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Blogs - The Advisors' Coach
3 Mistakes Most Advisors Make When Asking CPAs and Attorneys for Referrals
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Partner Insights

Building an advisory practice is challenging; according to Cerulli Associates, there are more than 300,000 client-facing advisors chasing the 15.4 million households that control 87% of the wealth.

Take a moment and do the math; there just aren’t that many high-quality prospective clients available in the marketplace—and most of them have at least one advisor.

Because of this, the successful advisor needs to execute more creative methods for generating new clients. My experience with advisors over the past two decades has confirmed that one of the most efficient ways of doing this is to educate CPAs and attorneys—who already have earned their clients’ trust—about the unique ways you can solve an investor’s problems.

Of course, your competition goes to the same workshops and reads the same articles you do. Plus, over the years investors have become more sophisticated, and so has your competition. As a result, your message will need to be especially poignant to stand out from the pack.

Why Valuable Is Not Referable

In spite of these challenges, the importance of building a professional network should not be dismissed. The ability to work effectively with professionals, such as CPAs and attorneys, could be the key to growing your business more rapidly and much more efficiently. Professionals like these are in a uniquely powerful position to make high-quality referrals: they have earned the trust of successful individuals and families; they are knowledgeable about financial matters; and they already provide advice about many other decisions that their clients have to make.

Unfortunately, as a group they are inundated with requests from Financial Advisors (FAs) and other vendors who are trying to tap into this lucrative network. The good news is that most of the other messages are primitive and merely focus on defining a range of services or describing the basic “service orientation” of their advisory practice. In most cases, their messaging is all about the various ways in which they care for clients—their “valuable” services.

While these types of messages do a good job of describing the valuable services the FA offers, they are not referable—they don’t motivate a professional to take the reputational risk of making a referral. We’ll talk more about this idea of “risk” later. For now, it’s important to recognize that professionals will not refer clients to you simply because you show up and talk about what you do. Referable messages are different from messages about the value of what you do. They are much more about the needs of the person you are hoping to serve—the audience of the message—and they require a very distinct type of structure and content in order to motivate action.


To make your message stand out from the rest and truly resonate, it’s first helpful to understand why many professionals are reluctant to make referrals. After spending countless hours in seminars and meetings, I’ve learned from CPAs and attorneys that they are generally reluctant to make referrals for two reasons: (1) they are uncomfortable with the risk that making a referral exposes them to; and (2) the financial advisor doesn’t make it easy for them to move toward making the referral—the FA expects the relationship to accelerate from the introduction to a collaboration after a single 30-minute meeting.

Both of these objections can be overcome by avoiding three common mistakes that FAs make when reaching out to CPAs and attorneys. By avoiding these errors, which can interrupt the ability of that professional to make a referral, you can significantly increase the likelihood that the professional will choose to collaborate with you.


The first common mistake ties back to our earlier discussion of valuable versus referable. Many advisors feel the need to describe the services, processes and features of their business. The reality is that any worthwhile CPA or attorney knows what a financial advisor is and what most advisory firms do.

Additionally, peppering the conversation with overused phrases or hyperboles such as “superior service” or “more personalized attention” or “widest array of capabilities” doesn’t add any value. These statements don’t present an actual message or offer any compelling value—they aren’t memorable, never mind referable. Rather than motivate trust and comfort with the idea of collaboration, they stir up feelings of doubt.

(1) Comment
I TOTALLY agree with your message, stop boring COIs and wasting valuable time, yours and theirs. If you want to make this work and generate a productive relationship with a COI you must be authentic and passionate about what you do, who (specifically) you do it for but more importantly WHY you do it.

If you walk in to a COIs office hoping to get ANY referral I can almost guarantee you will walk out with nothing. But if you walk in looking for a very particular referral,a person that is reflected in your business message and model, the kind of client that you are passionate about working with and that effectively comes through in your conversation, you have a much higher chance of getting some traction.

Posted by Adri M | Thursday, April 11 2013 at 1:27PM ET
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