A Lesson Abroad: What RIAs Can Learn From a Hike to Machu Picchu

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In May, I completed a hike across Peru’s Inca Trail. For four days and three nights, I trekked 28 miles to Machu Picchu, a mysterious 15-century Incan citadel that’s nestled in the Andes Mountains.

It was the trip of a lifetime, but it wasn’t until I returned (getting my head out of the clouds—literally), that I realized the hike had many connections to leadership, success and business acumen. Below, are three lessons that RIAs can learn from this adventure abroad:

  1. Winning a client can be like climbing a mountain, but it doesn’t start or stop there. The success of the hike was largely dependent on the prep time that was put in before even landing in Peru. Hours of research were devoted to details that could have been a “make or break” element on the trek (for example, how many liters of water to carry per day, medicine to have on hand, the perfect combination of clothing while not overpacking, etc.). The preparation required before I even laced up my boots and started hiking was time consuming but vital. For RIAs, this same mentality is necessary to win clients and grow the firm’s assets. There is considerable time and work that goes into targeting prospective clients. It’s important to be efficient, but use tools like a PR team and/or social media to bolster your image in the community, or work on fine-turning your referral efforts with current clients or industry peers to help spread the word about  your business and what kind of clients you are looking for. When you have won a client, it can feel like you’ve reached the top of a mountain, but it’s nowhere near over just because you’ve reached the summit. Appreciate the prep-time and effort that went into winning the client, and be ready to put the same dedication toward forging a long-term relationship with them to achieve their financial goals and objectives.
  2. Recognize individual’s strengths and how they fit into an organization’s greater good. Our trek looked like a traveling circus – 19 hikers, three tour guides, a handful of cooks and about a dozen porters. Everyone had a focus and essentially, a job. The hikers’ focus was to do just that… hike. Guides managed the group and provided historical information along the way, the cooks fed and nourished the entire group, and the porters would get supplies (tents, sleeping bags, pots and pans, etc.) to each day’s base camp location. To get the entire group from point A to B before nightfall was a streamlined and efficient effort that relied on everyone’s individual strengths and working together for the greater good of the group. The same approach can be applied to RIAs. It’s vital to recognize individuals’ strengths, but the end goal is the same: Continuing on the path to success. As an advisor, your skill set and focus is primarily on client relations and overall office management, while for example, your PR team is focused on messaging and building your presence in the media. Find others that can complement your business efforts and objectives. All members’ strengths work together for the greater good.
  3. Embrace the generational shift. Surprisingly, there was vast age range between the hikers in our group – the youngest was 23 and the oldest was 67. Our backgrounds were all drastically different, our paces were scattered, and we each faced different mental, emotional and physical challenges along the trail. One thing was for certain – we all had the stamina to keep trekking until we made it to Machu Picchu. Much has been reported on the success of current RIAs as it relates to the aging demographic of current advisors. Boomer advisors who may be looking to retire soon must help millennials transition into the advisory role; a topic my colleagues covered recently on our blog. Mentorship is key between the generations, and each demographic can learn things from one another. On one hand, millennials will learn the ropes from boomer advisors, soaking up all there is to know about the ins and outs of the business and how to manage relationships. On the other hand, boomers can use millennials to stay in tune to industry changes (social media and compliance issues, preferred method of contacting clients may be more in line with texting over emails, etc). Work together and have the stamina to keep up with the changing times of the industry.