How to keep track of endless processes and procedures

Q&A with Khushaal Kalra.

How to keep track of endless processes and procedures

To say Khushaal Kalra, CFP, CLU, values process documentation would be an understatement. The financial services company where he works has more than 52,500 employees and 97,400 advisors worldwide (as of the end of 2022). His own team, based in and around Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, has 110 members, 41 of whom are advisors.  

With an organization this complex, many processes need to be documented. So, it should come as no surprise that process documentation is a matter of routine. Here, Kalra explains the ins and outs of keeping everyone on a global stage on the same page. 

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.  

Q: What does process documentation look at like at a large organization like yours? 

A: Our channel supports multiple different advisor business models ranging from a single, stand-alone advisor to multi-advisor corporations that employ tens of individuals. As a result, a fair amount of process documentation is usually generated at the advisor level. As advisor team complexity increases, we often see teams create their own internal processes and operations guides. We actively encourage and support increased process documentation by offering the use of internal consultants to help our advisory teams optimize their workflow. 

Q: What exactly do you document?  

A: Documentation and process largely fall into two categories — client-facing and non-client-facing. Client-facing documentation includes all elements that pertain directly to clients or prospects and forms part of the client file. Some common elements of client-facing documentation include account-opening documentation, policy-application summaries, advisor copies of client forms and file notes. We now can hold exclusively digital files for nearly all new clients, and we strongly encourage our advisors to do so.   

Q: Aside from internal consultants, what training do you provide for process documentation? 

A:  We provide a fair amount of process documentation to our advisors. The foundation of this is what we call the Client for Life Interaction Model. This tool outlines the different stages of the client relationship and provides advisors with procedural support for each stage, including documentation requirements and templates that advisors can use in their business. We have also created and continue to maintain a suite of manuals that assist advisors with various workflows involved in executing transactions and providing service to clients. This process enables us to put the client at the center of everything we do.  

Q: What are the most important processes to document? 

A: There is a set of principles that advisors can use to help determine the most important processes to document. It is valuable for advisors to grade their various operational tasks according to three factors: client impact, complexity and risk. When looking at the scope of operations within an advisor business, any tasks that rate highly in that matrix should have a defined and documented process to ensure they are executed consistently, quickly and without error.  

Q: How often do you revise processes?  

A: There is no hard-and-fast timeline for updating processes. The cadence for developing, updating or retiring processes is different for externally driven changes and internally driven changes. Externally driven changes are usually those that are required either by a change in regulation or some other environmental variable. The obvious example was the change that was required due to the COVID-19 lockdown. While different firms faced this in their own ways, we already had all the virtual meeting and electronic signature capabilities deployed that we needed to operate virtually — but our business processes for their use weren’t yet mature. Once the lockdowns started, we made some very quick changes to our process guidance to enable our advisors to conduct business fully remotely with limited impact to clients. This helped us protect the safety of our advisors and clients, and ensured we could be there for clients when they needed us most. 

Internally driven changes are derived from a desire for improvement instead of being caused by a sudden change in the external environment. We encourage our advisors to adopt a mentality of continuous improvement. In general, we will see most of our teams reassess their own processes on a one- to three-year cycle depending on what type of process it is. We will also see process realignment both in terms of corporate guidance and advisor process when new capabilities and tools are rolled out. 

I also recommend that our advisors engage our internal consultants for process optimization when they start thinking about scale. For example, when they are acquiring a block of business. Growth and scale put immense pressure on a business that isn’t prepared for it. 

Q: Does regulation drive any of your process documentation protocol? 

A: Absolutely. From a corporate perspective, we maintain regularly updated compliance manuals for both insurance and wealth management. Tasks that are required to accomplish regulatory mandates should fall into the high-risk category and should have a defined process to accommodate them. Changing regulation is also a prominent external factor that will drive the retirement and development of business processes. In our industry, regulation is ever-present and ever-changing.  

Q: Do you view process documentation as everyone’s responsibility, or is it better for it to be a primary focus of key people or support staff? 

A: I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all solution with respect to process generation. Some processes will be handed down to advisors, and they adapt to them. In those situations, there is no opportunity for co-creation. Outside of mandates, the creation and management of operational processes should be its own defined role. In the case of a single advisor with no staff, it is a role the advisor will hold in addition to their productivity-focused role.  

Ultimately, this is where an advisor needs to determine if they are a practitioner, a business owner or something in between. Who gets assigned the process-management role is less conceptually critical than the fact that the role exists, is understood and has someone doing the work.  

I believe that it is everyone’s responsibility to execute the process that is documented. A process on paper is meaningless unless the entire team adopts it and is held accountable for following it. 

Contact: Khushaal Kalra