February 1, 2023

Can Financial Advisors Use One-Time Financial Plans to Grow Their Business?

Written By Charesse Spiller

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From adding a different revenue stream to your firm to helping more families who aren’t a fit for ongoing services, one-time plan offerings have the potential to make a lasting impact on your business and the lives of your clients.

This was originally written for and published by NAPFA: The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.

Can financial advisors use one-time financial plans to grow their business?

Although ongoing financial planning service is historically the status quo, fee-for-service business models are becoming increasingly popular. As a result, many financial advisors are looking to diversify their service offering to include one-time service engagements.

There are many benefits to one-time services for financial advisors. From adding a different revenue stream to your firm to helping more families who aren’t a fit for ongoing services, one-time plan offerings have the potential to make a lasting impact on your business and the lives of your clients.

How do one-time financial plans benefit your clients?

One-time financial planning clients gain a framework for making important financial decisions. This can be especially beneficial if they’re approaching critical milestones in their lives or their careers. For example, clients who are early in their careers could have questions about saving for their child’s college, navigating stock options, or transitioning to a new job opportunity. 

Who do one-time plans help?

One-time financial plans are fantastic for producing action items that will create fast results or solve an immediate pain point. But that means clients who receive a one-time plan need to be on their game and financially savvy enough to implement it on their own. 

Clients also need to be in alignment with your approach to financial planning. This helps to ensure that they’ll buy into your recommendations and be more likely to execute your recommendations successfully. Figuring out early in a relationship if your approaches are compatible is a challenge, but I’ve found that good communication on a website and in a brief get-to-know-you phone call can set expectations very effectively. 

Often, these clients are also DIY-ers or are motivated enough to do the work without requiring hand-holding. They value expert advice but don’t have enough ongoing financial needs to require a recurring relationship. 

While one-time plans can be beneficial for some, they’re not a fit for clients who are already overwhelmed by managing their finances. If they don’t have the time or the willpower to implement the advice they receive, it could also indicate they’re not a good fit for a one-time planning engagement. 

How do one-time financial plans benefit advisors?

Although many advisors stick to ongoing engagements, there are several key benefits to incorporating one-time financial plans into your service model. 

Referrals. Typically, referrals are ideal. But when advisors are asked to take on a non-ideal referral to appease one of their “A-list” clients, they struggle to say no. 

A one-time plan can provide a good option for referrals who aren’t a fit for your firm. It saves you from taking on a non-ideal client on an ongoing basis, but it still allows you to help them and make an impact on their financial lives. 

Limited scope to reduce turnover. If advisors offer ongoing services, they typically offer some form of investment management. In my experience, ongoing planning-only relationships are rare —and advisors fear that they’ll be too limited in scope, resulting in client churn. Planning-only one-time engagements allow advisors to provide a more limited scope of service, reducing potential turnover.

Fee clarity. Ongoing planning-only services fees are pulled directly from a client’s bank account, as opposed to AUM fees that are pulled from an investment account. Often, advisors feel that planning-only clients who see fees coming straight from their bank accounts may be more likely to bolt if rates increase over time—even if more value is added by the advisor. 

One-time financial planning offers fee clarity and reduces the potential pushback on rate increases that ongoing clients may have. Advisors can increase rates for one-time plans without feeling nervous that they’ll lose client relationships. 

Ease of process. Typically, one-time plans are delivered in the same way as the beginning of an ongoing planning engagement. This means that advisors who already have a defined “getting started” process for new ongoing clients may have a solid one-time service already built. 

Cash flow. One-time plans offer a way to easily inject cash flow into your business. Advisors who are just starting out or just are looking to add extra revenue to achieve a specific goal can leverage one-time plans to stabilize their book of business. Additionally, if a client doesn’t have the financial resources to make AUM billing a profitable move for your business, a one-time planning fee can ensure you’re compensated for your expertise.

Easy team growth. If your advisor team is growing, it may make sense to pass one-time engagements to new advisors for them to “cut their teeth” and grow their skills.

Paid prospecting. Many advisors leverage one-time plans as a type of paid prospecting. They complete a one-time engagement as a way to test the waters with a prospective client. The planning client gets actionable insights into their financial pain points, and the advisor can determine if they’re a fit for ongoing work together. 

It also helps advisors to ensure that all financial pain points are being addressed before investment management begins—helping to set the client up for more comprehensive success. Of course, keep in mind that not all one-time plan clients convert to an ongoing relationship. 

Integrating one-time plans into your practice

One-time plans require advisors to be incredibly organized and disciplined. So how do you integrate one-time plans into your practice—especially if you’re busy and growing your practice?

First, it’s critical that you have a clear scope of work and an efficient onboarding process. But it’s just as critical that you have an offboarding process that cleanly closes out one-time planning clients. Outlining how one-time plans are executed before kicking off the service can help save you from supporting “one-time” clients for too long, and it allows you to clearly communicate your value proposition and key deliverables.

Next, you’ll need to check with your compliance department to ensure you’re appropriately billing for the service—and communicating those fees to your clients. There may be one upfront fee or a split fee that’s paid as a deposit and at the completion of the project.

When is a one-time plan service wrong for you?

While one-time plans can be a fantastic fit for advisors who want to expand their services and jump-start cash flow, they’re not a perfect fit for every practice. 

For example, business owners who want to stick with a lifestyle practice may want to exclusively focus on ongoing relationships with their clients. One-time planning clients can be time-consuming, even with a limited scope. 

Lifestyle businesses would need to dedicate most of their time to completing one-time plans and prospecting for new clients to fill their funnel. This leaves almost no time to service ongoing clients and accounts that provide stable, ongoing revenue. Similarly, established practices with a strong book of ongoing clients who require frequent touch points may also not be a fit for one-time planning services.

What’s next?

Performing a service and process audit can help you to determine which of your services are both profitable and enjoyable for your team. Take time to evaluate your service offerings, and how they’re executed, to determine whether you have the capacity to take on one-time planning engagements. Once you’ve evaluated your capacity, you can decide whether the benefits of a one-time planning service would positively affect your firm.

Charesse Spiller is the founder of Level Best, a virtual process and operations consulting practice in Houston. Level Best partners exclusively with financial planners to analyze their current processes, create new systems, and implement them to seamlessly scale their business.

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