Kristin Andree thought what her dad did for a living was boring. She remembers thumbing through the CLU and the CFP exam prep books and thinking, “Why would you do this?”
It wasn’t until decades later that she recognized the good life her father had and had given his family. They had a nice lifestyle. But what really impressed her was that her dad was able to coach her and her brother’s sports, and he never missed a game.
Now Andree is an industry veteran herself, having started as a financial advisor who built a successful practice. She grew to love helping other advisors build their business and started Andree Consulting Group, based in the Atlanta area.
Even as a financial advisor, Andree loved the insurance side of the business, the part that helps families.
She found that the business also helped advisors’ families by giving them more quality time, like she had with her father. Now among her clients, she has a few generational practices with a parent bringing on a daughter or son.
Andree is spreading the good word on financial advising with her consultancy and speaking engagements, a podcast, and two books. She said if more people saw the success and lifestyle advisors can enjoy while helping others, more recruits would join the business. That is particularly the case for women.
As a consultant, Andree said she sees advisors getting in their own way by not taking the extra step, such as building training before hiring people.
In this interview with Publisher Paul Feldman, Andree reveals the traps that some advisors fall into and the best practices to scale up their business.
FELDMAN: Tell us about your experience in the industry and how you got to where you are today.
ANDREE: I’ve been in the industry a little more than 20 years, but I feel as though I’ve been in it my whole life. My father retired a year and a half ago after a 52-year career in the industry, so I was one of those kids who grew up in it, and actually I was a career-changer.
I got into the industry as a second career, after about 10 years in the health care industry. I started looking at it and it just was so familiar and such a great industry where you can make a big impact on people. So I joined in 2000.
FELDMAN: Can you tell us about your journey in the industry and how the industry itself changed over the past 20 years?
ANDREE: The industry has really progressed. When I went into the industry, I honestly went into it more to be able to make an impact and to have some upward mobility financially and make a good income.
I remember when I first started looking at the industry, I was more interested in having some freedom and flexibility. But, as I got in and progressed, I found the industry was really interesting.
I loved working with clients, but then I got to the point where I loved working with advisors and agents even more. I built a really good book of business, but I started to like the building-businesses piece a lot more. At the same time, I know how impactful the industry is to the general public, and I believe not enough people know about it.
FELDMAN: Who are your typical coaching clients?
ANDREE: Most are people with established businesses or established practices who are looking to scale. The majority of them have 20-plus years in the industry. My most long-standing client has been in the industry 50 years.
They all are people who have a really nice business but are looking to make a broader impact and grow a little bit quicker, both from a revenue and an impact standpoint.
FELDMAN: What are some things you see advisors struggling with today?
ANDREE: The biggest thing is struggling to stand out in a very crowded marketplace. How can they stand out from the sea of other advisors?
What’s interesting is, I thought the sales language I learned when I came into the business was very exclusive to my former firm, but now I see everybody using the same thing. It’s really the advisors — how they stand out and how they market themselves. So what they are doing in today’s environment, which is very different from the early ’70s when my dad started and everything was door to door.
FELDMAN: What are some strategies that they can use to stand out?
ANDREE: I always start with somebody by telling them, “We need to find your uniquifier.” And it’s a word I made up, but it’s a word that’s so critical.
All of us have something that’s unique about us and sets us apart from our competition. Too often, people are trying to figure out what sets their products apart or their company apart, and it’s really not that. With insurance and financial services, clients are buying the agent. They’re buying the advisor. So if I can help them figure out what makes an advisor as a person unique, it’s a lot easier to go to market with that.
FELDMAN: What do you look at when finding someone’s “uniquifier?”
ANDREE: The first time I meet with somebody, I say I’m going to ask them questions for about an hour and we’re just going to get to it. Sometimes, it’s something in their personality. Sometimes, it’s a very unique story. For example, maybe they were divorced, so they work with a lot of divorced women.
Sometimes it’s just them. One of my clients is really into fishing. He’s a big fisherman, and he has this big boat and goes on these incredible trips. Once we were able to kind of start talking about that and weaving that into his business, he found a whole market of people who loved exactly that. So the prospecting became easy because he was simply attracting prospects.
People want to like and trust the people they do business with.The more authentic we can be and let people get to know us, the easier it is to do business.
Then we also get into staffing, outsourcing and things of that nature.
FELDMAN: What are some strategies for hiring staff and making sure the staff members are successful?
ANDREE: First and foremost, where staffing is concerned, you really must know your strengths. Know what you’re really good at, what you’re uniquely qualified to do, and hire everything else out. If I’m an overly analytical person, then I need to hire somebody who may be more of a people person.
For me and my practice, I was not analytical. I’m the relationship person. I love to talk to people. I love to build a relationship. So my team needed to be people who could handle all the analytical pieces. If you know your strengths, then you hire to them.
The mistake I see people making is, they hire somebody exactly like them, or they hire somebody who they think is a little bit lower, or not quite as smart. I want you to hire somebody the polar opposite, who’s the smartest person in the room, and then you can really start to scale that business.
You want them to be able to challenge you. You must have someone on your staff with whom you can have an open dialogue. They’ll challenge you when you need challenging. When I still had my practice, I had an assistant who was fantastic. If I wasn’t doing something, she’d be right there fussing at me to get things done. You need somebody who will either bring you up to the next level or push you to the next level.
FELDMAN: Training is critical for staff members. What are some strategies to successfully train them?
ANDREE: The main thing is, most people just “think” about training their staff. I have one client who goes through staff rapidly, and when he hires them, he doesn’t train. Then, a couple of months later, he says, “He’s not working out.”
I keep pushing back on him, saying, “You’re the common thread here.” A lot of times, people are hiring, but they’re not training.
Before you hire, know the skill sets that you need and know the duties you aren’t going to perform. I have a matrix that I have people fill out even before they think about hiring someone, so they really hire the right person. Then I have them make a list of everything that person needs to be trained on and who’s the appropriate person to train them on it. So we’ve got a schedule for training developed before the person is even onboarded.
FELDMAN: I think that bringing new people into the business is critical to scale and create a valuable business. What advice would you give to agents and advisors looking to bring other advisors into their practice?
ANDREE: I’ve seen a lot in the industry about “teaming,” or whatever label you want to put on it. It’s huge and it is, without question, going to be the wave of the future.
We know that a lot of those in the industry are aging and getting closer to retirement age.
Depending on what happens in the world, some of the people I know who are in their late 50s to early 60s are thinking about exiting the industry early. So we must start looking at that next generation of people and how we can bring them in and grow them.
I believe bringing in a younger advisor or agent is one of the best ways to grow. It’s one of the best ways to transition out, both in a good, strong position for whoever is retiring, as well as the right thing for the client.
FELDMAN: Every advisor should look closely at succession planning. I think a lot of people run through their career with the dream that someone will show up one day and buy their firm. What advice do you have on this issue?
ANDREE: I’m finding that people are looking at it too late. I want them to start thinking about it early on. People say something like, “I’m going to retire in a year or two.” I believe people must start looking at succession planning five to 10 years prior to retirement.
If you are going to sell your practice, we need to scale it as quickly and as big as we can before you sell, then your evaluation is better. But if you’re going to transition it to somebody, we need time to make sure that you’re finding the right person to take over, and that all the processes are seamless, and that all the clients have been introduced to the new person so you have a nice, smooth transition.
FELDMAN: Do you have strategies for training new agents?
ANDREE: We do, and what’s interesting is, I hate to call it “on-the-job training,” but it is. I went through a wonderful training class in my former firm when I first came on board. But I learned so much more by watching my veteran advisors do meetings than I ever learned in training class, and the training class was great.
Since I was a career changer, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I did a lot of my meetings and cases collectively or jointly, where I just sat and soaked everything in.
I feel like we’re teaching a lot of classroom, and classroom is great, but until you get out in front of a real client or prospect, it’s really hard to learn. I believe that if firms aren’t doing that kind of training, they’re missing a big opportunity.
FELDMAN: I think a lot of people in this business have been lone wolves for so long that they don’t feel comfortable about bringing someone else into a client meeting to train them. But if you go to any world-renowned hospital, you will find residents in training in all departments. What do you say to those agents?
ANDREE: What is interesting about our industry is we’re the only skilled, high-level industry where you’ve get a job and then you go to school. If you’re a CPA or an attorney or a physician, you had years of schooling, and then you get a job. To your point, you’re doing your internships and everything. Insurance and finance are the opposite; you get a job and then we teach you.
It baffles me that people expect to come in and know it all without having that on-the-job training. That’s what allowed me to scale pretty quickly, because I came in and said, “Just show me what I need to know.”
There are certain people, usually not the clients though, who are leery about having somebody else in the meeting. It’s typically like you mentioned, the advisors who don’t want to embrace the training.
FELDMAN: Advisors might think, “Oh, if I have to teach somebody, then it’s going to detract from my success and I don’t have enough time,” when it’s really a great investment for your business.
ANDREE: Absolutely. I’ve been on both sides of it. I came in and brought more-seasoned people with me on my appointments. Then as I grew and was running my own office, I would bring in people and I would go with them on appointments until I felt like they were at a level where they knew what they were doing.
FELDMAN: Let’s change gears a little bit. I know you don’t like the phrase work-life balance, but how do you manage that in these crazy times?
ANDREE: The reason I don’t love the word “balance” is because I think balance is a misnomer. I feel as though nobody really can achieve balance.
They’re always going to have days that are more work-heavy or other days that are more family-heavy. But everyone must figure out what they want their life to look like and then move in that direction. So what do you want your work life to look like? What do you want your home life to look like? Once you’re clear on what you want things to look like, then it’s easy to execute on the things that get you there.
Some days are really heavy workdays where I’m telling my kids, “Don’t you come in here until I finish this.” But there are some days where I’m telling my clients, “Hey, I’m taking the day off because I’m taking the kids on a trip.” It’s more about blending than about balance.
FELDMAN: What are some challenges that women face in this industry, and what are some ways to overcome them?
ANDREE: I personally feel this is a phenomenal industry for women. For me, I got into the industry because it allowed me upward mobility. Financially, this industry allows you to make as much as you want. There are not a lot of places where you can do that. You can also have freedom and flexibility with your schedule.
The challenge for women in the industry — and men too, but specifically for women — is you can abuse the freedom and flexibility early on. I used to tell my advisors when I brought them on, “You’ve got to earn that flexibility. You’ve got to get the business built and then you can take it back a little bit.” So I believe the flexibility is a blessing and a curse.
For women, it’s a phenomenal industry. The challenge, without question, is time management. How do I blend my business and my family? That’s one of the areas in which I do a lot of work with all my clients, not just the women.
This industry, unfortunately, still has a lot of diversity and inclusion challenges. I’m still seeing them. I hate to say that 20 years later. I think the industry has made a little progress over the past 20 years. But we have a long way to go.
There are some great organizations such as Females and Finance, and Women in Insurance and Financial Services that are helping push that along. We’re not there just yet. I think it’s less about diversity and more about inclusion. It’s figuring out how we can make things fit and make everybody feel they’re contributing to the industry.
FELDMAN: How do we attract more women to this industry?
ANDREE: We must showcase people who are doing really well. But the reason I did well in the industry was not because I’m a woman. It was because I put in the strategies and I got to know my clients, and I really engaged with them. But we must be willing to say, “Hey, here’s what it can look like,” because I believe the reason we don’t attract as many women is, they only see the guys doing it.
A lot of my clients and some of my closest friends are very, very, high-producing women who are moms with young kids who work three days a week and outproduce a lot of the guys. So, showcasing women, I think, will help attract them. Not showcasing them because they’re women, but showcasing them because they are good producers.
In this industry, we talk a lot about recruiting, but it’s really about attraction. I went into the industry because I was attracted to what it offered. The people I know who are best at recruiting are the ones who people look at and say, “Oh, I want to be like them. I want to have a life like that. I want to be able to take the summers off with my kids.”
That’s an attraction quality. So the more we can showcase the really cool stuff and the good people, the easier it will be to recruit.