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Greenspring Advisors Core Value #4: Master Your Craft

Joshua P. Itzoe, CFP®, AIF®

Welcome to my sixth in a series of seven blog posts about the importance of culture, core purpose and core values at Greenspring Advisors.

In my first post, I shared the significance of culture at our firm and how our Core Purpose and Core Values form its cornerstone. In my second post, I discussed our Core Purpose which is why we exist and what we stand for at Greenspring Advisors. In my third post, I wrote about our first (and most important) Core Value which is to “Love Your Neighbor”. It means to think about others before yourself. In my fourth post, I outlined our second Core Value which is to “Own Your Stuff” which means to take responsibility for your actions. In my fifth post, I covered our third Core Value which is to “Have A Bias Towards Action”.

In this post, I am going to cover our fourth Core Value which is to “Master Your Craft.” At Greenspring Advisors, we place a high priority on professional growth and we encourage and challenge our people to develop their skills. As a firm, we pay for up to two designations for each advisor (along with annual licensing or maintenance fees) and we provide a significant continuing education budget each year to every employee of the firm, regardless of role or tenure. We believe this is important for two primary reasons.

First, we believe it’s important for our culture. Research has shown that an intrinsic desire to do a good job and to grow professionally are two of the top five drivers of employee satisfaction. And happy, highly engaged employees contribute to a healthy and thriving environment. We believe success and happiness are highly correlated to professional growth and development which is always highly rated during our annual employee surveys. By providing our people with the financial resources and time to pursue advanced training, we are demonstrating a commitment to their professional future.

Also, a commitment to the “Master Your Craft” philosophy means that our people are constantly reading, researching and learning and applying that knowledge to client situations. One of the things I admire most about my colleagues is their commitment to continuous learning. Even more, we have a group of people that are willing to share that knowledge with their teammates and be a resource for one another.

This knowledge-sharing and willingness to help one another for the sake of our clients is a cool aspect of our culture. It’s not uncommon to hear members of our team providing updates to one another about things they’ve recently learned or sitting in one another’s offices asking for advice about a situation they’ve encountered. This also exemplifies our core value of “Love Your Neighbor.”

Second, we believe it’s critical to the success of our clients. The financial services industry is often referred to as a “relationship business” and that the most important thing an advisor can do is develop close relationships with their prospects and clients. And this is certainly true. Strong relationships lead to high levels of trust which generally leads to long-term clients who are loyal and who follow your advice. But being a great advisor is not simply about being likable and good with people (though this is important). It requires being technically competent and providing objective, comprehensive, and accurate advice.

This may sound easy or like it should be a given but you would be surprised at how many advisors there are that are great people but not technically adept. And having technical depth is increasingly important because the needs of clients, the products and services that exist and the rules and regulations are all growing more complex. At best, mistakes can be costly and at worst they can be disastrous. Knowledge, experience, and expertise are at a premium and we believe our team of trained and credentialed professionals instills confidence in our clients and improves outcomes for them. That’s why at Greenspring Advisors we currently have:

  • Six (6) CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals
  • Five (5) Accredited Investment Fiduciary® (AIF®) designees
  • Two (2) Chartered Retirement Plans Specialist℠ (CRPS®) designees
  • One (1) Enrolled Agent
  • One (1) Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA)
  • One (1) Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) professional

These designations and licenses require a significant investment of time to earn, broad knowledge of advanced topics and annual continuing education requirements.

Due to the increasing complexity of our business, we also believe in the power of specialists by narrowing the scope of what we do and developing deep expertise. Since our inception, we’ve taken the approach that we could either be mediocre at a bunch of different things or excellent at a few. We have always chosen the latter and that’s why we only focus on wealth management for individuals and families and consulting to corporate retirement plans and non-profits and endowments.

Lots of firms try to be a “one-stop shop” for clients by providing life insurance, employee benefits, loans, mortgages, credit cards, checking accounts, etc. In theory, this sounds like a great idea because it aims to simplify your life if you are an individual investor, company offering a retirement plan or non-profit organization overseeing an endowment. And financial services companies love it because the more services you use the “stickier” your relationship and less likely to leave.

But in my experience, here’s what usually happens. Your advisor (or their firm), is good at one thing (hopefully) and not very good at everything else. And despite the promises of “simplicity”, your overall experience suffers due to mediocre advice (or poor service) by people who aren’t really experts. Most financial advisors are “jack of all trades and masters of none” because the scope of knowledge and expertise required is too vast to be an expert in everything. That’s what happens when you try to be all things to all people.

I see this all the time in the corporate retirement plan world because most companies hire non-specialists or what I call “recreational 401(k) advisors.” In most cases, these advisors are primarily focused on wealth management but may work with a handful of corporate retirement plans because an individual client owns a business. Unfortunately, because they don’t specialize in this area, they don’t have the experience or expertise to help companies successfully navigate the fiduciary landscape which creates risk for both organizations and their employees. They aren’t up-to-date on the latest research, best practices, trends, vendors, or technology that drives outcomes.

You see, wealth management and corporate retirement plans are two vastly different disciplines, both with tremendous complexity. You can’t be a true expert in both. It’s why at Greenspring Advisors we have advisors focus on one or the other as a member of our Private Client team or Institutional Client team. We believe this approach is the right one that yields the best results for our clients (in either practice) because it develops advisors who have deep expertise and technical depth to successfully advise and guide clients.

When it comes to specialization, I like to use a medical analogy. Imagine you needed a heart transplant and had to choose a doctor to operate on you. Would you select a doctor who was a general practitioner at a local community hospital that recently completed their residency or a heart specialist from Johns Hopkins who has been a leading surgeon for 15 years, publishes in medical journals, speaks at industry conferences on the latest techniques and conducts research of cutting-edge procedures? Regardless of likeability, trustworthiness or even bedside manner, who would you want holding the scalpel?

Thanks for continuing to follow this blog series. In my next and final post, I’ll discuss our fifth and final Core Value which is “Trust The Evidence”.