From the July 2007 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

July 1, 2007

Client Depreciation

While attending a recent broker-dealer conference, I had the opportunity to talk with a group of financial advisors in a relaxed, pub-like atmosphere. Just like in a fraternity, imbibing a few adult beverages among friends often leads to some interesting and entertaining conversation!

It started with one advisor complaining about a pain-in-the-butt client. As the other reps chimed in with their own client-from-hell stories, I asked a simple question: "Why don't you just get rid of them?" What they told me is that there are some clients you just can't fire. In one case, the painful client was the son of the advisor's best client. In another, the thorn in the side was the president of the biggest bank in town, not to mention responsible for some very good referrals. It's tough to whack the hand that feeds you.

Now, these reps weren't worried that their livelihood would be affected if they lost these clients. What they didn't like was how it would look if they asked the client to go elsewhere. "Wouldn't it be great," I asked, "if you could get your client to think it was his own idea to leave?" It was then, in a smoke-filled bar, after three scotches, that the idea for a Client Depreciation dinner was born.

You've heard of the Client Appreciation dinner, of course, where you thank your clients for all their business. The purpose of spending the big bucks for the roast beef buffet is to give your clients the illusion that they are very important to you. The purpose of the Client Depreciation dinner is to get your worst clients to leave you -- to join the competition and make somebody else's life miserable.

If you're not quite sure how to go about setting up your own seminar, here are some suggestions:

Pick the right location. Every community has at least one eating establishment where no one in their right mind would go. Ideally, your restaurant will have recently had a salmonella or e-coli outbreak.

Don't send invitations. Have your assistant call your undesirables about 15 minutes before your dinner is to start. Nothing says you mean nothing to me more than a last-minute invitation.

Select the proper food and beverages. You definitely want a cash bar here. For appetizers, have the restaurant staff prepare two mostly empty appetizer trays. The trays should be set out 10 minutes before any guests arrive. Some half-eaten cocktail shrimp along the edges of the platter is a nice finishing touch. And when the guests ask for more, instruct the waiter to say this is all you paid for.

Late, late, late. Nothing should start on time. Instruct the staff to be extremely slow about everything. The minimum time from ordering anything to receiving it should be at least 45 minutes. Naturally, the food should be brought out cold.

The main course. Pigs in a blanket, macaroni and cheese, spaghettios, or anything left over from last week is fine. Again, serve at room temperature.

Guest speaker. Here's where your relationships with wholesalers pay off. Find the oldest, hairiest, most out-of-shape wholesaler you can to be the featured speaker. Make him give his talk in a Speedo.

Coffee and dessert. Serve the coffee and wait until it's all gone before you serve the dessert. After removing all beverages from the room, pass out the jalape?o pie and thank everyone for coming. It is important that you are the first one to leave. Make sure everyone sees you go. If your seminar is on a Tuesday night, you might say, "Oh damn, I've got to get out of here to catch American Idol." (Who cares if the season's over?)

The competition. Right outside the door, be sure to set up a table with a cooler of bottled ice water on it. Invite the youngest, most pimply-faced Merrill Lynch trainee you can find to sit at the table and hand out water. Tell him it's OK to bad-mouth you and hand out his business card.

The following day, be sure to send a bill to everyone who attended. Ask them to drop the cash off at your office to cover the great meal. If all goes as planned, those troublesome clients of yours will be stampeding out the front door, eager to find another financial advisor to drive crazy.

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Once a mildly amusing comedian and a recruiter for a top independent broker-dealer, Bill Miller now works as an industry wholesaler; reach him at writingbill@mac.com.

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