AdvisorHub Culture Study Part 3: Culture and the Client Experience
The AdvisorHub Culture Survey suggests that culture impacts how financial advisors serve and prioritize clients. Edward Jones’ culture empowers financial advisors to deepen the client bond.
In a survey on brokerage firm culture conducted by AdvisorHub in partnership with Edward Jones, (Culture Survey) more than 500 financial advisors from a cross section of firms were asked several questions exploring culture and firm priorities. Responses from financial advisors revealed the close connection between firm culture and a good client experience.
The financial advisors were queried about their ability to serve clients’ needs without regard to a firm’s proprietary products, whether their organizations were focused on improving the client experience, serving clients in a virtual capacity and the importance of comprehensive, integrated and client-friendly technology.
The results showed that financial advisors — regardless of age, gender or race — all highly value the importance of being client focused and that client centricity is core to the health of a firm’s culture.
At Edward Jones, which has been focusing on culture for many decades, results like this come as no surprise. The firm’s financial advisors and clients alike benefit from a culture that, from home office to branch offices, centers on serving clients with purpose.
“Our clients come first and give me the opportunity to make a meaningful difference,” says Kim Hoffman, a Wilson, N.C.-based financial advisor who has been with the firm since 1994.
Across the industry financial advisors are deeply connected with their clients, but firm culture can determine how that relationship comes to life. In the study, financial advisors were also asked whether their firm valued various aspects of the client relationship as much as they did. Last week’s installment looked more broadly at how financial advisors perceived how the industry valued the most important cultural attributes. Is Culture More Important to Firms or Financial Advisors?
The results suggested that overall, financial advisors place more of an importance on client-focused cultural factors than ones related to themselves. Among the 15 questions asked of financial advisors, the average score of the four client centric questions far outweighed the non-client centric questions.
Client centric factors included the ability to serve client needs regardless of the firms’ proprietary products, and non-client centric included factors such as competitive and transparent compensation.
Financial advisors at the National/Regional BDs placed a higher level of personal importance on their ability to serve clients’ needs regardless of the firm’s proprietary products, which was the no. 1 most important client related factor to financial advisors.
It must be noted that financial advisor perceptions are for the overall industry and don’t acknowledge the role that certain firms are playing to outpace the rest of the industry and show their financial advisor teams that they care about these issues as much as they do.
Edward Jones, for example, aspires to bring what Rick Giardino, a principal with the firm’s branch team performance area, describes as a client centric experience.
“We don’t just think about our clients, we try to think like them,” he says. “Every client is different and that means our financial advisors are committed to understanding their goals and how they prefer to connect. It’s not about how many times we call or meet, it’s about the deeper relationship we build and how it can help a client reach their financial goals.’’
Giardino says that the firm supports the client experience “through our values, culture, branch office structure, practice level training and technology.” In a time of social distancing and increased reliance on digital tools, firms are recognizing the importance of online client experiences too. “Our digital acceleration strategy is transforming our client experiences with tools that combine the personal touch of a financial advisor and branch office administrator with smart, user-friendly technology.”
As financial advisors adapt to new ways of working and serving clients in the pandemic, the survey inquired specifically about the importance of technology. There were more minor differences across the industry in implementation of integrated technology compared to the ability to serve clients virtually.
Industrywide there is focus on improving digital experiences for both financial advisors and clients. An example of new client-oriented technology is Online Access, a proprietary Edward Jones system in which clients can log in to follow their individual accounts and financial news impacting those accounts.
“When we launched our new Online Access site for clients, we knew there would be an adjustment period for our clients and our branch teams,” says Giardino. “We saw it as an opportunity to speak with clients one-on-one, listen to their feedback and walk them through the enhanced site. Our clients, branch office administrators and financial advisors had great ideas and we used their feedback to co-create improvements to our technology.”
But while technological improvements have become a major way that firms are satisfying client needs, there’s no substitute for the care human financial advisors can provide as part of a deep relationship.
Edward Jones has also taken a novel step to help its financial advisors enhance their client focus; the company enlisted the help of Jason Selk, a professional “performance coach.” Selk is a trained sports psychologist who once worked on the staff of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
When he works with Edward Jones financial advisors, Selk seeks to get them to find additional ways to help their clients. “Every time there is contact with an investor client, the [financial] advisor should teach the client one thing that will make them a better investor, whether it’s saving for a kid’s 529 plan or pointing out that their emergency money has gotten low.”
He concludes, “clearly the thinking at [Edward] Jones is that by putting the client first, good things can happen.”
Financial advisors, like Hoffman, continue to help and care for clients even in the face of unprecedented circumstances.
“In the past year, I had a client come down with COVID-19 and we helped the family navigate the challenges,” says Hoffman. “In the short term, I helped his wife locate a testing site and when her husband sadly passed, we carried out the financial strategy they had in place. I worked with this family for more than three decades and the husband’s most important concern was that his wife be taken care of financially. I was able to support and reassure her because they had a long-term financial strategy in place to get her through this terrible situation.”
She concludes, “Working for a privately-held partnership, I don’t have to worry about next quarter’s earnings. I can put my clients’ needs first.”
In the next article in our series, we explore how culture impacts financial advisors who are considering transition.