With another batch of podcasts in the books and more than two years of consistent, monthly episodes, we’d like to once again thank everyone who has listened, subscribed, and given feedback on The COO Roundtable. We’ve enjoyed having these discussions and hearing your responses to them. Our interviews to date have included forty-seven operations professionals at forty-two multi-billion dollar RIAs across the country accounting for over $287 billion in client assets under management. Over the past five episodes we’ve featured a few different perspectives on the role of the COO from leaders of RIAs of all sizes. With so many unique topics discussed in the past few episodes, we felt it was the perfect time to recap the top five lessons we’ve learned from our most recent guests. You can also check out the top lessons from previous episodes here. Read on for our highlights from episodes twenty-six through thirty!
Ep 26 featuring Matt Ran & Kelly Downs: A COO’s Focus on Firm Growth
In Ep 26, Matt and Kelly discussed the many aspects they, as COOs, are involved in within their respective firms. When asked how they drive different growth initiatives, Kelly spoke about her impact on team growth, “One of the things that I’m really proud of is that we hired 5 new employees for a firm of 30 people. That’s a pretty big number of new hires. There came a point when we just said, ‘We can’t wait. We have to actually move forward with these plans. We have to figure out how to do it in a different way.’ I’m proud that we were able to really hire those five people and we had never met them face-to-face, which again, seemed impossible. It made us shift our training program. We can no longer rely on, ‘Oh, you’re a new hire. You just go sit with so and so,’ and that’s how you train. It forced us to put together more training, onboarding resources for those new hires because we had to. For 2021, those practices are going to continue, and we are still hiring right now. I’ve got three positions that are posted right now, that we’re actively interviewing for. We anticipate hiring probably 6 new team members through the course of 2021.”
Matt Ran shared some wise words from his father that help him focus on the growth of client services, “My dad likes to use string theory as an example, he was at a conference I think back in his Merrill days and a guy presenting threw out a string, and someone caught it and said, ‘That’s your relationship with your client when it’s just investments or stock picking’. He yanked the string away and said, ‘That’s poor performance, and there goes your client.’ Then he threw out six ropes, and he pulled that same investment rope away and said, ‘This is what your relationship with the client is when you’re doing tax planning, you’re doing financial planning, you’re helping out with estate planning, you’re doing all these other services.’ That’s the model that we’ve built off of (at Telemus), building out these solution sets for the clients, so that we can really be financial life managers for the client. Right now, we have a financial advisory offering, we have a virtual CFO services, corporate executive services. Not making our relationship solely about investments, but really trying to be that holistic financial life manager for the client to create the stickiest relationship that we can.”
Ep 27 featuring Kara Armstrong & Nick Maggiulli: How COOs Can Prove their Success
We recorded Ep 27 live from Mercer Capital’s inaugural RIA Practice Management Insight’s conference. We were joined by Kara and Nick who both spoke about how COOs lead a firm through executing the CEO’s vision while acting as internal problem solvers. One unique topic discussed was what they as COOs point to in order to highlight their success. Kara gave this insightful answer, “You may throw a couple of numbers out there, but it’s really hard to just have some numbers to measure, ‘Hey, are you being successful or not?’ Personally, I evaluated myself. I feel like it is my goal and my responsibility to develop and maintain our employee experience. I’m responsible for the employee onboarding and maintaining and improving technology and processes the employees use each day. I have to provide encouragement and guidance, solve problems and remove obstacles, and then simply just help them to be as effective as possible in their role. I think of it like our client experience– you put an emphasis on that because it can set you apart and make really loyal clients. I think the same goes for the employee experience. If employees can’t use the technology efficiently or if you have inefficient processes that slow them down or if they simply feel ignored or unheard, you’re not going to be able to compete in the talent marketplace for long, and you’re not going to have loyal employees. You constantly have to be assessing and improving that experience, so that’s what I focus on.”
Nick added “As long as you’re doing everything right, and you’re trying to help people solve their problems and helping them be their best, that’s the key. I don’t think it’s the end of the year where the principals of the firm say, “Oh, our COO is not doing anything,” or “Oh, our COO is not revenue-producing.” How I judge myself is when someone asks me to do something, how effectively do I get it done? Do I get it done? Do I not get it done? What things can we do? What things can we not do? For me, I’m always just trying to judge myself on trying to figure out how well I’m fixing other people’s problems. Basically, that’s it. People say, ‘How many bosses do you have?’ I say, ‘Everyone’s my boss.’ When someone says, ‘Hey, get this done,’ I just get it done. That’s how I think about it, a servant-leadership type thing. That’s the way I view my role (as COO), trying to help everyone to be better.”
Ep 28 featuring Tony Parkin & Nikolee Turner: Identifying Your Ideal Client is Always a Good Idea
In this episode we had the pleasure of speaking to Tony and Nikolee, two consultants from Charles Schwab Advisor Services’ Business Consulting & Education division. They provided wonderful insight from a different perspective on the value of professional management and spoke about how important ideal clients are (we couldn’t agree more!). Nikolee gave an amazing statistic stating “We like to get really into strategy. Doing some of that work through a strategic plan but also understanding that it’s critically important that these firms understand who it is that they are trying to serve. Who are they trying to grow with? We call that their ‘ideal client persona’. Who are they trying to achieve? That’s one of the ways that I think that they can start this process, understanding that so that they can design the other pieces and parts of their business around that. One of our most favorite benchmarking data points around the power of that ideal client persona and getting really clear on who you’re trying to serve is that firms that have a documented ideal client persona add 28% more clients annually, which represents 45% more assets. That’s an incredible figure, and that’s because these firms have documented who they’re trying to serve and what value they add. I think that’s one of the first elements that you can do.”
Tony added “For many of our other consulting engagements, whether they’re marketing related, strategic planning related, or some work we’re doing more recently around journey mapping where we’re working with firms to reimagine processes – we won’t get into the meat of that work with them unless they have that ideal client persona very clearly identified because what are you building to if you don’t know who you’re trying to serve? We think that that’s incredibly important.”
Ep 29 featuring Gina Bradley & Susan Korin: Infrastructure Before Growth or Growth Before Infrastructure?
For this episode, we spoke with Gina and Susan about how COOs manage people vs infrastructure and posed the ever-famous question, “Do you build the infrastructure ahead of the growth or do you wait until the growth kicks in before you invest heavily in technology tools, process, and hiring?” Susan said, “The philosophy at BDF has really always been to create the infrastructure first. One of the other things that we do usually about twice a year, is we look at our hiring projections. We look at our growth expectations and we look at the team and the resource that we have to manage that. We like to try to get out ahead of that and again, it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes we get in a little bit of a crunch, but one of the reasons BDF hired me in the first place was the recognition that if we’re going to grow, we need somebody focused on the business. Not on our clients, because we’ve got a group of people that are doing that really well, but somebody focused on the business. When I think about our hiring goals and our growth, one of the important things is obviously you have to understand what resources you’re going to need to support the growth, but it’s also what does that hiring look like and so we have a pretty comprehensive hiring process. We want to make sure that if we’re going to hire somebody, they’re a good fit for BDF, that we’re a good fit for them and that they want to be here for the long term.”
Gina added “As much as I would love to snap my fingers and integrate all of our growth and the offices into the power and the structure of that hub and spoke approach with Salentica, that is just not realistic. We work with our teams to outline a plan that makes sense, both for Colony as a whole, and for the merger team, generally who’ll be transitioned to tools that could change the way they work really. We typically have anywhere from a 6- I like to say 6 to 12-month plan for these transitions, but to be honest, it’s often longer depending on the complexities of how the infrastructure pre-merger and the infrastructure post-merger will change. Our investment obviously follows lockstep in with those transition plans. Generally stepping back from just the question of merger integration, “I would say the timing of our ‘infrastructure enhancement or reinvestment,’ as I think you called it, typically I think about it with two main considerations. There’s the business risk assessment on the one hand and then the very practical assessment of the ability of our people to absorb the change on the other hand.”
Ep 30 featuring Kevin Hrdlicka & Michael Paley: The Role of Professional Management in Different Firms
In Ep 30 we spoke with Kevin and Michael about how the role of COOs at their particular firms helps elevate the entire organization. Michael gave a great answer, “Whether it’s a COO or otherwise, one of the key pieces of advice that Gerry and I will give people who reach out to us for advice about growing their business or their practice is to try to think five years ahead of the perceived need. We did a few press interviews when Gerry hired me, and one of the things he articulated was the role of COO when he hired me was too small for me then, but it was going to be the right role for me five years into the future. I was very fortunate that he had that mindset of hiring ahead of what you actually need because if you’re doing the right things and you’re growth-oriented, you’ll grow into that role. I think that’s a real opportunity for us as an industry. In terms of my responsibilities, I think you really hit the nail on the head that the COO role is a great point of leverage. There’s really two dimensions: the first is on the day-to-day managing the firm, and the second is managing and driving for the future.”
Kevin added, “When you’re a small firm, you’re doing everything, right? You have no choice, and as you grow, you put yourself in each employee’s shoes and do what they do best every day. To me, operations always has directly supported growth. First off based on specialization. I mentioned, one of our big pushes the last couple of years is on data and business intelligence. Right there, we work directly with advisory leadership to really help measure and track activities that drive success. Whether that’s ensuring we know where clients are coming from, whether that’s in a certain location, or what’s working and what’s not? How are we getting business, or could be revamping a process? For example, we really want our advisors tracking their sales progress. Having a robust pipeline, making sure they’re updating it. We’ll take a look at the operations team, how can we make that as easy as possible so it takes as little time so we have access to the data. One of the powerful pieces of data we’ve looked at throughout the history of Savant is if an advisor meets with a client at least once a year and does a planning case and we do their taxes, annual client retention is 99.8%. It’s hard to argue with hard data like that!”