Six hours is considered by some to be an average time to write an SOA. But there are plenty of steps you can take to reduce that time.
Here we speak to two Commonwealth Bank experts who have spent years refining the process.
1. Pick apart your processes
To save time, you first need to work out where you're wasting it, or at least not making the most of it.
Start at the beginning of your SOA generation process – probably your client meeting – and go through the production line with a fine-toothed comb, advises Chris Jones, Executive Manager Future Advice Model for the Commonwealth Bank.
“Define all the processes and then see if there is any duplication or triplication,” he says.
“Look at how many sources you're drawing information from, how you're using your tools, how many times you're touching a document or entering the same information.”
For each step, ask yourself: is this adding value? Is it a compliance requirement? Could it be streamlined, automated or delegated?
2. Develop standard operating procedures
Once you've identified ways to improve the process, start building a picture of what best practice looks like and communicate it in a way your team can readily follow.
It's this approach that has allowed the Commonwealth Bank's Paraplanning team to reduce the time it takes to complete an SOA with multiple strategies to just two to three hours, says Maria Lykouras, General Manager, Advice Licensee Services at Commonwealth Bank.
“Everybody produces a plan in the same way using the standard operating procedure,” she says.
“Then, on top of that we have a lot of checklists and guides and other tools that we've built for our paraplanners if they have questions or they're having problems with a certain section.”
3. Improve information gathering processes
Every time you get part of the way through the SOA and realise you need more information, the clock is ticking.
To avoid the to-ing and fro-ing you can build something called a ‘strategy working document’ for the planner to complete, says Lykouras.
“It captures all of the information needed to produce the SOA,” she says. “If that's done really well upfront, and the financial planners clearly document what strategies they want to use, then when you go to write the document it's a much more efficient process.”
Another part of the solution can be having clients pre-fill forms, digital or paper-based, before meetings.
“Then, when they actually have the meeting, the adviser can focus on the discussion related to the advice rather than 'what's your name, what's your address',” Lykouras says.
4. Use technology
Advice businesses have a powerful time-saving tool at their fingertips: financial planning software.
But, as Jones observes: “most users won't know how to leverage that appropriately. Training is absolutely critical.”
Your software and modules also need to be regularly updated and appraised to keep up with legislative changes and technological advances.
For example, in coming months the XPLAN Prime solution (developed with Commonwealth Bank) will become available, allowing advisers to streamline and automate processes by ensuring that client data, processes, and oversight across advice channels are always synonymous.
A lower-tech way to speed up the writing process is to develop standardised wording which, with minor adjustments and under the appropriate circumstances, can be copied and pasted into your SOA, says Lykouras.
“What we've tried to do from a consistency point of view is standardise some of the language in the SOA so that every time a particular situation comes up, you're not writing about it from scratch.”
5. Continuous improvement
As important as technology and the processes are, it’s people who ultimately make the difference. If your staff embrace the philosophy of continuous improvement, it’ll have a big influence on the time you'll shave time off processes.
“In our most successful small businesses, they've hired great support staff – people that drive processes through the business and work with the advisers to coach them to continue to stay in line with those processes,” Lykouras notes.
“Paraplanners need to be really motivated, they need to be very detail-oriented, highly efficient and willing to learn and develop.”
As you go about refining your processes, be sure to track your progress, Lykouras adds.
“We measure everything. We understand exactly how long it takes us to do things so when we make a change we know how much we've improved, and we can identify where certain people may be having problems so that we can coach them to improve.”
And once you've started achieving efficiencies you'll find you have more time for bringing in new business.
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