by Al Depman, CLU, ChFC, CMFC, BH
Practice Management Consultant
An educational best practice for an advisor is to be part of a study group.
A study group can be defined as a group of people an advisor meets with regularly for the purpose of problem-solving, brainstorming ideas, sharing perspectives, holding each member accountable, and growing personally and professionally.
What a study group is not: a referral-gathering process. While this might eventually be a by-product of some forms of study groups, it is not the primary reason for getting together. Growth, sharing, and accountability are the primary drivers of any successful study group.
Looking for a good study group can be a frustrating process. There are five distinct types of study groups that serve five different advisor needs.
- The natural study group
- The specific-goal study group
- The interdisciplinary study group
- The open exchange study group
- The common beliefs and passions study group
We’ll take a look at each type, and then next month offer considerations for forming or joining a study group.
1. The natural study group is one fostered exclusively in a particular financial services organization. All the participants are from the same company, broker/dealer and/or office. These advisors share the same issues, products, compensation, incentives, and technology. You might say they “speak a common language.” These meetings are generally sponsored by the company or broker/dealer, and the resulting conferences allow for advisors to interact and, through that interaction, find kindred souls for a study group. Paul Leighton, an advisor in Minneapolis, meets monthly with two other seasoned advisors in his firm: “We make sure we’re very deliberate about coming up with value for each meeting so they don’t get stale or routine. The worst thing that can happen is to just meet for the sake of meeting. If I’m not coming away with a stimulating idea, the study group has failed.”
2. The specific-goal study group is assembled by advisors who are striving for a common accomplishment, like a designation (CFP) or licensure (Series 7). These groups generally follow a curriculum and usually target a test date as the end point.
3. The interdisciplinary study group is one in which the financial services advisor has assembled a group of fellow professionals from non-financial services disciplines. Generally, these other participants are at the same experience level in their own professions as the advisor is in hers. Beverly Provost, an advisor in Boca Raton, FL, specializes in the information technology business. She has assembled a study group that includes marketing, legal, tax, recruiting, training, and development specialists in the IT world. They meet regularly and share insights on IT people and businesses from their own unique perspectives. Beverly provides the investment and insurance point of view: “It’s led to some great sales ideas and business contacts. Making this work requires a strong leadership and an agenda that gives everyone a voice. If a member feels left out or not heard, they tend to not show up.”
4. The fourth type of study group is the open exchange group. With the availability of virtually unlimited communication opportunities via the Internet, all sorts of online collaborations are possible. Web sites, blogs, and publications offer forums for exchanges among their members on a wide variety of topics. These forums are not usually driven by a structured agenda, but by advisors’ questions and the biases of the sponsor.
Frequent participation in an open exchange group can lead to online relationships that can fulfill the purpose of a study group.
5. The fifth category is that of the common beliefs and passions study groups. This form links the advisor with others who share a particular belief system or a personal motivator. Examples include:
- Faith-based groups of advisors and other professionals (e.g.: Christian business associations, Bible-based investing)
- Cause-based groups of advisors and other professionals (e.g.: financial literacy, cancer research, “green” investing, chambers of commerce)
- Coach-facilitated groups, sharing a common coach or coaching program and philosophy
- Avocation-related groups, sharing common interests such as golfing or travel. My favorite study group in this area is the retired and semi-retired Prudential agents who gather twice annually at a lake in upper Minnesota for a week of learning—staying current with guest presenters (two hours a day) and then fishing, golfing, playing cards and backgammon, and visiting the local casino.
Next month we’ll look at the considerations when setting up a study group of your own.
The Doctor is OUT
© 2014 Al Depman
Al Depman, CLU, ChFC, CMFC, BH, a.k.a. “The Practice Doctor”, is a contributor to The Wall Street Journal, has authored numerous articles in professional publications on practice management, and is the author of the book, How to Build Your Financial Advisory Business and Sell It at a Profit, available from McGraw Hill. Al combined his Liberal Arts studies with 10 years of management experience with McDonald’s Corporation to enter the financial services world 25 years ago. Since then, Al has evolved from an MDRT-level sales rep into a full-time consultant specializing in helping others engineer their business practices to the next level. Contact him at email@example.com.