Figuring out how to get centers of influence — lawyers and accountants — to send clients their way puzzles even some long-time financial planning industry veterans.
Making such a strategy even trickier is the reality that many CPAs see financial advisors as rivals.
“In short, some of our members are financial planners, so it would be a very awkward discussion,” says Marc Eiger, a spokesman for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
Ann Coulson, a CFP and an assistant professor of financial planning at Kansas State University, concedes that her school has “a gaping hole in our curriculum” about exactly how her students should pursue such a recommended but difficult marketing strategy.
Next semester, she plans to develop a way to teach undergraduates enrolled in the university program’s capstone course about how to get referrals from centers of influence.
For tips on that curriculum, Coulson and other practicing advisors may want to turn to the centers of influence directly.
Beth Regan, who was a senior tax manager at KPMG before starting her own CPA firm in San Diego, has formed some opinions about when and why to refer clients to advisors.
“I have been burned in the past. I referred people to financial advisors, and they have ended up losing money,” Regan says.
She says she took some hits with those referrals.
“When things aren’t good, it’s a reflection on me, so I really have to be careful,” Regan says.
After she referred some clients to advisors who drew their compensation through commissions on transactions, the clients reported back to Regan that they weren’t happy. They believed that the advisor to whom she had referred them had engaged in churning their accounts.
Since then, Regan has followed a policy of restricting her referrals, sending clients only to fee-based advisors.
She also prefers advisors who have an accounting professional background. Regan doesn’t view advisors who are CPAs as rivals but rather as more knowledgeable financial planners.
They are “not doing investment planning in a vacuum,” and “they understand the tax implications,” she says.
What can really put a dent in her enthusiasm for sending clients to a particular advisor, though, is receiving a cold call from that advisor, Regan says.
She understands that advisors who are starting out may resort to cold-calling, and perhaps other CPAs who are starting their own practices will be receptive to those entreaties.
But with a mature practice and a surfeit of clients, Regan doesn’t need advisors to reciprocate and send new clients her way.
So her wish to be protective of clients trumps any empathy she has for cold-calling advisors.
“I wouldn’t refer anybody who wasn’t referred to me by someone,” Regan says.
Miriam Rozen writes about the financial advisory industry and is a staff reporter for Texas Lawyer.
This story is part of a 30-day series on how to generate the best referrals.
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