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Financial Planning > Behavioral Finance

Advisors underestimate time it takes for clients to give referrals

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Financial advisors are operating under the impression that their clients are willing to provide referrals for them much quicker than they actually are.

The findings, contained in a recent report by Prudential Financial (Prudential) found that financial advisors’ miscalculations regarding the time it takes for a client to be comfortable enough to provide a referral could be impacting their practice. If referrals — a major source of business for financial professionals — are not manifesting as quickly as imagined, advisors may need to recalibrate their projections and look at alternative ways to drum up business.

Prudential’s report, “Referrals: A Matter of Trust” was based off of data collected in 2011 from 800 clients and 400 financial professionals. The report found that clients take an average of 4.8 years to be comfortable enough to recommend a financial advisor, more than twice as long as the 2.1 years advisors anticipated.

The report found that clients experience a high degree of social risk when it comes to recommending an advisor. There is a palpable concern that the referral may backfire (either because of a downturn in the market or because of ineptitude on the part of the advisor) and a scenario where friends or family enter into financial hardship due to their referral is a terrifying one for them.

Client survey respondents stated that recommending a financial advisor has higher social risk than recommending an accountant, primary care physician or dentists.

Despite the unsettling findings, referrals are an integral component of the business model for financial professionals. Advisors need to cultivate a nurturing environment in order for referrals to flourish.

The Prudential paper found that 56 percent of clients surveyed reported they have provided referrals with another 36 percent reporting that they would consider doing so.

There are certain factors clients value, which, when met, can lead to the facilitation of the referral process. Clients reported they were much more likely to provide a referral if their advisor exhibits strong relationship management skills and remains accessible. Other values important to clients included setting realistic goals, providing a written financial plan and the reputation and stability of the advisor’s firm.

“There are clearly a number of steps financial advisors can take to increase the likelihood that a client will make a referral,“ said Rodeny Allain, senior vice president and National Sales Director for Prudential Annuities. “While the value of performance and communication are well understood, the importance of the length of the client relationship to building trust and referrals may be underestimated. Tracking relationships and following up with clients when they are most receptive to secure referrals is one additional dimension to the referral picture.”  


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