Whether to go generalist or specialist may be the most definitive career choice advisors can make. It shapes the services they offer and the clients they attract, their revenue streams and the expertise they have to develop. Both paths are strewn with minefields.
Generalists have the challenge of delivering all things to all clients. The odds that one person can excel at planning for investments, retirement, taxes, estate planning and the needs of business owners is slim. Meanwhile, specialists face the constant struggle of expanding a narrow client base. The more specific the service, the fewer the people who will seek it out or trust its validity — and those who do expect stellar results.
According to Cheryl Holland, founder of Abacus Planning Group, the best way for generalist planners to overcome feeling pressured to know everything is to accept that they do not, in fact, know everything. “Get comfortable with saying, ‘I don’t know, but we can find out.’ Clients will have much more respect for you,” she says. The Columbia, S.C., firm manages $850 million.