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Business of Advice – Service design without process design will fail

Sixth part of our serialisation of the Taxbriefs book Business of Advice. In this extract author David Shelton explains the need for a ’joined up’ business process.

Many advice businesses fail to notice that process means much more than the work undertaken by the administration team. There is often a lack of understanding between advisers and support staff, and a lack of recognition by advisers that their role in effective operation is just as critical as the support team. It is only when the processes are ‘joined up’ and everyone shares responsibility that the competitive benefits of effective operations are realised.

The following questions will assess where your business currently stands:

·     Do you have a process manual?

·     Is it used and regularly updated?

·     Can you give an overview of your processes to new joiners?

·     Would everyone in the business share the same overview?

·     Are people’s jobs organised around processes?

·     Do you have an efficient and proactive process manager?

If you have answered positively to most of these questions, your processes are in good shape and you are in the top 10% of advice businesses. Most firms have a sound back office, but are constrained by lack of time to make improvements. In addition, many suffer from advisers operating in different ways, which prevents the support team from streamlining their activities.

All activity in the business must be designed to give clients the best outcomes. The main service processes should be directly linked to the customer journey.

The four stages are not equal in size, but provide a manageable way to design, review and update the processes. You should keep this as straightforward as possible and not over-engineer what is often a common sense approach. That is not to underestimate the amount of work involved or the attention to detail which is essential for effective process design and management.

Before you review and change processes, you should be clear about what you are aiming to provide for your clients. You should distinguish between service content and service standards.

Service content covers all the actions that you will take for a client, as listed in the service proposition. This is clearly stated in service agreements or in service brochures, and will vary in line with how much the client is paying for service. All advice and back office processes should be designed to deliver this service and make sure that client expectations are met.

Service standards should be constant regardless of service content. To do otherwise would be extremely confusing for support staff and would overcomplicate service delivery. Service standards normally cover the following:

·     Speed of answering the telephone.

·     Time lapse for returning calls, e-mails, etc.

·     Time lapse between asking for information and chasing.

·     When to write to clients to give progress reports between main stages.

·     Time between initial meeting and issue of report and recommendations.

·     Time between report and recommendations and second meeting.

·     Accuracy of communications.

·     Quality of written and spoken English.

Businesses will differ on the standards which they set, and judgement needs to be made between when you think clients would want you to respond and what you can actually achieve. Client needs should dominate your standards, and it is useful to ask them in a client survey. However, processes should be set up to consistently deliver the standards which you set.

For most advice businesses, there is no need to publish these standards – unless you are competing for corporate business, where they will be more important. However, you should publish and monitor these internally, because the extent to which you achieve standards will be another factor that influences your overall brand delivery and TCF outcomes.

If you have advisers, support staff and processes which support content and standard of service, you will maximise client retention and benefit from a more productive and cost effective business.

Serialised from The Business of Advice: How to manage and develop a successful financial advice business. Published by Taxbriefs Ltd. Details and online purchase (£145) at


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  1. This would be a great book to buy. If ever looking to understand the nature of a financial advice intermediary business. If you have any budget spare, would be worth buying.

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