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Equilibrium’s formula for annual targets, branding and client retention

Following our first article on Equilibrium, here Rob Kingsbury talks to managing partner Gaynor Rigby about the annual targets Equilibrium has set, why it changed its branding, marketing and back-office software as part of the restructure and how it has grown the business while still achieving a 99% client retention rate

In 2010 Equilibrium set itself the ambitious target of achieving £2bn AUM and started on a 10-year business plan, restructuring the firm to create the right environment and engagement among its staff to help meet that target.

It looked at the assets that it would need to win each year and what that would mean in respect of the company’s turnover, staffing and support structure, including marketing and technology.

With over £526m AUM and a turnover of £6m, the firm has increasing annual targets to put it on track to achieving its ambition of £2bn AUM.

“In terms of managing the process, we know exactly what we have to do and what we need in terms of resources, marketing and using our technology to make the job more efficient and easier.”

One of the key decisions was determining the type of client the firm wanted to work with and how to make each account a success

“It was an interesting debate and we really crunched the numbers,” Rigby says. “Part of our investment in technology was to give us the ability to take on smaller value clients and give them a high level of packaged service while still being profitable.

“The way we were set up before wasn’t scalable but now with the technology we’ve brought in we can deliver a quality service and there is a margin to be had,” she says.

“If we had to put a figure on it we’re probably looking at clients with at least £100,000 of investible assets and ideally closer to £250,000. But the service we have to offer – in terms of the elements of financial planning such tax, inheritance and intergenerational planning – really comes into its own with clients with £1m and above of liquid assets.”

Brand marketing and seminars

With its target clients identified, the firm went through a rebranding exercise to create the right messaging for the target market.

“We brought in a branding company and they took us through a workshop where we looked at who our market was and what we did for people. From that we came up with some taglines and what we wanted our voice to be,” Rigby explains.

That brief was then given to a design company, which put together a branding package that included creative guidelines, structure and pantones that the company now follows.

With those in place, the company boosted its marketing resource and began building on what was already a successful seminar programme.

“Seminars are the backbone of where Equilibrium clients come from and a significant portion of our marketing budget is spent on making them work,” Rigby says.

Typically, the firm will send out 10k-15k of invitations per targeted post code.

It is a slick and well-run process Rigby says and far more labour intensive than many people realise.

“There is a process to running a seminar programme; it’s not just about getting bodies to the seminar. We have feedback forms that attendees fill out, which ask about whether they enjoyed it, what they got out of it, whether it answered the questions they had before attending.

“Then we follow up on those forms. We are very focused on this – most calls happen the day after the event. They are called until we have spoken to them and had a conversation about whether they want to come in for a meeting. We don’t make the assumption that clients are going to turn up on the doorstep – you have to follow up while they are still thinking about the event.”

The company also uses social media to keep pushing Equilibrium into the market. This includes blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

“Social media is all about branding for us. It’s about getting our name out there, as an expert, talking within communities as an expert, which adds credibility and draws people to the website.

“Now, if you Google search for ‘wealth manager, Manchester, Cheshire’ we are on the first page of the ranking. Add the word Chartered and we are top.”

Change in back-office technology

One of the biggest projects that the company embarked upon when it restructured was to change its back-office technology provider. Rigby says she embarked on the project with a three-year time frame in mind, knowing from previous experience that software change “can be a horrendous process.”

For the same reason, she says, the firm hired someone from outside the company to analyse what its requirements were and report back. “Having that third party come in and do the job for us meant they could be focused and not get sidetracked by the day-to-day business.”

Rigby says the company was looking for specific attributes in its back-office software. “Our business is run differently to many other financial advice businesses so a lot of the software simply wasn’t going to work for us.

“We sent out our spec to companies we thought could provide the product and the service we wanted. We also made sure that when they came in they presented on the same things, so that we were comparing like with like. It was a very structured process.”

The technology it finally selected was Curo, from Time4Advice.

“What stood out about Curo was the fact it was totally online, the scalability of adding users and operating across multiple sites, the level of data that it held and the flexibility it gave us in how we could use that data. We wanted something that let us put the data in once and then do what we liked with it as many times as we liked.”

Since then, Rigby says the firm has used the system to set up workflows and milestones as well as using it for income reconciliation.

“We are of a size now that we have different departments using the system and getting the best from it. What we’ve done is find people who have a flair for using the software and who can become champions of it within the company. They are helping us take it to a whole other level.”

Alongside Curo, the company is cloud-based through using Sharepoint and Office 365 and also uses Voyant for cashflow planning and XperiDo “a way of taking the data in Curo and putting it into really nice reports”.

Client retention

The overall effect of all the changes implemented by Equilibrium over the past six years is a business plan that is ahead of its financial targets, has slick processes and systems, a well run, tried and tested marketing strategy, a workforce that is focused on creating value for the clients, the business and themselves, and a resultant client retention rate of 99%.

When creating a business plan and the strategies to achieve it, there’s the risk that the numbers take over, Rigby says. “You can become dispassionate about why you’re doing certain things. But underlying it all is the fact that we’re here to provide the best service we can.

“Our clients have a relationship with us that goes beyond the annual meeting; they are part of Equilibrium’s community. So whatever we are doing, whatever we are changing, we have to look at things and say, ‘Does that support or take away from the relationship with our clients?’.”

Key to the client relationship is communication, she emphasises, particularly for a growing business. “People can get concerned when they think your business is growing because they can identify that with a less personal service. Our thinking all the time is to ensure that we are maintaining the personalisation, reinforcing the fact that people matter and building on that.”

Visit the Equilibrium website

 

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