To me, a client is never just a business transaction, a meeting on my calendar or a knowledge transfer. I feel a great responsibility to my clients who, over time, become like family.
When you consider what is entrusted to advisors — our clients’ goals, dreams, concerns, security and comfort — it’s easy to understand why trust, deference and respect are paramount to this relationship. So is going above the call of duty, which is why I continually challenge myself to do more to ensure my clients are taken care of now and in the future.
Here are a few ways financial advisors can go above and beyond for their extended family of valued clients.
1. Bring all of their advisors together
I tell my clients, “You are the CEO of your family.” Successful CEOs have a cabinet of advisors to help them make complicated decisions. Your client’s personal cabinet can include a financial planner, legal counsel, insurance agent, accountant and wealth manager.
Traditionally, these advisors work in silos. However, these experts should come together to make sure their financial counsel works in harmony — ensuring the client is taking the most effective steps to meet his or her financial goals. I would even recommend that one advisor takes the lead and chairs the cabinet to facilitate the discussion, with the client present.
2. Designate beneficiaries
Many clients go through the sometimes cumbersome and overwhelming processes of financial planning and wealth management, but forget to complete the process with estate planning. Estate planning is a crucial step in making sure a client can disburse their personal estate after death, while minimizing gift, estate, generation-skipping and income tax.
Remember, if your client doesn’t have a plan, the state will create one in his or her stead, and it might not accommodate your client’s wishes.
Having a plan is only the first step. Too often, we find clients fail to properly title their assets to align with the plan, but an unfunded estate plan is no plan at all. Advisors should also remind clients to designate beneficiaries on all assets, including money, insurance, valuables and retirement accounts.
Estate plans can quickly become out of date. Periodically review a client’s estate plan to incorporate life changes. (Photo: iStock)
3. Revisit estate plans
While we’re on the topic, there is likely very little that is relevant or useful in an estate plan that’s 10 or 20 years old.
A lot can happen over a short period of time that can impact how a client would like his or her personal estate disbursed after death. Because marriages, divorces, births and deaths can happen at any time, I recommend clients revisit their estate plans every three to five years to keep them current with any life changes.
4. Don’t overlook disability insurance
While clients may take advantage of employer-sponsored disability insurance, they need to understand that most do not cover any compensation in excess of salary. Therefore, when 25 percent of clients’ annual income comes in the form of bonuses or stock awards, they’ve typically become reliant on those bonuses to pay their bills and maintain their standard of living. Eventually, they will probably need supplemental disability insurance.
Most clients in this position are ultimately relieved they made the decision to do so, as it helps them continue to meet their financial obligations. In particular, I’ve seen clients benefit from using this tactic to get them through the gap between disability and the start of full social security or pension benefits.
5. Integrate year-end tax planning throughout the year
Getting involved with clients’ year-end tax planning is another way to help them get the best bang for their buck. An annual meeting with clients — and even their accountants — is a great way to strategize tax plans to meet client goals. This could include decisions about charitable giving, accelerating property tax payments and more. Money saved on taxes can be put toward investments.
Don’t limit this discussion to the last quarter of the year, though. Opportunities to implement tax-efficient strategies can and will present themselves at any time of year.
Yes, I treat my clients like family. And like any family, the key to a successful relationship is communication and listening. I keep dialogue open and pay attention to cues. Consistent communication, from both sides, is the best way to determine how you can go the extra mile for your clients and provide the best counsel for financial success.
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