‘Smart’ Approach to Business Building

by & filed under All Articles, Growth Leadership.

Reprinted with permission from CPA Practice Management Forum

If your firm is considering acquiring or expanding its capability in financial advisory services, consider the “Smart” approach taken by James P. Quinlan. A CPA and Certified Financial Planner, Quinlan is the partner-in-charge of the Financial Advisory Services division of SMART, a consulting and accounting firm. The practice he’s built over the past 6 years specializes in financial advisory services for high net-worth individuals and owners of closely held businesses.

SMART’s website acknowledges that, “Financial success is not an overnight event.” The same caveat applies to CPA firms expanding into this exciting and potentially lucrative domain. Read on to learn more about SMART and how to leverage its experience to grow your financial advisory business.

Better Together

When Quinlan joined the SMART organization in the late 1999, his practice was managing about $5 million in assets. Today that figure has ballooned to an impressive $500 million. Was Quinlan extremely talented or was he a clairvoyant who could foresee success? Perhaps both were in play.

Quinlan brought expertise and passion for providing financial advisory services to SMART. In turn, the firm offered him an ideal incubator for hatching a successful enterprise. Among factors were its marquee value within the marketplace, well-regarded partners, credibility, size and reputation. But despite the good match, all was not smooth sailing, especially at the outset. One obstacle Quinlan faced was limited knowledge within the firm about the value of financial advisory services to the firm’s clients.

He helped overcome this obstacle in several ways, including periodic internal communications about recent wins by the practice and educating co-workers about cross-selling financial advisory services to their clients. Partners with whom he developed an easy rapport and welcomed the added value of financial advisory services, helped by making valuable introductions to their clients. Client’s perception of him as a SMART colleague gave him instant entrée. Quinlan was also able to use his own contacts and expertise to dramatically grow SMART’s financial advisory service offerings. Over time the distinctive advantages brought to the table by SMART, coalesced into a robust financial planning practice.

Team of Specialists

From the beginning, it became evident to Quinlan that if he wanted to keep up with SMART’s growth, he needed to surround himself with a team of specialists. He set forth a strategy to create a team that specialized in specific financial advisory disciplines as well as specific target markets aimed at enhancing the “client experience”. This includes financial disciplines such as estate planning, risk management, compensation strategies, and tax planning. Advisors specialize in working with business owners, corporate executives, and athletes and entertainers.

Building a team of specialists dedicated to specific financial disciplines was instrumental in achieving growth in SMART’s financial advisory services division. However, Quinlan knew that other specialists were needed in order to keep the daily operational activities running smoothly. As a result, Quinlan built internal departments with service leaders at the forefront to help his advisors focus more time on their clients. These departments include; Investment Strategies, Financial Planning, Marketing, Insurance Underwriting, Compliance and Reporting. Quinlan designated a service leader for each department who is responsible for creating and overseeing processes that streamlines productivity. As a result, SMART’s advisors have the critical support they need in these areas without having to spend a lot of their time developing protocol and systems. The time the advisor used to spend on marketing campaigns, investment due diligence, development of financial plans, reporting and compliance issues is now spent in front of clients and potential clients, where their time is best suited.

SMART’s dedication to serving its clients by using a team approach has proved to be instrumental in its success and growth. By offering its clients a team of specialists in every area critical to their financial lives, SMART distinguishes itself from other firms.

Replicable Strategy

The operative strategy in this case was transplanting a fairly mature offering into a new, relatively receptive environment. The firm wanted to grow and believed its clients would respond to a trusted advisor with existing traction.

What’s in It for You?

Among best practices you can take – and use – from the Quinlan/ SMART file are the following:

  • Consider recruiting an experienced financial advisor professional who seeks association with a strong CPA firm.
  • Enlist support from major players within the firm who are dedicated to cross-selling the service.
  • Make sure that your expert excels in planning, as well as in execution of the plan (investment/insurance services). Hone a professional financial-planning process for which clients expect to pay.
  • Build an infrastructure that will nurture your financial advisory services. Provide marketing support, reporting and compliance assistance and other requested resources.
Gale Crosley

About Gale Crosley

Gale Crosley, CPA, has been awarded The Advisory Board Hall of Fame. She was selected one of the Most Recommended Consultants in the Inside Public Accounting BEST OF THE BEST Annual Survey of Firms for fifteen years, and one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting by AccountingToday for fourteen years. She is an honors accounting graduate from the University of Akron, Ohio, winner of the Simonetti Distinguished Business Alumni Award, and an Editorial Advisor for the Journal of Accountancy. Gale is founder and principal of Crosley+Company, providing revenue growth consulting and coaching to CPA firms. She brings more than 30 years of experience, featuring a unique combination as a practicing CPA in two national accounting firms, along with significant experience in business development in the cutting edge technology environment with such firms as IBM and MCI.

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