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As clients age, be there for them

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Financial advisors ignore their aging clients and those clients’ kids at their own peril.

Rick Rummage, principal at the Rummage Group, a Herndon, Va., career consulting firm for financial advisors and an advisor himself, recalls, “I lost a few clients who got older over the years, and I never did get to know their children at all. That’s a big mistake. Remember: Those kids are the ones who are going to inherit your clients’ money.”

Darrick Hutchens, founding partner of Hutchens & Kramer Investment Management Group, an independent advisor firm based in Carmel, Ind., puts it slightly differently.

“In my business, you’d better be taking care of your older clients, because they’re the ones with the money and are also the ones with the most need and who are most at risk,” he says.

Sometimes their offspring can be risks themselves, so rather than picking up those children as clients, “you may end up protecting your client from them,” Hutchens says.

Often, helping an older client can mean doing something that has nothing to do with investments or fees, he says.

“I just had a client who hadn’t bought a new car in 15 years. He needed one, so we sat in my office looking at cars on the Internet, and after he decided what he wanted, I called a few dealers and we negotiated a price on one,” Hutchens says.

“All the client had to do was go over and pick it up,” he says.

For that kind of help and attention, he says he earns trust, sometimes to the point that his clients trust him more than they do their own children.

“I only have one grandparent at this point, But now I view my older clients as my grandparents, too,” Hutchens says. “I try to build a really personal relationship with them.”

Rummage suggests such measures as holding client appreciation days, events to which older clients can bring extended family members, which allows the advisor to meet them. He also likes helping clients set up Section 529 college savings plans for grandchildren.

“Don’t pooh-pooh 529s because they don’t earn you enough of a fee,” Rummage says.

For his part, Hutchens says that rather than earn a fee for opening a 529, he offers to help his clients open those accounts online for free.

“Indiana has a simple online application for opening their 529 plan,” he says.

“My feeling is that if it’s that easy, I’m not doing my fiduciary duty if I don’t show them how to do it themselves. OK, I’m giving away a little business, but at the end of the day it adds a lot to the relationship,” Hutchens says.

And he gets to know the grandkids, in the bargain.

Dave Lindorff spent five years as a China correspondent for Businessweek and has written for The Nation and Salon.com.

This story is part of a 30-day series on how to prosper as an advisor.

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