Between much-needed vacations, the whirlwind of fall conferences, and the warmth of winter holidays, it can be hard to find time on the calendar to do the stuff that Stephen Covey described as “important, but not urgent.” And then around late November, after a cozy Thanksgiving dinner-induced nap, it’s all too easy to wake up in a cold sweat, remembering the mountain of stuff that needs to be done before the end of the calendar year.
Suddenly, all those tasks become important and urgent. The end of the year becomes a white-knuckle ride of cram sessions. Some of that urgency comes from simple, human procrastination. If we made sensible and correct choices 100% of the time, there would probably be no need for financial advisors at all. And to be frank, the end-of-year flurry of catching up also happens because financial advisors are busy people already trying to make the most out of every hour of the day.
Consider this article a gut check for the rest of 2023. Advisors tell clients that it’s never too late to start thinking about the future. Similarly, it is never too late for an advisor to start thinking about the future of their business. (Except maybe in December.) Consider the following as a suggested checklist of reminders for that important, but not urgent work that needs to get done before the year ends.
August – Refine Your Workflows
The dog days of summer are the perfect backdrop to revisit and reevaluate the processes that make up your daily work. Is the client onboarding process as smooth as it could be? Are there hiccups in the client review meetings? Changes to the solutions and services you offer, changes to your software, or even evolving client expectations may have set your current workflows adrift from where they should be.
You and your team should spend August in search of bottlenecks and redundancies hidden in your work, as well as adapting to changes in your business strategy, your technology, or your regulatory environment. Look for opportunities to automate processes with the tools you use. Streamlining now will save you precious time when you need it the most—during those busy end-of-year weeks.
September – Clean Up Your CRM data
As autumn leaves start to fall, it’s time to stop putting off some serious CRM cleanup. Carve out time throughout the month to correct inaccurate, duplicated, or improperly formatted data. No matter how sophisticated your tech stack is, data doesn’t always fill in quite the way you need. You may have migrated systems, hooked up a new integration, and of course, there’s good old-fashioned human error to watch out for.
It almost goes without saying, but up-to-date data will give you the clearest possible picture of your clients’ needs and wants. As the year progresses, RIAs need to make big-picture decisions about the coming year. Well-manicured data will produce more accurate and useful business insights.
October – Get a Head Start on Tax Planning
Let’s be real. You’re still going to do tax planning in December. But even though conference season is usually in full swing by October, any work you can do now will win back precious time at the end of the year. The current political makeup of the U.S. legislative and executive branches means we’re unlikely to grapple with last-minute, sweeping proposals to change tax law for your clients. But you never know.
Early tax planning helps you and your clients avoid nasty year-end surprises. Consider the tax implications of your business decisions and your clients’ portfolios. This is more than just a check-box exercise—it’s an integral part of financial planning. The insight it provides into a client’s broader financial picture can shape investment decisions and future planning.
November – Set the Stage with Your Budget
With Thanksgiving on the horizon, take a moment to give thanks for the year that has been and plan for the one ahead. Setting a budget now aligns your team around business goals and guides your financial decisions for the upcoming year.
Reflect on your firm’s financial performance and set strategic objectives for the future. What are your top priorities? What does your business need to grow to the next level? Anticipating revenues, estimating expenses, and planning for investments will place you in a strong position for the new year.
December – Plan for Business Development
With everything else taken care of, the hope is that you have a good portion of December to wrap up the year with a business development plan for the year ahead. What strategies helped move the needle in 2023 in terms of winning new clients, building referrals, or pursuing inorganic growth opportunities? Plan your marketing campaigns, client events, and other business development activities accordingly.
Investing time in your business development plan now will give you a head start in the new year. And while your plans will inevitably change, nothing beats the satisfaction of ringing in the New Year, confident in the knowledge that you have a clear, well-structured plan for the year ahead.
With the headspace you have earned with all this proactive work, it’s worth taking time to think about holiday gifts. You may know your clients inside and out, but if you’re running a mile a minute to catch up on everything you have put off until December, it’s truly hard to select a present that really shows that you understand the people you work with and the families you serve. By clearing out time for holiday shopping, you can make this a fun, end-of-year puzzle to solve instead of a stress-inducing obligation.
Depending on the state of your firm or the time of year when you read this article, this timeline might be a practical guide, or something more aspirational. But either way, an RIA’s work is unlikely to get any less complicated in the foreseeable future. Every task you can mark off your to-do list in the coming months will save you from stress and crunch time at the end of the year.
Emily Wilcox is the COO of Practifi.