Critics of financial seminars, including some financial advisors, maintain that the presentations are an expensive time-waster for advisors serving the retiree and pre-retiree markets. Detractors claim the public largely views the programs as thinly disguised, high-pressure sales pitches served over a mediocre restaurant meal. Seminars have become a cliché and it’s time for the industry to drop them.
Not so fast, say advisors who host successful seminars. A timely and informative program can still attract qualified prospects and help build a business. A professional presentation creates a positive image for the presenters and if attendees are seeking an advisor, they will follow up on their own accord, so there’s no need for aggressive selling. Here’s how several advisors are getting good results from their seminars.
Richard Moldenhauer of Moldenhauer & Associates in Orchard Park, New York started doing seminars about 16 years ago. He wanted to avoid the inefficiency of doing initial interviews with individual prospects and concluded it would be more efficient to explain to a group what his firm offers and why a prospect would wish to work with them.
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His firm’s workshops, which focus on estate planning, serve as a mutual screening tool as well as a marketing platform. “It also gives the potential client a chance to look at us, see if they like us, see if they like our message, and decide whether they’re interested in the type of service we have,” he explains. “Our entire process is very low key; it’s not designed to sell anything, (except) perhaps maybe to sell our firm and our ongoing relationship. Most people are out there looking for an advisor that they like and trust; they’re not necessarily looking for a product. So, our process is designed to bring people in that are looking for a long-term advisory relationship.”
Focus your themes
Narrower presentation themes can stand out from broader topics. Joseph Alfonso, CFP with Aegis Financial Advisory LLC in Lake Oswego, Oregon started doing Social Security seminars in January 2014. He wanted a way to differentiate his advisory practice from his generalist local competitors and decided that hosting Social Security workshops could accomplish that goal. Last year, he ran 19 workshops and plans to offer about eight this year. He presents the programs in conjunction with a local community college and an adult community center whose members are age 50 and older. Those organizations handle the publicity and Alfonso says the programs’ attendance has been good.
Of course, some focused topics don’t work out, even for seasoned seminar veterans. Rick Kahler, MSFP with Kahler Financial Group in Rapid City, South Dakota has been holding workshops since 1981. He presents an investment and financial planning class at an adult continuing education center that routinely fills up. In fact, he says people stay up until midnight before the first enrollment day so they can sign up. But there have been flops, he admits, even with unique tools: “I offered one [seminar] on the emotional side of money, the emotional behaviors around investing, and we couldn’t attract one person.”
Seminars don’t have to be aimed at the public. James Groce, CFP with Texas Financial Resources LP in Plano, Texas was put in touch with a worker at a major employer in his area that was offering employees a retirement package. When that worker showed up to meet with Groce, he brought a co-worker who had received the same offer. It turned out to be a complex early-retirement offer that required substantial effort to understand. But Groce waded into the details. “I hesitate to use the word ‘expert,’ but I learned an awful lot about the ins-and-outs of this particular company’s retirement benefits,” he says. “They were impressed with what I was able to show them with regard to accepting the offer and how it would affect the way their financial life would look post-employment and they referred me to some others.”
After four or five appointments, Croce realized he had enough information to build a presentation designed specifically for the company’s employees. Using contacts he had made, he was able to attract other workers to presentations on their benefits. He usually hosts the seminars off-site at a local restaurant in the evening and they’ve become a steady source of business for him. “They were able to get the word out inside the company about my seminars and people started coming,” he says. “And, before I knew it, six months, a year later, I had a pretty good following inside the firm and had a regular source of referrals for retirement planning.”