From the April 2009 issue of Boomer Market Advisor • Subscribe!

April 1, 2009

Increase your boomer reach

When it gets this bad, the need for client contact is magnified significantly. With a steady diet of bad news, it's only natural that boomers want to hear from their financial advisors regularly, if for nothing more than to know their advisors are looking out for their best interests.

One-on-one personal contact is still the gold standard of client service, but that's seldom practical for an advisor with a healthy book of business.

The good news is there are now more tools at your disposal to effectively communicate with clients in a timely manner and on a regular basis. The bad news is that few advisors are properly putting them to use. Some don't use them at all, while many others are only using a fraction of their capabilities.

Joel P. Bruckenstein, CFP, a recognized expert on applied technology for financial professionals and publisher of Virtual Office News (www.joelbruckenstein.com), has been dealing with this subject since the financial crisis began.

"Any time the market goes down or there is increased volatility, clients want to know what's going on," Bruckenstein says. The problem is most advisors don't know how to do that in way that makes efficient and productive use of their time. "As an advisor you need to leverage yourself - do more with the same amount of time."

While personally contacting all your clients - or even just your "A" and "B" clients - can take countless hours and require you to repeat similar messages time and time again, today's tech-savvy boomer clients are usually happy to trade an occasional personal call for a timely update they can access at their convenience. This can come in the form of targeted e-newsletters, conference or video conference calls, Web seminars, blogs, or even automated e-mail alerts set up with client relationship management software.

"Just a fraction of advisors are utilizing these things right now," Bruckenstein says. He puts that number no higher than one out of every three.

Immediate contact
Heading one independent financial planning firm that has recently embraced newer technologies to contact clients during the economic crisis are principals Patrick Collins, CFP, and Joshua P. Itzoe, CFP of Greenspring Wealth Management in Towson, Md., a fee-only practice that serves around 100 clients with net worths of $2 million and above.

Collins says he really hadn't done much with technology before the crisis, but when it ramped up last fall, he and Itzoe took the plunge.

"We knew there was a lot of panic out there. We wanted to contact each client, and we knew that time was of the essence. We knew if we tried to contact each client individually it would take a few weeks," Collins says.

While they still contacted each client individually, they were looking for something immediate. "We thought, let's do a conference call," Collins says. "It was one of those things that was quickly put together, just a few days after the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. We sent out e-mails to clients on a Wednesday, and the call was on a Thursday. We had 35 of our 100 clients on the call."

Lasting close to 45 minutes, the call included a Q&A session where several clients posed questions ranging from FDIC insurance to what might happen with regulation. The conference was recorded and made available on the Greenspring Web site.

"If you need to get information to clients quickly, that's a good way to do it," Collins says. "People were scared and they wanted to know what we thought of things."

The success of that conference call led to a Web seminar in January, titled "The Year in Review: What happened and where are we going?" A simple Google search led to www.Slideshare.net, a site allowing users to put up PowerPoint presentations or Web seminars that can be embedded into other Web sites or even blogs. The presentations can be shared publicly or privately.

"We did the Web seminar this time because we had certain pieces of information we wanted to give clients that was more visual," says Collins. More than 250 people had viewed the Web seminar less than two weeks after it was posted. "The (first) thought was that it was just going to be for clients, but it didn't need to be limited to them."

Collins says technology is making it easier to provide more information in a timely manner. "We can supplement (personal contact) with other means so people that are busy can go to it at their convenience. That seems to be a growing trend," he says.

Use available resources
Taking another tact is Beth Sparks, CFP, vice president, investments, Raymond James and Associates, in Columbus, Ohio (with a satellite office in Lancaster, Ohio). Raymond James resources help Sparks provide clients with current and appropriate information. Her Web site includes weekly expert commentaries and specialized e-newsletters targeted to successful women and owners of small businesses.

"I have had tremendous response from that," Sparks says. "We'll do an e-mail blast that includes a newsletter. It's been a tremendous referral source. We don't actively advertise, but I can tell you we've had a tremendous amount of referrals."

Sparks has created spreadsheets that include a grid where she can denote a contact, which enables her to quickly track who she's spoken to recently. While she aims to talk to every client at least once a year, she talks to most of her "A" and "B" clients at least quarterly if not monthly.

"After 22 years in the industry, I know the one thing a person will leave you for faster than anything else is if you haven't contacted them," Sparks says. "We really feel it is important to talk to as many (clients) as possible. I remember calling one client in the eye of the storm last fall, and he was so appreciative that I had taken the time to check in on him even though he knew he wasn't one of my bigger clients."

Through her client database is a distribution list matched up to target markets that allows Sparks to e-mail appropriate articles out to people who might be most interested, and she can then follow up with a personal contact. Sparks admits not all of her clients are tech-savvy, and some don't even have e-mail addresses.

"It is skewed more to age than assets," Sparks says. "A lot of older folks never embraced e-mails. It is challenging. You want to get the info out to them, but it's more expensive and time-consuming to mail it."

And then there are clients who still prefer a phone call, she says. "What they say is 'I just wanted to hear your voice and know that it's going to be all right.' They want to know we care, and that we respect them and we're working as hard as we can on their behalf."

Sparks said she is currently exploring the use of a blog and BlackBerry to reach more tech-savvy clients. "Technology is incredible because it has allowed me to be a lot more mobile than in the past. It gives me that opportunity to be visible versus a hermit in the office."

But Joel Bruckenstein is bullish on the potential of these technologies making advisors more productive. "One thing at a tipping point right now is mobility solutions," Bruckenstein says, noting that devices like the BlackBerry had until recently only been helpful for retrieving e-mail. "There was not a lot of meaningful stuff available before. That's starting to change. This latest generation of devices - iPhones, G1 with Google, BlackBerry Smartphones - it opens up a whole new world of productivity."


Get automated
If you're getting the most out of customer relationship management technology, you are not alone - but you don't have a lot of company, either. Joel Bruckenstein estimates that only half of advisors use real CRM software, and even most of them aren't using it effectively. He says CRM tools are not just about storing client contact information, but also task automation, reporting, help with marketing and other benefits.

"One simple thing that most people know about but under utilize is automated alerts," Bruckenstein says. "The best systems allow you to take that one step further by doing what I call automated work flows."

Effective task or CRM software allows you to set up automated alerts that will e-mail appropriate contacts when triggered. An automated work flow can involve multiple people and will help you make sure everything gets done when it comes to a new account opening or client follow-up.

"With a simple mouse click you can initiate all of that. Things get done on time, nothing falls through the cracks, and your clients get better service," Bruckenstein says.

And let's not forget in this economy, the key is more client contact - faster, more efficient and as convenient as it can get. "How do you accomplish that? E-mail. Group your clients into various sets and subsets that make sense to you. That way you can communicate with them all when something that affects that group happens," Bruckenstein says.

So get automated by utilizing your CRM tools the way they were intended. Send targeted e-mails and e-newsletters. Hold a conference call or Web seminar, then post it on your Web site. Start a blog. You know boomers are tech-savvy, and if you aren't providing the information they want in the format they want it, they will look for it somewhere else.

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