Hard times won’t last forever

Provided by Vincent Holland  co-founder of Plutosoft,

Vincent Holland is a co-founder of Plutosoft
Vincent Holland - Plutosoft co-founder

Hard times won’t last forever

Vincent Holland explains how an advisory firm can succeed both now and beyond the COVID-19 crisis.

Oh my, how things can quickly change.

It was only in February that the Australian share market reached a record high. Unemployment was low and the Federal budget was on track for surplus.

No-one thought to question the stability of the world’s toilet paper supply.

And then, like the scene of a bad sci-fi movie, the world came to a sudden halt. Entire industries stood still. An invisible enemy came to threaten our health, way of life and the survival of many businesses.

If only there was a way to rewind and choose a different ending. But, unfortunately, there isn’t. This is the new reality.

The question is, how should planners respond? 

<sub>Get some perspective

Perhaps the starting point is to see things in perspective, and to cling to some positivity.

During the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), the S&P 500 fell 56 per cent from October 2007 to March 2009. There were grave fears that the world’s banking system would completely collapse, plunging the world’s economy into the abyss.  

But we got through it and share markets subsequently enjoyed nearly 12 years of positive returns.

Many planners sense that this environment has a similar feel to it. Sure, the underlying causes are different and we don’t know when the epidemic will end. But the volatility and sense of market panic seems eerily familiar to the GFC.

Yet, many great planning businesses were built and client relationships forged during that very period. In fact, it is precisely in periods of turmoil that planners can add the most value. 

As one planner/colleague explained to me: “The GFC was a tough time, but it allowed us to build stronger client relationships. It forced us to reassess our business and to implement new changes.  It made us who we are today – a more efficient, profitable and successful business.

No pain, no gain

Elite athletes often talk about their ‘eureka’ moment -  a tough loss or difficult setback - that forced them back to the drawing board and helped build their champion qualities.

Behind every grand slam, premiership or great victory, lie numerous setbacks. And building a great business is no different. There will be setbacks – some completely outside your control. 

Jim Collins, one of the world’s leading authorities on this subject, said that the signature of the truly great is not the absence of difficulty but “the ability to come back from setbacks, even cataclysmic catastrophes, stronger than before”.

The key is to change your mindset. See it as an opportunity to do things better and emerge victorious when you get to the other side. 

So, practically speaking, what might you consider doing?

Your call to action

Well, of course, planners will be caught up in the initial phase of advising and reassuring their clients in relation to the market volatility.

And just about every business has been grappling with the logistical difficulties of re-organising their work force from home. Fortunately, for a financial planning firm, there is not much that can’t be done from home. Remote access and video conferencing software help ensure that business can continue. 

But once the immediate chaos is resolved, there is a bigger picture worth examining

What is your number?

You need to assess how optimally your firm is performing. It is always helpful to look at your numbers because numbers don’t lie and can be a very helpful diagnostic tool.

One of the ratios that I have found to be particularly helpful is the ‘EBIT multiple’. That is, your earners before interest and tax (EBIT) as a percentage of revenue.

According to Macquarie’s most recent Practice Benchmarking Survey, firms, on average, achieved an EBIT margin of 40 per cent. Higher performing firms are able to achieve an EBIT of 53 per cent. The calculation excludes the principals’ salaries, superannuation and drawings.

How does your firm compare and how might it improve?

A figure on the lower end might mean that your firm is new or otherwise undergoing rapid growth. New business is generally time intensive, so more time and resources are spent on acquiring new clients. This might be an acceptable position.

But it may also indicate that your firm is not operating as efficiently as it could be, undercharging, or both. Servicing clients more efficiently does not mean servicing them less. It just means providing the same (or more output) in less time.

Don’t think that simply increasing your rates will, itself, be a silver bullet. The starting point is to look at your own operations and whether your time is being allocated in an optimal manner. 

Advice delivery

Advice delivery is, by far, the area that takes up the most time for most practices. Servicing new clients is time intensive; and servicing ongoing clients is becoming increasingly so.

Gone are the days where planners can simply sit back, relax and enjoy the fruits of an established client book. Planners need to demonstrate they are providing a service commensurate with the fee they are charging.

If an annual review is promised then, in ASIC’s eyes, a planner should provide every ongoing client with a yearly Statement of Advice or Record of Advice.

But with such documents, particularly holistic SoAs, taking countless hours to produce, it is plain to see why this is a big pain point for many firms.

It is here that great technology can hold the key. By automating the most time-consuming and cumbersome parts of the advice process, the time involved in producing advice documents can be greatly reduced.

Software should not only automate the collection of client data from all the relevant sources (including superannuation funds, investment platforms and research houses) but enable planners to easily make recommendations and then produce a high-quality advice document. 

Saving time on advice delivery alone could greatly change your firm’s profitability equation. It means that more clients can be serviced at a reduced cost. Indeed, we have seen firms achieve EBIT multiples far greater than the 53 per cent figure described earlier. And in times such as these, where margins are under pressure, who wouldn’t want to be more profitable?

To the future

We live in unprecedented times. But that’s true of any crisis. The key is not to focus on what you can’t control, but to bounce back more determined than ever. After all, the hard times won’t last forever.

Vincent Holland is a co-founder of Plutosoft, a comprehensive financial planning software and advice production platform for financial planners.

He can be contacted at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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