Reputation death, Pt. 4: Don’t be an agent of chaos

By Steven McCarty

The National Ethics Association


Poor Maxwell Smart, the bumbling secret agent of the 1960s TV show, “Get Smart.” He was so clumsy, naive and foolish that he screwed up constantly. Still, he was resourceful enough to always defeat the evil spies from KAOS.

I wish I could say the same about many advisors I see operating today. Clearly, they are fighting for control in a world of chaos. Everything is changing so rapidly — products, regulations, technology, client needs, business procedures — that it’s hard for them to stay current.

Even worse, many appear to lack basic organizational skills. Their self-created chaos spawns errors and omissions that harm clients and kill business reputations. Think about it. When you don’t control your business, you increase the odds of messing up. When this happens, clients will question your competence. From the client’s point of view, one mistake is forgivable. Two mistakes is a problem. Three mistakes means it's time to start looking for a new advisor.

So, how do you exert stronger control over your practice? Here are a few pointers:

First, to manage your time, make effective use of a calendar, preferably an automated one that runs on a desktop computer, a smartphone and a tablet (should you start using one). One of my favorite activity managers is called Toodledo. It lets you input tasks, store them in folders, attach them to goals and due dates, and assign priorities. Toodledo is also a collaboration platform, so you can share your tasks with staff, as needed. There are many other options, as well.

Second, be highly disciplined about compiling client data. Again, the solutions are endless. The important thing is to get smart about documenting the outcome of every — and I mean every — client interaction. Many agents use digital recorders or smartphone apps to capture decisions made. Then they turn their audio files over to an assistant for transcription and filing. Another convenient method is to use an inexpensive phone app like Evernote to document outcomes.

Third, stay on top of business workflow. This is pivotal because you need to be able to immediately answer client questions. Fortunately, most insurers and investment companies give advisors the ability to check underwriting or issue status and investment values online in real time. The key here is to know exactly how these systems work so you can do it in your sleep. Or, assign the task to your administrative staff.

The point is this: If you care about your long-term business reputation, don’t make phone calls on your shoe or have client meetings in a cone of silence. Just get smart . . . and get organized!