[IMGCAP(1)]It is 7:30 AM on a Monday. I am perched on a director-style chair in the exhibit booth at a conference geared towards successful investment advisors, many of whom work with high net worth clients, as I watch the attendees walk into the exhibit hall.
They are here to get their morning cup of coffee, say some hellos, and head into the first breakout session of the day. As I am scanning the crowd and catching snippets of conversations, I am struck by just how different these individuals look and feel from what I have observed at some conferences geared primarily towards CPAs. Allow me to explain.
The shift from CPA to financial advisor requires a shift in mindset. Getting extra licenses and mastering a new set of regulations is not the hard part—CPAs are no strangers to grasping complex technical material and passing tests. Personal traits, temperament and preferences can be less malleable. In the course of building an investment advisory practice you will have to do things that may not come naturally or easily. Here is what hard work might look like.
1. Orientation on the Future
In my observation, this is one of the biggest shifts that a CPA must complete in order to be successful as a financial advisor. Accounting is primarily a past-tense oriented field. A lot of what you do as a CPA deals with what has happened already. As an advisor, you must be willing to drive a stake in the ground and tell a client what you believe the best course of action is, given all the ambiguity and the risk of an unknown future.
2. The Shift from Paper to People
CPAs can be data-driven in their view of the world and approach to the client. I do not suggest that you throw the facts and hard data out the window. However, know that the best financial advisors are keenly tuned into feelings and values of their clients, and not discount them as irrelevant.
3.Letting Go of Having the Answer on the Spot
Many CPAs I know pride themselves on being subject matter experts. Years of study and practice have led them to be able to answer a tax question in their sleep. They expect to be able to do the same in the investments world, and that is simply not an option. The right answer might look like “I will look into this and get back to you,” which can be difficult to accept for a CPA.
4. Outreach is the Name of the Game
If your line of business is accounting, tax and audit, clear and urgent need (driven in large part by government regulations) brings clients to your door without any direct effort on your part. To oversimplify for the sake of example, as long as you can fog up the mirror, have a CPA license and be available, someone will show up. That’s not the case with investment services. There are only a handful of instances in one’s lifetime when the need for a financial advisor is dire. Chances are, few if any clients will show up at your door just because of those extra investment-related abbreviations after your last name. To grow an investment practice, you will have to reach out. Branding, prospecting, marketing and selling will have to become your daily staples.
5. Resilience Will Define the Winners
One statistic I have seen presented is that most aspiring salespeople give up before they get to five instances of prospective client contact. While the referenced study was an older one, the bottom line is that as an investment advisor, you get to hear a lot of no’s. Outreach to client prospects, no matter how carefully thought through and well-executed, is not a guarantee of appointments. Appointments are not a guarantee of clients signing on with you. Rejection happens a lot. Successful financial advisors have tools to keep themselves going.
6. Personal Branding Starts with Appearance
As I watch the conference attendees walk into the hall, I see them walk with their heads held high, a smile ready if something catches their eye. Despite the early morning hour, they look very much alive—relaxed and pleased to be here. Hellos flow easily as greetings are exchanged and introductions are made. This is, by and large, a sharply-dressed and fit crowd. Even though they are at a conference away from the office, they look ready to walk into a meeting with a prospective million dollar client right now.
Not the case with many CPA conferences. Humpty Dumpty sat in an office in the mall, Humpty Dumpty had a deadline in the fall, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not bring themselves to invest with Humpty again.
Be honest: would you trust your life savings to someone who shuffles around looking down at his beat-up sneakers, wearing jeans that don’t fit quite right, his back hunched under the weight of a backpack that has seen better days? Or would you rather choose someone is a well-fitted suit, who looks healthy, fit and ready for a serious conversation? This may come across as harsh and judgmental, and it is. So is the client market.
In order to be successful as a financial advisor, you must be able to take an honest look in the mirror and change the things that are not attractive to your prospective clients. You don’t want to be Humpty Dumpty. You want to be the advisor to the king, so you have to look and act the part.
The investment advisory business is fundamentally different from an accounting business. It uses a different skill set, runs differently and has different success pre-requisites. Whether or not a particular CPA has it in him to build an investment advisory practice is a judgment call that is deeply personal, and well beyond the scope of any one article.
The one thing that I want you to take away is that the investment advisory business is not a place where you can just get your feet wet. In order to succeed, you are going to have to cross a river and deal with being cold, wet and uncomfortable while you are doing it—and for some time after you reach the other side.
If you go halfway across the river and turn back, you are still going to be wet and cold—just back where you started. The distance is the same, so if you start the crossing, you may as well go all the way. Being honest about what it takes is a big part of making it.
In her professional lives across the United States, Natalia Autenrieth has audited Fortune 500 clients as part of a Big 4 team, built an accounting department as a controller of a large hospital, and served as a CPA consultant to municipalities. As part of the Autenrieth Advantage team, Natalia coaches high-achieving CPAs for sustainable growth, helping them build highly profitable careers, avoid burn-out, and have more fun! Natalia lives in Southern California with her husband Doug who is an author, an executive coach, and a kung fu teacher, and their son Mason. They share a home with Tasha the German Shepherd, who is highly trained and exceptionally well behaved, and Kaya the Abyssinian cat, who is a frequent candidate for a one-way ticket to Siberia. Read more about Natalia and her practice at www.AutenriethAdvantage.com.
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