What are the secrets to finding, keeping and servicing high-net-worth clients?

For one, take advantage of social media to market your firm, said industry experts participating in Financial Planning's recent webinar for advisers. Also, implement a disciplined pricing process and instill an exceptional client service culture, the panelists added.

When it comes to social media, LinkedIn is key, said Gordon Abel, Dynasty Financial Partners’ director of marketing. After search, social media drives about 25% of traffic coming to the websites of firms belonging to Dynasty’s network, primarily driven by LinkedIn, Abel said in the June 7 webinar focused on attracting HNW clientele.

To curate and post content to LinkedIn, Abel suggested partnering with firms such as Vestorly for engagement content development, and firms such as Hootsuite for scheduling and distribution.

As an example of how social media can be used to market a firm to HNW clients, Abel, who oversaw financial services industry marketing for Google before joining Dynasty last month, cited an article written by one of the firms in Dynasty's network.

When it comes to social media marketing, LinkedIn is key, says Gordon Abel, Dynasty Financial Partners' director of marketing.

After the article was approved by Dynasty's compliance department, the firm used Hootsuite, "where we were able to decide the timing and distribution strategy within LinkedIn," Abel said. From Dynasty’s LinkedIn page, the article was distributed to other firms in the network, helping to build awareness.

Create a wide range of content, Abel said. "The more you can post across a range of topics and sources, the more quickly you can identify the type of content that will be relevant, and people you are engaging with," Abel noted.

CAPTURING PROSPECTS

Social media is also key to finding new clients.

The next step is to "help capture the folks who are coming in," Abel said. By using Vestorly's tool (competitors include Contently), Dynasty was able to develop "a prospect capture window," Abel explained, that "only goes to folks who are unidentified and new… This allows us to easily capture an email address before folks are able to read the content that we’re deploying."

Once the information is captured, Abel said, a firm can "scrape public data and information that is tied to that email address," allowing it to "create a more rich and contextual profile" on a prospect that can be transferred over to business development.

ENGAGING THE AUDIENCE

Once a firm knows who’s coming in and what they’re engaging with, they can push out more relevant content. In turn, this can enhance audience engagement.

Google Analytics, as well as LinkedIn, can help firms optimize their use of search marketing and be more efficient, Abel stated. "By using some simple code and attaching them to the links of your articles, we’re not only able to see what folks are reading, and what they’re engaging with, but how they actually moved through our website and the other content that we’re providing," he said.

Abel encouraged the webinar audience to build out a content and editorial calendar, "where you not only take this learning, but you tie it to the events, the content, the experiences you have coming in over the next two to three months, as that will help you build out and further refine how you prospect to high-net-worth individuals, and the types of tools you would need to use to do that."

PRICING AND PROFITABITY

When it comes to pricing, firms lack the discipline they need to "exact the level of profitability that they can," said Jamie McLaughlin, who heads an eponymous management consulting firm specializing in strategy and practice management for wealth management firms with high and ultrahigh-net-worth clients.

The intense demand for complex non-investment services such as tax, philanthropic, trust and wealth transfer planning and household financial management has led to "an arms race for firms to show what they can do…that is unsustainable," McLaughlin asserted.

Firms need to define and delineate all the services their clients are demanding, he said. Separating a firm's core competencies and strengths from adjacent services it provides can serve as "a prophylactic against the erosion that you would otherwise see in your profitability," McLaughlin told the webinar audience.

"Clients that are buying your services on price are clients that you don’t want," he insisted. "If that’s where the discussion is going, and if, in fact, that’s the pressure that you feel to win the client, it’s usually not going to be a long-term and meaningful client."

PUBLISHED VERSUS ACTUAL FEES

On his initial visit to a firm as a consultant, McLaughlin said he "wants to see what the distributions of fees are, against what the stated published fees are in the published brochure of the ADV." The difference between published and actual fees can top 80%, he observed.

To prevent discounting, firms should set up a pricing committee made up of the firm's owners and senior managers.

"We want to remove the pricing decision from the field," McLaughlin said. "We want to draw it into a central pricing committee for compliance with the pricing process.”

McLaughlin recommends a client acceptance committee, “or process around which there is an evaluation of what the actual client requirements are going to be.” Then, the firm can suggest a price according to that unique, well-delineated service demand, he said.

There should also be an awareness of where complexity exists, he added, citing examples such as wealthy families with lots of decision makers; weak governance structures; families with multiple generations and widely varying levels of sophistication; transnational families under multiple jurisdictions and families with illiquid investments and data security issues.

THE MARKET 'TRAP'

Market pricing can also be a trap, McLaughlin said, "because every single client has a different and unique, customized requirement; and every firm has a different set of things that they do well. There really is not a market, per se — there’s not a lot of visibility, and I think there’s too much variation in the service requirements that can be delivered."

Instead of "tiptoeing around fees," he advised, "firms should enumerate distinctly in an engagement letter what they're doing, an annual review of that letter, and a review of what was done or not done, and a trueing up of fees should be done every year — possibly in favor of the client if you didn’t have to deliver certain services."

Coaching, he added, "has been a proven antidote to deliver a better, more disciplined fee to client, and I highly recommend using a coach. There are some great coaches that can get you through the fee conversation."

SERVICE STARTS WITH STAFF

To deliver great service, you have to start with a great staff, said Jack Thurman, president of BKD Family Office of Springfield, Missouri.

"You can teach people what to do, but you’ve got to select people with the right attitude of how to do it," Thurman said. "So we're very big on attitude in the selection process."

A clean compliance record and experience are also critical, he said. "It’s very difficult for a client advisor to one minute take care of a million-dollar client, and the next minute to be a part of taking care of a hundred-million-dollar client. So we are big on understanding what their experience is, so that we can connect them with the right clients."

Firms also need to develop, institutionalize, and establish training to achieve an exceptional client experience process, Thurman said. "Too often, we are very disciplined in our investment management; very disciplined in our financial planning; very disciplined in our marketing; but we’re not disciplined in our client service," he noted.

STARBUCKS SECRET

Companies like Ritz Carlton, Walt Disney and Starbucks deliver exceptional client service by being disciplined and documenting the process on a daily basis, Thurman maintained. "All those organizations have daily focus meetings, daily stand-up meetings to reinforce their culture that says 'our clients are the center of our universe.' ”
Firms also need "a culture of accountability," he said, to both reward employees that are successful at developing an exceptional client experience and make sure they continue to deliver it."

Too often, wealth management firms undersell great service, Thurman said. "It’s not the bells and whistles, the shiny objects that we might show to impress them," he explained. "It’s truly the great execution, on a timely basis, an accurate basis, a caring basis, of the financial planning, the investment management, and the nuanced other advice that we provide them in the midst of their crises."

STANDARDIZATION VS CUSTOMIZATION

Answering a question from the webinar about how much the client should define the service model, Thurman said BKD tries to standardize 80% of its service, and allow 20% customization.

Very wealthy clients have more leeway, perhaps receiving customization for as much as half of their service needs. "But you do have to own the process along the way, or you will get eaten up," Thurman insisted. "Your profitability will be eroded, because you’re basically allowing all of your clients to kind of wag the dog. I would just be very, very careful and cautious about under valuing the value we provide our clients, as well as being too customizable."

Too much customization means not only less profitability, he noted, but also very likely less quality "because you can’t duplicate [the service], and duplication increases quality."

Charles Paikert

Charles Paikert

Charles Paikert is a senior editor with Financial Planning, a SourceMedia publication.