Ritz-Carlton is a term that has become synonymous with “high-end luxury.” This is not surprising when one realizes that Ritz-Carlton invests 10% of their payroll on employee training. Financial advisors who embrace “Ritz-Carlton” service embrace a service ethic that responds to the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of the client, along with an uncompromising commitment to client service that is unique, memorable, unexpected, and personal.
Example: Remember the little things. At Ritz-Carlton, employees are encouraged to remember the personal tastes of all guests. For example, when a guest orders room service, their individual requests are noted for the future, e.g. Coke or Pepsi? Ritz-Carlton remembers. During your next client meeting in your office, make a note as to what beverage your clients prefer, e.g. coffee, tea, water, soda.
More than any other professional and trusted advisor, financial advisors have the ability to stay connected to their clients in a meaningful and authentic manner. For those advisors who successfully identify who they want to serve, and how to serve them, the rewards are many. Client engagement is the engine that drives this connection.
Case Study: Melanie Martin
Growing up, Melanie Martin wanted to be a pediatrician. Today, she organizes and manages the finances of professional athletes earning in excess of $10 million per year. (This is not her real name. Due to the high-profile nature of her clients, Melanie requests that we use an assumed name in this article.)
Melanie’s first professional athlete client was a top NBA player who didn’t own any property because he was unable to obtain a loan due to a terrible credit history. Melanie recalls their first conversation. “How much have you saved?” Melanie asked. “Ten in the bank and another forty at Charles Schwab,” the athlete responded. “Thousand?” Melanie inquired. “Million,” he responded. Through persistence and education, Melanie was able to show the young star how to get more involved in and be accountable for his own financial life, walking him through the credit process and guiding him to the purchase of his first property. Soon thereafter, the star transferred all of his money over to Melanie. After much effort and working side-by-side with Melanie, he improved his FICO score to 800+ (starting from less than 500!) Today, Melanie works with 15 of the best NBA players, all of whom have signed multi-year contracts for $30-40-50+ million. She never markets, prospects or advertises. Every one of her clients has come to her by word-of-mouth.
Melanie is an expert at “tough love.” She works with the athletes directly, and never works through the agents and hangers-on. She is a master at communicating openly and honestly with her clients, and doesn’t pull any punches. Melanie often says to her clients, “The only person who prevents you from going broke is me.” Melanie’s bold statement is supported by facts. More than 70% of NBA athletes end their careers broke and in debt.
When she begins a relationship, she leads with budgeting, establishes spending limits, and makes sure that her clients stick to it. During their initial meetings all of her clients are issued an ATM card with strict guidelines to adhere to their limits. For emergencies, they also have a credit card. Melanie informs her clients that if they exceed their limits they’ll be cut off. Sure enough, if the athletes pierce their agreed-upon spending limits for two straight months (which most of them do), Melanie shuts down their cards.
It’s not glamorous work. Melanie spends much of her mornings going through the ATM and credit card records of all of her athlete-clients. Following the money trail, she knows the most intimate details about all of her clients, and is not shy about revealing her knowledge of their whereabouts and free-spending habits.
She answers her phone 24/7 for them, and has received all sorts of calls over the years, from attorneys, police departments, and casinos. On numerous occasions she has received calls over the weekend from irate clients who have been denied access to their accounts by Melanie due to their profligate spending behaviors. “I’m going to fire you on Monday,” they say. “Fine with me. But if I didn’t care about you I’d let you go broke,” Melanie says. After eight years, she hasn’t lost an NBA client yet.
Interestingly, Melanie doesn’t like basketball very much, never asks for tickets from her clients, doesn’t hang with the “entourage” (who often are fearful of her) and absolutely never does dinner with her clients. “I’m here for business,” she says. Nonetheless, Melanie is fiercely protective of her clients. More than anything, she views her mission as guiding her clients to become fully accountable for their own money choices.
Typically, for the first two years of these relationships, it is a thankless job. Many of her clients become quite angry when she reins in their extravagant habits. It is also not as financially lucrative as one might think. Indeed, for the first year Melanie is focused on guiding the clients to adopt smart spending behaviors. Investing is almost an afterthought. With some clients, Melanie has worked for “free” for the first year or two and invests little beyond safe, and liquid, short-term investments.
The other reality is that working with top professional athletes, although interesting and rewarding, is exceptionally demanding, requiring a lot of emotional and psychic energy. She is continuously fending off other advisors who attempt to poach her clients. Generally, it takes 2-3 years for Melanie’s NBA clients to learn how to stay within budget, and that they can’t “have it all.”
However, the real satisfaction for Melanie is seeing her clients learn to be more actively involved. The key to Melanie’s success is twofold: her ability to communicate truthfully and sincerely to her clients and to involve them directly in their financial decisions, as well as the respect that her clients have for her and the knowledge that Melanie’s driving purpose is to serve them. Melanie has taken client engagement to the extreme…differentiating herself and her team, uniquely qualifying them to be the best at what they do.