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The Referability Quadrant: How top financial advisors grow their advisory practices

The Referability Quadrant: How top financial advisors grow their advisory practices

Over the last few weeks, I decided to take a deep dive into the practices of our top clients in order to distill their approach into a simple framework for what makes them referable.

I always take meticulous notes when I see something that works, so I went over my notes from several hundred conversations with advisors from the past three years to see if I could discover something useful. It turns out that some of the best advisors consistently focus on 4 key areas of their business that determine everything else and significantly impact referrals.

You have likely heard that 20% of activities generate 80% of results. This is called the Pareto Principle. Pareto noticed that 20% of the pea plants in his garden generated 80% of the pea pods and later showed that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. When you really start to look, you can see other examples of this principle almost everywhere. The 4 areas I’m going to share with you today make up the 20% of the work that generates an overwhelming 80% of results in your businesses. We started referring to these key principles as the Referability Quadrant.

Some advisors think a referral strategy consists simply of a tagline in their email signature like the one below.

That’s insufficient at best and dangerous at worst. It won’t actually drive sufficient volume of referrals and it is dangerous to make your business growth dependable on a single tactic that simply doesn’t work.

The Referability Quadrant is a systematic approach to structuring your business so you become more referable.

It all starts with elevating your game and ends with evaluating your systems. Here’s how it works.

Elevate Your Game

Great advisors constantly improve their business. Period. They improve their systems and processes by designing useful workflows. They ruthlessly prioritize and apply technology to eliminate waste anywhere in the process. This instantly leads to more efficiency and time savings not only for the advisor, but also for their team and, most importantly, for their clients.

Here are two quick wins you can implement today to elevate your game.

First, schedule meetings online. Jason Pereira, an award-winning financial planner and senior financial consultant and partner at Woodgate Financial, Inc., recently shared an anecdote with me that perfectly exemplifies how this can have a huge impact on your practice. One of his staff members was spending nearly 70% of her time booking, rebooking, and confirming meeting times with clients over the phone. When they moved to an online solution to automate the process, they saved his staff and his clients a lot of time. In fact, he estimates they got that time spent booking appointments down to 20% of his staff member’s day. Suddenly, she had half of her day back that she could now spend on more productive tasks, significantly improving the firm’s efficiency. Similarly, his clients can now easily choose a time that works for them without having to play phone tag with anyone.

Another way to elevate your game is to use face-to-screen technology to meet with prospects and clients. Face-to-screen technology has been said to be one of the most disruptive forces sweeping through the financial advisory space for several reasons. You’ll be surprised that not only do your out-of-town clients want to meet online, but that even some who live in town prefer it because it saves them time, too. After all, who wants to be stuck sitting in traffic?

Clients appreciate advisors who value their time. As an advisor, if you’re easy to work with, you become way more referable.

Engage Your Prospects

Top advisors optimize for client engagement rather than for customer experience in their financial planning process. According to Paulo Sironi, one of the most prominent minds in FinTech, customer experience can be copied or purchased and therefore quickly commoditized, so it isn’t a sustainable competitive advantage. Instead, you need to provide something of value. Show prospects what you can do for them in a way that clearly shows them the value you provide.

Financial planning is a tremendous way to engage clients. In fact, in the quickly changing landscape of financial services, with at least one major shift underway (which we wrote about here), it is one of the few areas where you can predictably add value to each of your clients.

Advice has to come before products. Financial plans should be the core of your client relationship. Do you understand the biggest financial worries of your clients? Are they thinking about a new roof or saving for their children’s education? What are their biggest questions about retirement?

If you don’t know the answers to the above questions, you’re missing a great opportunity ‒ and your clients are missing out on a lot of value. Ask good questions and listen. There is really no magic about it. It’s just listening empathetically and trying to help your clients make better financial decisions. If you focus on their life, what matters to them, and their financial goals and challenges, you become an important and even integral part of their life and build a long-lasting relationship. This naturally leads to referrals.

Educate Your Clients

The recent research by Credo Consulting shows that “the likelihood a client will provide a referral to his or her advisor gradually grows with that client’s increasing levels of financial literacy.”

The key takeaway here is that investing in educating your clients pays off. Education is key not only when it comes to serving your clients and retaining them, but also in growing your practice.

Don’t even think about a textbook approach to financial planning or 50-page financial plans, though. Rather, be practical. Educate clients about the specific impacts of their financial decisions and answer their biggest questions about their finances. What happens if they stay the course vs. following your advice? How long will their money last? How much can they spend without running out of money in retirement? When should they take their government benefits? Which of their assets should they spend first?

Quick and meaningful what-if scenarios increase the level of understanding, which builds trust that then helps drive referrals. When clients understand what is going on in their financial plan, they’re actually excited to tell other people about what they know. This is how you generate referrals.

Evaluate Your Systems

In order to continue elevating your game, you need to create a feedback loop so you can see what is and isn’t working. Peter Drucker famously said “What gets measured gets improved.” See how that brings you back to elevating your game? Measuring results and identifying areas for improvement should be a regular activity, and collecting feedback from clients is a big part of that.

However, that’s only half of the story. What you might not realize is that by creating a client feedback system, you receive referrals. Yes, the referrals can be a byproduct of your feedback gathering process if you implement it correctly.

We have interviewed a multitude of experts on the topic of referrals ‒ here’s a short list of some links you can check out to learn more about great processes that can help you gather referrals almost automatically:

Grant Hicks recommends building an advisory board that includes your top clients so you learn directly from your best clients, and suggests having six centres of influence completely integrated with your business.

Julia Chung and Sandi Martin show how they integrate working with other professionals and how referring out to the professional they think is best for each individual is a cornerstone of their business.

John Page has a process that gathers referrals without the advisor ever having to ask. Seriously! He stresses that this process “needs to be systematic.”

It starts with laying out the ground work during the first meeting, creating an advisor evaluation form, reviewing the evaluation with the client, and creating a system to reach out (if you want to listen to him lay this process out in detail, you can listen from 13:00 to 22:00 of this podcast episode).

By building feedback and referrals right into your evaluation process, you capture a big opportunity that many advisors miss.

Bottom Line

Focusing on these 4 areas will help you organize your advisory practice to maximize referrals and ultimately help more people achieve their financial goals. And I think this is what we all are here for ‒ to help Canadians make better financial decisions.

If you’d like to learn more about how we approach addressing the 6 most common financial planning questions, here’s a quick video ‒ or you can always request a 1-1 demo with us here.

Snap Projections Joins Forces With WealthBar

Today marks a big milestone for the Snap Projections team.

We’ve been working hard for the past 5 years to bring you financial planning software that is intuitive, interactive and impactful so that you (and your clients) can easily determine which strategies add to and detract from building long-term, after-tax wealth.

It’s been a great journey so far and Snap continues to grow quickly serving planners and advisors across the country – from independent practices to wealth management firms, and credit unions.

Today, we announce a huge leap forward towards our goals of continuing to build out extraordinary planning tools that can help you grow your financial advisory practice.

We’re excited to share that we’ve been acquired by WealthBar, a leading Canadian online investment manager that’s focused on providing Main Street Canadians with the same opportunities that the ultra-rich use to build wealth. WealthBar shares our vision of ensuring all Canadians can access professional financial planning.

This partnership means we’re gaining resources that will help us accelerate our product roadmap, invest in our team and maintain the level of support you appreciate so much about Snap.

We have been working with WealthBar for over 4 years and couldn’t imagine a better partner for the next part of the journey.

Here is a bit more context on questions you may have:

Will my experience with Snap Projections change?

Not at all. You put your trust in us and we don’t take it lightly. You’ll continue to have access to the same platform you’ve been using and can expect new enhancements in the near future. Snap will remain a separate entity and nothing will change day to day. We’re only getting better.

What about the Snap team?

Every member of the Snap Projections team is making this transition (including myself, the founder). So if you’re used to hearing from me, Leigh, Riley, David, or anyone else on our team, expect that to continue.

What are the future plans for Snap?

In a nutshell, our plans are to stay the current course, but move faster. What we’re doing is working really well. This partnership provides us with the resources needed to build features you’ve been waiting for faster, scale our team, and double down on educating the industry (and the public) on the value of professional financial planning.

I look forward to continuing this journey with you!


– Pawel

Pawel Brzeminski
Founder & CEO, Snap Projections

PS – If you haven’t yet tried financial planning with Snap, now is a great time. Try it out in a free trial or book a demo with us here.


2018 Federal Budget and its Impact on Planning for your Clients

On February 27, 2018 the federal government released Federal Budget 2018. It’s titled, Equality and Growth, A Strong Middle Class.

You can view the entire 369 page report at this link, but perhaps first read this quote from Jamie Golombek, Managing Director, Tax and Estate Planning with CIBC in Toronto:

“There’s not a lot there for the average individual, and not a lot of changes from a personal tax perspective…very few changes in tax credits.”

The most headlined topic of Budget 2018 is “how the government will deal with passive investment income inside a private corporation”

In fact, you can listen to a great summary from Jamie in just 4 minutes at this link.

If you have been waiting until the weekend to dive into the budget further, I hope I can save you a few minutes by answering the questions that are likely top of mind:

  1. Are there any changes to personal tax that will affect my clients?
  2. How did the government address the disputed proposal towards taxation of passive investment income for my small business clients?
  3. What has changed in Snap Projections as a result?
  4. What strategies can I consider to better serve my clients?

Are there any changes to personal tax that will affect my clients?

Short answer – No. Not really. The highlights in this area are changes and modifications to the Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB), tax deductibility for service dogs and administrative changes to the RESP to increase awareness. A great summary of these specific changes can be found in this economic analysis in Macleans here.

How did the government address the disputed proposal towards taxation of passive investment income for my small business clients?

In July 2017, the proposals were announced and consultations and feedback were taken for changes in 3 main areas:

Income Splitting

The federal budget has not added any further changes to these proposals that were finalized in an update on December 13, 2017. Essentially, what we have called “kiddie tax” in the past, now applies to adults, with a number of unique exceptions.

If your clients are using income splitting strategies using dividends from their corporation, you will want to be familiar with these changes as they are in effect. The changes were effective January 1, 2018 and if you are not yet familiar with the new legislation BDO has summarized it nicely here.

Converting Income into Capital Gains

The federal budget has not added any further changes in this area as well. The proposals introduced in July were scrapped during small business week last October. The reasoning behind this (mainly due to what was found during the consultation period) is summarized by BDO here.

Passive Investments in a Corporation

This was the headliner. The government dislikes that corporations have a tax deferral advantage that essentially allows someone who is incorporated to accumulate more money inside the corporation.

The proposal in July was complex and would clearly have taken a lot of effort to track. It was a disputed change and in October it was not abandoned but we were left hanging without much direction and many unanswered questions.

In Federal Budget 2018, the government has completely scrapped previous proposals and has taken a different approach, which is a significant improvement, here are the key points:

When passive investment income inside the corporation is greater than $50,000 the small business deduction (SBD) will be reduced by $5 for $1; eliminating the SBD when investment income is above $150,000.

For example, Diane is a physician who has accumulated $1,000,000 in her corporation and it earns a 5% rate of return. The $50,000 of investment income is under the threshold and she will not be affected by the new rules.

The technicalities of what defines passive income, what is included and excluded, and detailed changes to RDTOH will be important to know if the changes will affect your clients.

Key Takeaway

A client can only be affected by these rules if they are earning active business income. Even if they are affected, integration still works, investment income is still taxed at the same rate and overall taxation is not higher. Rather, the limitation on the SBD only removes the opportunity to defer taxes.

For more clarifying examples, see the link for IE webinar below and go to minute 33:00.

What has changed in Snap Projections as a result?

There have been no changes required to the software as a result of this federal budget, other than the changes we had already released in the first week of January of this year. This is due to the fact that some proposals were abandoned and others will not be effective until January 1, 2019. We will be addressing these changes and making the required updates to the software later this year to ensure Snap Projections is accurate and up to date with all new legislation.

What strategies can I consider to better serve my clients?

Investment Executive hosted a webinar with Jamie Golombek focused on how Federal Budget 2018 will affect the industry. You can listen to the whole webinar here. At the 34:30 mark, Jamie shares some of his thoughts:

New Passive Income Rules

  • Keep corporate passive income under $50,000 using buy and hold strategies and investments that primarily provide capital gain income
  • Consider Permanent Life Insurance within a Corporation
  • Consider IPPs
  • Invest corporate funds to maximize the RRSP and TFSA


  • Spousal loans – instigate before CRA’s prescribed interest rate doubles to 2% at end of March 2018 (40:30)

Still have questions? In the same webinar Jamie was able to answer all of the common questions from advisors live on the call (the Q/A starts around 46:00).

For a more in-depth analysis and additional information, I would like to recommend an excellent analysis by BDO Canada titled: 2018 Federal Budget: Equality and Growth.

Effortlessly scale your practice using online meetings

How to effortlessly book appointments and scale your financial planning practice using online meetings

If you book and attend a lot of meetings, you and I have a lot in common.

You’ll probably agree that:

  • The most valuable aspect of our work is the time spent with our current and prospective clients.
  • We have limited resources and staff, and the less time we spend on administrative tasks, the more time we have available to serve our existing and new clients.
  • We want to grow our companies, but we don’t want to decrease the quality of the services we provide. That’s why we need to be more efficient in how we work as we need to constantly be doing more for more clients, with the same amount of time.

My name is Riley, and if you’re a subscriber to Snap Projections, we’ve likely spoken at some point. In the past year, I’ve booked and attended 400+ meetings with our prospective and current clients.

I learned how to do this efficiently, with no administrative staff, and I’d like to share how you can use the same efficient process in your practice.

I use these two tools:

Calendly eliminates the back-and-forth emails when scheduling meetings.

Join.me allows me to meet online with any client on any device without them needing to download or install any software.

Both applications have free versions available and are easy to get started with.

Here is exactly how they work for us; I think you’ll easily see how they could work for you, too.

Effortlessly schedule client meetings

It all starts with me wanting to meet with someone I was introduced to. I often receive an email like this:

Rather than searching my calendar for a list of available times and converting them to the customer’s time zone, I just reply like this:

Then I get an email notification back, and our meeting is automatically scheduled in my calendar. It looks like this:

Isn’t this great? With just one click, a prospect or client can see every single time I’m available and easily find a time that works best for them.

The real magic is behind the scenes because this is what your client sees.

It’s so easy for them to pick a date and time to schedule their meeting with you. You’ll have more meetings scheduled with much less follow-up.

Bottom line, Calendly works great, and you are never again bothered with a time-consuming (and probably all-too-familiar) email chain like this:

You can sign up for Calendly without downloading anything, and you can create several meeting types. For example, you can have one called “Financial Plan Review” and have it set for 90 minutes. Another type of meeting might be set for just 30 minutes.

Calendly also sends an auto-reminder before the meeting to avoid missed appointments.

And if a client needs to reschedule, she can even do this on her own without having to contact you.

Now let’s go over online meetings

You may have already tried to meet with clients online using tools like Skype, Google Hangouts, GoToWebinar, HighFive or Zoom, or maybe you still prefer in-person meetings.

The big problem with face-to-face meetings is that they do take time. They are harder to schedule, they limit you to certain geographical areas, and they constrain your daily capacity.

Online meetings tend to result in quicker and more frequent meetings because the financial advisor does not have to schedule an hour just to justify the commute time invested by clients.

There is no time spent on driving, figuring out directions, or looking for parking, for either yourself or your clients.

However, perhaps the biggest advantage of online meetings is that they open up your territory and allow you to scale your financial planning practice beyond your city, province or even country.

Bob Veres calls face-to-screen technology the most disruptive force sweeping through the professional space of financial planning firms.

Bloomberg News reports that just about every planning firm has had clients move away. Video technology makes it much easier to maintain those client relationships.

Our own experience working with advisors confirms that some are having a lot of success meeting with clients online. They often have long-term, extremely engaged clients thousands of kilometers away with whom they have never met in person.

Some advisors use face-to-screen technology to meet with their own staff, too. The growing feasibility of having a completely virtual planning firm with staff located all across the country has unique lifestyle and recruitment implications.

In the end, you can have better, more frequent interactions as online meetings tend to be more focused and effective, so you can spend more time with your clients and prospects.

Here’s how you can conduct online meetings once they’ve been set up in Calendly:

Fifteen minutes before a call is scheduled to begin, send an email with the join.me link:

To use Join.me as an advisor, you need to download and install the application, but your clients can simply click a link without downloading anything.

When they click the link, they’ll see something like this:

Once your client enters their name and clicks “join,” you can choose to share your screen, webcam, or both.

I typically share only my screen to keep the conversation more focused and on point.

If you wish to have another person in a different location on the call, such as their spouse, lawyer or accountant, it’s as simple as emailing them the link as well.

I prefer to still use a phone to call the person directly while using join.me just to share my screen, but speaking through join.me or using the join.me conference call is also an option.

Once your clients see your screen, it’s easy to go over their list of questions, show them any relevant documents, or even walk them through their retirement projections interactively if you use an interactive financial planning tool like Snap Projections.

Need more help?

If you want me to shed more light on how I schedule or host online meetings, I am happy to help.

I’m sure you’ve already guessed it, but the best way to get a hold of me or see how we do this here at Snap Projections is by clicking this link.

Talk to you soon!


How to Succeed in the World of Low Fees

We now live in the world of low investment fees

Whether you’re an established advisor looking to grow your business or just starting your career, you cannot ignore a major shift happening in the financial services industry worldwide: we now live in the world of low fees. Today, I’m going to show you how to succeed in this new reality by staying technologically relevant, using client education as an opportunity to create great experiences, and seizing an underserved market.

How did we get here?

Vanguard started lowering their investment management fees in the early 1980s when the rest of the industry did the exact opposite. Their long-term focus on passive low-cost diversified portfolios eventually paid off: the firm now has over $3.5T in assets under management, adding $1B from investors every working day. Their commitment to passing value onto the retail investor made them one of the largest fund companies in the world.

Vanguard’s unique ownership structure, where the firm is owned by its funds, puts further pressure on keeping fees low. Competing with such a fee structure is a race to the bottom; it would be a decidedly flawed strategy. While most Canadian investors still own mutual funds rather than low-cost ETFs ($1.1T in mutual funds vs. $100B in ETFs in 2016), the net outflows from mutual funds into ETFs show what the not-so-distant future holds.

Staying relevant

Because the technology landscape is changing so quickly, leveraging technology to deliver more value and a better experience to the customer is not optional; it’s now key to survival. If you don’t leverage technology, you’ll be quickly displaced by a more technologically savvy competitor. One of the most relevant recent examples is the bankruptcy of Blockbuster, totally outcompeted by Netflix, which offered lower fees and more value through an online business model delivering memorable and personalized experiences for their customers.



A great success story in the financial services sector is a firm that applied technology to better serve their clients. AdvicePeriod has gone from a startup to managing more than $6B of assets under advisement in the span of a few years. They did this by combining technology with a heavy focus on financial planning.

“We wanted to focus more on what really mattered to clients, and for us that means a lot of planning, a lot of advice, leveraging technology where we can,” says Larry Miles, one of the principals of AdvicePeriod. “It’s more important than ever because technology is just changing so rapidly that if advisors fall behind, it’s going to be really difficult to get back ahead.”

Customers expect great experiences

Consumers now expect great experiences. What are the ingredients of a great experience?

Customers now expect great experiences

Customers want ongoing value from a service. If the value stops being delivered, the service is cancelled.

We got used to instant fulfillment when we started being able to order food, an Uber or anything on Amazon with just the tap of a finger right from our smartphones. This is setting a standard for all industries, including financial services. For example, if you insist on asking for all financial data from a prospective client upfront and telling them you’ll see them in 3 weeks, you may lose a prospect.

Customers also expect personalized and relevant advice to help them make better financial decisions. This advice encompasses not only investment planning, but includes the broader areas of tax planning, financial management, estate planning and even behavioural coaching.

Collaboration means the session with the advisor becomes interactive instead of an advisor working in the back office on a complex plan and then presenting that plan to the client. Collaboration between the client and advisor helps to identify the client’s goals that would otherwise go undiscovered. It helps to cement the client-advisor relationship, too.

All of the above aspects help to create a great, memorable experience for the client.

The question now becomes how to find the right opportunity to deliver such an experience.

Finding the right opportunity

I wrote about the value of client education in why client education matters today more than ever. The likelihood that a client will provide a referral to her advisor gradually grows with that client’s increasing levels of financial literacy. Providing the right advice to clients and educating them in the process leads to a powerful referral formula.

Referral Formula for Financial Advisors

Well-educated clients become more satisfied clients. Satisfied clients become long-term, loyal clients. Loyal, long-term clients tend to generate more referrals.

Even though opportunities for advisors in the investment management area are somewhat diminished, you can still build and grow strong, sustainable and profitable businesses. The formula for success is not just providing advice and educating clients, but also focusing on the right clients. This means picking the right market segment and specializing in serving it better than anyone else.

While there has been a lot of attention on millennials lately, with 13.6 million Canadians who are 50 years and older, I see the pre-retirement and retirement segment as particularly attractive for many reasons.

Retirement segment is the right opportunity

While there are a lot of DIY options and tons of free education online, retirees have a lot at stake. They are heading into retirement during historically low interest rates, which forces them to be more exposed to equity and makes retirement planning more complex. Their biggest concern (and rightfully so) is not running out of funds in retirement.

The progressing fee compression forces larger institutions to raise their minimums, making the mass-affluent segment underserved. These firms cannot effectively serve clients with assets roughly between $100,000 and $800,000, which creates an opportunity for independent advisors and smaller, more efficient advisory teams to come in and effectively serve that market.

Most advisors are not focused on retirement planning, retirement income planning or asset decumulation. This is an obvious gap in the market.

What do clients want to know?

Addressing the needs of the retirement market segment doesn’t have to result in spending hours on creating long, complex financial plans. In fact, we found that long, complex financial plans are rarely read, never updated, and frankly useless to clients (you can read here that clients, unsurprisingly, don’t understand 50-page reports). A lot of clients have fairly basic questions around their retirement.

6 most common financial planning questions

First and foremost, they want to know if they are going to be okay. They ask questions about how long their capital will last or how much they can spend so they won’t run out of funds in retirement. They are also curious about when to take their CPP and OAS, which of their assets they should spend first and how their estate will transfer upon their death.

You can instantly add a lot of value by providing them with useful insights into their financial situation.

There are many ways to help clients address these questions. If you would like to see how we help advisors do so here at Snap Projections, click here. See for yourself how you can address the 6 most common financial planning questions for your clients in just a few minutes.