Nick Bamford: The importance of common sense

“When a client engages you to do their financial plan they pretty much expect it to be delivered there and then.” These were the words of a consultant we saw recently to help us review the systems and processes we use to deliver financial plans to clients.

The advice was very apt as we were staggered to learn our six-step financial planning method contained 164 process steps. We were also shocked to identify the fact the process can take up to 25 weeks to complete. Any client expecting immediate delivery is going to be very disappointed.

Of course, a lot of that 25-week timescale is taken up by waiting: waiting for the client to respond or for product providers to deliver information we have requested. But while some of what we need to do involves managing client expectations, we also need to look inwards and ask ourselves how we can improve.

The exercise of analysing “how we do things round here” enabled us to begin to answer two important questions: how do we do it quicker? And how do we do it better?

I spoke about this at the Personal Finance Society financial planning symposiums in November and found many other planners were having the same experience. Just about everyone agreed we all want to deliver the very best advice in a profitable manner. System and process design is an integral part of ensuring a really good client experience and, at the same time, delivering that profitably.

The exercise enabled us to change the way we did things in order to cut out some of the delay. For example, issuing letters of authority at the same time as we send the engagement letter to the client, rather than waiting for engagement letters to come back before sending authority letters. Also, getting the administration team to ask our paraplanner to sense-check the quality of data received back from the product providers as each piece comes in, rather than storing it all up. These two simple process step changes shaved a valuable 10 per cent off of the 25-week timescale.

A lot of what we learned can be safely placed under the label “common sense” but it is amazing how much attention-based blindness there can be in a firm. We spend so much time being so focused on doing the job in hand we do not step back and spot the important stuff that can be improved for the benefit of both the client and the firm.

Common sense or not, the worst you can hear from any member of a team is, “This is the way we have always done it.” Constant improvement of processes is just one of the ways we can achieve the client-centric aim of the very best financial planning and the firm-centric aim of being more profitable.

Nick Bamford is executive director at Informed Choice