09 Oct The four most common admin team issues
In the past 20 years I have worked with financial adviser firms of all types and sizes: from one-man bands who work from their homes, to national firms on an acquisition mission.
My roles have always been on the operations side of the business; working behind the scenes with back-office functions and administration, rather than in client-facing roles. My experience over the years has taught me a lot about what ‘good’ looks like. It has also taught me a lot about what ‘not-so-good’ looks like, and the effect that a poorly-functioning back office can have on the rest of the business.
In this month’s blog post I’m sharing with you the four most common issues I come across in financial adviser admin teams;
1: The wrong people in the wrong roles
Sometimes they’ve been recruited there, sometimes they’ve been promoted there, but nearly every firm I’ve worked at or with has had someone doing a role they shouldn’t be doing. Don’t get me wrong, more often than not these individuals are perfectly capable and sometimes even exceptional at operational roles, but they’re just not in the right role for them.
One example of this I came across recently was the promotion of a firms longest serving administrator, who was superb at her job, into an office manager role. The promotion was well-intended: to ensure that the staff member felt appreciated and had an opportunity to grow within the firm. However, less than 6 months into the promotion, the new office manager was pushing back on her new tasks, not feeling comfortable managing tricky situations in the office, and complaining that she didn’t get to do client work anymore. The excellent administrator was not an excellent manager.
At another firm a couple of years ago, I was called in because their admin systems and processes weren’t working, and paperwork was backing up. I was there to consult them on improving their processes, but after a few weeks working with the team, the actual issue was evident to me: their administrator didn’t like doing admin. She had no desire to make the financial advisers’ life easier, or to be helpful, and as a result was just pushing work back to the advisers at every opportunity. I recommended that the firm chat to her and find out what work she really enjoyed doing, to see if they could change her role within the firm (I believe she actually became a trainee adviser). They could then get themselves a new administrator who enjoyed the work and had an underlying desire to be helpful. They didn’t need to change any of their processes, they just needed to put the right people in the right roles.
- Poor, unclear, or uncommunicated processes
Whilst in the examples above it was the people rather than the processes that were the issue, that’s not always the case.
When I’m completing compliance work for financial adviser firms, there is a requirement for a ‘documented advice process’ which needs to be discussed. On a frequent basis, these firms say to me, ‘Our advice process isn’t formally documented but everyone knows what it is’. However, if you sat down and spoke to the advisers in that firm, I’d almost guarantee that everyone gives their client disclosure docs at slightly different stages in the process, and everyone has a slightly different interpretation of the deadline by which Suitability Reports need to be issued.
The same thing happens within admin teams: if you don’t specifically tell people what the process is, they will come up with their own versions of it and do it slightly differently to the person seated next to them. Even the most amazing administrators won’t put an ‘X’ in that box on Intelligent Office if no one’s told them why it’s required and there’s no process to prompt them to do it.
Bad processes – well they’re worse than no processes at all! A process written by someone who’s never completed the work themselves, a process written around a system and not around the way the company works, or a process written without consulting any of the departments it affects all cause your admin team frustration. They feel like they can’t do their job as well as they’d like.
3: Lack of management action
Admin and operations people are generally task-focussed and efficient. If something is wrong, they will raise it, whether it be a problem with a system, an individual that’s not following processes, or anything else that is making it hard for them to do their job.
I have frequently spoken with admin teams in offices, hearing about something that causes them frustration in their work, which is quickly followed by them saying ’We’ve already raised it with X but nothing ever gets done about it’.
For the most part, it’s not that the managers are ignoring the staff, or don’t intend to fix the problem, they just haven’t gotten round to it yet. This is particularly true if the issue is complicated or time consuming to investigate and resolve. Without intending to, managers will keep putting it off to do when they have more time or more resources.
A good way to check if this is a problem within your business is to look back through previous team meeting minutes and actions. Does the same problem keep cropping up again and again?
- 4. Lack of training and support
I believe the financial service industry is actually quite good at encouraging and supporting qualifications with staff. The problem is, in my experience, that the training and support focuses around obtaining qualifications related to financial services, rather than administration
It’s true that a financial services administrator benefits from a good overall knowledge of the industry, its jargon, and the nuances of different types of policies and products, is without a doubt beneficial to a financial services administrator. However, a good administrators’ skills are instead focused around time management, task management, technological dexterity, people skills, organisation, patience, and attention to detail.
If you want a good admin team, focus on training and support in those areas before you worry about their technical knowledge. Would advisers in your firm benefit more from an administrator who knows the difference between a SSAS and SIPP? Or more from one who, when asked whether Ceding Scheme info has come in on a pension transfer replies with “No but I chased it yesterday and I dropped the client an update to let them know we’ve not forgotten them”.
A smooth-running and efficient admin team is key for any financial adviser business. Effective completion of back-office functions attracts more advisers to a firm and leaves them with more time to spend with clients. Good admin enables the firms to complete their compliance reporting requirements more easily and effectively, and it even affects the ease with which the accounts departments can reconcile fees and commissions.
If you want to improve your business, start with the admin. And if you want help doing so, give me a call.