A Study Group Can Move You to the Head of the Class

Written by Lisa Crafford​

In the past several years, the rate of change in our industry continues to increase at an increasing rate. It is becoming more and more difficult to truly know it all (and do it all!). Technology, operations, compliance, human capital, growth, marketing—how do advisors keep ahead of trends, make timely decisions and increase business efficiencies without outside help?

There is no shortage of consultants willing and able to help. They often do a great job—for a fee. You can also rely on your custodian, or vendors with whom you have an ongoing relationship. But the missing piece is learning from your peers. In this industry, we know our competitors well. Now it’s time to put that knowledge to work.

Joining (or starting) a study group can be a valuable addition to your tool box for making decisions in your business, recruiting staff, exploring new business opportunities and more. The definition of study group varies, and people use them for different reasons. However, the key outcome for a study group should be to develop relationships with advisors like yours for the purpose of making better decisions for your business. By this description, anyone in your firm can benefit from such a group.

Historically, only firm owners were involved in study groups, and the focus did not always include topics like software selection, workflows, integration, communication, etc. By opening up study groups to non-owners (and non-advisors), we increase the base of knowledge that can be shared at a firm level and the speed at which ideas can be integrated to our businesses.

Take for example, High Impact Financial Operations Network (HIFON), an operations-focused study group which was started in 2012 by Shaun Kapusinski of Sequoia Financial. HIFON hosts a series of monthly calls for operations staff in over 80 firms around the country and covers a variety of subjects. Members of HIFON also communicate via a Web portal, in which they ask questions of the group and search for previous forum questions.

Another example comes from Pershing Advisor Solutions’ Relationship Managers who launched a small test group with six firms earlier this year. The group meets offsite for dinner three times a year and shares current business challenges and initiatives. Pershing Advisor Solutions hosts the meetings and will help each of these firms implement some of the strategic initiatives discussed.

If joining an existing group isn’t an option, you may consider starting your own. If you do, here are five things to consider:

  1. Desired outcomes: Develop a list of outcomes before you invite your first member. Just as you explain your value proposition to prospects, explain it to prospective study group members.
  2. Membership: Be strategic in who you want to have in your group. Do you want to be small and focused, or attract a bigger group? Do you want to meet with others in your geographic area, or those who have roles like yours in firms around the country? If you don’t know who to ask, use resources like your custodian or trusted vendors who know you and your business. Don’t forget to consider the logistics of organizing a group of five versus a group of 10. Sometimes starting small is more manageable.
  3. Commitment: Requiring some form of a commitment will help your group bond. This includes accountability for attending meetings, setting membership for a year (allows you to really feel comfortable with each other), committing to confidentiality and contributing valuable information to the group.
  4. Meetings: How often do you want to meet and how long should the meetings last? Some groups meet for one- or two-hour phone conferences monthly or quarterly. For you, it might be more beneficial to leave the office and meet offsite, removed from the distractions of sitting in front of your computer. Will you meet annually at a conference? Will you have an agenda or will it be more free flowing conversation?
  5. Reporting back to your firm: After the study group meeting is done, consider what takeaways you can bring back to your team. Particularly for operations employees participating in a group, prioritize initiatives that fit with the strategic vision of your firm and are realistic to implement.

    Whether you’re a firm owner, CCO, COO or operations associate, belonging to a study group can be a valuable use of your time, and provide tangible value to your firm and your professional growth.
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