Can a financial professional help you step up your practice?

August 1, 2008

Asking a financial advisor to assist with business matters for many physicians and other professionals may seem unacceptable. However, financial professionals focus exclusively on a relatively narrow segment of business operations. Their specialized training and experience may open doors to opportunities that haven't been considered.

For many physicians and other professionals, the thought of asking an outsider to advise you on business matters may seem unacceptable.

"That position could be a mistake," said James Marshall, vice president, Fulton Bank, Lancaster, PA. "Financial professionals focus exclusively on that relatively narrow segment of business operations. Their specialized training and experience may open doors to opportunities that you haven't considered."

Marshall believes that the right choice of a financial adviser will function more like a partner than an arm's-length adviser.

"A true 'partner' will work with the client to provide not only products and services that will help the business become even more successful, but will also work to make sure the individual is meeting his or her own personal financial goals," he said.

In the process of building a partnership, it's important to clarify the owner's goals, both business and personal.

"Once this information is shared, our expertise can be put to work," Marshall said. "We can advise on such techniques as setting up merchant services to speed up the receipt of revenues earned, or a remote deposit link, which converts checks right in the office to deposits at the bank. We can also help with the use of traditional loans, equity-based loans, and lines of credit to accommodate capital acquisitions while protecting cash flow needs such as payroll and rent."

Employee benefit plans and help with personal finances are among the other services offered by bank financial advisers, he added.

"However, the partnering process goes well beyond these basics," he said. "Our overall goal is to help our clients to succeed, just as any partner would."

According to Mark Steele, MD, an ophthalmologist in New York, NY, an essential foundation for growing a medical practice is the elimination of as much paper as possible.

"A powerful electronic health record (EHR) not requiring physician data entry (e.g., SRSsoft) is an essential backbone to support a thriving practice," Dr. Steele said. "The EHR must be of a type that respects office workflow and the need to make a medical practice more nimble if growth is to be accommodated."

"Any physician interested in growing a practice needs to make use of public relations and marketing," said Scott Lorenz, president, Westwind Communications, Plymouth, MI. "Consumers want the latest style in automobiles, the latest fashions from Paris, and the cutting edge in technology. But patients are gun-shy about embracing experimental medicine or cutting edge technology when it comes to improving their health or enhancing their bodies.

"That's why doctors on the cutting edge in their area of specialty need public relations," Lorenz continued. "The message of safety, convenience, and success must be conveyed because medical consumers are much more reluctant to be among the first to accept a new medical innovation than are buyers of automobiles, computers, furniture or fashion.

"No one will agree to eye surgery without being convinced the procedure is absolutely safe," he added. "No woman will ever agree to breast augmentation or vaginal rejuvenation without feeling absolutely comfortable about the practition-er. The more sensitive the procedure, the greater the need for public relations."

Ellen Rogin, certified financial planner (CFP), Strategic Financial Designs Inc., Northfield, IL, said that working with advisers can help professionals and business owners look at things in more creative ways.

"I often see businesses holding too much cash in non-interest bearing checking accounts," said Rogin, who also is a certified public accountant (CPA).