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How Financial Advisors Can Become Great Business Owners

Cody Foster

Cody Foster is a Co-founder of Advisors Excel, a marketing organization that helps independent insurance agents and financial advisors become great business owners. Since its founding in 2005, Advisors Excel has grown from three founders to over 800 employees, making them one of the largest employers in Topeka, Kansas.

Cody joined the financial services arena as the director of marketing for a corporately owned, national field marketing organization. He has been featured in Success, The Entrepreneur Roller Coaster, and Money Master the Game.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Cody Foster explains how Advisors Excel helps their clients

  • Who are Advisors Excel’s ideal customers?

  • Turning financial advisors into great business owners

  • Cody discusses how they built their company culture

  • Advisors Excel’s customer success stories

  • Cody’s advice for entrepreneurs on how to win more customers

In this episode…

Are you a good financial advisor that wants to have your own practice? To be a good business person, what do you need to know to get started?

According to Cody Foster, many financial advisors struggle to run a business. They get too focused on their practice that they forget the operational side of their businesses. With this realization, Cody started Advisors Excel to help financial advisors build a great business around their financial advisory practices.

In this episode of The Customer Wins, Richard Walker sits down with Cody Foster, Co-founder of Advisors Excel, to discuss how financial advisors can become great business owners. Cody talks about Advisors Excel and how they operate, how they built the company's culture, the customer success stories of the company, and the impacts of AI on the customer experience.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode...

This is brought to you by Quik!

At Quik!, we provide forms automation and management solutions for companies seeking to maximize their potential productivity.

Our vision is to become the leading forms automation company by making paperwork the easiest part of every transaction.

Meanwhile, our mission is to help the top firms in the financial industry raise their bottom line by streamlining the customer experience with automated, convenient solutions.

Go to to learn more, or contact us with questions at

Episode Transcript:

Intro 0:02

Welcome to The Customer Wins podcast where business leaders discuss their secrets and techniques for helping their customers succeed and in turn grow their business.

Richard Walker 0:16

Hi, I'm Rich Walker, the host of The Customer Wins where I talk to business leaders about how they help their customers win, and how their focus on customer experience leads to growth. Past guests on our show have included Philipp Hecker, CEO of Bento Engine who helps advisors give better advice to more families. On this episode, I'm speaking with Cody Foster, co-founder of Advisors Excel, which helps good advisors become great business owners, and today's episode is brought to you by Quik! the leader in enterprise forms automation. When the last step to earning your clients business requires filling out paperwork, don't ruin your relationship with a bad experience. Instead, get Quik! Forms make filling out forms a great experience and the easiest part of your transaction does it to get started. Now before I introduce today's guest, I want to give a big thank you to Villy Fixsen the COO of Madison Avenue Securities for introducing me to Cody. Now I'd like to introduce Cody Foster again co-founder of Advisors Excel, and their mission is to help independent financial advisors become great business owners. Since founding in 2005, they have grown from the three founders to over 800 employees today, making them one of the largest employers in Topeka, Kansas. Advisors Excel has been named a great place to work for four straight years, and in 2021 they were listed as number 23 and fortunes best workplaces and financial services. Cody has been featured in multiple publications, most notably Success Magazine, Darren Hardy's bestselling book, The Entrepreneur Roller Coaster, and Tony Robbins number one New York Times bestseller Money Master the Game. Cody also founded AIM Strategies, a company that brings a passion and knowledge for entrepreneurship, real estate and community development to assist people and their businesses to succeed and grow. AIM Strategies has played a critical role in the redevelopment efforts of downtown Topeka, Kansas by constructing the Cyrus hotel, the pennant restaurant and iron rail brewing. Cody has been married for 21 years to his lovely wife, Jennifer, and they are the proud parents of two teenagers, Dylan and Ella. Cody, welcome to The Customer Wins.

Cody Foster 2:17

Rich thanks for having me. I'm excited to do this. I always love getting to talk about this topic specifically.

Richard Walker 2:24

Well, it's an honor to have you. And if you haven't heard this podcast before, I talk with business leaders about what they're doing to help their customers win, how they build and deliver a great customer experience and the challenges to growing their own company. Cody, you're a great entrepreneur, you've been through a lot of things, but I really want to understand your business today a little bit better. How does your company help people?

Cody Foster 2:45

So I'll try and give you the quick answer, right. It's always hard to explain sometimes what your business does, but we actually have a very simple business model, and just celebrating our 18 year anniversary. So February 1 of 2005, is when we started the company. So don't know exactly what where but just had our 18 year anniversary, we support the independent financial advisor all across the country. So we're the middleman or wholesaler between the advisor and the insurance and investment companies that they access products for their clients. So our job is to be kind of a de facto support system back office partner for those advisors to help them find the best product solutions for their clients, I would say, a lot goes into that it's probably a lot more complex than just providing products for them to be able to use with their clients. But at our foundation, that is what our core business is. We support about 500 independent advisors across the country, do a lot of annuity business, we have our own registered investment advisory firm and broker-dealer also to support them.

Richard Walker 3:53

Yeah, it sounds complex. There's actually multiple customers in there. Right. So who is your main customer?

Cody Foster 3:59

So our customer without question is the independent financial adviser, but by extension of that, and one of the things that we talk to our team all the time about is we are an extension of that advisors office, so you were talking about even with what Quik Forms does like filling out paperwork, that paperwork usually comes through our office and we're scrubbing, making sure everything's complete. If we mess something up, that does have an impact on the end customer which would be that advisors client that they're meeting with. So we talk all the time about the advisors, our customer, but by extension of that very much so their client becomes an extension of that service model. And then really, if you think about it, we also can't do anything we do without the insurance companies and investment companies that we work with. So there is a service component to them, too. One of the things we talk a lot about, especially in our operations teams is we want to be their best partner, we want to be the firm that they're like, we love doing business with advisors Excel, because everything comes in clean, they know their stuff. It's good business. So we've got multiple levels in there. But our primary focus is without question like, how do we provide the best experience for the advisor so we're supporting?

Richard Walker 5:16

Yeah, that's great. I don't know if you knew, but I was a financial advisor when I was starting Quik!. And so I can understand the problems of how do I grow my own business as an advisor? How do I focus on what I do best, which is talking to my clients? And honestly, that's one of the reasons I started Quik!, because I felt I could help more advisors help more people than I can independently. So what made you want to start this business? What were you doing before this?

Cody Foster 5:40

Well, I'd say that, just to give Quik!, a big endorsement. So I literally yesterday was, I have an old annuity that I had set up years ago that it's not earning much, so I was gonna roll it over into a new product. And they dropped off the paperwork. So I was like, filling it out manually. And I'm like, oh, my gosh, like, this is so, so painful. I mean, it took me like half an hour, and I didn't know what I was doing. So I had to call some people in to help me get it filled out. So keep that up. Because that is such a, when you talk about an experience, and then something like that, it's painful. So let me back up. So my first job out of college was in this industry, working for an insurance marketing organization, I was there for about four years, just didn't really enjoy going to work every day that I enjoyed the industry, and I liked financial services just didn't necessarily enjoy my job. So David and I, my partner here at Advisors Excel, in 2004, we left to go be independent financial advisors. So we saw all these advisors that we thought were making a bunch of money, and it didn't seem like they really worked all that hard. And we're like, this seems like a great opportunity. So we left went to be independent financial advisors. And I think what happened that first year, which is pretty cool, and foundational to everything that we've tried to do here at Advisors Excel, is we learned really quickly, like we knew the product stuff really well. We didn't know anything about running a business. So once we started, it was January of 04, like we learned really quickly, like, we've got to know a lot more about how you actually run a business. So one of the things we talk explicitly to our team here, internally, one of the messages we try and preach is who we really support our small business owners whose business happens to be financial services. So there's 20 to 30, things that you've got to do really, really well to build a great business around a financial advisory practice. And we want to be the partner that can really help support all those different things that they're trying to do.

Richard Walker 7:41

Yeah, I've often had those discussions with advisors, but it's also true of doctors and other types of practitioners. They get so focused on the practice of their skill they forget to be operators of their business. How is it that you help them become better operators? Do you take that work away from them? Or what do you do?

Cody Foster 7:57

I would say yes, and no, we have a mission, it's very clear, we say all the time, we want to help good advisors become great business owners, so they can help people enjoy amazing retirements. And there are components of things that we can take away from them, we have a big operations team, right that, once they fill their business out, they send it to us, we're gonna scrub it and make sure they got everything checked. So there's no delays. But we don't fill the paperwork out form, we have a huge technology team, we've custom built out, you know, an instance of Salesforce at all our advisors can use but we don't do their CRM forum. And we have a huge creative team. So we build their websites, all their collateral material, help them a lot with marketing. So we'll support those efforts. But one of the things we talk a lot about is we want them to build a great business. And we think there's a lot of value in them knowing how to do it. So we probably spent as much time on like, okay, we can support these efforts. But ultimately, you have to build the team around you. Because I think, once you build a great team around you, and you know how to lead a great team, it frees up your life dramatically. And that's what a lot of advisors, I think, even when they come to us a lot of home, probably do good production and put up good numbers, but their quality of life maybe isn't great, because they're doing a lot of the work. So really teaching them how do you build a team and the systems and processes around you to kind of free up your time there. So I would say we support them really well. There's some things that we can do for them. But most of it, we're trying to teach them how to do it better than they're doing it now how to be more efficient, how to automate stuff to create kind of a better business quality of life also.

Richard Walker 9:40

So that makes me think just a curiosity question. Are you helping them with succession planning, how to sell their business or transition?

Cody Foster 9:47

Just funny, you should ask that I would have said a couple years ago, not really all that much. But it's a trend that we're seeing start to pick up some pace here in the last few years, especially this past year. I think COVID probably accelerated that for some, it's like 60, 65, I'm not sure I want to keep doing this. Not sure I want to go through it. So we've done a lot more in the past, probably 12 months and actually are rolling out a new training event this year that's about succession planning. So that's going to be a big focus, I would say over the next five years for us is how do you do that? Well, and we see a couple of things, you probably see this working with them to a large majority, a large majority that are working with us now, our family succession, they've had kids that have come into the business, back to a lot of our top advisors today came in to their parents practice, and I've taken it over. So that's a big one. Some they have an associate advisor to that they brought in, that is kind of the plan to take over the business. But then some are just selling again. Now, obviously, there's a lot of consolidation and kind of roll ups going on in the space right now that we're seeing. And so we're seeing a little bit of that, too. So trying to help them really think through like, what do you want out of the business? And what's the best path forward for that?

Richard Walker 11:07

Yeah, that's great. When I started, I joined my mentor in his business. And the idea was, within five years, I'd take over his business. And in year two, I realized I don't understand his clients, I don't get along with them. It wasn't negative. It's just more like, I don't have kids like they had kids. I didn't put anybody through college. I'm not at retirement age. And so it's a challenge of how do you do that with a junior planner who's coming up through the ranks?

Cody Foster 11:30

Well, and the other challenge, I'll say, just because I have a lot of these conversations with our top advisors as they're contemplating this. And this is more the advisor who's thinking about selling a lot of them as they get closer, they don't realize how much of their significance and their contribution is built into the business. So they think they want to do it, but then as that decision date gets closer and closer, they start to get some cold feet. So, I've helped a few in the last year that have transitioned and so much of it's almost like a therapist, trying to walk them through like it is going to be okay. And you have a great plan in place and a great team taking over. But it's a hard thing, you know too as you start and build a business, so much of your life and your identity is tied into that business, that the idea of walking away from something that's been such a huge part of your life becomes a big, big part of it, it's less financial, and it's more emotional.

Richard Walker 12:23

So how much of your own identity as part of Advisors Excel?

Cody Foster 12:26

it's a big part. I wouldn't say it's my driving identity by any means. But one, we have 800 team members here in Topeka. So, I mean, there's a huge amount of responsibility that comes with stewarding the business well, because a lot of families are depending on us. But then, honestly, over 18 years, one of the things I don't know that I was really probably prepared for is just the life experiences that I would have with so many of our advisors. I say all the time outside of three or four close friends here in Topeka. Most of my best friends are the advisors that work with us, we vacation together, we've gone on trips together, we have all kinds of events that we host that they're at together. So it's just that from that, I think standpoint of it, it's a big part of who I am just because of the relationship side of it. But I'm definitely try and make sure that like I would be okay, if this whole thing went away tomorrow. But I mean, it's easy for me to say now, because it hasn't, I would be fine with that I'm uncomfortable with my identity not being completely tied up in this also, even though it is.

Richard Walker 13:40

So let me ask from a different perspective. How did you define company culture? Because I find that leaders and entrepreneurs are the ones who really define it and grow it. How did you do that it's got to be a big part of your business because you're a people business.

Cody Foster 13:53

Yeah, it's probably where we focus. Let me rephrase it. Both of us, Dave and myself both. So Dave's co-founder here, spent a fair amount of time on it, but the way kind of our responsibilities are divided up. He takes all our product divisions and operations report to him, and then anything that's a little more universal, ie, so HR employee initiatives, kind of our technology, our marketing all report up to me. So I probably spent a little bit more time on the culture side of things just because it that kind of division that's in charge of it reports up to me, and I think it is, what I'll say is when we started the company back in 05, probably our first 10 or 15 hires were, I would say, friends or family because nobody else would come work for us. Nobody else knew. Yeah, it was kind of a startup. Nobody knew if we were going to make it or not. So we probably for the first two-ish years, didn't spend any time really thinking about culture, just because we were working with people we knew and trusted. And then as the company started to have some success when we started to grow and we had to hire outside of those networks, we woke up one day. And I don't know if the culture was where we wanted it to be. So we had this kind of epiphany. And I know you mentioned Darren Hardy in the intro, I went to one of his, he had this training event I went to, and I remember him saying, he's like, every single person you hire has the potential to change your culture in good and bad ways, right? He's like, it's like a cancer cell jumping into your body, man, it can spread. And so just really got intentional about like, what type of culture do we want to build? What type of people do we want to have work here. And so that's been a big focus over the past 15 years almost now, 14 15 years really focusing on the culture. So I would say some things that are important to us, in our foundation, what I tell people all the time is like, we do a lot of fun things, it next week, we're taking our entire team and a plus one to Mexico. So that's, we're taking about 1500 people to Mexico for a week, because we hit our stretch goal. And that's when we started when we had 30 employees, and we just kept doing it every year, if we hit our big goal. So we do these things that are really, really fun. But I said, I would hope if you talk to anyone here, the number one thing they would talk about would not be the fun things that we do, but that they believe that they're cared for as a person, first and foremost. And I think foundational to our culture is we want people to feel respected and cared about. And we try and demonstrate that through how we treat our people, how we lead our people, the benefits and things that we offer to the people, we do try and do some fun stuff to but so that's kind of foundational. And then the other thing we talk about a lot is we want growth-minded people who are constantly trying to get better. And we are going to work really hard. Now, our opinion is we want to work really hard from eight to five, and then you'll be able to shut that often go work really hard on other things that are important in your life. But while you're here, like it's going to be busy. We've grown every year, God Willing me and so we hope to keep doing that. But it's busy when you're here, you're not sitting around with nothing to do. So we want people are going to work hard and try and reward that also.

Richard Walker 17:06

I saw on your website and some videos that one of the things that encapsulates what I think is your culture is always do the right thing if I said that, right. Is that your viewpoint?

Cody Foster 17:16

Yeah, it is. So ironically, when we started the company, and this was more of the message we were sharing with advisors that we wanted to build this company around these kind of four core principles. And it was the first one was less means more. So our approach when we started was we didn't want to recruit lots of advisors, we wanted to recruit really good advisors and surround them with more support. You know this and financial services for ever has been signup, as many people as you possibly can, and hope some make it right. And that just never made much sense to me. The company I worked at before we spent all our time and money and energy and resources, trying to convince an advisor who had just got license who had never done anything to go write business. And if someone was actually writing business, like we'd left them alone, or like, don't mess with them, where we just said like, why don't we go find those that have already shown they're pretty good and surround them with more support to where they could be great. So less means more surround yourself with successful people. It's kind of the second conviction, which was really we want to create learning-rich environments where advisors can come together and learn from other advisors or other great business thought leaders. The third one was it's all about prospecting. And that has to evolve. You know this isn't time you're an advisor. If you can get in front of enough new people you're going to do okay, right, you can do the other things poorly as long as you have a new pipeline. But then the final one, I think it's just going back to the question you asked me early on, we do have a little bit of responsibility to the end consumer of our advisors, and we try and preach this all the time to our team is, it's not a form coming through. It's literally someone's life savings, someone has worked for 30 or 40 years to accumulate this amount of wealth. And now they're making back to the identity thing, they're making one of the biggest decisions they're gonna make in their life, which is to retire and step away. And they're trusting this advisor, that they're putting a plan together, that is going to make sure that their money is going to last and I said, if we screw something up there, this is a very scary moment for him. It put some doubt in their mind. So just really making sure that we're doing things the right way that we take ownership of mistakes that we make that we always think about how do we create the best experience?

Richard Walker 19:33

This reminds me of one of my very first jobs when I was in college at Paine Webber and a stock brokerage. I watched them hire 28 newbies, and within a year or two were left because they fail out right. And I also witnessed this, I guess, kind of a neat process to promote products that were not always in the best interests of the client, but it would make the person have better commission and when they're hungry, trying to feed their own family and making it where do you win with that? At let me ask you a kind of a different question. What is one of your favorite customer success stories that how did you like take on some of these advisors that were good and convert them or transform them to great? What does that look like for them?

Cody Foster 20:13

Well, here's how I would say it, I think it is constantly creating environments for them to learn from other people. I think that's the secrets of what we, I say secret, gets fairly well known. That's what we do. It shocks me more people don't do it. We host about 30 events a year, I would say eight of those are kind of bigger, more significant events. 20 plus are kind of smaller, they'll have 20 30 people and all, but constantly trying to bring other advisors and other thought leaders to the table for them to be able to learn from, and I think that's kind of foundational to it, right? It's like constantly growing, constantly learning. But, we're talking about successes. So I'll just share one of those stories. Chuck Lehmann and Alicia Lewis joined us back in 2008. So I mean, long they've been with us for a long, long time now. Chuck had been the industry forever Prudential guy for a long time and went independent. When they joined us, their firm was probably generating 150, maybe $200,000 a year in revenue. And Alicia is his daughter, she had just joined, like, just joined the firm, plan was for her to come in and take over, but in a way, we're kind of struggling. And now they've been with us for a long, long time, Chuck's actually officially retired, Alicia has taken the business over. They're managing a couple 100 million dollars in AUM, they're doing 20 to $25 million a year and annuity business every year. Like they've just transformed that business, went from those two with one part-time employee to a team of 12, just built this incredible business that allowed him to retire and step away, it's created this legacy that she and her husband have stepped into and really continued to grow. But just watching the growth of that of them specifically, but the business is really, really cool. It's sometimes we probably don't pause enough to think about, like those success stories. But you know this, it's not that they did any one thing, it's that they did a lot of small things really, really well. Marketing better, they started a radio show, build a team out around though, they've grown and developed as leaders and just built an incredible business to see what the legacy of that business is going to be long term. Now, it's pretty phenomenal.

Richard Walker 22:30

No wonder you can feel like, you can walk away. It's amazing. It's amazing to see that kind of success. And you don't necessarily look at it year from year because it's incremental. Right? But looking back over 15 years, it's like, wow.

Cody Foster 22:45

The other thing I would say about that just it goes back to maybe always do the right thing. But I believe that a advisor who's built a great business is going to do a better job taking care of their client also. I'm not saying this about Chuck and Alicia, but my guess is when they joined us, they probably didn't talk to their clients a whole lot, it was probably a little bit more, didn't have the systems in place now, like the client events, the communication, that the job that they're doing, helping their clients with their plan is so much better than it was. And so I think too, you kind of use the PaineWebber example, you could substitute that name for another 30 names in our industry, right of like, they bring these people and they make them call their friends and family try and sell them some crap, they've failed out in the industry. Nobody ever follows up with them. Someone gets stuck with this hodgepodge of stuff they don't even know what it is. So, generally speaking too, I think the better they become as a business owner, the better experience the client gets too, and I think that's important.

Richard Wa