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Implementing strategies to be a highly successful advisor is easier said than done – and working them into a day-to-day practice requires advisors to step out of their comfort zones.

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Understanding what paves the road to success is a thought at the back of every financial advisor’s mind.

And according to results of the fifth annual Advisor Authority survey in the United States, commissioned by Louisville, Ky.-based Nationwide Advisory Solutions, the most successful advisors are those who stay one step ahead of their competitors; innovate technologically; put their clients first; and commit to an exceptional client experience.

The study, which surveyed 1,021 advisors and 824 investors in the U.S. earlier this year, highlights seven habits in total that “highly successful” advisors – defined as those who earn a personal annual income of US$500,000 or more from their advisory business, or manage US$250-million or more in client assets – have in common.

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In addition to the aforementioned four habits, the study also suggests that successful advisors are constantly targeting new clients while focusing on retaining heirs; are bullish on mergers and acquisitions in the advisory business; and have a thorough plan to protect their clients against market risk.

Craig Hawley, head of Nationwide Advisory Solutions, says staying one step ahead of competitors – the number one habit among highly successful advisors – requires being open to bringing on new talent to your practice.

Hiring younger staff is not only a way for firms to manage their workload, it’s also a step toward succession planning and ensuring an advisory business’s longevity. According to the study, 22 per cent of highly successful advisors prioritize adding new hires compared with 11 per cent of all other advisors.

However, this is a step that many advisors struggle with, Mr. Hawley says. It means that firms able to leverage young talent successfully will stand out from the pack.

“In the U.S., we’re dealing with an aging advisor population, and bringing new folks into the system is pretty challenging,” he says.

Bringing on younger team members is also an effective way for firms to target younger clients and their current aging clients’ heirs. As retiring baby boomers begin to transfer their wealth to younger family members (Generation Xers and millennials), hiring younger staff can help firms “bridge the gap” between generations, Mr. Hawley says.

George Hartman, president and chief executive at Market Logics Inc. in Toronto, warns advisors of the rates of client retention during intergenerational wealth transfers. A 2015 InvestmentNews survey of 544 advisors in the U.S. found that two-thirds of clients’ heirs fire their parents’ advisors shortly after receiving an inheritance. And PricewaterhouseCoopers International Ltd.’s Global Private Banking and Wealth Management Survey 2013 reports that younger generations’ decision to leave a firm is the third most common reason advisors lose clients.

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“We know from the research that the majority of children, once parents pass the wealth to them, don’t retain the same advisor. So, start those relationships early. Get the clients on board,” Mr. Hartman says

“We talk about getting introductions, we need to have more than introductions from parents to their adult children. We need to get a passionate endorsement to be able to do that,” he says. “We have to be able to demonstrate to the younger generation we understand what the priorities are for them and how to communicate with them.”

Part of reaching younger clients involves being up to date on communications technology, Mr. Hartman says, noting that many millennial clients don’t like to receive PDFs and are generally mobile-first, meaning they’re most accessible through smartphones and tablets.

But advisors should lean into technology from all directions to improve their practices’ efficiency. Adopting artificial intelligence (AI) or robo-advisor technology to handle investment management, for example, frees up an advisor’s time to focus on the client experience and provide holistic, personalized advice.

According to the Advisor Authority survey, 41 per cent of highly successful advisors incorporate AI into their practices (compared with 27 per cent of all other advisors) while 26 per cent incorporate robo-advisors (compared with 17 per cent of all other advisors).

“Technology doesn’t disintermediate the advisor. In fact, it helps them become more fully engaged with their clients,” Mr. Hartman says. “Whether it’s a communications strategy, a compiling tool or account management software – all of those things can deepen and strengthen the client relationship by freeing the advisor up to focus more on the interpersonal activity than the mechanics of what’s the planning or the investment strategy.”

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Mr. Hawley says the advisors who tend to have the greatest amount of prosperity with new technology are “early adopters” who give themselves an edge over other advisors who are hesitant to try new tools.

Scott Plaskett, senior financial planner and CEO at Ironshield Financial Planning in Toronto, has noticed that smaller, more nimble advisory firms tend to find the greatest success with technology.

At larger, legacy firms, he says, “anybody who brings new technology to the table is probably pushed back, [with the firm] saying, ‘No, we’re not going to adopt that.’ It’s the smaller, more nimble firms that are setting the mark.”

A growing number of highly successful advisors are also aligning themselves with clients’ needs. Part of putting clients first – the third most important strategy that highly successful advisors adopt, according to the Advisor Authority survey – is for advisors to hold themselves to a fiduciary standard and know when to say ‘No’ to a client whose needs might not align with what advisors can offer.

This is a challenge for many advisors, though, Mr. Hawley says, as the first instinct is likely to accept any client who walks in the door in order to build a book of business and add revenue. But there’s profitability in focusing on what you’re good at; turning clients down can be as easy as having a simple conversation and making a referral.

“Say, ‘Look, I’m really good at X, Y and Z, and you’re not looking for X, Y and Z. Perhaps I can pass you along to someone who’s really good at A, B, and C, which is what you need. I don’t want to charge you for something I’m not good at,’” Mr. Hawley says.

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Implementing some of these strategies is easier said than done, and working them into a day-to-day practice requires advisors to step out of their comfort zones.

“Think of the strategies or the tactics required to implement [these practices],” Mr. Hartman says, noting that many advisors he’s worked with are reluctant to make changes in their practices until it becomes critical to do so.

“How do you elevate your customer? How do you attract new clients? How do you go to the next generation? How do you invest in technology? I like to encourage [advisors] to be more proactive,” he says.

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