This Valentine’s day, do you imagine receiving client fan letters of loyalty and appreciation—or “Dear John” letters of annoyance and adieu?
Competition among financial advisors is as fierce as it’s ever been—and now, of course, robo-advisors have muscled their way into the fray. So making sure to safeguard your practice from aggressive competitors is nothing else than essential.
It starts with being transparent, specializing, and taking a proactive approach. Also: Be a communicator par excellence.
Vital to adding new clients and keeping the ones you have is to connect with them emotionally. Indeed, 84% of affluent investors with more than $1 million want to first connect on an emotional level with their advisors and then justify engaging them based on logic, according to 2005–2006 research conducted by CEG Worldwide, coaches to top FAs.
Alas, “most advisors are terrible at making that emotional connection. The most powerful way is by sharing why they’re passionate about serving their particular niche,” says John Bowen, CEG’s CEO, based in San Martin, California.
A proactive mode that anticipates client needs seems basic; yet many advisors let folks down. Nowadays, a paramount need is to keep investors informed about activity in their portfolios.
“These times call for maximum transparency. Clients have an insatiable appetite to understand what’s going on,” says Ron Carson, CEO-founder of Carson Institutional Alliance and Carson Wealth Management Group, with 19 locations nationally.
Carson, headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, and his advisors send clients trade notifications whenever they make adjustments in investment strategies, explaining—in layperson’s terms—their rationale for reducing or adding.
“Clients love it. They tell us that sharing this information makes them feel much more comfortable with the strategies they’re invested in,” Carson notes.
Further, four times a week in all Carson offices, advisors hold group meetings for clients and prospects. Each has a theme: “Macro Monday,” “Technical Tuesday,” “Wealth Enhancement Wednesday” and “Thorough Thursday”—the last, a deep dive into selected holdings.
“We’ve opened up the hood: Clients can listen to what our thinking is and ask questions,” Carson says.
Without a doubt, when it comes to fees and expenses, the need for transparency is critical; and the sooner FAs realize that, the better.
“For advisors to hold on with a deathlike grip to the old way of doing things, where no one knew how much they were paying, what they were paying for and what they were getting into isn’t going to fly,” says Phil Fragasso, founder of the service, Audit Your Financial Advisor. Concerned clients hire him to evaluate their advisors’ investment strategies, portfolio performance and fees.
“Most of my clients have no idea how their advisor gets paid,” says Fragasso, a former RIA firm president. “People come to me because they either don’t understand [their investments], or they think that something isn’t right—and usually something isn’t right.”
Fragasso’s audits result in 80% of clients leaving their advisors within weeks of reading his reports. Frequently these show advisor negligence, fee obfuscation or that they’re simply not doing what a competent FA is paid to do.
“Most advisors built their businesses on charm and personality as opposed to true investing smarts,” Fragasso says. “What I find most egregious in the portfolios is the lack of asset allocation and true diversification.” Also, he often discovers that the stated objective—say, income generation—has “absolutely no connection with the investments, which may be too conservative or way too aggressive.”
Being open, as opposed to obscuring fees and charges, is what clients, on guard since the financial meltdown, require. It’s an uncomfortable, if not bad, scene for investor and advisor when a client opens their statement and shocked, phones the FA: “What’s this $50 charge for!”
To be sure, “explaining fees to the client proactively helps them trust the advisor,” says Joni Youngwirth, managing principal-practice management, at Commonwealth Financial Network, based in Waltham, Massachusetts. “Greater transparency allows for greater trust. Greater trust means the client is less likely to be wooed away by some other advisor.”
The best way for traditional FAs to safeguard their business from the “robo-advisor movement,” says Fragasso, is by “building relationships and educating clients about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and being transparent around the portfolios.”
Protecting your practice requires specializing in a particular area; for example, retirement planning. This acts to establish and promote your expertise.
“The more specific you are, the more targeted to your specialty, the more clients you’re going to keep, absolutely,” says Mike Kaselnak, founder-principal, 5Q Group, in Rochester, Minnesota. He coaches FAs on how to make clients aware that their current advisors are taking advantage of them.
Pinpointing a specialty is enhanced by publishing articles, and even books. This confers to the advisor the sheen of celebrity in their market.
Alongside that, to stand out from the competition, offer clients something distinctive. Bowen cites how two big consumer companies have done it: Enterprise, which grabbed the No. 1 rent-a-car spot away from Hertz with the perk of free customer pick-up, and Domino’s, rising to the top with their former—ultimately tragically ill-fated—30-minutes-or-less pizza delivery guarantee.
One way FAs can distinguish themselves, Bowen suggests, is by sharing with clients their unique back-stories about the passion they felt for entering financial services.
You’ve read it before, and here it is again: To be highly successful and stave off competitors, excellent client communication is imperative. Poor communication is “the No. 1 reason” clients leave their advisors, according to Kaselnak.
“People don’t always hear from their advisors, so clients have to do the reaching out,” Kaselnak says. “That isn’t the way to keep clients.” He recommends twice-a-month contact, at least, with a snail-mailed newsletter and an email, both highlighting content about the FA personally, such as a recent vacation or family celebration. Neither communique should be about client investments.
“If you want to safeguard your clients,” Kaselnak says, “make them ‘client-friends.’ The way to do that is not always talking about money, money, money—investments, investments investments. If I go on a date and the only thing I talk about is sex, the girl knows that’s all that’s on my mind. If I only talk to clients about their accounts, they [think] the only reason they’re my client is that I want their money.”