Category: Financial Advisory
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They dont simply leap from someones head and become a force.

Innovation requires tremendous bursts of creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and endeavors that carry out inspired ideas, said George Kinder, who many call the father of holistic planning.

Creating a culture that fosters innovation requires impassioned people who are willing and able to stand up to criticism — usually harsh criticism. It also requires an environment that rewards thinking outside the box and taking risks.

Advisory firms should examine carefully whether their cultures are open to stimulating and supporting innovation. They will need a pioneering spirit in the coming years as they face tough decisions.

Among the pressures bearing down on the advice business are digital platforms, which are expected to continue expanding across the landscape. Advisers will need innovative solutions for determining the services clients value, who their best clients are and even how they deliver services.SPARKS BURN OUT

Still, not all important ideas that fulfill client needs lead to an innovation. Lots of sparks burn out quickly.

Its hard for successful companies to try and commercialize new things, said David Duncan, a partner at consulting firm Innosight. Its a real struggle to find new sources of growth, to find real solutions.

It will be essential for advisory firms to thoughtfully craft the products and services they offer in the marketplace, however, because all their competitors will be doing the same thing. Successful advisers who want to stay ahead will have to push for new features and services.

Think Apple founder Steve Jobs driving researchers to perfect the iPad when consumers were still giddy over the iPhone. Or Richard Branson requiring Virgin Atlantic to create a top-of-the line meal experience for passengers as other airlines shaved costs by eliminating even the peanuts.

Ted Jenkin, co-chief executive of oXYGen Financial Inc., sought to create an advisory experience for young families and business owners in 2007, a time the rest of the financial services industry was focused on how to handle the approaching wave of retiring baby boomers.NEXT BLUE OCEAN

We watched the wirehouses and banks circling the baby boomers like sharks in the ocean and we asked ourselves, whats the next blue ocean going to be? Mr. Jenkin said, referring to a strategy of finding a new market for services. We felt it was Gen X and Y.

He started to imagine how these tech-focused individuals — none of whom had ever known a world without television or few of whom had experienced a car ride without mobile phones — would want their financial services delivered.

Today, oXYGens two Atlanta offices have signature Oxygen Bars in their lobbies, along with iPads and gaming systems so waiting clients can work or entertain themselves.

Employees dont have desktop computers. They work from laptops and tablets so they can move around, work from anywhere and collaborate as necessary, Mr. Jenkin said.

The idea of catering to Gen X and Y is increasingly in vogue in the advisory space, but seven years ago, Mr. Jenkins concept drew many raised eyebrows.

In fact, Mr. Duncan said, in all industries, those who champion innovation are likely to encounter blowback. Whether its strong criticism or healthy skepticism, innovators often endure reproach.

Mr. Kinder felt the heat in the 1990s, when he concentrated his advisory business on helping clients discover and finance their personal passions instead of offering them investment products.

The objections came mostly from those who were attached to the product sales approach to financial planning, he said.

The passionate and immediate response from clients helped give him the confidence that he was on to something with his life planning movement.

Clients asked how come no one else had done this before, said Mr. Kinder, who has since written two books on the subject and created the Kinder Institute of Life Planning to guide advisers on developing life plans for clients.

Now, two decades later, even brokerage executives encourage advisers to talk more with clients about their life goals and philanthropy. Many even have implemented goal-based planning processes.

Mr. Kinder conceived of life planning by thinking deeply about what he would appreciate as a client.

Thinking about what customer need is not being met, or not being met satisfactorily, is one of the great sparks to innovation, according to Mr. Duncan. The emphasis then becomes what can be done to address the need.

A technological development applied to something other than what was intended is another innovation trigger, he said.

For instance, 3M Post-it Notes came out of a failed chemistry lab experiment. Researchers working to develop strong adhesives realized that a weak but residue-free gluing agent might be good for something else altogether, Mr. Duncan said.

A third common innovation spark is through a seismic shift in regulation. In other words, new rules can create a whole new set of needs, Mr. Duncan said. An example is the Affordable Care Act, which has given rise to new health care consulting practices for businesses, including some advisers.WHAT IS NOT NEEDED

But in Joe Durans case, its all about finding what doesnt need to be done. The chief executive of United Capital said innovations at his company begin by looking at what things it should stop doing.

It forces us to ask, How do we get out of doing this? and pushes us to think differently, Mr. Duran said.

Thinking differently is the best way to create a spark that leads to innovation, he said.

In creating a national financial advisory firm, Mr. Duran used technology to create a personal and interactive client experience that integrates behavioral finance research.

Innovations for next year include an emphasis on the middle office, which he describes as all the processes that take place before and after client meetings. The goal is to eliminate any double data entry, he said.

Its about creating scale and constantly asking, What is our core competence? Mr. Duran said. We want to stay with what we do great.

Advisory businesses that create a culture that encourages and supports innovation are more likely to remain relevant to clients and to stand out among other firms — two factors important to asset growth.

If you are trying to enable your organization to be more innovative, you need to tell [staff] what you want them to do and incentivize people to do it, Mr. Duncan said. That means designing career paths and incentives to reward innovative behavior.

For example, he said, give employees dedicated time to pursue their disruptive ideas during the workday, instead of requiring the heroic innovator to make it happen working nights and weekends.

In addition, leaders need to be exhibiting and supporting the behaviors the firm wants all employees to adopt, Mr. Duncan said.

Businesses also need to make resources — which can include technology, people or money — available to explore and develop innovations, he said.

Often a company is scoffed at when it introduces an innovative product or service, but the best eventually break through and become part of the established industry. Developing an innovative culture can help your firm be the early bird that gets the worm.