I can almost hear some advisors grumbling that they don't want Gen Y clients — for a variety of reasons. But here's some food for thought: Gen Y has more invested in the stock market through retirement savings plans than any prior generation did at the same age, Vanguard Investment Counseling & Research Group chief John Ameriks told a Bogleheads investing conference in October, citing the company's own data.
Maybe this generation shouldn't be overlooked just yet?
That said, you may need to adjust your approach if you want to work with this group. As you connect with prospective clients, you need to help them understand the people they will be working with, the technology powering their plans and a sense of how they will be served in the future.
Here's a step-by-step breakdown of ways to welcome younger prospects to your office.
ON THE PHONE
First impressions will make or break a prospective relationship. Gen Y consumers judge very quickly, so make sure whoever answers your phone is well trained. The prospect on the other end needs undivided attention; he or she may determine if they want to work with your company based on this phone call alone.
I call many different financial firms throughout my day, and this is often a weak area. I've often faced a miserable, short-tempered or uninterested receptionist. Once my call is tranferred, I mention my experience. Shockingly, some people say they are well aware of the problem but have done little to change it.
To upgrade your performance, take part in role-playing a prospect call - and record the results. Show your receptionist exactly what you are looking for when he or she answers the phone; play back the call, then work on tonality and inflection.
Let's say you have spoken with and qualified your prospects: a married Gen Y couple. Before they come to your office for the first time, make sure to invest in some small touches that go a long way. Remember that even the length of the commute will affect their decision making; your Gen Y prospects will make a decision to work with you quickly.
If you are in an office complex, provide priority parking for clients, and tell prospects it is for their use. If you work where parking is not something you can control, provide specific directions for the best and most convenient parking for your office. If your prospects are taking mass transit to meet you, be certain that the directions are accurate and that the train or bus schedule hasn't changed for the time of their visit.
Everything about the walk from the car to the front door of your office should be tidy and clean. Again, this may be out of your control, but if you can decorate some area along this walk to spruce it up, then do so.
Upon walking into your office, your prospects should be treated like royalty. Your receptionist should get up from his or her desk, greet them warmly, shake their hand and address them by first name, welcoming them to the office. Will some prospects think it is overkill? Possibly, but what's the alternative?
Have the prospective clients brought into a conference room, where a table is set with individual place cards, freshly baked cookies and a tablet (iPad or other) for each attendee. Make sure your receptionist offers them a drink (water, coffee, tea, soda, beer or wine) and invites them to browse through the company's app prior to the meeting.
You may also want to present a note-taking app so that your prospects' notes can be emailed directly to them after your meeting is completed.
On the way out of the conference room, the receptionist should press play on a remote in her pocket to start a video. The owner of the company (or whomever is appropriate) should appear on screen, welcoming the prospects to the office and thanking them for taking the time to visit. He or she should encourage them to ask as many questions of the advisor they are meeting with as necessary, and suggest meeting with them at a later date.
SHOW COMMON GROUND
Gen Y consumers may be wary of working with someone who does not empathize with their problems. If you are a mature advisor, you're at an uncontrollable disadvantage because of the generation gap. One idea that might help sway me: Create a "client wall" on one wall of your conference room or reception area.
Display photographs of your current clients, Gen Y included - with client permission, of course. Next to the pictures, include the main goal the client is working toward. This will give your prospects comfort that they are working with someone who truly understands them.
Finally, when you walk into the room, greet them warmly by name and lead them in a conversation about themselves. Do not talk about yourself, or your company, until the couple asks or there is a natural end to the discussion about their needs.
Nothing is worse in the financial planning process than data gathering. It's time consuming and often repetitive. Your job is to make it as painless as possible.
When it's time to collect client information, have this process be driven by one of your younger associates, if possible — making that person the secondary contact, after you. This accomplishes two goals: It not only lets Gen Y consumers know that you work with their generation, but it also says you trust this generation to help you run your practice.
This associate will work closely with new clients to design and monitor their financial plan. At the onboarding meeting, he or she will run them through the process.
Be sure your firm has implemented technology to make this data-gathering process easier — perhaps a software package such as PreciseFP or FinaMetrica. Cutting-edge technology can sparks conversation — iPhone 5 and iPad mini, anyone?
As your associate finds common ground with the clients, they may offer up more information about themselves. Have your associate take notes; you can ask the clients further questions later on to help develop the relationship and refine their plan.
Is that close to the experience you currently provide? For some companies, it will be very close; for others, however, it would require a big change.
I'll admit: Even my firm, Vantage Financial Partners, doesn't offer all these experiences - but then again, if our target audience were Gen Y, we might want to reconsider.
Wouldn't it be great having a prospective client looking forward to working with you and coming back to see your receptionist again? Or your associate?
That's how outstanding companies operate. It's time to become one.
Dave Grant, a Financial Planning columnist,e is a financial planning analyst with Vantage Financial Partners in Arlington Heights, Ill. He is also the founder of NAPFA Genesis, a networking group for young, fee-only planners.