Increasing the value of your Practice

The key decision that could dramatically streamline your advice process .. have a massive impact on your client reviews .. and substantially increase the profitability of your Practice

by James Andrew

30th June 2021

Ben Bryant

Ben Bryant of Forrest Wealth WA recently embarked on a unique 12-month program that has  significantly improved the efficiencies of his Financial Planning business. We discover how one simple decision has seen him streamline the advice process, had a positive impact on the efficiency of his client reviews and increased his practice valuation.

Ben has worked in financial services businesses for over 30 years. Principal and part owner of Forrest Wealth in Busselton WA, a firm acquired in 2011, he is well known in the financial planning industry of WA and his colleagues admire his conscientious approach to planning. His deeply held philosophy is to provide clients with possible options they may wish to consider, based on a clear understanding of their circumstances, current market conditions and with their best interests at heart.

At the start of 2019 however, Ben realised that there were certain aspects of his business that were troubling him. This was enough to motivate him to look long and hard at the quality of service he was providing to clients.

“I had taken a long break over Christmas and New Year,” says Ben. “The thing was, as I prepared to go back to work in early January, I realised that I would be spending the first few days simply getting organised and finding the client information that I needed for the client meetings I had scheduled in January. It was a wake-up call. A realisation that our client information was not necessarily all in one place and I had concerns that the investment portfolio information was somewhat out of date.

Ben realised that these shortcomings were not only going to impact the service he would be providing his clients as he entered the New Year, but that it had impacted the service he had provided over the previous few months.

Having recently passed his FASEA exams, Ben also wanted to ensure that his business was compliant under the new rules that were infiltrating the industry as a direct result of the 2018 Royal Commission into the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. Ben realised it was time to re-group and address the processes, client data and the compliance standards of his business. “It wasn’t just the processes and client data that concerned me,” continues Ben. “I also had concerns about my knowledge of the metrics of the business that I was supposedly managing, in order for me to direct and grow the business. Looking back, I have only moved forward by acknowledging the business shortcomings and subsequently seeking professional guidance. Specialised guidance to be exact since, as most financial planners will tell you; our processes are at such mercy of professional standards, I knew I needed help from someone who was very familiar with ASIC compliance and regulations. The solution was not that straightforward.”

Ben recalled a conversation he had with a fellow financial planner, Mark Lewin, at a conference the previous year. Mark, a veteran of the financial markets dating back to 1983 and owner of his own  financial planning business, had recently set up a unique financial planning consultancy firm, Back Office Hero. Ben recalled that the Back Office Hero offering was exactly what his own business needed; namely a specialist consultancy that would work closely with his business to improve efficiencies, streamline advice processes and grow the business valuation. He called Mark on his return to the office.

“Back Office Hero Fills a unique gap in the Australian Financial Planning marketplace”

Stephen Prendeville – Forte Asset Solutions

The key decision – a 12-month commitment and leaving one’s comfort zone …

Mark Lewin had set up Back Office Hero along with two associates: Stephen O’Donnell, an experienced financial planning office manager, with an extensive marketing background and Chris Morris, a financial services business analyst with, most importantly, a deep understanding of the workings of Xplan.

“Ben Bryant and Forrest Wealth were one of our first clients,” explains Mark, “and whilst the business was profitable and Ben had built deep professional relationships with clients, the business lacked robust procedures and process efficiency. And like many practices, they had yet to develop the real power of Xplan.

Perhaps the most important issue, however, was the lack of business metrics to guide further strategic growth. As the practice principal, Ben was guilty of being too close to the daily activities of the business, without taking the time to build a reporting mechanism, common to well run businesses. In short, the business was reactive rather than proactive.”

A prolific networker and past compliance director of an AFSL, the issues were ones that Mark had identified in so many financial planning businesses over the years. With no real solution to these issues in Australia, apart from general business coaches, Mark formed “Back Office Hero Pty Ltd” in 2018 to assist practice owners build compliant procedures and checklists that could be leveraged with outsourcing and the proper adoption of Xplan.

In collaboration with Stephen O’Donnell and Chris Morris, he developed a 12-month mentoring and consultancy program for practice owners, specifically addressing processes, efficiencies and the management of client and business data. The program was specifically designed around the essential building blocks required to not only grow the business valuation but the provision of excellent client services. The outcome provides a compliant, profitable business that is “sale ready”. Ben had an important decision to make. The decision to engage Back Office Hero appeared an obvious one but it would mean a 12-month commitment which would take him and his staff out of their comfort zones. He ultimately chose to engage Back Office Hero as Mark and his colleagues knew the financial planning industry intimately, had a compelling value proposition and the outcome would allow Ben to build a valuable and transferable asset for the future.

The program has been specifically designed around the essential building blocks required to not only grow the business valuation but the provision of excellent client services. The outcome provides a compliant, profitable business that is “sale ready”

The power of Xplan …

Forrest Wealth’s program started, as it does with all Back Office Hero clients, with a Discovery Process; a full and extensive investigation of the current practice, where the Back Office Hero team reviews current procedures, client data and processes, in addition to interviewing all key staff members and stakeholders. A Practice Report is produced to, not only identify procedural issues, but to map out a tailored 12-month program for the business.

“The Discovery Process report was both concerning and exciting,” says Ben. “It was impressive in its thoroughness, but to me there were two stand out findings. Firstly, that our client information within Xplan was not as complete as I had wanted, mainly due to our misguided under use of Xplan, and secondly, the report clearly demonstrated a way forward that would essentially increase profitability, ensure our compliance and grow our business valuation. The outcome of course, would be a better client experience”.

“Xplan drives the business,” explains Mark, “research has shown that 65% of Financial Planning businesses are not using Xplan efficiently. It may well be more. What is even more worrying is that this in turn leads to a lack of true knowledge as to a business’s client portfolio”.

4 months on … empowered staff and growing the business.

After four months in the program, the change in the business to Ben is all too obvious. “The client files are now more robust and each of them is mapped in our Xplan database and every one of them is audit ready. I don’t overly concern myself about missing client data anymore, which has enabled me to focus on client acquisitions resulting from referrals from increasingly satisfied clients.”

Ben’s office manager, Janina, is also benefiting enormously from the Back Office Hero engagement. Ben has been obliged to renew Janina’s job description, which specifically allows her to update and improve business procedures. This has even seen the engagement of an offshoring partner to alleviate several menial and repetitive tasks. Essentially, staff empowerment[1] has led to quality improvements and provided Janina with a sense of achievement, critical to workplace enjoyment. Janina is now clear on her role within the business.

Ben himself meanwhile is also clearer about his own role, that periodically allows him time to divorce himself from the daily tasks of running the office, to work on his business, not in it.

Mark Lewin concludes with some interesting statistics. “Research[2] has shown that only 29% of principals have a 3-5 year strategic plan and 66% of practices do not have an operational business plan for the coming 12 months” he says. “More staggering is the fact that some 59% of practices are not aware of their best clients.

What gets measured, gets done

Whether you are managing a restaurant, a retail outlet or financial planning practice, it is important to know that you are focusing on those things that help your business achieve its mission. Anyone who manages internal processes, understands how challenging it can be to balance daily responsibilities with monitoring how well the business is performing.

It has been said that what gets measured, gets done. However, it can be difficult to evaluate how your practice is performing without the right tools. A quality improvement tool that some financial planning practices have started to use is the annual Information Memorandum (IM). The IM displays crucial data metrics over time that measures how well a practice is achieving its strategic plan and objectives.”

Mark Lewin and his colleagues at Back Office Hero believe that it is essential that planning practices generate reports to provide owners with up-to-date metrics for tracking performance and production. They see this data as being crucial to business plans, as it in turn guides management’s decision making. They also believe that this data should be used to fulfill the objective of measuring business value. Ben Bryant’s business is the perfect case study that demonstrates this, as the accurate client data he now has available in Xplan assists him with the generation of business reports. In short, as the quality of his client data has improved, so has his capacity to produce meaningful reports.

Ben’s first Information Memorandum will be completed at the end of his 12-month program. The document will accurately measure the key metrics of Ben’s practice and along with his new library of procedures, will ultimately support his business valuation. If and when Ben goes to market, buyers naturally will attack the asking price, but it will be the quality of the Information Memorandum that will be relied upon by Ben to support the enterprise value of his practice.  

Regardless of the timetable to sell, Ben’s IM will become an annual “sale ready” document.

The Royal Commission .. getting “exit ready” and optimising your business value

Back Office Hero is now in its third year and the core business remains that of working with financial planning businesses to enhance their business efficiencies and essentially their profitability. Recent months, however, have revealed a fascinating trend: an increasing number of financial planning practices looking to get “exit ready” in order to sell their businesses.

“In the wake of changes relating to the 2018 Royal Commission, we’ve discovered more and more financial planning businesses turning to us to help them with an exit strategy,” explains Lewin. “In my conversations with owners, they virtually all realise that they are not ‘exit ready’ operationally, whilst their client files are also way off the mark when it comes to supporting a sale price. We now offer a program to practice owners that improves the ‘transferability’ of their business, thereby improving the chances of multiple buyers and hence competitive tension.

Being “exit ready” is something Mark Lewin is passionate about. It is a passion that has arisen following the sale of his own financial planning practice. “I spent much of my professional life growing my business and looking after my clients,” he concludes. “Being absolutely exit ready and positioned for a smooth transition was something I not only owed myself after so many years, but something I owed my wife, family and indeed my clients.”

[1] Measurement of Staff Empowerment Within Health Service Organizations, Irvine, Diane, RN, PhD | Leatt, Peggy, PhD | Evans, Martin G., PhD | Baker, Ross G., PhD, Journal of Nursing Measurement Vol 7Issue 1, DOI: 10.1891/1061-3749.7.1.79

[2] Future Ready VIII, Insights into the Australian Advisory Profession, prepared by Business Health Pty Ltd, January 2020 Paper.