ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- How can advisors build trust with clients and prospects? Attendees at the Raymond James Women's Symposium got several tips this week during a presentation by Suzette Rothberg, a senior VP for advisor education with American Funds Distributors.

Noting that the financial services industry's reputation had taken a beating, Rothberg recommended that advisors work to strengthen engagement by focusing on a handful of key factors.

Among them:

1. FOCUS ON YOUR FANS

Rothberg cited a study finding 84% of clients say credentials matter in selecting an advisor -- but argued that certification alone is not enough the same as a credential. What really builds credibility, she said, is the endorsement of successful people in an advisor's circle.

Advisor takeaway: When hosting events for clients and prospects, she suggested, use a strategic seating chart to locate prospects next to some of your biggest fans. She also suggested that advisors include a prominent center of influence in the community -- because prospects will take note when other local influencers choose to spend their time at your events.

2. DELIVER AS PROMISED

Consistency is another key element of trust-building, Rothberg said: "You don't have to be the Ritz-Carlton, but your service has to be consistent." Use standard operating procedures to make sure clients get the same experience no matter who on your team is working with them, she said.

Tell clients what they can expect from you -- and then be sure to deliver as promised, she said.
Advisor takeaway: She recommended instituting a 24-hour callback policy for client requests, and 48-hour follow-through -- progress reports every two days until any request is completed. And language matters, she said: Start notes and conversations with the phrase, "As promised," to reiterate your own trustworthiness whenever you're specifically making good on a promise.

3. KNOW YOUR CONNECTIONS

The depth of your client connections may matter more than you think it does. Advisors who can name their clients' family dogs have twice the assets under management, Rothberg said, citing research by Russ Alan Prince.

Advisors have tended to connect to clients by sending them financial statements, she said -- "but people don't know what those mean to their lives."

Advisor takeaway: Get to know everyone in your client's family, Rothberg said. She suggested an exercise: Pick a top client's account and create a chart with two columns, writing down everything about a client's money in one and everything about them personally in the other. (If that second column is empty, she noted, you've got a problem.) Then set up Google alerts for some of the important keywords to your clients: their employers, their hobbies, etc. -- and use those to start conversations or keep track of updates that might matter to them.

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