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How to Form a Client Advisory Board

With more than 400,000 financial advisors serving the affluent, you need to deliver an exceptional client service offering and run a great business if you want to stand out. One of the best ways to do exactly that is to go to the source: your existing clients.

More advisors are beginning to enlist their top clients in advisory boards — focus groups made up of highly valuable clients who are both willing and able to help you enhance the overall effectiveness of your firm.

These boards bring top clients into the fold, creating a structure for advisors to solicit their advice and get insights into the firm’s client experience.

These insights should tell you a great deal about what’s working and what needs improving, directly from the people you serve — and want to serve more of. Meanwhile, the clients you invite to join your board usually end up highly invested in your success, and can represent your firm to their friends, family and colleagues.
An effective board design should provide you with insights and strategies from a group of smart people brainstorming in a collaborative, work-focused environment.

These boards should serve as a much more formal and business-oriented way to engage clients in the future of your business. They are quite different from, say, client appreciation events, which really just give you a chance to thank clients for their loyalty.


There’s a good reason to include clients in your business initiatives: Your clients view your success as an advisor and entrepreneur as an important part of their own overall success.

Clients, especially affluent ones, want to know that they are working with top people. Therefore, they have a vested interest in helping you enhance your success and position in the industry. And they want you to continue to provide them with the world-class service and solutions they require.

Meanwhile, a board can strengthen the bonds you have with the clients who are most responsible for your success. You should be able to gain several benefits:

  • Ensure a world-class client experience. Your client service model is integral to your long-term success. A client advisory board is an excellent resource for learning whether you are truly executing as promised — or if you need to make improvements. 
  • Benchmark yourself against your competitors. Chances are, even your best clients do not have all their wealth with your firm. We know that high-net-worth investors tend to diversify their exposure to any single advisor; a full 97.5% of clients with more than $2 million in investable assets have multiple advisors, for example, according to a study from industry consultants Russ Alan Prince and David Geracioti. A board gives you a forum to ask your top clients how you compare with other advisors they work with; you can then make improvements as needed to give you a competitive advantage.
  • Conduct targeted market research. Your top existing clients have the key insights and knowledge about your client base, your target niche, your wealth management offering and other aspects of your business. Approaching them directly is both more efficient and more cost effective than other market research options — such as hiring expensive professionals.
  • Generate greater client loyalty. Asking top clients for their ideas and feedback is not a sign of weakness, as some advisors initially think. To the contrary, it sends a message that you respect and value your clients’ opinions on issues of great importance. And by acting on their feedback and incorporating their ideas into your own initiatives, you can deliver to clients the exact type of service experience that they want.
  • Engage top clients in the success of your firm. The Pareto principle holds that 20% of your effort generally yields 80% of your end results; for many advisors, the top 20% of clients account for approximately 80% of total revenues. By giving these key clients systematic opportunities to provide you with business-related ideas and feedback, you will receive high-value insights from successful people who are vested in your future.
  • Identify new opportunities. Our research has shown that the best way to develop your business is through referrals. One of the most effective ways to find and reach out to sources of new business is through your existing top clients — many of whom are respected, powerful and well-connected leaders in their fields, with a deep understanding of the unique needs of their communities. Having a formal way to tap into such knowledge will help you understand the key needs of your target market and identify ways to expand your business through referrals and introductions.


You must recruit the right clients to get a board up and running. Use the following three-step process.

First, identify ideal board members. These should be highly profitable clients who can bring skills and perspectives to the table that are complementary to your own.

In particular, look for clients who have specific skills or experiences that relate to your target niche market. Ideal board members should also be those who are willing to collaborate with others and who work well in a group setting. And, of course, they’ll need to be willing — eager, preferably — to join your board.

You should end up with a board of 12 to 15 ideal clients. That will be large enough to generate plenty of good ideas but small enough to be manageable.

Next, conduct an initial meeting. Tell each client on your list that you’re developing a new approach to marketing and business development and say that you would like to take them to lunch to get their input about your plan.

You don’t have to explain the board concept before the initial meeting. In fact, you may not want to — because you’re actually going to use that lunch to decide if the client can provide the high-value insights you’re looking for.


Ask the client to identify and share with you the most important aspects of working with you: Why the client chose you, what the client most values about your relationship and how you should position yourself to work with similar people. Use their responses to help you identify and clarify your value proposition for use in your marketing.

At that point, if the interview was worthwhile, you can invite the client to be a member of the board. Tell the selected clients that you are creating a formal client advisory board, and invite them to join. Explain that you’ll be asking them to meet as a group two to three times per year to share their perspectives on key client experience and marketing issues you are focused on.

And ask them to commit only to your first meeting. That way they can decide if they want to continue to participate based on their initial experience.

Naturally, you’ll want to thank clients for serving on the board. An annual lunch or dinner at a nice restaurant is a typical way of showing gratitude.

Many of your most valuable clients, if given the opportunity, would be eager to provide you with business insights and resources. Once you have signed them on as board members, you can use the resulting insights to improve your practice and help you progress toward your goals.

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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