I love coffee— particularly Balzac’s coffee. I also love going to the Balzac’s cafe closest to my office, where a barista named Greg makes the best coffee and knows me by name.
I noticed that Balzac’s is expanding, selling coffee in airports and grocery stores. Having read a bit about the success of the company, I now have a new hero – Diana Olsen. I’ve read about how she started Balzac’s and expanded it cautiously. As the company grew, she chose to step out of the role of CEO and into the role she loves the most — and is best at — by becoming chief creative officer, responsible for protecting the company’s brand.
Olsen realized that given Balzac’s substantial growth, she was not best equipped to lead it to the next stage. It appears to me that she decided to stick to her strengths and delegate to others. She strikes me as a self-aware and non-egocentric entrepreneur, which is an awesome combination. No wonder I love her coffee.
So what do Balzac’s and Olsen have to do with the financial services industry? Everything! In my second book, Communication Risk: How to Bridge the Client-Advisor Gap to Protect and Grow Your Business, I explain how a key component to success in the financial services industry is knowing yourself enough to focus on your strengths and surround yourself with others whose strengths compensate for your weaknesses.
If you are like many advisors, your main focus is building your business, but your attention to detail may be lacking. You need to consider the risk of failing to meet the standard required for the numerous — and ever-increasing — documents that need to be completed properly for each client, and sometimes for each purchase or redemption.
If, like me and many others in this industry, you have an entrepreneurial spirit, slowing down enough to complete these forms to a standard of perfection can be tortuous. So, know that about yourself, and know that keeping your licence and protecting your reputation depends on getting those forms right. You may need to employ others to review each document before it is submitted for processing to ensure accuracy and completeness.
Some advisors tell me they don’t need to worry about forms because it’s the job of their head office compliance team to catch errors and send forms back for completion. Those advisors are wrong. They are the same advisors who come to my office seeking representation before the regulators or to defend themselves in litigation against clients who say the completed documents were wrong.
Compliance officers and/or supervisors may check each form, but if they miss something or don’t know the clients well enough to identify errors in content, you will not be getting the forms back to correct them. This puts you and your business at risk. When the regulator comes knocking, it is possible that compliance will also be investigated for supervisory failures. But even compliance’s failures will not alleviate you from your compliance obligations and responsibilities.
Compliance is not the only area you want to consider. Like Olsen, you may want to grow your business in a thoughtful, deliberate manner, identifying when others are needed to help in areas that are not your sweet spot, permitting you to focus on your strengths and the areas you enjoy most.
I once met with a very successful older advisor. He told me the secret to his success was his thoughtfulness around growing his business into target markets and staffing his team with people he thought his target market would like best. He thought a middle-aged woman would prefer to be serviced by someone who could relate to her better, and he admitted — leaving his ego aside — that person was not him.
So, know your strengths and weaknesses. Be thoughtful about who you surround yourself with so that you never have to come see me to defend you. However, if you do come to my office, please bring me a Balzac’s coffee — and tell Greg it’s for me!