Q: How can advisors understand and analyze their different client segments and whether or not they’re serving those different types of clients profitably?
A: Advisors today don’t spend the time they should in terms of looking at their entire practice and specifically their client relationships. When we do our Mastery Program events [two-day practice management seminars] we work with hundreds of advisors throughout the country to implement best practice disciplines within their businesses. When we consult with them regarding client profitability we find a large percentage of advisors, roughly 70%-80%, have completed some type of segmentation analysis on their client base but it is mostly an academic exercise.
Very few advisors actually go and make changes within their practices as a result of this exercise. Even if advisors do segmentation, they don’t necessarily really understand the profitability of their client segments or what type of service model to use for each segment. I might ask them, ‘If I had $300,000 to invest. Do you know if you can deliver the type of service I need and if you could do it in a profitable way?’ The vast majority of advisors don’t know.
Q: How should advisors figure out the profitability of the different client segments?
A: Do a time analysis. Where are they spending their time? How is their staff spending their time? What clients are they spending time with? Just set up a basic grid by individual client. Give the grid to all of their staff members. Each advisor should write down the amount of time he or she spends with that individual client, including breaking down all the different ways of engaging with that client, including meetings, meeting preparation, processing operational issues, answering questions, and then how much time for each activity. Advisors should do that for about a month. Then it’s possible to see how much time they’re really spending with each individual client. Compare that with your individual analysis. Are you spending a lot of time with what you think are your most profitable clients — let’s call them “A” clients — or with C and D clients?
From there advisors can start to break down, based on their overhead, what the profitability of that relationship actually is.
Once they start to analyze their businesses from a profitability perspective, they start to see their larger relationships are subsidizing their smaller ones, to a large extent. That becomes a bit of a challenge. The smaller relationships are using a significant amount of capacity and resources within that business. These resources could be better spent on targeting their ideal clients or potentially increasing the revenue stream.
Q: How should advisors then determine pricing for the smallest client segment?
A: I think it’s a case-by-case scenario. If you look at the infrastructure a firm has put in place, and how it has set up its service model …. I think there is a way for advisors that are not ultrahigh-net-worth wealth management firms to serve smaller clients. That said, the term “smaller” is relative. A smaller client to regular RIA may be $50,000 in investable assets to one person but may be $500,000 to another. Let’s just say for the purposes of our discussion, $250,000 and below in investable assets.
There is a way to service these clients and do it profitably. When advisors look at their core offering…I try to bucket clients not into A, B and C but in terms of needs. Generally, you can think of clients in three tiers: