How to Choose a Great Coach | Lord Abbett

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Practice Management

Given the wide scope of challenges facing advisors, some find benefits in training that takes their entire practice into account. Here’s how to decide if coaching is for you and what to look for in a program.

This Practice Management article is intended for financial advisors only (registered representatives of broker dealers or associated persons of Registered Investment Advisors).

Planners who are looking to achieve big business breakthroughs often turn to coaching and training programs for help. The reason is that while traditional learning outlets such as business books and conferences tend to focus on one or two discrete ideas; coaching, however, takes a more holistic approach that focuses on how advisors can maximize their entire businesses.

Given the wide scope of challenges advisors now face—retaining clients, attracting the right new ones, increasing efficiencies, and keeping up with regulatory changes—it makes sense that many seek training that will take their entire practices into account, helping all the moving parts work in concert for maximum impact.

Full disclosure: I am the CEO of a coaching firm, CEG Worldwide. But my goal is not to sell you on my firm or even on coaching. Not every advisor needs a coach; in fact, we turn away advisors who aren't the right fit. Rather, I want to help you understand what coaching really is, what you can get from it, how to decide if it's right for you, and, if so, what to seek in a coaching program.

Focus on Results
Business coaching isn't so different from athletic coaching: In the same way a personal trainer might help you stick to a scheduled workout, coaches help advisors implement various lessons to achieve the desired results. Coaching also can enhance advisors' productivity around the core activities that make the biggest difference in their practices.

The net effect is acceleration. Advisors in coaching programs often accomplish in two to three years what would have taken five years working alone. Some advisors also see coaching as a way to understand the best practices of their peers and avoid repeating mistakes already made by others. Any good program should focus on these major goals:

  • Enhanced client impact. Your clients should be so happy with you that they become your marketing disciples and actively help you grow your business, both by giving you more of their assets to manage and by introducing you to ideal prospective clients whose financial challenges you could solve.
  • Substantial growth of net income and equity value. Truly effective coaching should result in at least a 25% increase in net income and equity value in just the first year. Mere incremental growth should not be acceptable.
  • Significantly higher quality of life. Improvements could include fewer, but more enjoyable clients, a streamlined business model that reduces headaches and burnout, easier acquisition of new assets and affluent clients, the ability to take more time off from work, more money to fulfill life goals—or all of the above.

To that end, a coaching program should provide specific strategies and tactics that are results-oriented, actionable, and proven to work. Taken as a whole, they should provide you with a clear path forward. A coaching program also should bridge the gap between knowing what to do and actually doing it, and through action plans and frequent check-ins that help advisors apply their strategies in their own businesses.

Of course, at the core of the coaching experience is a great personal relationship with a coach. Good coaches will monitor their clients' performance to identify key strengths and weaknesses and to help capitalize on the former and minimize the latter. They will hold their clients accountable, be their advocates, act as sounding boards, and give a push when needed.

Changes to Expect
In coaching hundreds of advisors, CEG Worldwide has seen the most dramatic changes in a few specific areas of planners' practices. Among them:

  • Assets under management (AUM). Significant AUM growth can be generated in a number of ways. Acquiring the right types of affluent clients and capturing additional assets from existing clients are two of the best ways to ramp up AUM.
  • Type and number of clients. By setting minimums, advisors often end up working not only with wealthier clients but also with fewer clients—even while managing more assets and earning higher incomes.
  • Client relationship management. Financial advisors develop systems to ensure the high-quality, consistent client service that affluent investors demand.
  • Capacity to serve affluent clients. Many advisors position themselves to address noninvestment concerns (such as wealth protection and wealth transfer), along with traditional investment management, to meet an affluent client's diverse, complex financial needs.
  • Client-acquisition strategies. Advisors learn to move away from mass marketing strategies, such as advertising and direct mail, to much more effective strategies, such as strategic alliances with other professionals and invitation-only private events.

Yet coaching isn't right for all advisors. If you are highly satisfied with your business and quality of life, you probably don't need coaching. But if you are unhappy with some or many aspects of your business, or just think you can accomplish a lot more, coaching is worth considering.

Entrepreneurial Attitude
In our experience, the advisors who get the biggest payoff from coaching share one attribute: an entrepreneurial outlook. Many of these advisors think of themselves as entrepreneurs first and as advisors second.

This outlook is important to successful coaching. Entrepreneurial advisors think big. They challenge themselves to completely redefine progress: tripling assets under management, cutting by 75% the number of clients served, or tackling other, similarly audacious goals. They also take big action, pulling out all the stops to make the changes necessary to reach big goals and deliberately aligning their actions with what they want to achieve. They're willing to move out of their comfort zones if doing so means big breakthroughs.

For advisors with such lofty goals, coaching can be a huge help. In contrast, advisors with smaller, more incremental goals may not find the time, expense, and commitment required of a coaching program to be worth it.

Entrepreneurs also tend to be what we call lifelong learners. They're willing to look at the world in fresh ways, and their curiosity motivates them to explore new options and new ways of doing things. For entrepreneurial advisors, this curiosity drives a search for better ways to serve their clients, expand their businesses and manage their practices. It is also what makes these advisors likely to get the most from coaching—they are eager to soak up new approaches that will benefit them and their clients and that ultimately will take them to their goals and accelerate their success.

What to Look For
To find a program that is focused on helping you generate results in your practice, look for the following attributes:

  • Proven industry-specific experience. The coaches should have proven track records of helping advisors achieve significantly higher levels of success.
  • Actionable strategies rooted in proven research and facts. The program should be based on best practices and processes that have been shown to be effective.
  • A screening process. Rather than automatically saying yes to every financial advisor who wants in, a program should evaluate candidates to determine whether they fit with the approach and have the drive to reach for big goals.
  • Toolkits. Look for programs that provide a full set of turnkey tools (templates, scripts and more) that make it easy to implement specific strategies and tactics.
  • Measurable results. The program should contain success metrics for participants, enabling those participants and prospects to calculate their own potential return on investment.

Coaching is not a silver bullet, but it can help many advisors achieve significant success and leap over hurdles faster than they could otherwise. Consider whether you have the entrepreneurial outlook that could make you a good candidate for coaching—and if you do, evaluate your coaching program options carefully.

Given the growth in coaching services in recent years, you'll likely find a program that can help you achieve the goals you most want for your business, your clients, and your life.

John J. Bowen, Jr. is a contributing writer for Financial Planning.


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