I was lucky enough to know by age 20 that personal financial planning was the right path for me. I worked part time at several independent firms while going to college and ultimately landed with a large, well respected RIA in the metro Detroit area.
However, it became clear that there simply wasn’t a long-term career path for me at the firm.
Fortunately, I joined the Center for Financial Planning, an independent wealth management firm in Southfield, Michigan, in 2013. I jumped right into attending meetings with several partners at the firm, handling meeting preparation and follow-up, as well as digging into analysis for clients.
I never once expected clients to be handed to me that early on; however, it was the best way to learn the job by doing the hard work. The Center gave me that opportunity and now, seven years later at age 34, I’m managing nearly 100 client relationships that were transitioned to me by other planners.
After witnessing many other transitions throughout my nearly 15-year career, I’ve outlined five tips and considerations for both junior and and senior advisors on how to facilitate a successful client transition:
1) Older/more experienced advisors should seek out ways to ‘talk up’ younger, successor advisors.
Nothing does more for a young advisor’s confidence than hearing a seasoned veteran sing their praises. For example, during a joint meeting, the senior advisor states: “Jessie is going to be covering several tax planning considerations in our meeting today. She has spent a great deal of time analyzing the new Secure Act and is our firm’s resident expert on this topic.”
2) Younger advisors must develop credibility early on in the relationship.
Young advisors have to prove they know what they are talking about before anyone will trust them, especially when there might be a significant age gap between them and the client.
Bonding through mutual life experience and social interests probably won’t work for a 25-30 year old advisor who is being transitioned to work with a couple in their 60s.
It takes some work. In the first two years of working at The Center, I wrote nearly 50 blog posts. I wanted to make sure clients were seeing my name in newsletters as an author and I was always trying to seek out opportunities to send clients an article I had written on a particular topic that came up in a meeting.
Over the last three years, I’ve spoken for roughly 15-20 minutes at our annual client event, typically on a tax law change that impacts the planning work we do for clients.
Stepping outside of my comfort zone to do public speaking has been a massive confidence booster, and has helped to further my credibility with clients of the firm.
3) Take whatever you think is great service and make it twice as good.
One of the best ways to build trust is to be consistently reliable while exceeding expectations. If a client emails you at 3:30 p.m. with a complex question that will require some considerable thought, respond to the email by end of the day (even if it’s at 10:30 p.m.) to at least acknowledge the note, and let the client know you’re working through the analysis and set an expectation on when they can rely on you getting back to them.
Then, ideally exceed that expectation by at least half a day. Assuming the client’s email was sent Monday afternoon, I would do everything in my power to get the answer to the client by end of day Thursday or first thing Friday morning to ensure the expectation I set was exceeded.
Think about how rare this is in today’s world. If you do this consistently, clients will become raving fans of yours and you’ll start to see your referrals increase.
4) Be a trusted resource for children/grandchildren of the client.
As a younger advisor, you might be pretty close in age to the client’s kids or grandkids. Whether it’s spending 20-30 minutes with a child who just landed their first job to help them get set up on their new 401(k) plan or talking through the pros and cons of renting or buying, the client will be eternally grateful for you being willing to give your time and be a resource for the individuals they love.
When I think back to clients who are now referring me new business, they have one thing in common – I’ve had a phone call or in-person meeting at some point with one of their kids or grandkids. Trust me, this goes miles.
5) Ask questions about how the client started working with the firm and current advisor and what they have always valued in the relationship.
Assuming the client has been working with the older advisor for many years, asking how they started working with the firm is a great relationship-driven question to ask.
I learned this early on and a common response was, “We started working with Matt when we were in our mid-30s when we had just enough money to open an IRA. Our kids were in elementary school and my wife and I attended a seminar Matt taught regarding balancing retirement planning with saving for college.”
Thinking back to this time naturally forces the client to reminisce through all the stages of life the older advisor has helped them navigate. I believe this reinforces the trust the client has with the older advisor and naturally increases the likelihood that the client will be on board with the transition.
After all, if the client truly trusts the advisor, they should also trust that the advisor would only align them with a planner who will treat them just as well.
It also helps to ask the client what worked well in the relationship with the senior advisor. This shows genuine interest in making sure there is a smooth transition and that the client will continue receiving the same level of service and care from the new advisor.
Client transitions are no easy task. In The Center’s 35-year history, we’ve gone through this process several times, as we are now in our third generation of ownership. Each time, we fine tune our process and learn from the things that not only went well but the areas that could be improved upon.
Spending the time to map out your transition plan is critical, your clients deserve the time and effort that goes into it. Is your team up for the challenge?
Nick Defenthaler, CFP, RICP, is a partner and professional at Center for Financial Planning Inc. Nick specializes in tax-efficient retirement income and distribution planning for clients.