Expertise of most trusted advisors cannot be replicated with automation
While the familiarity of status quo induces comfort and conformity, maximizing an organization’s value in a dynamic market is often achieved through disruptive approaches. Conceiving those approaches falls in the wheelhouse of business owners’ and the C-Suite’s “Most Trusted Advisors” (MTAs) – experts with a reputation for innovation and strategic execution. As a Managing Director at Berkeley Research Group, Dr. Carl Sheeler has facilitated many such relationships. His recent Wiley Finance book – “Equity Value Enhancement” – explores what distinguishes these “über” advisors from their peers.
“Executives and owners have limited time and finite resources, so they heavily focus on the immediate and tangible financial metrics,” explains Dr. Sheeler. “But it’s easy to buried by the daily blocking-and-tackling instead of managing risks and seizing opportunities which requires more over-the-horizon perspective. That’s where MTAs come in. They are stewards of what clients need and not simply technical experts with a narrow view limited by their professional optics. When properly harnessed and aligned MTAs can leverage human and financial capital and allow companies to be proactive to issues well before they become obvious.”
A powerful example of this principle in action is Uber, the private car service that has taken the taxi and limousine industry completely by surprise. In New York City, medallion (taxi license) owners have even filed suit against Uber for what they consider an unfair business model. In reality, they simply suffered a “Failure of Imagination,” a condition that will leave any company or industry easy pickings for new competition. Many of the Big Apple’s iconic yellow taxis sit idle, and employees are leaving taxi companies in droves to instead work as Uber drivers.
“Uber is a model for how companies and how advisors should see the world,” adds Dr. Sheeler. Eight years ago, he brought together 11 colleagues – bankers, attorneys, accountants, insurance professionals and wealth managers – to form his own monthly breakfast group of “über” advisors. More than simply experts in their respective fields, these MTAs are their clients’ consigliore’s (professional and personal issue concierges). They embrace servant-leadership where humility and wisdom anticipates issues and proactively seeks the best options from whomever the source. This limits self-dealing and conventional reaction to new issues.
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Unfortunately, automation has turned out-of-the-box thinking into a rare commodity in the investment community. “Do robo-advisors dream of cutting-edge ways to create new value? Unlikely,” admits Dr. Sheeler. And that’s the heart of the matter. Even affluent investors don’t know what they don’t know, and may assume automation is a benefit. The conventional “wisdom” is investors don’t need the personal touch of private bankers and wealth advisors.
Process driven algorithms rely too much on theory and technology. Successful leaders know it’s the panacea of what’s easiest and not necessarily what’s best. They know human capital drives the majority of company differentiation (strategic decision-making, unique knowledge, purposeful relationships and innovative culture), which achieves equity value enhancement.
A central thesis of “Equity Value Enhancement” is most advisors have adopted a fee-for-service approach to their professions with their clients following suit considering services as necessary costs versus investment. Emphasizing what they know and the tools they use, these advisors do a disservice to themselves and their clients. While many advisors stress “relationships” this proves more and more to represent ad hoc tactical, technical and transactional behavior. “How is unique value provided to the client? A good starting point is the willingness to ask tough questions, consider all outcomes and facilitate unique strategies – the kind of behavior that launched Uber into the stratosphere. This caliber of MTA dares greatly. S/he’s a thought leader and a newsmaker – not part of the herd. A MTA’s expertise is inestimable,” says Dr. Sheeler.