earnings Before Interest and Tax). Bottom line profitability is key, and the multiplier is driven by the quality of the systems, processes and staff in the business. Even smaller businesses that may be sold at a multiple of revenue need an eye on EBIT, particularly if the owner wants to sell equity to team members, as this internal sale would normally be based on an EBIT valuation.”
Therefore, businesses that seek to grow need to firstly look at how they can improve efficiency to increase productivity. Then only after they have optimised their current resources should they consider what additional resources they need to secure to support their growth plans.
It may seem strange to start with culture when talking about ways to increase productivity in a business. As Elixir explains, the right culture in a business can lead to a fundamental shift in thinking within the team and may unleash a wave of productivity improvement initiatives across the business.
Culture in a business is like our individual personalities. Every business culture is different and unique to that firm. However, unlike some personality traits, it is possible to shape and form a business culture to achieve your desired results. Each business needs to decide what is the culture they want to create, and what are the pillars that will underpin this culture.
Satya Nadella is only the third CEO in the 47-year history of Microsoft. When he took over as CEO in 2014 he took on a business that was beset with infighting and driven by a culture of internal competition rather than innovation and creativity. He focused on changing the culture of the business to encourage collaboration, innovation and risk taking, which then fostered a period of rapid growth and cemented Microsoft as a key technology player. In the space of 3 years $250 billion was added to the market value of Microsoft, much of which was directly attributed to the cultural changes initiated by Satya Nadella.
The question is, what are the cultural pillars that can foster a culture of productivity improvement and an enhanced client experience in your business?
Elixir explains, there are three core cultural pillars that can be adopted to encourage the right behaviours in any business.
1. Continual process improvement
Great businesses never stop looking for opportunities for process improvement. They don’t need to all be complex changes, often simple changes that bring about small incremental improvements can have significant impact. These “1 percent” improvements can compound to significantly move the dial. A 15-minute time reduction in conducting a client review, multiplied across a business doing 150 reviews each year, will save 37.5 hours of work – a whole week for one employee.
2. Shared responsibility
Productivity improvement is not the domain of just the business owner, the CEO or the Practice Manager. Everyone has a responsibility to look for opportunities for improvement, and to speak up when they see them. It is often people at the coal face that have the awareness of what is slowing things down or impacting a great client experience. Empower them to speak up!
3. Consistency and uniformity
While we seek individual input into process improvement a business can’t afford to have individuality in how things are done. Adopting a philosophy of “one business, one way” may help deliver consistency, reliability, and improved efficiency for some businesses.
Elixir explains the best way to understand friction in your business is to understand what it’s like to be a client or a member of your team. Nothing is more frustrating to staff or clients than having difficulty working with or in your business.
To identify friction in your business ask yourself a few simple questions:
Some of the biggest challenges in advice businesses that prevent them from reaching full capacity are:
There are many solutions, Elixir recommends, to create capacity and overcome friction. Some basics will get you a long way; ensuring you document all processes will mean that there is one source of truth enabling you to train your team in the one way – same way methodology and preventing inconsistencies. This also means you have a basis to work through how you might resolve manual processes and help understand what automation you might be able to include at a point in the future. Documenting processes done well; will also help you identify bottlenecks, rework or work that you just don’t need to complete.
One of the biggest challenges Elixir see in business is the inability for a team to ‘stay in their lane’. According to Lana Clark of Elixir, “The best way to work through this with your team is by undertaking a task audit. Many advice businesses will have over 200 tasks on their list, some will be completed daily, others infrequently – it’s good to get an understanding of where they all fit and who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted or Informed (RACI).“
“Before you get started have in mind where your pain points are and what you’d like to change. When you get started don’t go immediately for the solution, first understand what you do now, then work through the pain points in the context of the task audit, ‘why’ it needs to change and then get into the ‘what’ needs to change with the ‘who’ and ‘how’ closely following. Once you’ve solved the problem and you’ve identified which role when/where, you can apply the RACI model over the top of your task matrix.
“Remember that being accountable doesn’t always mean that person needs to complete the task and not everyone in the team needs to be consulted or informed. To keep things simple, be clear on who needs to complete the task, who is ultimately responsible for the task, who might need to be consulted and lastly who needs to be in the loop.
Once you’re finished don’t forget to work through how you will implement the changes and train your team if they’re taking on tasks they’ve not been involved in before. Finally, take a critical look at what the task audit might be telling you about other things in the business... are there skills gaps, do you have enough resources, do you need to go back to update processes, there could be quite a list.”
Once you have your task audit and a plan to ensure people have the right approach to process improvement and are doing the right tasks, you can focus on creating more efficiencies. What are some of the ways that a business can create these efficiency dividends?
Elixir share some of the tools and resources for creating efficiency in an advice business:
|Reduce time taken for the completion of file notes
|• Block out time immediately after each meeting to complete notes before moving onto the next task or conversation
|• Utilise Voice to Text technology
|• Utilise a “second chair” in client meetings to take notes
|Reduce time requirements for management time on HR issues
|Utilise an HR online subscription service to access tools, templates policies and procedures and HR legal advice if required.
|Reduce double entry of data in multiple systems
|Ensure different systems connect efficiently for the transfer of data. Utilise tools such as online fact finds to reduce data entry requirements.
|Use video for more engaging and efficient client communications
|Tools such as Loom make it easy to create videos to communicate with clients either individually or for a more engaging message to multiple clients at one time.
|Automate and streamline
|Review the workflow functionality in your CRM and ensure you are optimising the use of this.
|Consider a purpose-built workflow management tool if your CRM does not provide the outcomes you need.
|Streamline appointment setting
|Avoid “telephone tag” trying to set a time for a client appointment
|Utilise calendar management to enable clients to choose the available time that suits them best.
|Leverage platform functionality
|Utilise the functionality in the platform you use to create efficiency dividends
|• Utilise the ability for the platform to create an ROA and facilitate signoff and implementation.
|• Encourage clients to use the platform App or website for portfolio updates.
Sometimes it’s inevitable that you may need more people, and if you utilise the processes discussed above it should be clear what additional resources you need. Elixir outlines several ways you can engage staff that you may not have considered:
There are some great opportunities for advice businesses in this space. It could be as simple as finding a university where you can place an ad for an internship or part-time role. Perhaps you want to outsource some of the legwork and engage a service who screen, train and prepare graduates to be ‘work ready’. Either way, having the option to start them at an entry level position and bring them through the business to be an Adviser over several years is brilliant grounding for them to understand the full financial advice process.
A compelling option is to outsource a range of tasks. It’s important that you find a service provider that is going to be easy to work with – finding a provider who will recruit, manage and train your new team member doesn’t automatically mean that you are able to take a ‘hands off’ approach. Typically, in this situation your outsourcer might work remotely, so there are things to consider ensuring you are communicating well and providing regular feedback to get the best outcomes for your business.
Lifting capacity by simply hiring a new team member to fill resource gaps can feel like the only solution, but firms should not overlook the opportunity for business improvement in the way of productivity and efficiency. Before you consider adding the extra headcount, consider that the most finite resource you have is time, particularly for advisers – so how do you leverage it? It will likely be a combination of things but the question to ask first and foremost is how can we improve productivity and efficiency? Better outcomes are achievable with the right changes.
Information current as at 31 March 2023. This paper has been prepared by BT, a part of Westpac Banking Corporation ABN 33 007 457 141 AFSL & Australian Credit Licence 233714 (Westpac). The information contained in this publication provides an overview or summary only and should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter or relied upon as such. This information does not take into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs and so you should consider its appropriateness, having regard to these factors before acting on it. This may contain material provided by third parties derived from sources believed to be accurate at its issue date. While such material is published with necessary permission, the Westpac Group accepts no responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of, nor does it endorse any such third party material. To the maximum extent permitted by law, we intend by this notice to exclude liability for this third party material. This communication has been prepared for use by advisers only. It must not be made available to any client and any information in it must not be communicated to any client.