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Building a Referral-based Financial Advisory Practice

Financial advising is a profession that draws in an eclectic mix of individuals who come from different backgrounds and whose career paths haven’t always been straightforward and predictable. Today’s guest formerly served in the military as a forensic accountant; now he not only runs his own financial practice, he’s also the world’s first (and probably only) forensic accountant blockchain professional. He joins the show to share what he’s learned from his military experience that has helped him serve his clients and grow his practice on referrals alone.

Robert Watterson is the owner of Watterson Financial Solutions, a firm that handles financial planning, accounting, compliance, insurance, asset protection and tax services. Listen to hear what Robert has to say about how working in forensic accounting informs his current work, how he remains focused with so many different areas of practice, and how his interest in blockchain technology helped him develop an audit-ready bookkeeping system.

What You’ll Learn in This Episode: 

  • How Robert moved from military forensic accountant to advisor (5:00)
  • How his military experience informs the way he acquires clients (9:10)
  • Staying focused while providing different offerings (18:40)
  • How the different parts of Robert’s business build on one another (21:40)
  • The blockchain’s impact on the financial industry (23:40)
  • Robert’s audit-ready bookkeeping system (30:30)
  • Robert’s biggest challenge in growing his practice (35:10)
  • Why service is the most important part of running a practice (38:00)

Links and Resources:

Watterson Financial

Send Robert an email

Quotes by Robert:

“In the military, one of the things that they taught us was never look for what’s good for you; look for what’s good for the overall project you’re working on. And if you’re working with a client, that means the overall good for the client.”

“Make yourself referable… If you are referable, they will come back to you for work or they will have somebody come to you for work.”

“If you don’t worry about making money off every client, the client will worry about making sure you make money.”

With Robert’s different interests and areas of expertise – forensic accounting, blockchain technology, compliance and financial planning – it can be difficult to see how everything fits together. And yet, he’s able to pull knowledge and skills from different areas to create a unique practice in a way that we can all learn from.

  • How Robert’s military experience informs the way he acquires clients
  • Robert’s obsession with learning
  • Robert’s biggest challenge in growing his practice

For the rest of the episode, find the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, or hit the link above.

How Robert’s military experience informs the way he acquires clients

In the military, there is a high emphasis on sharing information freely and looking out for the team. Robert had to make sure that if he was injured or killed during an assignment (yes, the stakes were that high), somebody else still had the knowledge and skills to do his job. As a result, he is used to an open culture of constant teaching and learning.

He explains that “in the military, one of the things that they taught us was never look for what’s good for you; look for what’s good for the overall project you’re working on. And if you’re working with a client, that means the overall good for the client.”

Robert feels deeply that his job is to help people, and he’s never afraid to give his time freely to people without expecting anything in return. At the large insurance firm he worked at, he often took on the clients and cases nobody else wanted because they didn’t come with obvious financial gain for the advisors.

People did tell him that if he did this, eventually clients would come back to him. And while that’s not why he helps people, the prediction was correct.

That’s the irony of good service – when you don’t look at how much money you can make and focus instead on helping people, financial success often follows as a result. In fact, Watterson Financial Solutions no longer advertises their business at all – they can’t because they have so many referrals coming through.

Robert summarizes the approach like this: “Service your client. Give them the information they need and don’t worry about making money off of them. If you don’t worry about making money off every client, the client will worry about making sure you make money.”

Robert’s obsession with learning

Another aspect that Robert brought from the military into his advising is his ability to learn. In the military, he would have to learn about projects (and the associated knowledge and skills) quickly and expertly – when investigating other countries or protecting against financial warfare, a mistake could cost him his life.

As a civilian, Robert has maintained a hunger for knowledge. He isn’t a dabbler – if he’s going to proceed with something, he needs to know everything he possibly can about it. He certainly doesn’t feel comfortable advising people on anything he doesn’t fully understand.

For example, he recalls that his team once spent 18 months looking into a new investment before ever mentioning it to a client – he wanted to be sure he thoroughly understood everything there was to know about it first. He certainly refuses to do things halfway.

Similarly, he realized early on that blockchain technology was going to transform the financial industry. When he found out that post-secondary schools were beginning to offer courses and degrees in blockchain, he took one of the first offerings available in North America and became the first (and still only) forensic accountant blockchain professional.

With or without Robert’s military background and remarkable ability to absorb and understand new information, you can apply his principles about learning to your advising. Your clients expect you to be an expert in your field – make sure that’s what you deliver. Own your expertise and be aware of your limitations so that you can address them and serve your clients to the best of your ability.

Hint: To hear more about the importance of learning throughout your career, listen to our episode on improving your practice through professional education with Jason Watt. 

Robert’s biggest challenge in growing his practice 

Robert says that the biggest challenge in his career has been always wanting to already be at the next higher level.

For example, when he left his insurance company, the company’s regulations stated that he couldn’t take his 700 clients with him; he had to walk away from relationships he’d built over years and begin rebuilding his client base.

Robert has been learning to feel comfortable with the level he’s at right now even as he strives for more, and channeling his frustrations to fuel his motivation.

Hint: If you’re feeling frustrated about your practice’s growth (or lack thereof), keep in mind that running a business is not a sprint by any means. Listen to our episode on predictably growing your practice with systems, tools, and referrals for suggestions from John Page on where to focus your efforts to build a sustainable business.

Make sure you catch Robert’s full episode to hear more, including his early involvement in blockchain technology and how it informed his audit-ready bookkeeping system (yes, it really is audit-ready). You can find the show right here on this page or subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher so you don’t miss any episodes. 

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