Steve Sanduski, CFP®
President, Belay Advisor
Ben D. Jones
Managing Director – Intermediary Distribution
BMO Global Asset Management
BMO Global Asset Management
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Inside look at the strategies of the most successful advisors
Our guest in this episode is Steve Sanduski – founder of Belay Advisor, a financial advisor coaching and consulting company. Steve has worked with thousands of leading advisors, conducting interviews to gather best practices and analyzing their successes and failures. He has ultimately distilled this knowledge into four actionable strategies. We’ll talk about people, clarity, systems, and generating business, as well as the obstacles that keep firms from reaching their full potential.
In this episode:
- How to attract talent to your firm
- Designing culture
- How to grow exponentially instead of incrementally
- The habits and routines of top advisors
- A repeatable system for generating new business
Like what you hear?
Steve Sanduski – Be very true to who you are, have extreme clarity on what it is that you stand for, the value that you provide, and be generous and enthusiastic in communicating that message to other people.
Ben Jones – Welcome to Better conversations. Better outcomes. presented by BMO Global Asset Management. I’m Ben Jones.
Matt Smith – And I’m Matt Smith. In each episode, we’ll explore topics relevant to today’s trusted advisors, interviewing experts and investigating the world of wealth advising from every angle. We’ll also provide actionable ideas designed to improve outcomes for advisors and their clients.
Ben Jones – To learn more, visit us at bmogam.com/betterconversations. Thanks for joining us.
Disclosures – The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of BMO Global Asset Management, its affiliates, or subsidiaries.
Matt Smith – Today on the podcast, we’re talking about the top strategies employed by leading advisory teams in the financial services industry, and we’ve got a great guest.
Steve Sanduski – My name is Steve Sandusky. I’ve been a certified financial planner for more than 20 years and I run a company called Belay Advisor, and what we do at Belay is we help financial advisors and the companies that serve them be more successful, and we do that through coaching, through strategic consulting, and through marketing services. I’ve been fortunate that I have worked closely with some of the top financial advisors in the country, like my old business partner, literally one of the top 10 Barron’s advisors in the country. I’ve consulted with some of the multi-billion dollar assets under management RIA firms in the country. So, I’ve really been fortunate from that standpoint. With my podcast, I’ve been able to have conversations, deep conversations with some of these top advisors. That, coupled with really being a student of this business and really trying to understand what it is that makes advisors successful, and then combining that with also looking at what is happening outside of our industry, and I think sometimes it’s easy for us to just get tunnel vision, where we just focus on our business, but what I like to do is also — I like to go to conferences outside of our industry. I like to talk to people outside of our industry and figure out how can we take what these people are doing and what these companies are doing and apply them to our industry, to bring new ideas to what we’re doing in our industry. So, a combination of all of those things really leads to getting a good understanding of what these most successful advisors are doing.
Matt Smith – Ben Jones sat down with Steve Sandusky in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Ben Jones – Steve mentioned he hosts a podcast for Baley Advisor called Between Now and Success, which you can access a link to from our show notes page at bmogam.com/betterconversations. Between the podcast and Steve’s coaching program, he’s worked with thousands of financial advisors, and he’s been able to take that information and distill the top strategies for success into four key areas.
Matt Smith – The first is about people. The second is about extreme clarity on the value you provide. The third is about systems thinking and habits, and the fourth is about a repeatable system that generates new business.
Ben Jones – But first, let’s take a moment to understand part of Steve’s history that got him to where he is today.
Steve Sanduski – Well, I’m a native of Omaha, Nebraska, so I kind of grew up around the idea of the financial markets, and my dad has been an investor literally for more than 60 years. And I remember growing up in the 1970s, we would have dinner at the exact same time, we’d have the radio on, and the guy from KFAB radio at like 5:20 every afternoon, they’d cut and the guy would come on and he’d say, okay, now it’s time for the market minute, and here’s stocks of local interest, and here’s what the Dow Jones industrial average closed at. So, that was kind of my early education of what is the financial markets, and by the time I was a sophomore in high school, I had accumulated a whopping $2,000, and so I went to my dad and I said, dad, I said I’d like to do something with this, and he said, well, you should invest it. And I said, well, what should I invest in? He said Standard Oil of Indiana, and this is about 1978, and so I — just to kind of give you a sense of how things have changed since then, I took 1,000 of my 2,000, so I took half of my net worth, I wrote out a check, and I mailed it off to like the registrar for the company that handled Standard Oil of Indiana, and they had a dividend reinvestment program, and like once a month or once a quarter, they would take all the accumulated reinvestments, they’d buy it all at once, and then they’d tell you what you got. So, I don’t know if it was a month, two months later, I get a notification in the mail that says you are now the proud owner of 12 and a half shares of Standard Oil of Indiana at 80 7/8. Okay. This is before we went to decimals. And I guess I got beginner’s luck, because this stock tripled over the next like two and a half years. So, long story short, that was really my interest in the markets, and so went to college, grad school, and ultimately in the early 1990s, found my way into this business and have been in the business ever since the early 1980s and have been an investor since the late ’70s.
Matt Smith – Steve’s curiosity and affection for the financial services industry has led him to be a lifelong learner of the craft of creating a successful advisory business. He starts with the top strategies surrounding people and clarity of purpose.
Ben Jones – Today, we’re talking about the most successful advisory teams and what makes them so successful. Talk to me a little bit about what those strategies are, what have you identified.
Matt Smith – Well, I would say first and foremost, it comes down to people, and that might sound like, well, gee, that’s a simple idea, Steve, but I got to tell you, every engagement that I have with a financial advisor, with an RIA firm, with a mutual fund company for example, there’s always a people issue, and usually it’s there’s someone on the team that shouldn’t be on the team, maybe this was someone that was with them from the early days, now they’ve been there for 10 years and the company has outgrown them and they haven’t grown with it, but the advisor is like, well, I want to be loyal, these people have been loyal to me, and so there’s always an issue with the people. And I just can’t stress enough how important it is to make sure that you have the absolutely best people possible on your team if you want to be successful.
Ben Jones – And so to do that, you not only have to keep a constant list of talent in your geography, you also have to figure out how to attract them, and talk to me about some of the ways that folks have attracted people when it’s not just about money.
Steve Sanduski – Well, good question, and the idea is that you want to keep a short list. And so you should always be in recruiting mode, even if you don’t have a position available. So, always keep your eyes and ears open, always be networking, always try and have a short list of people that you say, you know, I’m going to have a need for someone like that at some point, so I’m just going to make sure that I stay engaged with them and have a relationship with them. So, I think that’s a key thing. A second thing is you really have to have a culture that is going to make people want to work with you, and that’s another thing that I see so often is that firms have a culture by default as opposed to one that they have intentionally tried to define and tried to cultivate. So, when you combine, say a performance based culture with getting top people, sky’s the limit.
Ben Jones – I just recently over the weekend actually finished a book by Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. One of the things that he said about this culture is that the CEO is the keeper of the story. The culture tends to just mirror the way that they behave and act, and if they haven’t put a lot of time into the type of firm they’re trying to build and what it means to work in that environment and how the environment is structured and all of the little things, it just kind of is an accidental culture, and I think that’s a great way to put it. I really like that. So, the number one thing for our top advisors is to start with people. What’s next?
Steve Sanduski – I would say number two is you have to have extreme clarity on the value that your company provides to your clients, and I have seen so often that if you just survive in the business as a financial advisor for five, ten years; if you can make it that long, you’re going to make it. If you can accumulate some assets under management, just the sheer momentum, if you don’t something stupid, you’re going to survive and you’re going to have a decent business and probably even more than a decent business, make a very good living. But the people who really make the big jump, the firms that go from $100M in assets under management to $1B or 2$B under management, they have extremely clarity on the value that they bring to the table. They don’t just get clients by default. They know exactly here’s who our target clients are, here are the particular challenges that our clients have, here are the strategies that we use to solve those problems, and even beyond that, they know, in short sound bites, they can explain this is who we are and this what we do, and we talk about the importance of culture as well. That value proposition or that core proposition is totally reinforced by the culture. The leader of the company, the CEO, will embody that value proposition, and they will act in accordance with that value proposition so they’ve got that alignment there.
Ben Jones – One common issue that comes up with advisory firms is that the CEO has a really deep sense of purpose and clarity, but is only thinking about incremental growth in the business by doing more of the same types of things. To grow your business by 10X, you need to think about your business in a completely different way. Steve told me you need to add a zero to everything that you’re doing. Businesses that have this type of growth might think about acquiring other firms, becoming a platform that other advisory firms might be able to plug into, or owning a niche market segment. This growth is accomplished by a CEO or leader of the business who has become the chief poet. I recall in one unfortunately blog posts, you talked about this idea of two different types of activities if you will that an advisor needs to think about segmenting their time between, plumbing and poetry. And I thought that was a really interesting analogy. Could you maybe provide an example of what plumbing is versus poetry?
Steve Sanduski – Yeah, so — and I wish I would have come up with that phrase. That’s another person with that —
Ben Jones – The best ideas are borrowed.
Steve Sanduski – Exactly, yeah. So, I don’t want to claim credit for that, but I think that the way that you look at that is the plumbing of the business, that’s really all the operations, that’s the day-to-day activities that need to be done, that’s filling out paperwork, it’s responding to clients that call in. It’s all the stuff, the back office that ultimately delivers the service, okay? And those are things we can systematize. We will be probably be talking about systemization here in a little bit. So, that’s really the plumbing of the business. The poetry is really what the CEO or the leader of the firm is going to focus on. And so poetry is all about the vision of the business. It’s about the culture of the business. It’s what many people would call the soft skills, or the soft part of the business, but ultimately, you need both the plumbing and the poetry. So, you need people who are deep into the plumbing of the business who are actually making things run on a day-to-day business, and then you need the leader of the company who is the chief poet so to speak, who has that vision, who can get the people in the organization to really believe and buy into that vision so that you’ve got everyone moving in the same direction and people are pulled and they’re compelled to want to be part of this organization because they can see where this thing is heading, and that’s what the leader really has to do, is they have to be the chief poet, so to speak.
Matt Smith – To do the plumbing of your organization, you need systems in place to make sure work is carried out at the right time. But to do the poetry of the business as a leader, you also need systems or habits in place to make sure you can be successful. This brings us to our third top strategy.
Ben Jones – Our first strategy for top advisors around the country is people. Our second is to have extreme clarity around the value that they provide to their clients, both for them as well as all their staff. What’s the third?
Steve Sanduski – I would say a third is you have to have systems in place, and when we think of systems, you might think, okay, I need checklist for my processes, or I need work flow processing systems, and yes, absolutely, you need those things, you need to be able to deliver your service in a highly consistent, high level service fashion. Okay? I think that’s a given. But a second thing that I think gets overlooked often is the personal systems, and if you want to build a business, it takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of time, and all of us have the same 24 hours per day. And so you have to figure out what can I do — what kind of structure can I put into my daily routine that will almost guarantee that if I do the right things and I do them consistently and I do them over a long period of time, I’m going to get a pretty good result. And so I think that’s important for people to figure out what are the personal systems I need to put in place for me as well as everyone on my team, and I recently did some writing about this, and I’m just going to give you a simple example of a system that I recently put in — a couple of them. So, here, you’re looking at me, I’m wearing a sweater, I’m wearing jeans, and you’re probably thinking, well, why didn’t this guy dress up for a podcast today? Well, late last year, I was in my closet, getting dressed, and I’m like, this is stupid. I’m spending way too much time figuring out what am I going to wear each day, and so I thought you know, those — I’m going to try what these Silicon Valley people do. You know, Steve Jobs, he wears his black turtleneck and his jeans, you know, same thing every day, I don’t have to think about it. Well, I’m not going that far. So, I had an alpaca sweater that I really like, and it’s wintertime here.
Ben Jones – Yeah.
Steve Sanduski – So, I said, I’m going to have a winter wardrobe, and so my winter wardrobe is simply a pair of jeans. I have — I went out and I bought several Brooks Brothers button down shirts. I ordered several more alpaca sweaters, and so I wear the same thing every day. I go in my closet. I totally reorganized my closet. I’ve got my shirts along — you know, hanging there. I’ve got my pants there, and I’ve got my sweater. And so every day, I just pick a shirt, I pick a sweater, I pick a pant, and I have black socks. I ditched my sock drawer, because I had too many socks that were hard to match. So, I went out and I bought like eight pairs of the exact same black socks. So, I can dress in the dark.
Ben Jones – Yeah.
Steve Sanduski – So, it’s like, that’s a system that’s going to save me a few minutes every day, and it’s going to be one less decision that I have to make that I can now save that brain energy for something else.
Ben Jones – Yeah, you know, it’s interesting. One thing I did recently over the last two years is I decided I was never going to order at a restaurant. You know, you waste a lot of time trying to figure out what’s good, and so I’ve just — every time I go to a restaurant, I say whatever your signature dish is, that’s what I’m eating. And my wife thinks it’s lunacy, but it’s actually — you think about all the time you spend telling a chef you want this, but hold this and that and the other, and it’s another example of just taking a decision out of your life. But one of the things I really liked about systems thinking is systems thinking is really about habit creation, and I think that’s really what you’re getting at with this systems thinking and some of the articles that I read out on your website is about how as an entrepreneur or a business owner, advisor, how do you think about your morning rituals, your night rituals, do they set you up for success? How do you create that habit every single day? And I would be interested in what are some of the habits that you’ve seen some of these top RIAs create for themselves?
Steve Sanduski – Well, I’ll give you one here: One of them is, at my old company, my old partner was adamant that every night before we left the office, we had to write down our six most important activities that we needed to accomplish the next day in order of priority. So, shortly after I started working with him, I started doing that and I did that for 11 and a half years, and it worked out extremely well. I thought, okay, this is a good process. And we had every one of our team members do the exact same thing, and there were a lot of benefits to it, but it was a nice system and it helped us prioritize, and it got us thinking before we left the office, and you go to bed at night, your subconscious is working on it. I mean, I can give you all of this other stuff.
Ben Jones – Yeah.
Steve Sanduski – Anyway, so when I left working with him, say Friday was my last day, well then the following Monday, I thought, you know, I don’t have to do my six most important anymore, and I got to tell you, for the next three days, I didn’t do my six most important and I didn’t get squat done. And I realized — and ever since then, I’m back doing it.
Ben Jones – Yeah.
Steve Sanduski – So, it was a simple habit, routine, a system, whatever you want to call it, that allowed me to really consciously think about what do I need to do, what are the priorities, how are these activities connected to the big objectives that I want to get accomplished for the year. So, that is a simple system in terms of organizing the day. A second thing I’d like to add to that as we’re talking about time management, is time blocking. Again, not a new idea, but how many people listening to this, Ben, do you think are actually blocking out their day, other than I have an appointment at 1:00 with a client from 1:00 to 2:00. Okay? I’m talking about if you have a specific thing that you need to get accomplished for your business, block it off on your calendar as if it’s meeting with a client. Like, for this year, every — the last Friday afternoon from noon until 5:00, I have — for every month this year, I have blocked off on my calendar to review the business plan, review what happened in the previous month. So, I have it on my calendar. It’s all color coded. If it’s a fixed appointment that I need to do, it’s in green. So, I know if it’s green, oh, I got to do that at that time. So, systems like that will help get you in a situation where you’re going to succeed.
Ben Jones – I like that a lot and I do something very similar for myself as well, and it makes a big difference in your ability to really clarify things. One example I really liked was one of the CEO advisors that you mentioned from Hightower and he does a really — he has a really unique approach to this every December. Could you share with our audience what he does?
Steve Sanduski – Yeah, so Elliot Weissbluth, I think, is who you’re talking about.
Ben Jones – Correct.
Steve Sanduski – Yep, the CEO of Hightower, and so Elliot and I run — he’s on my podcast, and he said one of the things that he does every December is he fires himself, and he went on to explain that he literally says, okay, Elliot, you’re fired. You know, and he pulls out his journal and he starts writing down here are all the reasons why my board of directors fired me this year. I didn’t do this, or I didn’t hit that objective, or I didn’t get this person hired like I should have, or I let this issue — small issue become a big issue and I should have nipped it in the bud. Whatever the case was, this is why I got fired. And then in the other column, he says, okay, I’m going to rehire myself, and I’m going to pretend like I’m starting brand new, I have a clean slate, and everything that happened prior to now is history, it’s a sunk cost, I don’t have to worry about it. Now, I’m re-hiring myself. What am I going to do now? What decisions am I going to make now knowing that I forgot this legacy stuff and I’m starting brand new? So, it’s just a cleansing and it gives you a way to make a clean break from the problems of the past to I’m brand new, what would a new guy do? And I think Elliott got this idea from Andy Grove, who is the former CEO of Intel.
Ben Jones – Sure.
Steve Sanduski – And Andy in one of his books tells a story about how back in 1985 when he was the CEO of Intel, he was talking to, I believe, it was Robert Noyce who was one of the co-founders of the company. Intel was losing $100M, $200M. They were getting creamed in the memory chip business by some cheap Japanese competitors. And so Andy went to his co-founder and he said what do you think we should do? Do we double down here on the memory chip business and lose — lower prices — or do we take a gamble that making micro-processors is really where we should go? And so he finally says why don’t we do this? Why don’t we — well he said if the board had fired us, what do you think the new board would do? And he said well, I think they’d probably hire a new CEO. They’d get us out of the memory business, and they’d move us into the micro-processor business. So Andy says well why don’t we just go downstairs, walk outside the door, turn around, walk right back in and just assume that we’re the new CEO and chairman of the board, and we’ll do that ourselves. And that’s exactly what they did and you know the rest of the story. Intel became one of the great companies in the world and Andy Grove went down in history as one of the greatest CEOs of all time.
Ben Jones – I think it’s a really great way to codify your thinking. I think the approach to doing that in December, what a great time to do it and then come back refreshed right after the holiday as the “new CEO” ready to execute your new plan. So, I think it’s a very insightful way — and I think people who set aside time to do those types of things tend to find the — not the incremental success you talked about, but the big leaps.
Matt Smith – We’ve talked about three of the top strategies of financial advisory firms. The fourth successful strategy also has to do with systems and habits. It’s about creating a system for generating new business on a consistent basis.
Steve Sanduski – You have to have a repeatable system to generate new business and obviously that’s where a lot of people fall off. And we hear people say well, most of my business comes from referrals. I think that’s a cop out. That referrals are just a by-product. That’s not an active strategy and you’re only going to grow as fast as you get these referrals. So to me, that’s not a good strategy. So, as I look at some of the most successful advisors out there, they have a system, they have a way of generating new leads on a consistent basis, and several of the ways that they do that — if you look at someone like a Ric Edelman for example. Ric has been pounding out the media for decades now with his radio show. He’s on television, he’s all over the Internet, he has a podcast. So, he has used education, mass marketing education, to get his message out, which delivers a very steady stream of new clients for his firm. Now, we have people doing digital marketing, pay per click advertising. I’ve got a client who’s very successful at using pay per click advertising with certain keywords, people click on it, they go to his landing page, they fill out a form, they get a little proposal. It goes into his Salesforce system and he’s got a whole series of steps that his sales people will follow up on. They’ll do webinars. So, he’s got a very sophisticated digital marketing system that is generating a consistent stream of new prospects. I’ve got other clients that I work with. What they do is they do — I’ll call it — corporate marketing, which simply means they’re doing retirement seminars for employees of a particular company. Now, that’s not a new idea, but I’ve worked with a client who literally went from about 300M in assets under management to several billion by doing seminars for corporations around the country. And so that’s a viable strategy. So, whatever your strategy is, you need to have one, it needs to be repeatable, and you need to have extreme clarity on what your value proposition is so that the people that you’re targeting will know exactly how you can help them and your message is perfectly tailored for the need that they have. And when they see your message, they raise their hand and they say you’re talking to me.
Ben Jones – Right. You know, I want to just touch on this. So, you coach a lot of people and we talked about the top strategies that make people successful. What are the maybe three worst strategies, behaviors, or things that you see with clients that you walk into that are really common? In other words, are there some commonalities in behaviors, or traits, or practices that are the very first thing that need to be addressed when you come in as a coach?
Steve Sanduski – Well, I think the thing we have to consider is not everybody wants to be a superstar multi-million dollar producing financial advisor. And what I will find is I just had a conversation yesterday with a person who called and they’ve been an advisor for decades and they haven’t had a great level of what we might call success. Well, it’s not because they don’t know what to do. It’s not because they don’t know where to find the help to get them to where they want to go, it’s just they haven’t decided that it was important enough to them. So, I would say that one of the things is people just have to decide what do they want? Do they want to have a multi-million dollar business or a $1B assets under management business. And if they do, great. We know the specific strategies, and tactics, and processes, and systems that you have to put in place to make that happen. But if you don’t that’s fine too. Just decide what it is that you want to do and be the best at that that you possibly can. So, I’d say that’s one thing is just trying to decide what do I really want to do? because I’ve coached people who have said yes, I want to be there, but their actions show otherwise because they’re not doing the activities that we talk about that will lead to the result that they say that they want. So, there’s a disconnect between here’s what I say I want versus here’s what I’m actually going to do.
Ben Jones – Not, maybe, being honest with themselves.
Steve Sanduski – Exactly, and that’s part of what a coach can do is try and help draw out. An example here: This person ultimately ended up selling their practice to another large RIA firm because they realized I do just enjoy being an advisor and I don’t want to feel this pressure that I have to become a multi-million dollar, billion dollar RIA firm. I just want to work with my clients and that’s fantastic.
Ben Jones – I think that’s a really great thing is if you can really get people to be honest and sit down and write out what it is that their vision for the firm is, their life, how they go to work, what are the things they enjoy, and maybe 10, or 5, or 6 years out you can crystallize that through that vision statement really quickly without having people say one thing and act another way.
Ben Jones – These four strategies — the right people, extreme clarity, systems thinking, and repeatable systems for new business — might be able to help you see where your business needs improvement and guide your practice to success. Thanks to Steve Sandusky for his time and wealth of knowledge he provided in such a distilled manner. For more from Steve, you can check out his website and his podcast. All the links can be found in our show notes page at bmogam.com/betterconversations.
Matt Smith – Thanks for listening to the show this week. We’re moving to a new publishing schedule, so you’ll have a new episode from us in two weeks. Thanks to our team at BMO. That includes Pat Bordak, Gayle Gibson, and Matt Perry. And thanks to the team at Freedom Podcasting. That includes Jonah Geil-Neufeld and Annie Fassler.
Ben Jones – Thanks for listening to Better conversations. Better outcomes. This podcast is presented by BMO Global Asset Management. To learn more about what BMO can do for you, go to bmogam.com/betterconversations.
Matt Smith – We hope you found something of value in today’s episode, and if you did, we encourage you to subscribe to the show and leave us a rating and review on iTunes. And of course the greatest compliment of all is if you tell your friends and coworkers to tune in. Until next time, I’m Matt Smith.
Ben Jones – And I’m Ben Jones. From all of us at BMO Global Asset Management, hoping you have a productive and wonderful week.
Disclosure – The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of BMO Global Asset Management, its affiliates or subsidiaries. This is not intended to serve as a complete analysis of every material fact regarding any company, industry, or security. This presentation may contain forward-looking statements. Investors are cautioned not to place undue reliance on such statements as actual results could vary. This presentation is for general information purposes only and does not constitute investment advice and is not intended as an endorsement of any specific investment product or service. Individual investors should consult with an investment professional about their personal situation. Past performance is not indicative of future results. BMO Asset Management Corp is the investment advisor to the BMO funds. BMO Investment Distributors, LLC is the distributor. Member FINRA SIPC. BMO Asset Management Corp and BMO Investment Distributors are affiliated companies. Further information can be found at www.BMO.com.