Career Advancement Articles

CRPC® Designation: Demonstrate the Retirement Planning Expertise Clients Demand

CRPC® designation is the end result of a comprehensive program that helps financial advisors master the entire retirement planning process, going far beyond retirement income. With financial decisions that will determine their security and lifestyle for the balance of their lives, people born in the early 1960s are demanding a high level of knowledge from their advisors. This program is designed to help retirement planning counselors to meet these demands. This article provides an overview of the program.

Why the CRPC® Designation?

The youngest of the “baby boomer” generation, people born in 1964, are now solidly into their mid-50s, so retirement is weighing heavily on their minds. In fact, in a recent national survey of financial advisors, the College for Financial Planning®—a Kaplan Company found that more than three-quarters of their clients are “concerned” or “very concerned” about their retirement savings programs, and well over half worry about actually outliving their assets.

So, it’s not at all surprising that financial advisors are facing an increasingly complex onslaught of retirement planning questions as these baby boomers look for advice on when they’ll be able to retire, as well as guidance in finding investments to meet their lifestyle needs in 10 years, 20 years, or beyond.

Recognizing these challenges, the College for Financial Planning®—a Kaplan Company has created the Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor™ (CRPC) education and designation program.

What is the Chartered Retirement Plan Counselor™ (CRPC®) Designation?

The CRPC helps financial advisors by guiding them through specialized tax and estate objectives and strategies for a retiree and presents the unique financial and emotional aspects of financial planning that are unique to the retirement process. In short, the program helps advisors define a “road map to retirement,” enabling them to focus on the pre- and post-retirement needs of their clients.

The CRPC designation is the industry benchmark for retirement planning credentials and is encouraged by the top firms in the industry. Graduates report a 9 percent increase in earnings in addition to increases in their number of clients and even their job satisfaction.

About the CRPC® Designation Course

The CRPC Professional Education Program is a three-semester credit graduate-level course. The nine modules in the course are:

  • Maximizing the Client Experience During the Retirement Planning Process
  • Principles and Strategies When Investing for Retirement
  • Making the Most of Social Security Retirement Benefits
  • Bridging the Income Gap: Identifying Other Sources of Retirement Income
  • Navigating Health Care Options in Retirement
  • Making the Emotional and Financial Transition to Retirement
  • Designing Optimal Retirement Income Streams
  • Achieving Tax and Estate Planning Objectives in Retirement
  • Fiduciary, Ethical, and Regulatory Issues for Advisers

The typical student should expect to spend approximately 90–135 hours on course-related activities to study and prepare adequately for the course examination. The CRPC course also does double-duty for CFP® professionals who require continuing education (CE) credits to sustain their CFP® designation: graduates may receive up to 28 CFP® CE credits, up to 45 state insurance CE credits, and 45 credits towards the College’s professional designation CE requirements.

In addition, professionals who are considering a master’s degree can apply their CRPC studies in that pursuit: designees receive direct credit for one course in the College’s MS in Personal Financial Planning program, saving them time and money while enabling them to pursue multiple credentials.

Learn More

Many leading financial advisory firms endorse the CRPC designation and will reimburse advisors for course-related expenses. For more information, visit the College’s website.

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Posted by Kaplan Financial Education - September 5, 2019
Woman with CRPC Designation helping clients

Adding Value to Your Client Relationships in Authentic Ways

If you’re in the financial or money business, you may want to skip this article. If, however, you are in the people business, this article will be of value to you. It is important to consciously recognize whether your primary value-add is offering all the tools for your clients or mastering relationships with your clients. They’re both important for a successful client experience, but the tools are table stakes. Mastering client relationships is where you can differentiate your business from the rest and provide invaluable service that will maintain life-long clients.

This article offers 3 main ways to add value to your client relationships, starting with always being on the hunt for different and authentic avenues to do so. Here are 3 tips.

1. Learn who is important in your client’s lives and show up to support them.

For example, your clients may be family-oriented. If they are excited about their children’s or grandchildren’s activities, you may want to ask if you can attend an upcoming event. Your clients likely want to have people they respect to show up and see their children succeed. If a child is a great musician, attend a recital or see the band. If the client has a son or daughter who is an athlete, go to watch a game. At graduation, make sure you’re in the crowd for the ceremony—and so on. Being present in different aspects of your clients’ lives builds a trust that shows you care about them.

Recently, I advised an advisor to ask his most important client for his daughter's upcoming high school basketball schedule. When the client asked why, he responded with, “You have told me so much about her college recruiting process that I wanted to see one of her games.” The client was thrilled and couldn’t wait to see the next game with the advisor. The impact of your presence will add value not only in your client relationship but also in the relationship between you and the children.

2. Understand your clients’ passions, and collect news about their interests.

Recently, an advisor mentioned that when he flies, he brings along a supply of magazines. On the flight, he peruses them for things that are of interest to his clients. Afterward, he may have a stack of 5 to 10 items that he can send to certain clients with a note that says, “I was on a flight recently and came across this article. I’m not sure if you saw this yet. Hope you enjoy.”

Imagine what clients must think when they receive something like that. How would you feel if you knew someone was thinking about you on their vacation or business trip? A gesture such as this shows your clients that you listen to what they say, and you are invested enough to go out of your way to show them.

3. Switch roles—ask for their opinion.

This is a great way to add value to relationships. If you called a client and asked them to lend an opinion to help you make a decision—personal or professional—they might feel more valued in your relationship. After all, your clients seek your advice, but how often do you seek advice from them? When advice and counsel go both ways, that’s a true hallmark of a great relationship.

Building a strong foundation

There are probably hundreds of ways to add value in relationships. Make sure you build a strong foundation of systems and tools for your business, so you can focus on being in the people business and dedicate your time to mastering relationships. It’s the future of our role. I would love to hear back from you on ways you are adding value that might be considered out of the norm.

About the author

Steven J. Atkinson, CFS is Managing Director, Advisor Relations for Loring Ward. Loring Ward is a comprehensive business partner for registered investment advisors.

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Posted by Steven J. Atkinson, CFS - August 5, 2019
Hands depicting building client relationships with puzzle pieces

Financial Advisor vs. Investment Adviser: What’s In a Name?

In a line made famous by Juliet in the William Shakespeare play, Romeo and Juliet, she says "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." The phrase is commonly used today to suggest that the name given to something does not necessarily describe its meaning. In the case of a rose, there is a specific definition relating to a thorny bush coming from the Latin word, Rosa. So, call it a rock, call it a car, or call it whatever you want. It is still a rose. 

What if a securities professional uses the term financial advisor? What does that mean to you? Unfortunately, unlike the rose, there is no legal definition for that term, and, to quote Mr. Shakespeare again (this time from Hamlet), “Aye, that’s the rub.” Because anyone can call himself a financial advisor, confusion reigns in the financial industry, and the SEC has finally taken steps to attempt to address that issue.

Similar to the rose, there is a legal term, investment adviser, found in the federal Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and the state law, the Uniform Securities Act. These persons are held to a fiduciary standard and are defined as an investment adviser by meeting a 3-prong test:

  1. The person gives advice on securities
  2. The advice is given as part of a regular business
  3. The person receives compensation for the advice

Furthermore, under both federal and state law, excluded from the definition of an investment adviser are broker-dealers if their performance of advisory services is solely incidental to the conduct of their business as a broker-dealer, and they do not receive any special compensation for their advisory services. But, what happens when broker-dealers and their salespersons call themselves financial advisors?

Historically, the stock brokerage industry has used many terms to describe those individuals who are involved in securities sales for broker-dealers. Legally, the term is registered representative (or agent under state law), but the most common term was stockbroker. Euphemisms abound because firms wanted their salespersons to sound like something other than a stock pusher. In the November 19, 1927, issue of The New Yorker magazine, the term customer’s man was used (there were few if any women registered at that time). Later on, they became account executives and, most recently, financial advisors.

In 2006, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) commissioned The RAND Corporation, a major think tank, to conduct a study focused on two questions:

  • What are the current business practices of broker-dealers and investment advisers?
  • Do investors understand the differences between broker-dealers and investment advisers?

As RAND reported, “The study confirmed that the industry is becoming increasingly complex, firms are becoming more heterogeneous and intertwined, and investors do not have a clear understanding of the different functions and fiduciary responsibilities of financial professionals.”

Of significant importance were the responses to the second question. About two-thirds of the respondents were classified as “experienced” investors, meaning that they had investments outside of retirement plans and/or formal training in finance or investments. Yet, even with that background, when presented with a list of services and obligations and then being asked to indicate which items applied to investment advisers, brokers, and financial advisors, their responses showed that financial advisors were viewed more similarly to investment advisers than brokers.

They attributed part of their confusion to the dozens of titles used in the field, including generic titles, such as financial advisor and financial consultant. Another study, “the 913 study,” was mandated by Section 913 of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank), and the findings echoed those of the RAND study. Specifically, “Many retail investors and investor advocates submitted comments stating that retail investors do not understand the differences between investment advisers and broker-dealers or the standards of care applicable to broker-dealers and investment advisers. Many find the standards of care confusing, and are uncertain about the meaning of the various titles and designations used by investment advisers and broker-dealers.”

Finally, in April 2018, the SEC released a proposal to limit the use of the terms advisor and adviser. The proposal stated:

We agree that it is important to ensure that retail investors receive the information they need to understand the services, fees, conflicts, and disciplinary history of firms and financial professionals they are considering. Likewise, we believe that we should reduce the risk that retail investors could be confused or misled about the financial services they will receive as a result of the titles that firms and financial professionals use, and mitigate potential harm to investors as a result of that confusion. We are proposing rules that would (i) restrict the use of the terms ‘adviser’ and ‘advisor’ by broker-dealers and their associated financial professionals, and (ii) require broker-dealers and investment advisers to disclose in retail investor communications the firm’s registration status while also requiring their associated financial professionals to disclose their association with such firm. Specifically, we believe that certain names or titles used by broker-dealers, including ‘financial advisor,’ contribute to retail investor confusion about the distinction among different firms and investment professionals, and thus could mislead retail investors into believing that they are engaging with an investment adviser–and are receiving services commonly provided by an investment adviser and subject to an adviser’s fiduciary duty, which applies to the retail investors’ entire relationship–when they are not.

The proposal would restrict any broker-dealer and any individual associated with the broker-dealer from using, as part of its name or title, the words adviser or advisor unless the broker-dealer is registered as an investment adviser under the Advisers Act or with a state, or any individual who is an associated person of such broker or dealer is properly registered as an investment adviser representative.The effect of the proposal would restrict the ability of a broker-dealer (unless also registered as an investment adviser) to use the term adviser or advisor in any manner such as financial advisor/adviser, wealth advisor/adviser, trusted advisor/adviser, and advisory (e.g., “XYZ Firm Advisory”) when communicating with any retail investor.

What final form the rule will take is not clear, but what is clear is that, at least for broker-dealers and their reps, you won’t be able to call yourself a rose if you are not one.

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Posted by Chuck Lowenstein, Senior Securities Editor - April 9, 2019
FAvsIA_10

3 Reasons Millennials Don't Want You to be Their Financial Advisor

If you’ve been working in the advisory business for some time, you might be wondering what the future of the industry could look like. Unfortunately, it probably won’t look like you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t serve the next generation of wealth successfully. After all, the opportunity is huge. The Millennial generation has officially surpassed Baby Boomers in terms of size. Also, and this isn’t the first time you’ve heard it, they are poised to inherit close to 30 trillion dollars over the next 30 years. Like I said, a huge opportunity!

At Stash Wealth, we cater exclusively to Millennials, and they’ve taught us a lot about what they are attracted to when it comes to choosing a financial advisor. Here are a few reasons why Millennials don’t work with you.

1. You Wear A Suit

Millennials don’t trust suits. Crazy, but true. At Stash, we agree that a few bad eggs (wearing suits) ruined it for all of us. Thanks to 2008/2009, Wall Street has officially lost the trust of the Millennial generation. Yes, we are regaining it slowly, but there’s a very unflattering stereotype embedded in everyone’s minds. And movies like The Big Short and Too Big To Fail haven’t helped. Even if you aren’t the stereotype, your suit and tie gives you away. If you don’t wear a suit and tie, you’re one step ahead….seriously. Perception is reality. If you look like a suit, you are a suit....so switch it up.

2. You Speak A Foreign Language

Imagine if your doctor told you your ice cream headache was Sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. Drop the jargon. Millennials don’t want to be talked down to. And they definitely don’t want to feel stupid. If you continue to use words like “diversification” and “tax-loss harvesting,” it’s likely that your efforts to educate and empower them will fall on deaf ears. Even if your heart’s in the right place, you need to get smart about how you communicate. Millennials trust clear communicators, not intimidating words and fancy mahogany offices.

3. You Think Your Firm Builds Your Credibility

If a client chooses to work with an individual over a robo-advisor, a common choice for Millennials, it’s likely that they value relationships just as much as technology. Most older advisors I know believe that their firm’s brand is what drives clients to them. Quite frankly, it’s a crutch and a dangerous one. If you work at a firm with hundreds of other advisors, you need to get clear on why Millennial clients should pick you. Advisors who can articulate their value prop beyond the firm’s mission have something real to stand on—something that extends beyond the name of the firm. Why are you unique? Stop falling back on the assumed credibility of your firm and figure out what your advantage is.

A final thought. If you’re in the middle of your career, there’s still time to incorporate a new target market into your strategy. Frankly, you’ll be able to capitalize on the fact that your colleagues probably haven’t seen the light yet. If they are still chasing wealth instead of wealth potential, that’s a good thing for you.
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You know who Millennials trust? Other Millennials. So, if you're a Millennial who is interested in helping other Millennials, consider becoming a financial advisor or earning your CFP® certification. Learn more here.

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Posted by Priya Malani, Stash Wealth - April 8, 2019
Illustration of a millinnial looking for a financial advisor who understands his needs.

Strategies for Effectively Giving and Receiving Feedback in Business

Feedback: for most of us, this gift isn’t our first choice to receive. The term, whether we call it feedback, input, constructive criticism, or collaboration, resonates with most of us as a negative instead of positive. I soundly think that an individual’s ability to appropriately respond to and incorporate feedback makes or breaks leaders.

There are two sides to the “feedback gifting” equation: giving and receiving. In today’s workplace, the ability to refine both skills is critical to leading well. Feedback is an artform. Most people would prefer to opt out of participating because frankly, it takes some serious effort to articulate feedback in a constructive way. It is even more challenging to receive it in a wise way.

Below are my top 3 tips for both giving and receiving feedback in a way that promotes leading well.

How to Effectively Give Feedback   

  1. Be selective. Make sure it’s observed as a trend, because everyone has a bad day once. Ensure the feedback is based on a pattern that is causing the individual to reach an outcome that is not the desired one. Ensure the feedback is important enough to make a difference, as opposed to coming across as “nitpicking.” Plan appropriately to ensure sharing this feedback is actually helpful.
     
  2. Be gentle. Receiving input that has to do with changing behavior is not easy. Recognize this and think about how to express the input gently. Each recipient has a different tolerance for directness with coaching. Ideally, you’ll know your team member well enough to determine the best approach. With that said, always err on the side of being as gentle as possible during the feedback phase. If the behavior escalates to the point where it requires advanced coaching or disciplinary action, that is a different story. But for simple feedback, gentle is better.
     
  3. Be encouraging. Once you’ve shared the primary feedback, prepare to share a couple positives from the situation. Provide encouraging observations to relay that your intentions are genuinely intended to support the team member’s overall success.


How to Effectively Receive Feedback  

  1. Be attentive. Listen carefully and take notes if needed. Be 100% present in this moment to truly hear everything the giver is saying. Resist the urge to let your mind wander to a defensive place or tune the person out. The information they are sharing with you is a gift, and you can choose how to use it.
     
  2. Be engaged. Restate the feedback and the impact that it is causing, as you have heard it. Make sure this comes across as clarifying the feedback, not discounting it. Ask for ideas and suggestions to handle the particular situation or behavior in a way that would be more beneficial to all involved.
     
  3. Be appreciative. A team member bringing feedback to you, whether it be your boss, customer, or peer, is a way of them telling you, “I care about your success.” Thank them sincerely for the feedback. Let them know that any time they have feedback for you, it is welcomed. This will reinforce the culture of transparency and trust.

Real trust is built on honest dialogue. Receiving and giving feedback is part of honest dialogue. Spending the time, seeing it as a gift, and wrapping it well (whether giving or receiving), will have high returns in your ability to lead effectively. The best teammates are the ones who can be candid with one another. In order to trust each other, highlighting both negative and positive feedback is critical. Kaplan offers programs for leadership training that include giving appropriate feedback. Learn more about them here.

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Asha Bianca is a dynamic, innovative, and resourceful Senior Level Executive with 20+ years of proven history in growing measurable value in student, customer, employee, and shareholder interests. Asha understands how to grow the bottom line without negatively impacting the business and corporate culture. Throughout her career, she has led teams and departments of all sizes through major change, while minimizing the risk to the business to ensure the organizational health of the company is strong.

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Posted by Kaplan Financial Education - March 29, 2019
Meeting betweek two colleagues to provide feedback on performance.

A Guide to Using the CFP® Marks

Not sure how to use the CFP® marks on your business card? You are not alone. The purpose of this guide is to help you better understand the proper usage of the CFP® marks. This helps CFP Board protect the value of the trademark.

To begin, it is important to know when to use the ® and when to the use the . When you spell out “CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER, you must use the trademark symbol immediately following it. When you abbreviate to CFP® you must use the registered mark.

How to use the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Marks 

When using CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, there are a number of rules you must follow beyond the ™ mark.

  • You must use all capital letters or small cap font.
  • You must use the ™ symbol at the end.
  • The mark must be associated with individual(s) certified by CFP Board – not companies or groups.
  • You may use “CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™” following an individual name certified by CFP Board (ex. John Smith, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™)
  • If not using with an individual name, you must follow “CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™” with one of CFP Board’s approved nouns. These include:

How to Use CFP® Marks

Similarly, when using “CFP®,” there are a number of rules you must follow beyond the ® mark.

  • You must use all capital letters.
  • You cannot use periods.
  • You must use the ® symbol after "CFP®."
  • The mark must be associated with individual(s) certified by CFP Board – not companies or groups.
  • You may use “CFP®” following an individual name certified by CFP Board (ex. John Smith, CFP®).
  • If not using with an individual name, you must follow “CFP®” with one of CFP Board’s approved nouns. These include:
    • Certificant
    • Professional
    • Practitioner
    • Certification
    • Mark
    • Exam

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If you're able to advertise your CFP® Certification, that means it's time to make sure you know about continuing education. You can get more information here.

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Posted by Kaplan Financial Education - March 29, 2019
Question mark to depict confusion people have about using the CFP marks

Time Management Tips for Work

Many of our students have expressed interest in learning more about time management skills for financial professionals and small business owners. Whether you are running a small business like an insurance agency or at the beginning of your financial services career, work can feel a lot like a juggling act. There are always decisions to be made, employees and/or clients to attend to, and correspondence to keep up with. This article provides some steps for developing a time management plan that will help you prioritize what needs to be done and use your time as efficiently as possible.

Step 1: Identify your biggest time wasters

Before you do anything, it is valuable to spend an entire day logging how you spend your time from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to bed at night. You should track everything in order to get a real picture of where you spend your time. Try not to change your typical behaviors on this day otherwise you will not be measuring a “typical” day. Then, look back at your log and see where you are wasting the most time. It might be useful to categorize all of your activities and then calculate the percentage of time you spend on each type of activity. Some categories could be: emails, phone, meetings, breaks, errands, meals, or recreation.

Step 2: Develop clearly defined goals for your business

Now that you have figured out what you spend your “typical” day doing, it is then time to determine what you should be doing. This involves developing very clearly defined goals for your business. Consider developing goals that are short-term (monthly or quarterly), annual, or long-term (two to five years). Make sure your goals are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound), so you will easily be able to track your progress of them.

Step 3: Create a detailed list of tasks

Once you have your list of goals, break those down into clearly defined tasks that need to be accomplished in order to achieve your goals. Then you can clearly see the necessary actions you need to take. The list will also help you see what resources you need and how to allocate them to reach your goals. You may find you are missing resources you need too. Use this list to start identifying what those resource needs are and how you might go about getting the tasks done.

Step 4: Write a list of ongoing business functions

In addition to your goals, you will also have ongoing business functions that are crucial to your business. These activities are crucial to continuing your business operations and should not be ignored in your time management plan. Even if these are not directly attached to goals, you should still record tasks you need to complete on a daily, weekly, monthly, or annual basis. Examples of these include: check and reply to email (daily), deposit funds (weekly), pay electricity bill (monthly), renew a lease (annual).

Step 5: Prioritize tasks

After figuring out your detailed list of tasks, you should then rank your tasks in order of importance. You will want to complete the tasks that will have the greatest impact on your goals and/or your bottom line first. Take into account consequences of not completing something as well. Even if paying your bills does not impact your goals, it is important to them on time to prevent losing important services you need.

Step 6: Assign a time estimate to all tasks

It is a good idea to assign a time estimate to all of your tasks that need completing. This will help you in the next step when you need to create a realistic plan for your day. 

Step 7: Create a plan for your days

Now that you know all of your tasks, you can then go about making a plan of action. It is not realistic to assign every hour of each day with a task. Leave some unscheduled time each day that you can be flexible with should something unexpected come up. While your task list should remain somewhat fluid as things come up, you should revisit it each day when you are devising a plan for your day. Make sure the highest priority items are getting addressed rather than the easiest tasks to complete.

Bonus Tip: Try the Pomodoro technique

If you are looking for a way to be more efficient, try the Pomodoro technique. The Pomodoro technique involves setting a timer for a 25-minute interval to focus on one specific task. Then, you should take a 5-minute break before starting another 25-minute interval. This is a popular time management method because it allows you to manage distractions and prevent burnout by being regimented with breaks. Experiment with the time intervals – some people may find 25 minutes is too long, but 15 or 20 minutes might work.

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Looking for more professional tips? Visit Kaplan Financial Education's blog for the latest tips and tricks to help you throughout your financial services career choice. If you are interested in advancing your financial services career, check out our insurance, Securities, CFP® certification, and professional development programs on the Kaplan Financial Education website.

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Posted by Kaplan Financial Education - March 22, 2019
Clock outlined by images representing tasks and solid time management principles.

How Management Training Can Help Your Organization

Effective management is the key to any organization’s success. A manager who can lead, train, mentor, and communicate well is more likely to have productive, happy, and engaged employees. Providing effective and ongoing management training is an investment that can have both tangible and intangible payoffs for a business. 

Improved Employee Engagement

A study conducted by MSW Research and Dale Carnegie Training revealed an employee’s relationship to her/his direct manger is a top predictor of employee engagement. This is because the direct manager is the leader the employee interacts with most and, therefore, has more influence on morale and performance than an executive leader. A key component for a manager in having a good relationship with employees is to be able to provide role clarity (including job definition, communication, and reinforcement of performance expectations), which is a key factor in employee engagement according to SHRM. This helps ensure continued success because employees know what they need to accomplish, and they have the direction and confidence to be more autonomous in their work. 

Improved Collaboration

Not only does employee engagement improve with well-defined roles and expectations, but a Harvard Business Review study found that collaboration improves as well. For example, think about a team of doctors and nurses in an emergency room. Although they do not know what patient condition they will need to treat next, there will be no time wasted in task negotiation when it happens. A surgeon knows it is her/his role to make key decisions about the procedure, while a nurse knows it’s her/his role to sterilize and set up the room and assist the surgeon during the procedure. 

This same role clarity should carry over in a business setting. When all employees know their roles and performance expectations, they are able to collaborate on projects more effectively. In order to have an organization full of people with a clear understanding of their roles, you must have an organization full of managers who are able to provide that guidance. Management training allows a company to develop more consistent leadership and ensure basic management skills are mastered throughout the business. From goal setting to communication skills, investing in the low- and middle-level managers will trickle up the organization as young leaders advance. 

Avoiding Turnover

The consequence of not having quality leaders is disengaged employees, leading to higher turnover. Turnover costs are estimated to be between 100-300% of the base salary of the replaced employee, and they can be even more expensive for highly specialized positions. Why is this? Think of all that goes into replacing an employee. First, there are the straightforward costs of advertising the job, conducting background checks and drug tests, relocating an employee, paying a signing bonus, and reimbursing travel expenses during the interviewing process. Then there are opportunity costs of utilizing resources for interviewing and training that could have otherwise gone to regular production. Once the employee is hired, there is still reduced productivity as they get up and running.

The less an organization can turn over employees, the better. Effective management and leadership training that results in more engaged employees and less turnover is not only cost effective, but it will also generate greater productivity, reduced conflict, and better collaboration throughout your organization. 

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Learn more about leadership and corporate training topics for your organization by visiting our Leadership and Professional Development website.

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Posted by Kaplan Financial Education - March 22, 2019
A group of managers looking at a wall of training principles

What is Project Management?

Project management is an often overlooked skill set that is crucial to an organization's success. Poor project management can stifle productivity, kill creativity, and decrease worker satisfaction. In this article, we will explain project management basics and offer some tips to help you successfully develop a project plan. 

Project Management Basics

In order to understand what project management is, it is useful to break down the meaning of both terms.

A project can be defined as a temporary effort made up of a set of related activities undertaken with limited constraints to achieve a unique set of goals or objectives. A project is not ongoing, unchanging, or repetitive.

Management is the process of setting and achieving goals for the project through planning, organizing, directing, and controlling tasks. Essentially, project management is the process by which a project is managed.

Stages of Project Management

The project management process has five distinct steps, which are broken out below:

  1. Initiating: In this initial stage, the project and high-level goals are defined. The implementations team is given authority and resources for the project and stakeholders are identified.
  2. Planning: In this second stage, the project tasks are defined including what will be delivered, who will be delivering it, and when it will be delivered. Costs, resources, schedules, and dependencies will be defined. Implementation, monitoring, and adjustment procedures will also be outlined at this point. All stakeholders will agree to the project plan in this stage.
  3. Executing: In this third stage, the project manager implements the plan as written and agreed upon.
  4. Managing and Controlling: In this fourth stage, the project manager continues executing the plan, including updating and changing the plan as necessary. This is not a static process, but requires ongoing changes to all aspects of the plan as well as monitoring the implementation in order to identify when changes must be made.
  5. Closing:In this final stage, the planned delivery is complete. Input is provided for subsequent projects. Some common questions to ask in this stage include: What processes should be changed in the future and why? What lessons did we learn from this project?

Project Plan Tips

The process of creating the project plan is just as important as the plan itself. The project plan defines what will happen in the project, what will be delivered, and how it will be implemented. It also defines how the team will monitor work, make changes, and communicate.

The process of creating the project plan allows all stakeholders to participate, discuss, and understand the project. The intention of the process is to discover problems or misunderstandings upfront, identify risks, and negotiate solutions. A good project manager ensures that all stakeholders not only understand the plan, but also agree to it. Planning is not just about agreement, but about reaching an understanding.

It is also important to avoid all ambiguity in the plan. Ensure that your project plan uses a process that highlights misconceptions, different ideas, and misunderstandings upfront. Work through those situations so that all stakeholders understand and agree to the plan.

Negotiations with Stakeholders

The key to creating a successful project plan is getting the buy-in of all stakeholders. Below are two ways to get a better understanding of each stakeholder's investment in the project.

  • Ask why: Get clarity on your understanding of the stakeholder’s position. It is also helpful in enabling you to reach agreement when there are conflicts about project requirements. Asking why may help your stakeholders formulate their own opinions more clearly as well.
  • Ask about priorities: This will help you understand how strongly your stakeholders feel about the importance of each requirement. This will also help you prioritize which requirements are essential for the project and which requirements can be declared outside the scope of the project.
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Posted by Kaplan Financial Education - March 22, 2019
Illustration representing the varying roles of a project manager

6 Challenges of Doing Business in China and How to Overcome Them

As the fastest-growing major economy in the world, China continues to offer global companies attractive investment and business opportunities. However, doing business in China also means navigating the complexities that arise from China's unique historical, political, and cultural contexts. China offers plenty of opportunities for new ventures; the Chinese market continues to grow about 7 percent annually, and it is the second largest economy in the world behind the United States. With opportunity comes challenge, however. In this article, we outline some important challenges to consider when doing business in China and offer some recommendations for success.

Cultural Understanding

Business people must have some sensitivity to the Chinese culture and how it impacts business. Hierarchy plays an integral part of business culture in China with leaders and managers being more distinguished than in many Western countries. Chinese leaders and managers expect obedience without question. One important concept to master is “face.” Face represents a person’s reputation and feelings of prestige within the workplace, family, friends, and society. For instance, an American subordinate attending a meeting where his/her boss is making a presentation would generally not think twice about asking a question, making an alternate suggestion, or even disagreeing with something. In China, this would be a serious face-losing situation for the subordinate, boss, and even the company. Not pointing out others’ mistakes and giving credit for others’ good work are both good ways to help others save face.

Because China has a long history of being exploited by foreign countries, it is of particular importance to show respect as a Westerner doing business in China. Giving gifts, accepting invitations, acknowledging hierarchy, addressing people by their designation, attending meetings, and showing genuine interest in the local culture are ways to show respect in China.

Moving Too Quickly

Doing business in China often takes longer than it would in most Western countries. American companies often fail because they are eager to move ahead rapidly, but it is typical in Chinese culture to establish a strong relationship before closing a deal. Therefore, it is important for Westerners to understand they may need to meet with Chinese businesspeople multiple times before a business partnership or deal can be made. If Westerners are invited to drinks or a meal, it is vital to the development of the relationship to go.

Chinese business culture also has a longer decision-making period than Westerners are used to. It is not uncommon for Chinese businesspeople to extend the decision-making period past a deadline given to them. It is important for Westerners to be prepared for that and to not rush them into making a decision before they are ready. Patience is the key to success!

Cost of Doing Business

It is common for Western businesses to move operations overseas to save on operational costs. However, in China, operational costs are getting more expensive. Foreign companies have been required to pay education and urban maintenance and construction taxes since December 2010. In addition, the Social Insurance Law, which took effect in July 2011, imposed additional operating costs on companies that already provide international insurance coverage for their employees.

Companies are also becoming alarmed by industrial overcapacity. Subsidies have encouraged some firms to continue production even with dropping demand and then sell their products overseas. Increasing salaries and growing turnover are also a trend around China, especially in second- and third-tier cities. Both of these factors increase costs for companies because they have to pay workers higher wages, as well as hire and train new workers frequently due to turnover.

Nevertheless, China’s population allows great potential for productivity and potential for demand. As wages continue to increase, so does the purchasing power of Chinese workers. Even with increasing costs, having a business presence in China represents a large opportunity for growth.

Economic Stagnation

China’s growing debt is also of concern. Infrastructure has been a top priority of China’s government, with projects for roads, rails, electricity, and telecommunications…so much so, that China’s investment in infrastructure has hindered their growth. According to researchers at Oxford University, more than half of Chinese infrastructure investments have decreased in economic value as the costs have outweighed the benefits. While infrastructure has been a huge driver of Chinese economic growth over the last few decades, China has recently increased infrastructure spending to counter the slowdown in manufacturing investment. Such investment can lead to waste and add to China’s debt.

Because China’s economic growth has slowed, policymakers in China have begun focusing away from its reliance on investment and industry and on to consumption and services. This is expected to slow short-term growth; however, this shift should build foundations for more sustainable long-term expansion for businesses.

The Role of Government in Business

There is a substantial difference in the role of government in Chinese businesses compared to Western countries. China has a planned economy closely tied to government. In 2007, for example, the US federal government’s fiscal revenue was $2.4 trillion, or 18 percent of GDP, whereas China’s fiscal revenue was 5.1 trillion yuan ($770 billion), accounting for 21 percent of GDP. In China, more than 76% of assets are owned by the government, with people owning less than a quarter; while in the United States, assets are owned privately. This means that to do business in China, a company will most likely have to negotiate with the state. The bureaucracy involved in negotiating with the state can slow down the pace of business ventures.

Joint ventures are difficult to establish because they have substantial government involvement. Legal matters lack consistency and can be changed at the will of the Chinese government. However, the Chinese government has tried in recent years to upgrade legal protections making the business environment more enticing to foreigners.

Corruption

Corruption in China has certainly become more of an issue as the Communist Party of China’s policies, institutions, and norms have clashed with recent market liberalization. Bribery, kickbacks, theft, and misspending of public funds cost at least three percent of GDP each year. Because the Chinese government owns the majority of China’s assets, they have the ability to spend without much oversight into the budget process. The Chinese government has wasted money on high-profile infrastructure projects and government office buildings, and invests in industries with high resource consumption, high pollution, and low job creation.

Recently, there has been a crackdown on corruption, and many high-profile political figures have been jailed for getting caught up in the net of bribery, abuse of power, and other corrupt practices. While foreign investors are generally happy to see this cleanup work, some have expressed fears that the crackdown also lacks transparency. Nonetheless, it is a step in the right direction for foreign businesses.

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Posted by Broderick Martinez, Full-Time Faculty at Kaplan University - March 22, 2019
Skyline view of Shanghai at dusk

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