The overarching theme of many principles of UX design is simplicity. Hick’s Law argues that the simpler our options are, the more easily we can make a decision. Miller’s Law argues that the more pieces of information our brain is processing at the same time, the harder it is to process (and the more likely we are to get confused). 

By the same token, the law of prägnanz suggests that our brains are constantly trying to simplify the visual information they’re receiving as much as possible to make it easier to process. As a financial advisor, communicating effectively means communicating as simply as possible. Let’s unpack what the law of prägnanz is, why it’s relevant for financial advisors, and how you can apply it in your written communication.

What Is the Law of Prägnanz?

German psychologist Max Wertheimer along with a few other psychologists developed a set of rules, known collectively as “Gestalt Psychology,” about how humans perceive and interpret the world around us. 

One of those Gestalt rules is the law of prägnanz (sometimes translated as the law of good figure or the law of simplicity). It argues that the human brain instinctively tries to simplify the visual world around it as much as possible. One can argue that we already know the principle behind this - KISS. 

The classic example of this is a movie theater marquee with a circle of lightbulbs around it. Often, the lightbulbs will flash on and off in sequence—our brains will simplify that visual by interpreting it as a single light traveling around the border of the sign. In reality, however, it’s just a series of individual bulbs flashing on and off in a pattern. 

The Law of Prägnanz in a Financial Advisory Practice

How on earth does that apply to financial advisors? Well, our clients’ brains are doing the same thing with everything they see all the time — including the emails we send and any presentations or visuals we show them during meetings. 

If you don’t format those emails or presentations in a way that makes it as easy as possible to visually process and interpret, you aren’t communicating as clearly as you could be. 

Visually complex or dense information can be confusing and daunting for your client to follow, which can lead to clients not following through on your recommendations or not understanding what it is you’re doing for them. 

When clients don’t understand the services you’re providing or don’t follow through on your advice, they also won’t understand the value you are creating for them. If they underestimate your value, they may start doubting whether or not they need a financial advisor at all. 

That’s why it’s so important to do everything you can to communicate as clearly as possible with all of your clients. Following scientifically proven principles of how humans process information is one of the best ways to optimize your communication for maximum understanding.

Case Study: Writing a Follow Up Email

To better understand how this law applies to your advisory practice, it’s better to demonstrate it with an example. Let’s say you met with a client earlier today and now you’re sitting down to write a follow up email. 

A lot of financial advisors will just dump all the information into an email and hit send. The result is something that usually looks something like this:

Graphical user interface, text

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Notice that, even though it uses bullet points, the text is all bunched up together with little visual distinctions to help readers organize and process the information. 

Because of the law of prägnanz, the brain’s instinct is to lump all of that text together into a single block. It may be a series of distinct sentences but the client will look at it and just see a “wall” of text—which is not very inviting or easy to process. 

Now, look at the revised version of the same email, that uses visual principles to help the reader’s brain naturally break up and organize that information:

Graphical user interface, text, application, email

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The same three bullet points are here so the same information is being communicated, but the use of headers, spacing, and different font colors has made it much easier for the client reading this email to process that information.

Bolded headers tell the reader what broad category the information beneath it falls under. Not only does this make it easier to understand, it helps the client quickly locate the information they need. 

If they’re at their desk, trying to remember which new fund it was that you recommended in that last meeting, they’ll be able to open that email, see the “investment changes” header and know that they information they want is under that. 

Using red font to call attention to next steps that the client should take—in this case, providing the advisor with their employee census—is a good way to make sure those steps are taken. Red is an eye-catching color, so even when the client is skimming through your email quickly, their eyes will naturally be drawn to that red text.

Using headers, font colors, and font styles like this is even more important in longer emails. If your follow up email includes 10+ bullet points of information, it’s going to look like a daunting wall of text and your client is likely to just see it and think, “I’ll read this later when I have time.” In many cases, that time never comes.

If, on the other hand, they open that email and see short, bolded headers and bite-sized pieces of information, they’re likely to at least skim the contents for the most important points. 

How to Apply the Law of Prägnanz to Your Emails

Here are a few tips for formatting your own emails using similar principles:

This kind of formatting and organization of emails doesn’t have to take up more time than you have. Automation tools like Pulse360 can help speed up the process with customized email deliverables and automated summaries so that you can create comprehensive yet easy to process emails in seconds.

With years of education, specialized certification courses, and hands on experience under your belt, you bring a wealth of expertise and insights to each client you serve as a financial advisor. After all, that’s what they’re paying you for, right? 

While that expertise is the core of the value you provide, it can also lead to a cognitive bias known as the “curse of knowledge.” The more you know about a subject, the harder it is to remember just how little someone who isn’t a trained professional in the field knows. For financial advisors, this curse can lead to communication problems with your clients because you might assume they’re on the same wavelength as you when they’re actually struggling to keep up.

How the Curse of Knowledge Can Harm Client Relationships

The curse of knowledge can be a real problem that creates a serious disconnect between you and the person you’re talking to. Once you know something, it becomes all but impossible to imagine not knowing it.

In a client meeting, incorrectly assuming your client has the financial background knowledge to understand the topic can make them feel confused and insecure. If you’re talking about it as if everyone should just know already, they might not feel comfortable asking for clarification because they don’t want to look like they’re lacking knowledge.

Once the meeting is over, that client is also more likely to forget the bulk of what was discussed — either because they didn’t really understand it in the first place or because they could only vaguely follow along but couldn’t really absorb the information fully.

The more this happens, the more difficult it becomes to capture your value completely. A client who doesn’t understand what services you’re providing won’t understand the full value of those services. Moreover, a client who doesn’t understand the advice you’re giving might not act on that advice. 

4 Tips to Avoid the Curse of Knowledge

It’s an easy to trap to fall into because you deal with this subject every single day so it all feels familiar and common sense to you. But taking a few simple steps to ensure that you’re on the same wavelength as your client can go a long way toward making your client feel confident and satisfied with your service. 

1. Be Aware of Your Expertise

The best way to avoid making your client feel lost, confused, or uninformed is to be aware of the difference in knowledge level between you and your client. Put yourself in your client’s position by trying to remember what you did and didn’t know back before you’d taken a single class.

Another strategy for staying aware of your knowledge is to be alert to your client’s mood and behavior during the meeting. Are they talking, asking questions, and otherwise acting engaged in the conversation? Or are they generally staying quiet and passive? 

If it’s the latter, there’s a good chance it’s because they’re not fully understanding what you’re talking about but don’t want to look like they’re lacking knowledge by asking for clarification. Take that as a sign that you need to simplify and maybe go back over some concepts to bring them up to speed.

2. Avoid Jargon

Regardless of your client’s knowledge level, the best way to steer clear of the curse of knowledge is to avoid any jargon terms. Often, simply rephrasing a concept using more common language is enough to make it understandable. 

Instead of saying “efficient frontier,” for example, use more general language like “optimal portfolio.” It may not be quite as specific but it’s much easier for a client to grasp regardless of their knowledge level.

3. Always Follow Up In Writing

Even if you do everything you can to put yourself in your client’s position and explain topics during the meeting in a way that they understand, it can still be an overwhelming amount of new information for that client. Combine that with the forgetting curve phenomenon and you have a recipe for diminishing understanding—even if the client was completely following along during the meeting.

The best way to make sure your client understood and feels like they’re involved in the financial planning process is to send a follow up email after the meeting. A brief summary of the key points you covered in the meeting reinforces their understanding of what you spoke about. It also serves as a reference in case there was a particular point they wanted to learn more about on their own time so that they can feel confident in their understanding of the financial steps you’re recommending. 

If the idea of sending a follow up email summarizing every meeting with every client sounds too time consuming, it doesn’t have to be. With Pulse360, you can automate the process and get that follow up email written and sent in minutes. You can create email templates and then simply drop in items from your notes by using tags like “follow up” or “review” to identify the points that need to be included in that summary.

4. Send a Meeting Agenda In Advance

The follow up email after your meeting is important. But if you really want to take your service to the next level, take a minute to create and send a meeting agenda before the meeting, too. This gives your client a chance to prepare for what will be discussed and review any topics they might not feel as confident about in advance. 

Again, Pulse360 can streamline this process just as it does for those follow up emails. All you have to do is use a “next meeting” tag in your notes to identify the topics you and your client plan to talk about in the next meeting. Then, use an email template to automatically pull all those tagged items into the email. Now you’ve got a full meeting agenda written out and ready to go!

This next blog in my series on how to use UX laws to run your financial advisory practice, I’ll be looking at the goal gradient hypothesis. The basic premise that humans are better at motivating themselves for short-term goals than long-term ones is important to understand as you work with clients on their more distant financial goals and as you design incentive strategies for your team. Let’s take a closer look at what the goal gradient hypothesis is about and then I’ll give you some tips for applying it to your client relationships and to managing your team. 

What Is the Goal Gradient Hypothesis?

According to the Laws of UX website, the hypothesis states that, “The tendency to approach a goal increases with proximity to the goal.” Essentially, the closer a person is to achieving the goal, the more motivated they are to work harder to reach it. 

In a University of Chicago study on the phenomenon, researchers observed customers who were given stamp cards that offered a free coffee once they’d bought 10 coffees. They found that customers who got a 12 stamp card with two stamps already on it were buying coffee more often than customers who got a 10 stamp card with no stamps on it. 

Both groups needed to buy 10 cups to get the free coffee, but the group that felt like they’d already gotten a couple stamps closer to the goal were more motivated. Similarly, another study found that people were more likely to donate to a charitable campaign when it was close to its funding goal.

How to Apply the Goal Gradient Hypothesis to Team Management

In the office, the best way to apply this principle is to rework your incentive structure to adapt to this human trait. If your employees always have a particular end goal to look at, they’ll always be motivated to work that extra bit harder to reach it.

If you give out annual bonuses, for example, consider breaking it up into quarterly or semi-annual bonuses. Even if the total amount stays the same, dividing it into multiple smaller payouts will keep the goal in view.

You could also weave in more frequent non-financial incentives or low-cost prizes to keep team members motivated in between bonuses. Offering gift cards, vouchers, or other fun prizes tied to monthly performance metrics can be an affordable way to keep the goal post in view, for example. Other low-cost rewards include:

For example, you might offer a bonus for each fiscal quarter that the firm brings in, say, $25,000 in new revenue. During the quarter, offer smaller rewards for performance metrics or milestones that help work toward that quarterly goal like gift cards or flexibility perks for employees with the fastest follow up time when it comes to responding to prospective or client emails or sending out documents or employees who bring in the most prospective clients through your firm’s marketing strategies.

How to Apply the Goal Gradient Hypothesis to Client Relationships

For clients, this phenomenon typically means that they might not have the same motivation to work toward their more distant financial goals than they do for their immediate ones. 

Increasing the amount they put toward retirement or their children’s college fund, for example, when they’ve got other financial obligations and more immediate goals — like maybe saving up for a home renovation or a vacation — might not seem realistic or even all that urgent when their children are still in diapers or they’re still 20+ years away from retirement.

However, as a financial advisor, you know that the earlier your client starts, the better. The question is: how do you motivate your clients to save more for these distant goals? After all, you can’t exactly move the goal post of retirement or their children’s college start date closer like you can with bonuses and other incentives for your team. 

In my experience, using visuals and details helps a lot. During review meetings, I’d show them how much progress they made toward their goal so they can see how much closer they’re getting. Seeing that they are closer now than they were a year ago can trigger that motivation the same way those study participants with the coffee stamp card started buying more coffee when they saw that they were closer to earning the free coffee.

I also made sure to talk about more than just the numbers. While the financials are important, the real motivating factor is not the money they’ll have in retirement but what kind of retirement they’ll be able to enjoy with that money. I might talk about that world cruise they’re looking forward to taking or the traveling they will do when they retire. Paint a picture so that the client feels more emotionally involved in the goal despite how far away it might be.

You can also try tying it to shorter term goals. For example, when the client hits their retirement savings goal for the year, they can take a family vacation. If they don’t hit that goal, though, maybe they need to postpone that vacation. Linking that distant goal to something more immediate makes it easier to maintain the motivation to keep working toward it.

You can also use this goal gradient hypothesis for clients who are nearing retirement. Say you have a client who is five years away from retiring. In this case, you can leverage the fact that humans are naturally more willing to work harder when the goal post is in sight to encourage extra savings. It might not have the time to really compound, but every extra bit of savings now will add to what they get to spend in just a few years from now. 

You can use visuals to show your client a couple retirement scenarios: one where they just keep doing what they’re doing and one where they live a little more frugally for the next couple years in order to put more toward retirement. This will show the impact those extra savings will have and help them decide what degree of tradeoff they’re willing to make for the next five years in order to have even more to spend for the 25 years or so after that.

Too few advisors understand ‘the value’ of a value proposition - or how to go about creating one. But unless you identify and express your value to clients you won’t achieve success in this industry.

Because, unless prospects understand what you do and why you do it, they won’t be convinced about your worth.

In fact, without a strong value proposition, your business won’t even get out of the starting blocks - it’s the first step in building a practice.

In this post, we’ll look at the steps you need to take when creating and communicating your unique value proposition.

1 Identify what’s different about your business

Firstly, stand back and take a look at what it is that makes your service attractive to clients? What do they see? What is it about your beliefs, motives, and ethics that strikes them most?  Perhaps you’re the most caring advisor?  

Or maybe you’re a good listener. Are you, unlike other advisors, really able to listen to clients so that you understand their goals and insecurities? Do you strive to provide clients with a superior personalized service that other advisors can’t?

Or are you the most trustworthy and hardworking advisor? Do you take the time to educate your clients so they can make better decisions? 

2 Learn to express your value proposition

Once you’ve identified your value proposition you now need to find a way to communicate this to prospects.  

So that they can understand your value proposition, tell them about yourself. You don’t need to go into the minute details about your life (you certainly don’t want to bore potential clients). Simply aim to get across, in just a minute or so, who you really are - as a person. What makes you tick - and what makes you unique? 

Give prospective clients your brief backstory letting them know why you decided to enter the profession. Did something happen that inspired you to become a financial advisor? Did you see someone struggle with their finances and did this give you a desire to help others?  

Demonstrate that what differentiates you is that you’re the most caring advisor - and that what you do every day exemplifies your values.  

Speak with passion and enthuse prospects with empathy. Once prospects start to relate to what you are saying they will begin to trust you. And as we all know - trust is the backbone of a relationship. 

If you haven’t yet done so write down your personal story. Then practice it over and over until you can convey it with confidence, every time you’re in that first meeting with a prospect.  

3 Use an elevator pitch to communicate your unique value 

When you’re at a formal event or social gathering make sure you use this as an opportunity to relate your value proposition.  

Be prepared with your elevator pitch at the ready. An elevator pitch should be short and to the point and should distill into a sentence what you do, who you are, and why you’re worth hiring.

Make it no more than 10 seconds in length - and in it aim to get across who your target market is -  and how you help those people.  

Don’t simply say you’re a ‘financial advisor’. People often won’t understand what this entails. Instead, reveal that you work with wealthy families and make sure they never have to worry about taxes. Or that you prevent your clients from being poor. Or that you help people get their kids through college without having to take out a loan.  

Keep your value proposition relevant

When you’re with potential clients make sure you understand their situation so you can connect your value to their specific problem. For example, if a potential client is approaching retirement (and this is a demographic that’s particularly suitable for your practice) discuss how you love helping pre-retirees look forward to a comfortable retirement.  

Once you’ve defined your unique value proposition and learned how to relate it you will elevate your brand and start to stand out from the competition. 

Tell people ‘who’ you are, ‘what’ you do, and why you would be their perfect advisor.  

Once prospects leave your office you can create added value in their eyes by following up on the meeting promptly - and keeping your value and personality top of mind. 

For this next piece in my series on applying UX laws to your financial advisory practice, I’ll be looking at Hick’s law and talking about why it’s so important to keep both your client services and your office workflow as simplified and straightforward. 

As financial advisors, you’re often dealing with some incredibly complex calculations and strategizing to maximize returns, minimize tax impact, and ensure clients achieve their financial goals. Because you’re so familiar with it, though, you might forget to simplify it for clients or team members who aren’t as knowledgeable. In this article, we’ll look at why that complexity can end up causing problems and how you can apply Hick’s law to help both your team and your clients make more confident and accurate decisions. 

What Is Hick’s Law?

Hick’s Law states that, “the time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices.” In other words, the more options you have, the longer you’ll take to pick one. 

If you’ve ever been in a grocery store, faced with choosing a pack of paper towels when there are dozens of brands making competing claims about whose paper towels are the best, you probably understand what Hick’s law is getting at.

Beyond choosing between options, it can also make completing a task difficult. The more complicated a task is, the longer it will take someone to figure out what step to take first and how to get it done. 

To avoid this problem, Hick’s Law suggests that minimizing choices as much as possible and breaking complex tasks down into simpler steps will help people make decisions faster. Think about the grocery store example again: if there were only two brands of paper towels to choose from, you’d be in and out in minutes. 

How to Apply Hick’s Law to Team Management

In the office, Hick’s Law will mostly apply to the workflow. The more complex a process is, the more difficult it will be to complete, even if your team is highly skilled. If every decision a team member makes needs your approval or clarification, for example, this can quickly create a bottleneck. 

However, if you empower your team to use their own experience and knowledge to make certain decisions, the work can keep going and you just need to monitor and make corrections as needed. 

When a client’s money is on the line, this might seem like a risky proposition but there are plenty of areas of your practice where giving your team more authority to make decisions won’t directly impact a client’s account.

If your assistant has your calendar and knows what your availability is, for example, they can schedule meetings for you without checking in with you first. Likewise, if you implement clear guidelines, other administrative and routine tasks can be handled by your team on their own. 

If guidelines state that follow up emails should be sent out before the end of the day that the meeting was on, your team will know which follow up emails to prioritize and when to send them out. If guidelines state that annual summaries are sent out to clients at the same time each year, your team will know when to start putting those summaries together without you needing to instruct them. 

Simplifying the workflow and empowering your team to make decisions on their own frees up more of your time to focus on strengthening client relationships and doing the work that you can’t delegate to team.

Partners have reached a profitable cooperation, business partnership. Flat 2D. vector illustration web design,

How to Apply Hick’s Law to Client Relationships

Hick’s Law has tremendous implications when it comes to both prospective and current clients. Let’s start with the prospects. If you put a menu of your services in front of them that details dozens of different service options they can choose from, it will be harder for them to figure out what it is they need. 

Instead, try organizing those into three levels of services: transactional services, planning, and annual planning. Under each section, include a very simple description of what each level involves. Then, as they start asking questions, you can clarify the points that are most relevant to them and provide details where they need them. Of course, if you take this approach, you need to provide more disclosures but those can be made available either while they’re asking questions or when they sign. 

While you can provide a comprehensive picture of every possible service you can provide today or in the future, you need to provide a personalized picture of how your services can help that prospect achieve their particular goals.

For current clients, Hick’s Law will mostly apply to review meetings and to providing your recommendations. Let’s take a look at two examples of a follow-up email to a client regarding a recommendation:

Email A

After reviewing several options, I recommend you consider investing $250 a month in ABC 529 Plan for your son, Tom. 

Email B

After reviewing several 529 plans, I recommend you consider investing in ABC 529 Plan for your son, Tom. Based on our research, the age-based portfolios in this plan have the potential to be a better fit with your son’s time horizon. Consider investing $250 a month towards his education. You wanted him to join an Ivy League school and with your current savings plus this additional ongoing investment, you will be able to achieve this goal.

Email A is simple and straightforward. In a single sentence, it tells the client what 529 plan you recommend and how much you recommend investing. Email B contains that same key information but buried in a lot of extra details. Just seeing how much text there is can make a client feel like it’s more complex than it is and delay or avoid making a decision. 

While those extra details are important, they aren’t necessarily important to include in your emails and communication with your client. They can instead be added to the plan itself so that your client can access the details as needed rather than being inundated with them in the email.

If you do need to include more details in your email, use bullet points and other formatting to make sure it still looks readable. Here’s an example:

Each bullet point includes one piece of information. The most important parts are bolded to help the client quickly find the key information. With this format, you can include the details you need but present it in a simplified format that’s easier to digest.

Cutting complexity like this makes it easier to process the information and come to a decision. Prospects will have a more confident grasp of what they can expect from you and clients will have a more confident grasp of what you’re recommending and why. 

Most financial advisors might assume that the fundamentals of web design have little to do with running a successful financial advisory practice. However, many of the basic principles of user experience (UX) design are based on universal rules of human behavior — which means they can be just as relevant for designing an enjoyable Client Experience (CX) as they are for designing an enjoyable UX. 

In this next article in my series on how to apply UX laws to improve CX and office productivity, we’ll look at the aesthetic-usability effect and how it applies to a financial advisory practice.

What is the Aesthetic Usability Effect?

Overview

Users often perceive aesthetically pleasing design as design that's more usable.

People are drawn to beautiful things, even when it doesn’t make a difference. If you had two routes to choose from to commute to work and both took the exact same amount of time, you’d likely choose the one that goes through lush trees and rolling fields over the one that goes through an industrial block of big, plain warehouses. 

Likewise, in web design and product design in general, people are drawn to beautiful-looking products. The effect is so strong, in fact, that, even if a less beautiful alternative works just as well, many customers are willing to spend more for the pretty one.

It can also skew their perception of how functional the design is. A study of this phenomenon found that users rated user interfaces (UIs) as more functional when they were also more aesthetically pleasing, even when the UI was objectively just as functional in its less beautiful version. 

In other words, a beautiful interface feels easier to use than an unattractive one—even if that’s not actually the case. 

How the Aesthetic Usability Effect Applies to a Financial Advisor’s Practice

The implications for web designers building a user interface is clear but how does this apply to your advisory practice? For one, it means that your practice, too, needs an aesthetic website to improve client experience.

This UX law proves that a cluttered, unattractive website — even if it works just fine — is off-putting. In this digital age where that website might be the first time a prospective client sees your practice, an off-putting design is the last thing you want. 

The logic extends to the physical space in your office, as well. For clients, an unattractive office can negatively impact their experience, even if the service is great. For staff, an unattractive office can hurt productivity

Improve the Aesthetics of Your Clients’ Experience

The simple solution here is to improve the aesthetics at your practice. To improve the aesthetics of your website, follow these basic guidelines:

The key with web design is to keep the layout clean, minimalist, and easy for the eye to navigate. A professional website doesn’t need to be high tech or flashy. It just needs to look professional and functional while featuring pleasant color schemes, simple and jargon-free language, and high quality images.

For the office itself, here are some cost-effective, research-based techniques to make the space more aesthetically pleasing:

The key with physical space is to keep it clean, organized, and include as many natural elements as you can whether that’s natural light, plants, or even just wall art featuring natural scenes.

You don’t need to spend money on any major renovations or interior design makeovers. In fact, weather permitting, you can get all the benefits of an aesthetic working environment by simply taking what work you can outdoors. Research shows simply being in a natural environment boosts mood and improves cognitive functioning

Suggest to your clients to have meetings outdoors or make a reservation for that lunch meeting at a restaurant with a nice patio or outdoor seating area. Encourage employees to take their laptop to a nearby park and spend an hour or two working outside. 

It might not be practical all of the time but taking meetings and work outdoors when you can will make for a nice change of scenery that also happens to improve CX (and employee experience as well!)

An often overlooked but surprisingly effective way to improve productivity and strengthen company loyalty is providing ongoing employee training opportunities. Financial advisory teams can benefit enormously from implementing a culture of ongoing learning that allows each member of their staff to discover and pursue their career goals. Here’s how it can benefit your business and how to implement it in your office.

The Benefits of Providing Ongoing Training Opportunities for Employees

From increased productivity to fostering stronger skills in your team, there are a lot of ways your financial advisory practice can benefit from investing in your employees’ growth. Some of the key benefits include:

How to Implement an Effective Ongoing Training Culture in Your Financial Advisory Practice

Tapping into all those benefits doesn’t require a complete overhaul of how you run your firm. A few simple changes can help encourage your staff to take advantage of this opportunity to grow.

Provide the Resources

The first step to incorporating ongoing learning is providing your staff with the resources to do that learning. While some larger companies do this by providing reimbursements or tuition coverage for continued education programs, it doesn’t have to take the form of costly incentives like these.

With online course catalogs like Udemy, Coursera, or LinkedIn Learning, you’ve got plenty of budget-friendly options for providing the resources your employees need to upskill and explore their interests. 

Allow Employees to Self-Direct Their Learning

While it might seem like focusing exclusively on developing skills that directly relate to your practice makes sense, it’s actually better to let employees decide for themselves what kind of skills or knowledge they want to develop—even if it doesn’t have anything to do with your financial advising. 

Some loose parameters are fine. For example, in my office, I provide unlimited access to LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda)—an online learning platform with thousands of business, software, and creative courses—with the simple request that they choose at least one work-related course. The rest of their learning is up to them.

Work with Employees to Set Learning Goals and Plans

Providing the resources and giving employees freedom to pursue their own interests is a great start but if ongoing learning isn’t already built into your office culture, it might not get utilized as much as you hoped. 

Implementing something new for your team is just like starting any new habit. To make it stick, you need to set concrete, achievable goals. Ask your employees to set specific learning goals for themselves (work-related or otherwise). Then have them identify which courses they need to take and what timeline they want to finish them in. With a concrete plan in place, they’ll be more likely to take advantage of this learning opportunity.

Track Learning Goals as You Do Other Performance Goals

You may already be tracking certain performance goals for your staff that you then review during periodic performance reviews. Doing the same with an employee’s learning goals can help them stay on track. 

Discuss learning milestones during those work performance reviews. Of course, the discussion about learning performance should be more casual and shouldn’t have an impact on their performance rating. This should just be an opportunity to establish the importance of ongoing learning. 

Create Opportunities to Discuss New Knowledge and Skills

Whether it’s small talk before a meeting starts or planned “learning lunches” where employees share what they’ve learned lately, find ways to incorporate learning into casual conversation. Doing this does a lot of things. 

First, it’s an opportunity for you to take an active interest in your staff’s ongoing learning. Showing interest in what they’re learning encourages them to keep going. 

Secondly, it builds a sense of community. Studying or completing assignments, even for a skill or subject you’re interested in, can be tough and, especially with online or remote learning, it can also get lonely. But knowing you’ve got a community of fellow learners at work that are cheering you on and want to know what you’re learning about can be just the motivation you need to plow ahead. 

Finally, it makes ongoing learning part of the office culture. If “What have you learned recently?” is heard just as often as “How was your weekend?” in the office, it reinforces the idea that ongoing learning is a fundamental part of life.

Recognize Learning Achievements

When an employee successfully completes a certification or finishes an online course, be sure to give that employee recognition for their accomplishment. This could be as simple as designating an “achievement wall” in the office where you hang certifications or diplomas. It could take the form of an award—like buying lunch for the employee or bringing in donuts for the staff to celebrate the employee’s success.

These small acts of recognition and reward will go a long way toward reinforcing a culture of learning in the office. When the rest of your staff sees an employee being rewarded for their learning, they’ll be more encouraged to continue pursuing their own learning goals. 

The laws of user experience (UX) are a set of simple laws about user behavior that guide how web designers build and optimize web pages. By keeping these laws in mind, designers can make websites that are easy and intuitive to use while also subtly encouraging the behavior that they’re after, whether that’s closing a sale or urging a user to sign up for a mailing list. 

While these UX laws were made with web designers in mind, the basic principles also apply to a financial advisory. Using these same UX laws, you can improve productivity and optimize your service for a better overall client experience (CX). As a case in point, let’s look at Parkinson’s Law.

What Is Parkinson’s Law?

"Any task will inflate until all of the available time is spent."

In web design, Parkinson’s law states that a person is likely to keep working on a task until the available time is used up. This can explain the sudden burst of productivity many people have when a deadline approaches. You might get more done in that last hour before a project is due than you did in the days leading up to that deadline. 

This isn’t laziness or poor time management, per se. It’s often just a subconscious process of conserving effort. This graph illustrating Parkinson’s Law shows why:

Diagram

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Image source: https://uxplanet.org/5-essential-laws-for-ux-designers-5ca70466faa1 

The more time you have available to do something, the less effort you need to use to get it done. 

If you have two hours to travel just one mile, you’d likely walk at a leisurely pace with plenty of time to stop for a nice lunch or a nap. It just doesn’t make sense to run when you can get where you need to be on time without breaking a sweat. On the other hand, if you only had 10 minutes to travel that mile, you’d definitely need to break into a sprint because it’s better to arrive on time and a little out-of-breath than to show up late.

The same subconscious logic applies to any task you have. Without constraints, you’re naturally going to work at a slower pace, even if you could do it faster if you worked at peak efficiency. 

How Parkinson’s Law Applies to a Financial Advisor Practice?

You might not be building a website but the same law of human behavior applies to your staff and to your clients. 

If you follow up with a client to request that they send over important documents but don’t give a time frame for when you need them, you could end up waiting for weeks or find yourself sending multiple reminders before you actually get those documents.

In the office, if you have an inefficient process for organizing meeting notes and no real deadline for doing so, you’ll find that you and your team continue to delay the task until you’re scrambling ahead of that client meeting to search through previous meeting notes to find the key topics to discuss this time. 

In both cases, the client experience (CX) suffers. The client’s delays in sending you the documents you need can end up delaying your ability to provide timely and efficient advice. Your team’s delays in completing routine tasks can end up creating disorganization and inefficiencies that translate to lower quality service. 

Combatting Parkinson’s Law with Effective CX Design

To avoid unnecessary delays and get more done during working hours, you can modify some UX design best practices to fit your financial advisory practice. Remember: web designs that use automation and create time constraints to make a process simple, straightforward, and urgent are key to helping users complete tasks quickly. 

The same tools can be applied to your office. For automation, you can use technology that automates routine tasks like scheduling, syncing calendars, sending reminders, or writing emails. 

With the right technology, your staff can get these routine tasks done more efficiently while clients can benefit from an easier, more streamlined client experience. Rather than chasing down a client to set up your next meeting, for example, you could simply send them a Calendly link to pick a time that works for them and have that automatically blocked out on your calendar.

To create time constraints, you can use a variety of techniques. The one that I’ve had the most success with in my office is the Model Week. The Model Week, or Ideal Week, is an hour-by-hour plan for what the perfect week would look like if you budgeted your time well and had no unexpected emergencies.

A Model Week assigns a task or activity to every hour of your day to ensure you’re using the time the way you want to and need to. Depending on your priorities, you might block out time each morning for emails and time each afternoon for reviewing and organizing meeting notes. You might have a weekly check-in meeting with your staff or a weekly follow-up hour where you reach out to those clients who you’re still waiting on responses from. 

Of course, when unexpected things come up that are a higher priority than the regularly scheduled task in your Model Week, these things can be pushed. However, with your model week planned out, it’s easier to keep those less urgent but still essential tasks front of mind and make sure they’re getting done regularly. 

When you find yourself in between meetings or coming back from lunch, you won’t wonder what to do next or how best to use that time because you’ve already got the most productive use of that time scheduled in your model week. 

You can do this for your own schedule and for your staff. To start, make a list of the tasks or processes in your office that tend to neglected or just aren’t done as quickly or as often as they should be — whether that’s sending out follow up emails, organizing meeting notes, or any other task that would improve the efficiency and quality of service at your financial practice.

Next, schedule these into your Model Week. Try to plan these tasks for times when you’re least likely to have meetings or other obligations to take care of so that, for the most part, you know you’ll actually be able to get this done in the time blocked out for it.

Finally, be sure not to overbook yourself. Budgeting each hour of your work day doesn’t mean you need to schedule a productive work task for each minute of the day. Budgeting time for lunch and breaks is just as important. Likewise, keeping blocks of time available for ad hoc meetings or calls with clients is just as important as using your time productively.

The purpose of a Model Week is not to spend every minute of every day working but to make sure that you are making time for the work that needs to be done, rather than putting it off because it doesn’t really have a clear deadline. 

Financial advisors can benefit from automation in just about every aspect of their practice. Even so, less than half of financial advisory firms are taking advantage of the software that’s out there. The slow adoption of tech in the financial services sector is largely thought to be the result of old, difficult to upgrade technology and concerns that new software is difficult to implement and potentially not as useful as it sounds in the sales pitch.

However, even the simplest solutions (that don’t require expensive system overhauls) can help your practice save time and minimize human error, improving the quality of your service and giving you more time to spend with your clients. 

Let’s take a look at the scheduling process for an example of how relatively simple software solutions can make a huge impact on a financial advisor’s service.

The Old Way: Playing Phone Tag with Clients

When I was in the field, the team members in our practice would regularly call up clients to schedule their next review. The process often involved leaving a message and waiting for a call back. In the meantime, the team member who called might be in a meeting or out to lunch when that call back finally comes — putting the client and our practice in a game of phone tag until we finally reached each other. 

When we did get a client on the phone, we’d each have to search through our respective calendars to figure out a time that was free for both parties. Overall, it was a time-consuming process and I couldn’t help but feel like that was time wasted that could have been better spent on other areas of our practice.

The Better Way: Pre-Book Your Follow Up Meetings

One solution to this time-consuming process is to simply pre-book your review at the end of each meeting with a client. This way, you can get the next meeting on the books while they’re right there and you don’t have to chase each other down via phone later.

It works. But it’s not a perfect solution. In some cases, you’re talking about a meeting that’s going to happen six months in the future. That’s a lot of time for a client’s plans to change or appointments to be forgotten—so there’s a good chance you’ll end up needing to reschedule a lot of your pre-booked meetings.

Even worse, something could come up for you. What if you’re making travel plans or find out your kid has a big, important game on that day? You’re now in a position where you have to call your client to reschedule that pre-booked meeting.

The Automated Way: Use Scheduling Software

You can save yourself that hassle and the risk of needing to reschedule pre-booked meetings by simply incorporating scheduling software into your practice. Calendly is a popular example of a simple scheduling tool but there are a few options out there. 

Something like Calendly allows you to sync your work calendar to the software and set the hours of your availability (so that meetings can’t be scheduled on, say, nights or weekends when you don’t work). 

Then, you simply send a link to a version of that calendar that only shows free times that they can book for a meeting. They can then choose whichever one of your available times that’s most convenient for them. Once they book a time through the software, it syncs that you’re your calendar and blocks that time slot out so that other clients with the link can’t double book for the same slot.

While it may seem “impersonal” in a business that’s all about relationship building, scheduling is really not the area of your service that needs a personal touch. In fact, the frustration of trying to get in touch with each other to coordinate a meeting time is annoying for clients, too. For most, the convenience of just being able to pick a convenient time on your calendar and book it with a few mouse clicks will be far preferable to that game of phone tag. Think of the client experience.

When you make the routine parts of your business (like scheduling) convenient and simple, you have more time to focus your relationship building efforts on the meetings themselves and on the level of service you provide.

Remember to Be Flexible

While automation is a great way to reduce time waste in your advisory practice and offer a more convenient service to clients, keep in mind that not every client is equally comfortable using technology. If you work with a lot of retired senior clients, for example, you might find that they prefer doing things the old way. 

Be sure to tailor the service to your client’s preferences. Don’t presume that older clients won’t want or know how to use a tool like Calendly—or that younger clients will prefer it. Instead, offer a variety of options for scheduling at the end of your meeting with the client and see which one they prefer. Make a note of their preference so that, when the time comes, you know which clients to send a link to, which clients to call, and which clients to pre-book with in person.

While so much of the conversation about a financial advisor’s value is focused on portfolio returns or wealth management services, we do far more than just help our client’s bottom line. Every day, we’re helping our clients navigate difficult financial situations, providing guidance and advice when a client gets worried about market downturns, and otherwise providing service that goes above and beyond. 

Because it’s not as easy to assign a dollar value to those extra things we do, we tend to just ignore it and forget about it — but even if it doesn’t have a quantifiable dollar amount, these services still provide tremendous value. To explain what I mean, let’s take a look at an example from my own financial advisory experience. 

The Funeral that Almost Didn’t Happen

For privacy reasons, names and other identifying details were omitted but the story is true.

An elderly client of ours in his late eighties had a nest egg of over $500,000. The man lived with his two daughters, one of whom had special needs and another who had made sacrifices in her career and education to take care of her sister and her aging father. As a result, the family depended heavily on the man’s retirement income and savings. 

When the father passed away, his estate paperwork included a Trust with instructions to split the assets equally between the daughters. However, the daughters weren’t joint owners on his accounts so the funds wouldn’t fall under their control until all the estate was settled. Even working as quickly as we could, this process would take weeks — waiting for the death certificate alone can take up to 10 days.

In the meantime, the daughters were planning their father’s funeral but, without access to their father’s accounts and with no friends or family in a position to cover the costs temporarily, they were struggling to make the arrangements. The mortuary and church where the service would be held both wanted payment in advance.

With no income of their own and no one to turn to, they were at a loss. 

I advised the daughters to put me in touch with the mortuary and church they were making arrangements with. They did. With permission, I reached out to both parties and assured them that the daughters had the funds to cover the funeral and the service but that it would be three or four weeks before we could cut them a check.

At first, both the mortuary and church were reluctant to go through with the service before receiving payment. Even so, I didn’t give up. After several more calls, both parties finally said they would agree as long as our financial advisory practice would vouch for the daughters.

This request put us in a tricky situation but we were eventually able to get the parties to agree to accept a letter signed by the daughter attached to a letter from our firm stating that the funds to cover the service and funeral were there and that the daughters agreed to pay in full once the estate was settled. We also prepared a distribution form with the church and mortuary’s payment details which the daughter signed so that the payment could go through the moment it was settled.

After all the paperwork was prepared and signed, we mailed it to both parties. As if the situation wasn’t already tricky enough, the package was delayed. I immediately contacted the mortuary and church to let them know of the delay and, in the meantime, emailed PDF copies of all the documents for their records while they awaited the hard copies with wet signatures.

In the end, the daughters were able to have a funeral for their father while we took care of the nitty gritty of settling the estate and making sure the payments for that funeral went through.

The Takeaway: Financial Advisors Are More than Just Wealth Managers

First, this story is a prime example of why it’s so important to make sure your clients have their estate planning documents in order. It’s not easy to talk about but getting vital details settled, like assigning a power of attorney who’s authorized to access the deceased’s bank accounts, can make the difficult experience of losing a loved one a little easier, at least from a legal and financial standpoint.

Secondly, I wanted to highlight the level of service we provided for those clients, which went far beyond simple wealth management or financial advice. I point that out not to brag, but to show all the ways financial advisors are providing value that they rarely keep track of the same way they might track portfolio returns or other metrics of value. 

Imagine how much worse that story would have turned out if we hadn’t taken the time to work out an agreement with the mortuary and church. While there’s no easy way to quantify that support we provided in making sure that those daughters were able to arrange a funeral to grieve their father, it’s nevertheless an invaluable service that financial advisors can and do provide. 

These are precisely the kind of value-adding services that can set you apart from the rest. Every advisor will advertise their ability to maximize returns, but how much support you can provide as your clients navigate challenging financial situations or look for the best way to achieve their goals in life. 

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