Conrad Siegel leapt onto Financial Planning's list of the country's RIA Leaders this year after adding one client -- a large educational institution -- with $2 billion in assets under management.

Learning how to work effectively with large institutions and their executives is helping to drive growth for the Harrisburg, Pa.-based firm, says its president, Tara Mashack-Behney.

"In order to stand out to your client, you need to not only meet but beat their expectations," Mashack-Behney says.

The firm has longstanding ties to larger institutions; its parent company, Conrad Siegel Actuaries, provides actuarial services for defined benefit plans and record-keeping services for 401(K) plans.


Over time, the executives running the client firms wanted more help with their own retirements, Mashack-Behney says. In 2002, the parent firm launched Conrad Siegel Investment Advisors to serve its retirement plan clients. It went on to become one of the largest employee benefits firms in its area, serving both the city of Harrisburg and the state of Pennsylvania.

"They said, 'Gee, when I'm ready to retire, could you help me with that?'" she recalls. Among the questions she hears: "If you retire with $1 million, can you take $2,000 a year or can you take $20,000 a year?"

"People are looking for guidance," she adds.

Over the last 12 years, those executive clients have helped the firm attract a wider array of individuals. "Now we have about 40% of individual clients who have no affiliation with Conrad Siegel," Mashack-Behney says. "Each year that number seems to be increasing."


Mashack-Behney outlines a few principles that she says have helped the firm succeed with high-powered clients, she says:

1. Watch the clock. Executives are busy people, Mashack-Behney notes. "You will gain credibility if you go into a meeting and stick to the time you and your clients have agreed upon to address the agenda."

2. Cut to the chase. For similar reasons, advisors should be able to zero in on the issues that really matter to clients. "We've seen lots of advisors inundate clients with information and backup for their recommendations. Clients are busy and probably don't have the time or interest to read a textbook after your meeting. They just want enough information so that they feel good about any decision they need to make."

3. Emphasize the quantitative. The firm's facility with numbers and the ability to make reasoned projections appeals to executives as much as it does to institutions, she thinks. "Having that actuarial influence has guided us to taking a very scientific look at the numbers," and yields customized solutions for each client's risk profile, she says. "We base our recommendations to clients on all of the research and kind of models and optimization tools that we've developed."

4. Listen well. High-powered executives are used to getting respect from the people around them. "It can be disastrous if you stick to a canned presentation and don't address the key issues," she says. "Remember it's about the client, not the advisor."

5. Ask questions. "If a client doesn't stop you during a presentation and ask questions, don't assume that that means they are onboard or understand everything you've said.  Ask questions to see how they feel to ensure you are on the right track."

6. Work in teams. Wealthy clients want to know that advisors have "depth within the organization," Mashack-Behney says. "No matter how great the advisor, it's more comforting to the client if they know the support system that that advisor and client really has."

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