The Case for Specialist, Niche Advice


US-based adviser, Brad Elman, advocates the value of specialisation as a pathway to success for advisers in today’s world.

Speaking to his peers at the 2019 MDRT Annual Meeting in Miami, Elman said his own pathway to success as an adviser began when he stopped trying to be everything to everybody: “I didn’t realise it at the time,” said Elman, “…but it was the first step in finding my niche.”

West Coast USA adviser, Brad Elman …the person claiming to be an expert in everything ends up an expert in nothing

Elman identified for his audience the key benefits and the rationale associated with developing a niche advice proposition:

  • It’s more fun. If we find a niche we enjoy and only do work we enjoy, then life is more fun.
  • It’s more efficient. If we do a lot of the same thing, we get good at it and are more efficient.
  • It’s more profitable. The efficiency allows us to earn more in the same amount of time.
  • It’s less risky. A narrow focus makes us an expert. Experts have lower liability. Dabblers often give incorrect advice, accidentally hurt their clients and get sued.
  • It’s easier to get referrals. People like to refer to specialists and experts.
  • It’s good for our ego. Being the best at something feels better than being average at a lot of things or mediocre at everything.
  • It’s easier to brand. It’s much easier to brand a specialization because the single focus makes us an expert and more credible.

Elman noted that his advice practice colleagues and he determined that if they narrowed their expertise and focused and restricted their activities to doing the things they loved – with the people they loved to advise – then they would be well on the way to building a practice that they loved.

“Having said that, it also meant that inevitably we would need to learn how to implement change, because what we loved to do, and with whom we loved to do it, changed over time in response to opportunities and challenges in the marketplace,” said Elman, who noted his business has needed to change its niche about every five to seven years.

…The more areas we claim to be an expert in, the less credible we become

He made the point that most advisers commence their career as generalists: “We learn a little bit about a lot of things. This gives us the best chance of survival,” he said, before cautioning: “The more areas we claim to be an expert in, the less credible we become, and the harder it is to brand our niche.” Elman added that the person claiming to be an expert in everything ends up an expert in nothing.

In reflecting how an adviser and advice business can determine the area in which they may want to specialise, Elman had these two tips:

  1. Be strategic! Don’t just specialize in something because it “sounds like a great idea”
  2. Specialise in something for a reason that is relevant to you

Once the adviser has determined their preferred area of specialisation, and why, Elman addressed how that business concept could be built.

Elman’s first advice niche centred around disability insurance, based in part on a personal experience following a sporting accident. He then evolved his narrative to one centred around disability insurance for doctors and then to disability and life insurance coverage for business owners.

In time, this niche evolved into developing insurance solutions for dot-com startup firms operating in the Silicon Valley on the US west coast, before the Tech Crash in 2001 led him to continue to adapt into other niches in the years since.

Summarising his niche advice journey, Elman reflected:

“As a new agent, I was perplexed every time I heard speakers at a meeting talk about how they “loved their careers.” That was until I realised we can choose with whom we work, what products [and services] we sell and what types of planning we do. When I strategically narrowed my focus and stopped trying to be everything to everybody, I found my niche, and I have been finding it ever since.”