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The Do's and Don'ts of Annual Client Meetings

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What You Need to Know

  • Advisors should focus on creating an experience that reinforces your lasting value to clients.
  • Discuss product performance, changes in environment and whether the client's plan is on track.
  • Educate your clients on Social Security, taxes, risk and cash flow.

In the old days of product-centric client relationships, financial planners used annual review meetings as an opportunity to sell more products, either by replacing older products or gaining a larger share of the client’s investable assets. For the last few decades, the financial services industry has been moving away from product-centric relationships. Current best practices put the client first and instead focus on plan-centric relationships.

As client relationships shift, the role of the annual review changes as well. Advisors should consider viewing their yearly client review meetings through a marketing lens rather than a sales lens. Focus on creating an experience that reinforces your lasting value, so that clients refer friends who have similar financial considerations.  

Our practice focuses on middle-income people in or near retirement. Every service we offer is conceived and executed in a way that delivers value to that specific clientele. We discuss a few things in every client review meeting to make sure we are adding value. Consider these items the “do’s” in a list of “do’s and don’ts” for expanding your financial practice.

The backward-looking portion of the meeting includes discussions of topics such as:

  • Product performance.
  • Changes in the environment such as tax laws or asset class valuations.
  • Whether the plan is on track since the last meeting; if not, why not, and what might need to change.

In the forward-looking portion of the meeting, we discuss:

  • What changes have occurred in the client’s life since we last spoke?
  • What is the client worried about in the coming year?
  • What is the client excited about in the coming year?
  • Are there any blind spots that they are concerned about or excited about that you are considering on their behalf?
  • Does the plan need to change given the forward-looking portion of the meeting?

We also take a deeper look at the following areas:

Social Security

Advisors have an excellent opportunity to educate clients about the future of Social Security and help them avoid making a claiming mistake out of fear. While the Social Security program is undoubtedly running low on funds, it doesn’t mean the system won’t pay a dime of benefits when the trust fund hits zero. If the trust funds are depleted, current tax revenue would still support roughly 75% of benefits.

Take the opportunity to discuss how a Social Security shortfall has been addressed historically, how it’s likely to be addressed going forward, and how to prepare if the Social Security trust funds do run out. What does it mean to your client’s financial plan? Does that mean that they run out of money 10 years earlier? Do they need to cut $300 per month out of their lifestyle today or work one or two years longer? 

Taxes

You don’t need to know all the complicated interactions between different tax provisions and types of income to determine the impact of taxes on a client’s retirement strategy. Reviewing the client’s tax situation annually could present some exciting opportunities for advisors who know where to look. There may be opportunities for Roth conversions. Converting part of a client’s traditional IRA into a Roth IRA can offer significant long-term tax benefits.

Consider taking advantage of a zero or a 15% capital gains tax bracket if it’s unlikely that those brackets will be available later in retirement by harvesting some capital gains. Annual client meetings are also an excellent time to review and prepare for potential legislation that could affect your clients from a tax perspective.

Risk

Client reviews are an opportunity to practice. What happens if we enter a bear market?  What about a recession? Is the plan likely to stay on track, or will we need to make adjustments? Will the client have a “gut feeling” to sell, or will they be comfortable weathering the storm? Using quality risk metrics to estimate the downside risk inherent in the client’s portfolio provides excellent practice for when a market decline truly happens. Provide your clients with confidence that you have prepared them for such events.

Cash Flow

Your clients have multiple options for saving for retirement: 401(k)s, 403(b)s, IRAs, fixed annuities, certificates of deposit, and more. Plus, many retired workers are eligible to receive Social Security or pensions. With all the different income streams, one of the biggest questions that retirees have is, “Which account should I use when?”

It’s crucial to examine cash flow each year and ensure that the interactions between different income streams won’t cause any headaches. This discussion ties together everything you cover in the forward-looking portion of the meeting, allows you to reset the plan for the next period, and effectively sets the agenda for the backward-looking part of your next review.

What Not to Do

Now, for some “don’ts.” These old-fashioned marketing techniques should be laid to rest.

  • Don’t ask your clients to make a list of 10 friends and provide you with their contact information.
  • Don’t hand them a stack of pamphlets and ask them to hand them out to their friends. 
  • Don’t expect them do you any favors — they are paying you to do a job! You are not paying them to advertise for you.

Client review meetings are an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the value you deliver. When you demonstrate value, clients are more likely to organically promote you to their family and friends. 

The topics above are a big part of the review process in our practice. Maybe your practice is focused on young business owners, or physicians, or some other niche. Regardless of your focus, laying out a clear slate of issues you will address, then engineering and revising your processes to deliver value with each review meeting, will pay huge dividends in the form of practice growth through superior fit.