Why you should focus on processes

Documentation creates better experiences for advisors and leaders.

Why you should focus on processes

Seasoned financial services leaders know many secrets. Among the most powerful is that impactful leadership is often the result of persistent routine and professional ritual. They have processes to replicate their success. 

When it comes to production, high performance lies in the systems that are developed both intentionally and by circumstance. No matter how good new recruits and support staff are, they can’t possibly duplicate the success of previous high-performing advisors without understanding the process. And while coaching and training can get you far, the best system to capture processes is through real-time documentation.  

When we spoke to leaders across several countries, we learned how they are documenting their processes to drive strong results for their agencies and clients. Here’s what they told us. 

Envision the big picture 

Singapore-based financial services director Vincent Gan, ChFC, CLU, believes strongly in working through processes. In fact, he designed his own. A chemical engineer by training, Gan eventually moved into banking and financial services, where he became a quick study as a new advisor through training modules covering specialties such as savings, investments and taxation. Many of those processes seemed too piecemeal to be useful in Gan’s day-to-day interactions with colleagues and clients, so he created his own.  

Gan calls it the personal financial planning framework. “The framework basically has four domains: A, B, C and D. A stands for assuring one’s income. B is building wealth. C is controlling financial expenses, like tax and debt interest. Last but not least, D is distributing one’s wealth,” Gan said. 

Help advisors create processes 

In addition to process documentation for client interactions, Canada-based Sun Life District Director Khushaal Kalra, CFP, CLU, encourages advisors to use the suite of manuals developed by the company. These manuals assist advisors with various workflows involved in executing transactions and providing service to clients.  

Sun Life 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 well, he said. 

As advisor team complexity increases, Kalra encourages and supports increased process documentation by offering the use of internal consultants to help advisory teams optimize their workflow. “As an organization, we aim to provide proper guidance on processes to ensure our advisors can operate effectively and provide clients with a strong and consistent level of service, but also maintain support for our advisors to operate their businesses in a way that works for them. It’s all about putting the client at the enter of everything we do.” 

Participate in fluid conversations 

In the past, Gan and his team realized some of their client notes were poorly done. Often, the person who wrote them couldn’t remember what the notes meant. His framework now makes it easier for both advisors and clients to pick up where they left off. “We use either actionable keywords or non-actionable keywords, so that it’s very simple for them to recall.” 

This keyword-driven note-keeping process addresses another challenge, too: institutional-knowledge loss. “We had a practical concern about the impact of advisors leaving the business. If you have a new advisor take over with a different framework, this can lead to different ways of framing the discussions. This might leave clients frustrated to start from scratch,” Gan said.  

Gan educates his clients about the process and publishes explanatory videos on his YouTube channel to help them understand the framework quickly. “We keep clients in a fluid conversation by using a simple email template. After every conversation, we send a report to the client. We’ll say: ‘We met this time. There were no discussions pertaining to A, C and D, and our meeting was focused very much on B, retirement planning. This is what we talked about, and these are the recommendations.’” 

Gan’s colleague, Fabian Chan, ChFC, B.Eng, is also a director of financial services in Singapore. Like Gan, he believes strong process documentation drives better advisory outcomes. “Advisors need to make sure the data collected is as accurate as what the client has given. Wrong documentation can give a skewed analysis, which can result in a poor recommendation of solutions,” he said.  

Chan gives the hypothetical example of a client who wants to take a one-year sabbatical from work, starting in six months, so they can travel the world. “We may plan based on how best to liquidate or restructure her investments to help to sustain her impending lifestyle. And how to reposition and enhance her coverage so she is still protected without salary income,” he said. “But the client might give new decisions and directions every few weeks. Hence, constant documentation helps both parties avoid misunderstanding.” 

Gan echoes this sentiment: “Every discussion with the client has to be recorded. Unless we’re keeping records, we don’t know where we are in the process.” 

Adhere to compliance requirements 

There is an extra incentive for Gan and Chan to concern themselves with process. In Singapore, production processes must adhere to certain government rules. “There are six steps to be incorporated in all sales platforms,” Chan said. “Our reps and leaders are also tracked in terms of their quality of advice and given a scorecard grade annually.”  

Authorities in Singapore have been eager to ensure clients can better understand their policies and holdings. In November 2022, the country’s government announced individuals can digitally access and aggregate life, accident and health insurance policies held across different participating insurers. The inclusion of information on insurance policies to the Singapore Financial Data Exchange was the result of a collaboration with the Life Insurance Association of Singapore, the Association of Banks in Singapore and government agencies. 

Chan welcomes these guardrails, which keep his advisors focused on process documentation and offer measurable data to promote his agency to potential clients. “Clients know the solutions we propose are carefully crafted in their best interest,” he said. “They will also be at ease to know advisors are being graded on their advice.”  

Prioritize processes

Grading also proves useful for Sun Life’s Kalra. He believes it’s valuable for advisors to grade their various operational tasks according to three factors: client impact, complexity and risk.

“A high client impact score refers to tasks that clients need executed accurately and with urgency, such as redemptions or banking changes,” said Kalra. On the other hand, high-complexity tasks are those that need either multiple successive steps or a high level of skill to execute. For example, this could include making certain trade orders or financial planning.   “Some tasks represent a greater risk to advisors where they may be responsible for a cost or face discipline if there are errors — such as trade timing or policy deliveries,” he added. He recommends advisors give these tasks a defined and documented process to ensure they are executed consistently, quickly and error-free.     Kalra said Sun Life aims to provide advisors with proper guidance on processes to ensure they can operate effectively and provide clients with a superior experience, but that advisors can also operate their businesses in a way that works for them.    For example, the company has well-defined processes for the documentation and storage of client files that use the capabilities of the firm’s main customer relationship management tool, Salesforce. “While some advisors do keep elements of the client file on paper, including those that have to be maintained on paper due to regulatory obligations, we are seeing increasing adoption of digital record-keeping,” Kalra said.     Advisors can also access supporting documentation and templates to guide them through their advisory roles. This includes a tool known as the Client for Life Interaction Model, which outlines the stages of a client relationship and provides advisors with procedural support for each one.     Kalra believes who you assign to manage advisory process documentation is ultimately less conceptually critical than the fact that the role exists, is understood and has someone doing the work. “Pick the person best suited for the task and empower them to do it,” he said. 

Expand possibilities for client and advisor 

In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, life planner Teoh Junzi initially struggled with the shift to digital client services. But now, an electronic paper trail helps his team perform at a much higher level. “I only have one support staff in our agency, and we have five advisors. We all share that support staff member. I have a pool of 600 customers. With digitalization, everything is simplified.”  

This has allowed him to forego hiring a personal assistant, as he might have in the past. “Now, I will only contact support staff to help me with hard copies of documents,” he said. 

The agency’s shift to digital began in 2014 and was hastened by the pandemic. Junzi said his leadership team uses a series of apps to monitor and measure team progress. They all must key in their appointment details in a sales application, including how many customers they met, how much time the appointment took and for what purpose. 

Junzi began to meet many customers face to face again after Malaysia’s pandemic movement orders were lifted. “If clients are not comfortable meeting face to face, they can still meet us using Zoom, and then we can use a remote signature link if they need.” 

Junzi believes digital processes ultimately help leaders move beyond slow and burdensome paperwork, so agencies can provide better service to customers. “For example, we recently launched a total health and wealth solution to bring customers into our ecosystem. With this, they can know and understand policy more effectively. They can open up their account anywhere. And they can be prepared to move forward, to plan a new policy,” he said.  

Review and enhance

The leaders we spoke with agreed it’s important to encourage advisors to adopt a mentality of continuous improvement. “That means that they are looking at their engagement processes regularly to find opportunities to both deliver better service to clients as well as improve efficiencies,” Kalra said. “The cadence for this is dependent entirely on the advisor team and their overall business plan.” 

Most teams at Kalra’s organization reassess their own processes on a one- to three-year cycle, depending on the type of process. He also sees a need for process realignment, both in terms of corporate guidance and advisor process, when new capabilities and tools are rolled out. 

“A process on paper is meaningless unless the entire team is held accountable for following it,” Kalra said.

Luke O’Neill is a Sydney, Australia-based writer and content strategist. He writes about B2B fintech and financial services for brands, publishers and agencies. He owns Genuine Communications. 

Contact: Vincent Gan vincentgan@thevinceproject.com 

Fabian Chan chanwengtuck@rep.greateasternfa.sg 

Khushaal Kalra khushaal.kalra@sunlife.com 

Teoh Junzi junzi.teoh@aia-premier.com.my