There’s no debate that building a successful financial advisory practice has become increasingly complex. In fact, many advisors now spend more time managing their businesses than practising their craft as wise counsellors to their clients. In order to shift that balance, you need a compelling, articulated vision of what you want your practice to look like and well-designed systems to support that vision.

Regrettably, there are few places to which you can go to learn much about running your business beyond what’s required for licensing or compliance. Many firms in the distribution channel – such as life insurance companies and brokerages – that once offered such training have either scaled back or completely abandoned their in-house programs or redirected the focus to product knowledge rather than practice management. So, where is a new advisor – or even an experienced one – to find the critical education he or she needs to build and sustain a successful business?

One source I’d suggest is the new book by Daniel Collison, The Financial Advisor’s Guide to Excellence: Becoming a World-Class Practitioner.

I’d describe this publication as a “textbook with a twist,” in that it combines an academic approach with insights and editorial comments that provide context and motivation for the technical information contained within. That’s not so surprising if we consider that the author has 25 years of experience as a practitioner, manager and advisor mentor. He also is actively involved in academics at the community college and university levels.

The book is really three in one, which accounts for its 510 pages. However, by addressing three major roles advisors need to perform well – the tactical technician, the strategic manager, the enduring visionary – in one comprehensive volume, Collison is able to highlight the interdependence of each facet and demonstrate how they combine into a cohesive approach to building an enduring business.

Part 1: the tactical technician focuses on the role advisors play on behalf of their clients. We learn that there are four major impediments to wealth creation: lack of financial knowledge; taxation; inflation; and life changes, such as death, disability and divorce. Solutions for each are suggested; although none are in-depth, they’re enough to set you on the right course.

A framework for data-gathering, analyzing client needs, presenting, implementing solutions and monitoring the resulting plan is offered. Goal-setting obviously is an important topic for advisors and their clients, so goal-setting theory is explained (an example of the academic side of the book), along with sample dialogue that might occur between advisor and client (an example of the practical side of the book).

The recommended financial planning process parallels the six steps in the financial planning process (Collison is a certified financial planner) and he emphasizes the engagement process, including a sample letter of engagement.

Part 2: the strategic manager shifts the focus from the role of being an advisor to the role of entrepreneur. Discovering and expressing personal values, business purpose and long-term vision are key building blocks in a strategic plan, so each receives attention. Academia creeps back in through discussions of environmental analysis, “SWOT” and Porter’s Generic Strategies. However, nothing is so long or deep as to make it unbearable.

For virtually every advisor, marketing is an area of high interest, and much of this section of the book is devoted to development and implementation of a marketing strategy, including “ideal” client profile, unique value proposition and target markets.

Prospecting forms a key part of any marketing plan, and Collison covers the gamut of prospecting activities from cold-calling to obtaining introductions and referrals from trusting clients. This part of the book concludes with ideas on segmenting your client base and developing a service and communication plan with clients, including the establishment of a client advisory council.

Part 3: the enduring visionary introduces the valuable concept of creating “playbooks” for each of the tactical technician, the strategic manager and the enduring visionary. Each playbook describes, in detail, all the processes to be employed in that mandate. These guides can be used as a reference, for training purposes and, ultimately, to guide your successor.

The final chapter addresses the importance of having a succession plan for your eventual exit from the business. Again, while the content is neither profound nor necessarily original, it emphasizes the fact that your succession is really all about your legacy.

Despite the heft, The Financial Advisor’s Guide to Excellence shouldn’t be viewed as an all-inclusive resource for advisors seeking to build a successful and enduring practice. I’d describe it more as a “syllabus on steroids” for plotting your own curriculum to gain the knowledge needed to advance your unique business. As such, this book serves a worthwhile purpose. I hope it becomes a permanent part of every educational program for both aspiring and experienced advisors.

The Financial Advisor’s Guide to Excellence: Becoming a World-Class Practitioner

by Daniel Collison,

Carswell; 510 pages,


* * * *

© 2014 Investment Executive. All rights reserved.