When the Dow closed above 20,000 in January, it was big news, even though many wealth managers pointed out that it was just another number.

But that comment did not register with many would-be stock buyers. When the stock market is doing well, investors tend to feel giddy. A rising market seems to foster a feeling that the market will certainly rise some more, even though that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

I’m no market prognosticator, but here is something I can promise you: At some point stock prices will dive. That begs the question: How ready are you for client questions and demands the next time the market plummets?

READY FOR A FALL?
To fulfill your duty as a trusted adviser, you need to have a crash communication strategy ready to execute. Ideally, you have this strategy in place before that next sharp decline occurs.

Your communication efforts will have a big impact on your clients’ confidence and trust in you. The difference between advisers who excel during difficult times and those whose businesses suffer lies in how well they communicate. Advisers who do so successfully will bring in substantial new assets.

Indeed, the market's ups and downs can be very useful. Sharp fluctuations can provide you with an opportunity to call your clients and remind them that their investment plans have been designed to hold up over the long term and that short-term market moves are not terribly relevant as long as they have set a prudent course of action.

A turbulent market offers a chance to review clients’ plans, to revisit asset allocation and rebalance if needed, or simply to help them see that everything is still on track. In some cases, you can even position yourself to receive significant additional assets from high-net-worth clients.

The key to success is having a plan in place and knowing what to focus on so you can reach out immediately with the confidence clients need from you during an uncertain and challenging environment.

STAY IN TOUCH
Research by my firm, CEG Worldwide, shows that advisers who maintain frequent contact with their clients generate much more satisfaction and loyalty than advisers who focus mostly or entirely on the financial markets themselves. This client-centric approach leads to more assets under management from those clients, more introductions to ideal prospective clients and ultimately a more successful practice.

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During the market downturn of 2001, advisers who focused on client contact captured 30 times as many additional assets as their colleagues who focused on investments.

During the market downturn of 2001, for example, advisers who focused on client contact rather than investment strategies captured 30 times as many additional assets as their colleagues who focused solely on investments.

This finding has been further reinforced by another survey CEG Worldwide did, which clearly shows that highly successful advisers have more client contact. The chart “More Client Contact Equals More Income” shows that communication with top clients occurs far more often among high-income advisers than among their lower-earning counterparts.

Specifically, just 29% of the moderate-income group have contact their top clients at least once a month, compared with 59.4% of the high earners. More than a quarter (27.1%) of the moderate-income group contact each of their top 20 clients just two or three times a year or even less. Among the high-income group, only 8.1% neglect client contact to this degree.

You can see that increasing client outreach is the smart move when markets are volatile. But how will you go about making contact in a smart, systematic way that assures clients and gets good results?

I suggest you start by calling the top 20% of your clients as well as those clients who you think will need the most hand holding (also any clients who may be active traders). You might even want to schedule in-person visits with these clients.

Then work your way down the list to smaller clients and those who are less sensitive to market fluctuations. Remember that even your most rational clients may be nervous or begin questioning their strategy if market-driven events are scary enough. Don’t skip clients simply because you think they’re not worried. Trust me, if something comes along to remind investors of 2008, they’ll all be concerned.

Make contacts with these clients your top priority, even if it means that you have to devote a significant portion of your day to them.

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It’s likely that most of your affluent clients have multiple financial providers.

The reason: It’s likely that most of your affluent clients have multiple financial providers. Many of these other financial providers will fail to be proactive and will not reach out to these clients. By contrast, you will be the one who is actually there when they need you. By focusing and acting immediately, you will not only help your clients get through a tough period, you will position yourself to receive significant additional assets.

Conversely, let’s say your clients’ other advisers do reach out to them right away. If you fail to do the same, you risk damaging the client relationship and losing assets.

THE ACTUAL DISCUSSION
Prepare notes of what you’ll say to each client or group of clients. Be ready to discuss the particulars of the market and the recent events, of course, adding your own perspective as well as insights from any trusted sources you rely on, such as your custodian or other institutions you work with, economists, and money managers you use or respect.

That said, do not get caught focusing entirely on the markets or getting too analytical and wonkish. The fact is, a lot of your clients will simply want to hear from you and be reassured that the sky isn’t falling. You can remind them of their long-term plan or of the investment policy statement you carefully created with them (if you have done so). You might even remind them of the fact that many investors panicked and moved to cash in 2008 and 2009 and later missed out on a big part of the market rally that followed.

Perhaps most important, let them know that they are still well on the way to meeting their long-term goals. This is a perfect opportunity to strengthen that all-important emotional connection that today’s clients want from their advisers. And whatever you do, don’t use the market’s bad news to try to sell clients a new product or service. That can damage trust quickly.

Finally, make sure to ask about something personal — their families, their business, any recent vacations they’ve taken and so on. This tells them that they’re more than just numbers to you and that you care about them as people. That deeper level of interest can help promote better client satisfaction and loyalty in any environment — and especially when times are uncertain. It can also help take their minds off the headlines.

In the end, reaching out effectively to your clients right after a major market decline will not only reassure them and help them to manage during an uncertain time, it will also provide you with valuable opportunities to capture additional assets and bring new clients to your door.

But you have to be ready to roll.

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John J. Bowen Jr.

John J. Bowen Jr.

John J. Bowen Jr., a Financial Planning columnist, is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide, a global coaching, training, research and consulting firm for advisers in San Martin, California. Follow him on Twitter at @CEGAdvisorCoach.