[Maybe the most important and interesting area of financial services business innovation we cover is in the evolving nature of an advisor’s client and community engagement strategies. It is here where advisors are redefining their roles, re-assessing capabilities, building new skill sets, re-jiggering their business models and fully exploring who they truly are and what they could represent for their clients and for their communities. The realization, for some advisors, is that the whole issue of client engagement can go so much deeper than the current industry standard and mandate of “Know Your Customer” and it could become an even more meaningful, visceral, personal experience than just providing investment product access, portfolio management and mathematical returns.
Where are these questions leading modern advisors: What truly is a financial advisor? How engaging, encompassing, essential can the business model and, especially, the advisor delivering that model be? A key direction seen by those probing these questions is to strategically expand their traditional service offering to be more “holistic”. This entails delving into the deeply personal and offering a more comprehensive mix of services that goes into the lifestyle, psychological, health and overall well-being of the client. This requires asking questions we previously didn’t dare to ask, and building an ongoing dialogue charting the goals, aspirations and dreams of the client as they unfold. The deeper questions being asked, and experiments being developed, will truly force the evolution and a much needed beneficial public perception of the profession.
One person who thoroughly saw this need for deeper connection and has been fully committed (for decades) in redefining the advisor-client relationship is financial advisor Ray Loewe. At 77 years young, Ray recently sold his practice to launch his newest evolution of the advisory model – the Luckiest Guy in the World. The Institute for Innovation Development actively sought out Ray, who is also an Institute member, for this interview to better understand his unique and innovative approach to being a financial advisor and map out for us some of the practical steps he took in challenging traditional industry thinking and business models.]
Hortz: What has been your vision for the financial advisor role? What is their true SuperPower?
Loewe: Financial advisors’ first job is to make sure that their clients have their financial affairs in order. That means appropriate insurance coverage, good credit, liquid investments for emergencies, and savings/investments for the future, e.g. college, retirement, major purchases. Once these are addressed in a way that matches the client’s needs and wants, more time can be spent on the more abstract things like their wishes. That said, the good financial advisor understands what a client truly wants and becomes a confidant. This is where the real value comes.
Hortz: Tell us about your new venture and how that is a manifestation and vehicle for you to drive more engaged advisor-client relationships?
Loewe: As I approached my own “retirement,” a term I use cautiously, I began to realize that I had done a good job of getting my clients to a place where they had the resources to live a comfortable life. But I also realized that many of them didn’t really have any idea about what they wanted to do in their golden years. They have been so focused on work and saving for much of their working life, they hadn’t looked ahead. And many weren’t moving ahead. Why were clients with lots of money, who claimed they didn’t want to work anymore, still working?
I added many conversations about that to our client meetings in an effort to help them recognize the need for a new plan. A new plan that takes into account having fun, exploring new things, staying engaged, taking care of their health, and having a continually expanding set of activities. Many people think they have to “slow down” during their senior years…when really it can be a time for forging ahead.
As you can tell from the name of my company, I designed my new firm and offering to address those crucial missing retirement elements with the name the luckiest guy in the world being a symbolic target and rallying point. The purposeful design is to be a vehicle for teaching how to retire, make the right decisions at this stage of life, manage their money and other resources to support a more dynamic ongoing lifestyle, and most importantly, walking them through a better retirement thought process that can confidently guide them throughout the rest of their lives. The response from clients has been phenomenal and the most personally rewarding experience I have ever had in my professional life!
Hortz: What was the catalyst point for your thinking? What made you want to re-focus on ”designing” your business approach and model it in non-traditional ways?
Loewe: In my mid-50s I was participating in an entrepreneurial coaching program that introduced the discussion of “retirement.” They pointed out that retirement means “take out of service.” The more I thought about selling my practice at a future time, the more I began to recognize that I loved what I was doing and didn’t really want to stop. I did, however, want more time to engage in activities that I found interesting. So I gradually added more vacation time to my schedule, with the confidence that I had deliberately built a great support team who could take care of things in my absence. We also began to incorporate some events with clients that could also assuage my play needs such as travel.
Hortz: What specific kind of client engagement strategies or actions does that necessitate?
Loewe: We had to get very organized about scheduling client contact. We created client categories and assigned features to those categories. For example, some clients were seen in person or with a scheduled phone call quarterly, others semi-annually and others annually. Very early on, I also made sure that my team was present at all meetings to build confidence in the clients that they could contact the team with issues and most of the time the team could handle things especially if I was away.
Most of my clients expressed concern that I would retire and leave them high and dry. So I assured them that I would not retire but I wanted to take more time off. I needed them to work more directly with my staff. I got really good at delegating, which might sound flip, but effective delegation is a skill.
Results were better than I expected. I reduced my presence in the office to include only client meetings and key staff meetings.
Hortz: Have you seen many challenges from many clients in refashioning or re-engineering into this new level of relationship?
Loewe: Trust is key. As advisors we know that we must build trust with the clients because we’re helping them with very important matters. But I also recognized that having been in the business for 40+ years, many of my clients had evolved into friends. They would share things that really didn’t have anything to do with their financial well-being, but were bothering them. Sometimes we could talk things through and come to a resolution, and sometimes there was nothing specific I could do. But I was honored that they trusted me with their concerns. So no, I haven’t experienced challenges as most relationships, through my purposeful deep engagement process with my clients, evolved into very open and trusting relationships.
Hortz: Over all your years of experimenting, what have been the most effective practices to build that stronger connection and working relationship with your clients?
Loewe: The most successful and effective practices were the ongoing creation of social events - dinners, traveling with clients. We’ve evolved those open invitation events into what we now call our Friends Connection and our Travel Connection. The key being that there was no business discussed, no sponsors. This enabled us to focus on their hopes and concerns going forward, outside of the money perspective. This allowed us to stay a couple of steps ahead of our clients; getting them to identify the hurdles or things that were challenging or stopping them.
Hortz: What is your New Retirement Paradigm?
Loewe: The New Retirement Paradigm is the antithesis of our parents’ retirement, or “Cliff Retirement” as I like to call it. One day our parents were fully engaged in work, the next day they had nothing scheduled to do. This revolved around an artificial number of an age of 65. One day they had a regular income, the next day they had a pot of retirement money they had to figure out how to spread out over an undefined lifetime. Sometimes the fear of running out of money delayed trips until they were no longer able to enjoy them because of health issues.
Today, we can have a much longer life expectancy. Many of us may live to be 100 years old. Retiring at 65 today means that you could be retired almost as long as you worked - maybe even longer. So there is a new set of issues to be addressed: staying healthy, staying socially engaged, having enough money, meeting a continually expanding “bucket list.”
Rethinking “work” can be the wild card that makes the impossible, possible. It can provide money for fun activities. Work can provide the continued engagement; it can be focused on doing things you love. The truth is that there is no longer an on/off switch, work and play can be a continuum with the emphasis going back and forth where needed. The New Retirement Paradigm is a balance between work and play.
Hortz: What tools or methods have you develop to help in this transformation?
Loewe: I developed a series of online courses to teach clients how they can design their own personal retirement paradigm: These can either be independent, self-study or in a group coaching setting. Topics include:
Hortz: How do you work with other advisors with your re-visioning of this advisor-client relationship?
Loewe: The primary thing we can do for advisors is to walk them through my “theluckiestguyintheworld” business model and how I applied it to myself and my financial services business. We developed a four step process to show them how to rebuild their practices and restructure their client base to “right-fit” clients around this retirement life planning approach - clients that will get what they do and appreciate what they do for them.
In applying this model to their clients, they can then direct their clients to our website where clients can take our courses in a self-study setting that advisors can provide further counseling and application assistance to their particular goals and life circumstances. We would be paid through course fees. We could also create a more immersive private discovery (counseling) group for their clients that centers around the courses and working with their advisors throughout their retirement years. It would be private branded just for the advisor and their clients.
Hortz: What best advice can you share with advisors about how to look at client engagement and the future of the advisor-client relationships?
Loewe: Every advisor is constantly looking for shelf space with the consumer. The key question is how can you differentiate yourself from other advisors. It’s not good enough anymore to be just a good financial advisor. It’s assumed that you will manage money well and do a good financial plan…but so can anyone else. What are the value-added features you will bring to the table to attract clients, get referrals, and keep them happy?
I think you have to become like a financial psychiatrist. That means also adding non-financial services to your platform is important, like teaching your clients how to retire. Teach them how to create a non-financial retirement plan… in other words, what will they do with the whole rest of their lives?
I believe you have to further deepen and evolve your client relationships. The answer is to create experiences for your clients, help them with important decisions, both financial and other, and help clients expand their concepts of life, retirement and learn to balance work, play and money.
This article was written by
Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.
Additional disclosure: I wrote this article myself and I am not receiving compensation to write this article but I do have a business relationship with Ray Loewe, who is an Institute member. The Institute is a business innovation platform of over 100 innovative firms that are openly sharing their unique perspectives and activities to build awareness and stimulate new approaches/thinking for a financial services operating environment of accelerating change.