Its become more important than ever to keep your affluent clients happy and loyal to your firm. As Ive pointed out before, there are more than 420,000 financial advisors out there vying to serve the high-net-worth market. And did you know that a significant number of affluent investors are looking to consolidate?
More than half of high-net-worth clients say they prefer to work with a single firm to manage all of their financial needs, according to a report by Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management.
In this environment, the message is clear: You have to become indispensable to your ideal clients. Doing so also makes clients more likely to refer you. And think about it: How would your practice change if you could duplicate your 10 best clients?
BUILD YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
As I see it, there are two key factors to becoming indispensable to the affluent clients you most want to work with. The first is a strong relationship. So ask yourself: What steps are you taking to deepen the relationships your firm has with its best clients?
Look at your current relationship-building model. Is it blueprinted? Can someone else on your team deliver it other than you? If not, youve got a big opportunity to improve.
Consider making someone in your practice a client relationship czar a person who will take ownership of client relationships and inspire your team to work together to wow top clients. This should be someone other than you: Your job is to remain focused on building your business and acting as the chief rainmaker.
Have your czar create a 12-month plan to address and strengthen identified areas of weakness. One great way to do that: Conduct an annual client survey asking clients to rate your firm on investment satisfaction, service satisfaction and overall satisfaction with the people at your firm. Every year, your czar can use the answers from that client survey to create a gap analysis. (The survey also can serve as a benchmarking tool when determining bonuses for staff; see page 33 for more on incentive pay.)
Also, leverage total client profiles across the firm. Make sure a profile of each client is easily accessible to everyone who interacts with clients, so that each team member can pull up a clients information instantly whenever a call comes in.
The profile should include details about each clients personality and communication preferences so that your staff knows to communicate differently with, say, a client who is nervous about investing and a client who enjoys taking risks and likes discussing stock market ups and downs. If you treat those two types of clients the same way, you are showing yourself to simply be a production machine and not someone who is personalized, high touch and indispensable.
One possible exception here, by the way: If you have clients who place extreme value on their privacy and expect you to do the same, then sharing their profile with your entire team could be seen as a breach of that trust.
Also consider starting a client advisory board: Invite a select group of top clients to share their insights, ideas and advice about your business. Such a forum involves regularly scheduled, in-person group meetings to discuss key practice management issues and to brainstorm creative solutions together. By giving these top clients regular opportunities to offer business-related ideas as well as feedback on your initiatives you will receive high-value insights from successful people who are responsible for your success (and who care greatly about your future).
If you can get these clients to collaborate and make them feel part of your team, they will want to help you. Advisors who do use client advisory boards tell us that these clients are generally extremely happy to participate.
The other key factor in making yourself indispensable is a more sophisticated approach to planning. How are you increasing the value you bring to the table for your best clients?
I have long stressed the idea that if your value proposition is based entirely on investment performance, you will take a severe hit at some point. Its not an if; its a when. And it wont require a market correction to happen. If the markets are up 20% but your clients are up only 10%, you will hear from them.
You have to go beyond investments and offer something special that sets you apart. This is where the concepts of advanced planning and expert networks are so valuable. Advanced planning a cornerstone of my firms coaching means offering services aimed at meeting clients most important non-investment needs, from tax mitigation to wealth protection to estate transfer and charitable gifting.
You can do so by using a network of outside experts typically CPAs, private client attorneys, insurance specialists and others. Managing those outside expert relationships is a crucial part of effective advanced planning, but its an area where financial advisors often struggle. Remember that, just like with your clients, you want members of your professional network to essentially look at you in awe and say, I cant live without that guy!
One strategy that has worked well with advisors we coach is sharing client insights. When you complete a clients total client profile, ask the client to sign a release allowing you to send a copy of it to his or her CPA or attorney. Let those professionals know that your goal is to help your mutual client address his or her financial life comprehensively, and to do so by collaborating with his or her other professional advisors. (Again, the caveat holds that this may not be appropriate for clients who place a premium on privacy.)
This approach yields several benefits. For one, it demonstrates to your peers that you are trustworthy and have your clients best interests in mind. And by sharing the client profile, you show yourself to be a team player which helps alleviate a common fear among CPAs and attorneys that they will lose control of the client relationship if they share their clients with advisors.
Finally, it sets the stage for more referrals down the road as you develop closer relationships with these professionals.
SMARTER CLIENT EVENTS
Another strategy our client advisors have used is to hold unique, nonfinancial client events, which reward clients but also let you demonstrate your amazing client experience in front of non-planner peers.
To really stand out, some top financial advisors have begun holding client events that focus on issues such as happiness and other non-financial matters. They invite not only clients but also members of their team of experts, and report that the outside experts walk away impressed by the way these advisors bring value to their clients lives. The professionals tell their partners and co-workers, resulting in greater trust in the advisors and more business referred their way.
You can also use these experts as great sources of insight for your advanced planning. Through conversations with these centers of influence, you can build out advanced resources and connections that you can offer to your clients making it difficult for other advisors to compete.
These resources dont even need to have anything to do with wealth management. One example from an advisor we coach: A vetted list of tutors, nannies and other child-focused professionals that she can give to busy corporate executive clients who are parents.
One last thought: When working on advanced planning strategies for clients, be sure to capture the results. Its easy for people to forget what you do for them, so make sure you have the tools needed to remind them.
Create a document that details the steps you will take to improve each clients financial life. Every time you complete a task, highlight it; then present the document at your regular client progress meetings. Not only will these progress reports deepen your clients trust in you and boost their loyalty, but they can also motivate clients to take even more actions on their own.
At that point, you will truly have become indispensable.
John J. Bowen Jr., a Financial Planning columnist, is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide, a global training, research and consulting firm for advisors in San Martin, Calif.
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