Seizing the Opportunity in Wealth Management

Sitting across the table in an office in central Manhattan, a top financial advisor with one of the world’s largest wealth management firms didn’t mince words: “The investment business is dead. I want to be my clients’ life coach and personal CFO.”

It was a provocation, but one that gets at the heart of the epochal shift happening in wealth management. For the affluent and high net worth segments, what was formerly a transactional business rooted in investment tips is rapidly shifting to an advisory business rooted in planning for a life well-lived.

The stakes are well understood: firms that can make this shift at scale faster and better than their peers will emerge as winners in a once-in-a-lifetime $84.4-trillion intergenerational wealth transfer. Those who can’t make the shift will be forced to compete with increasingly capable, low-cost transactional platforms.

Having different conversations

At the heart of the transition is equipping financial advisors with the skills, technology and resources to have different conversations with their clients.

"The top advisors are doing something totally different," shared one manager. "No one wants your opinion on "which stocks should I buy right now?" Instead, success increasingly hinges on an ability to execute four categories of conversation – which tend to be progressively less comfortable for advisors:

Conversation 1: Help clients articulate financial goals

e.g. "I want to retire in 30 years with a $200k annual income" – and then develop a plan to reach those goals that leverages the full balance sheet – cash management, investments, and debt. In almost all firms, these conversations are supported by planning tools that advisors have access to but the comfort level with discussing cash management and debt is often not as high as with investments.


Conversation 2: Surface potential derailers

e.g. "what if you are incapacitated and unable to work?" – and help mitigate them by using insurance and other risk management tools. These conversations can be risky themselves. As one executive struggling to get advisor uptake on insurance put it: "advisors often don’t want to get caught in a conversation that creates more fear than hope."


Conversation 3: Navigate inter-generational matters

Estate planning, tax, and financial literacy skills for the next generation. Beyond the unique expertise required to navigate these areas, these conversations can be infused with inter-family tension, especially when a prized asset like a cottage hangs in the balance. No client wants the transfer of their wealth to result in rifts amongst their children. As a result, advisors are sometimes hesitant to insert themselves into what feels like a fraught discussion.


Conversation 4: How to lead a life well lived

The best advisors provide access to expertise and experiences that support clients in living long, meaningful, healthy lives that allow them to enjoy the benefits of their financial freedom.


Taking stock of the list above can be overwhelming. “What is most different from three years ago,” shared one advisor, “is the amount of things you need to know – from planning, to asset management, legal, mortgages, insurance, and so on.” And sitting above the array of new technical and product expertise is a heightened level of conversational skills required to build client relationships in which individuals feel safe to discuss highly personal matters – hopes and fears that they often have not shared even with their family or close friends.

Better conversations at scale

In every wealth management organization, there are high performing advisor teams already having these conversations with their clients. The challenge is doing it consistently and at scale. Even planning conversations, the first and most straightforward of the four categories above, are not yet happening with consistency. As of 2023, JD Power reports that only 57% of full-service wealth management clients say they have a financial plan in place. So how do we scale excellence? Our experience points to three key leverage points for seizing the opportunity:


Level up field coaching to both role model the new kinds of conversations we want advisors to be having with their clients, and to surface and overcome barriers to the adoption of new products and technology.


Equip advisors with the leadership skills to manage bigger teams.


Become exceptional matchmakers to team up advisors with complimentary businesses and skill sets.

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Just as client conversations are shifting from transactional to advisory, so too must internal coaching. In their conversations with advisors, field managers are the critical role model for the types of curious, developmental conversations we want advisors to have with clients.

Historically, field coaching has been dashboard driven – focused on identifying and rewarding high performers and highlighting areas of under-performance to those lagging. As advisors are asked to have new and more uncomfortable conversations with clients that touch on planning for death or disability, surfacing hopes and fears, and shaping legacy – simply highlighting metrics and asking for ‘more’ is not sufficient.

Similarly, driving technology adoption at scale in wealth management is not like rolling out a new, mandatory operating model at McDonald’s. As one consultant put it: “this is an incentive-based business, not a rules-based business.” Field leadership plays a crucial role in helping advisors see the value in new technology and understanding the role it can play in enabling their success, and that of their clients.

To drive new conversations and speed adoption of new technology, field managers need the coaching tools to go beyond dashboard metrics to get at the underlying drivers and blocks of behavior change.

This requires equipping field managers with:

  • Strong relationship building skills – in the high autonomy environment of wealth management, the strength of the relationship determines the level of influence.
  • A deeper understanding of what drives behavior change (or resistance) – managers need to have a mental model of where resistance comes from and how to overcome it. This is what allows them to be curious rather than judgmental in the face of push-back and dig deep to understand the block they need to remove to change behavior.
  • Exceptional questioning, listening and curiosity skills – finally, helping field leaders strengthen their ability to have discovery conversations that seek to understand advisors’ hopes and fears rather than ‘objection handle’ their concerns. Again, this provides role modeling for the types of client conversations we aspire to have.

In our experience, building these skills is best accomplished by identifying an initial cadre of field managers who have both the interest and capacity to become stronger coaches – and investing disproportionately in their development. The results driven by this group can serve as a strong incentive for other managers, and the individuals targeted can serve as internal champions. For example, in one organization we work with, 17 branch managers were nominated by their regional directors to receive extra training and 1:1 support from a master coach for a 12-month period.


A survey of the conversations advisors are being asked to navigate makes it clear that no one has the skills to do it alone. World-class advisory is a team sport and organizations need to support advisors in building larger teams with a diverse range of expertise that cuts across debt, insurance, estate planning and more – with the client service, risk, and back-office functions to support it all running smoothly.

“Advisors all want a team – but they don’t want to manage a team.”

From the advisors’ perspective, downward pressure on fees means they need bigger teams to serve more clients in order to make the same compensation. And bigger practices are more highly valued when the time comes for an advisor to sell their business down the road. It seems like a win-win. And yet, as a seasoned coach to financial advisors put it, “advisors all want a team – but they don’t want to manage a team.” Most advisors pride themselves on their subject-matter expertise and their relationship and selling skills. Managing a team and dealing with the administrative burden from growing headcount is rarely aligned with their areas of core competence. And while some of these responsibilities can be delegated to an office manager, ultimately the leader is responsible for building a compelling vision and team culture that attracts and retains top talent.

More consistent success with creating bigger teams requires that organizations help advisors build people leadership skills. High performing advisors will not get committed to doing things they don’t feel competent at. Training for advisors must go beyond product, sales and client service skills to encompass setting them up for success with ever-growing teams.


Finally, beyond equipping individual advisors to grow their teams, firms must become experts at developing a repeatable model for combining the practices of individual advisors into teams with multiple advisors.

“Advisors with different backgrounds and skills produce the best performance when teamed up, but those differences can also produce tremendous friction.”

Research by McKinsey has shown conclusively that “team-based wealth management advisors outperform sole practitioners on almost every metric.” Specifically, teams in which the advisors bring a diversity of skills and backgrounds produce the best advisor team performance.

Beyond performance, teaming up advisors also provides more redundancy, allowing advisors to live more balanced lives, and aids in succession planning – a critical priority as a generational shift occurs over the coming 10-15 years.

Accessing these benefits is easier said than done. Advisors with different backgrounds and skills produce the best performance when teamed up, but those differences can also produce tremendous friction and lead to combustion that is both costly and demotivating.

To access the advantages of team performance, wealth management organizations need to bring science to the art of matchmaking to achieve a higher hit rate and fewer blow-ups. This requires:

  • Using psychometric data, not just business data, to identify strong teams – two practices may look like an obvious match based on their client lists but be unworkable due to the personalities of the advisors. Using psychometric tools gives organizations a clearer, data-driven view of whose distinct styles will be complimentary vs. combustible.
  • Having tough interpersonal conversations up front – using the same psychometric data, organizations can increase eventual success rates by having tough, data-driven conversations up-front that surface and plan for likely sources of conflict based on each advisor’s unique style.
  • Building the skill of collaboration – collaborating with someone different than you is a learnable skill that can be improved with practice. Providing advisors with up-front models for working through conflict and effectively working together can head off potential derailers down the road.

There has never been a moment of so much opportunity and risk in the wealth management industry. The firms who can pair a team-based structure with high quality field coaching and technology that enables advisors to confidently broaden the conversations they have with clients are those who stand to gain from volatility and win the hearts, minds, and wallets of the next generation.

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About the authors

  • Dane Jensen

    Dane is the CEO of Third Factor, an acclaimed speaker, instructor at the University of North Carolina, and a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review. Learn more

  • Garry Watanabe

    Garry Watanabe is an expert on coaching and performance psychology with a wealth of experience working under the peak of pressure in both business and sport. Learn more

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