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Practice Management > Marketing and Communications > Client Retention

7 Steps to Keeping a Client Whose Advisor Has Left the Firm

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What You Need to Know

  • Some clients will follow a departing advisor out of loyalty; others will stay out of loyalty to your firm.
  • Review the client's account thoroughly and contact them immediately.
  • Sympathize with clients who followed their advisor. Be respectful of your colleague, and follow up in a couple of months.

If you work at a large firm, you’ve seen it before. An established producer leaves. Although they might be retiring, the departure is often because they’ve joined a competitor. Sometimes it’s a newer advisor who didn’t hit their numbers. To ensure continuous coverage of the clients affected, their accounts are reassigned within the office immediately — well, most of the time. What next?

Years ago, “reassignments” was the primary growth strategy for some experienced advisors. One advisor likened it to feeding time at the seal tank at the Central Park Zoo. Considering we were attending a firm recognition event at the zoo and watching the seals waiting to catch the many fish thrown by the zookeeper, his comment was pretty funny.

A lot has changed. Strict protocols are usually in place concerning which advisors get accounts. Retention is a primary concern. If the departing advisor joined a competing firm, it’s a safe bet they are soliciting their clients to follow them. Yes, there are rules, but expect activity.

You can make a case for why the client would follow the advisor. They would follow out of loyalty. There are many reasons the client would stay. An affinity or loyalty to the firm is a big one.

There’s also a third option: The client leaves the firm yet doesn’t follow the advisor. They move to a different firm entirely. They have been solicited by another advisor they really like. They have no intention of leaving the first advisor, but if that advisor is no longer in the picture, they have a backup plan. My wife and I have fallen into that category.

7 Steps to Retaining Reassigned Accounts

Let’s assume you have been handed a reassigned account by your manager. Obviously, you said thank you. What next?

1. Review their account thoroughly. You can view statements. Personal information. Their trading activity. How involved was their investing relationship? Do they use managed money or trade individual stocks?

Desired outcome: You know enough about them to consider them a person, not just an account number. They realize you are prepared.

2. Contact them immediately. This part is obvious. The other advisor will be doing the same. If account transfer requires physical signatures on paper forms, assume those were sent out to the client by overnight mail. Don’t delay. Use multiple channels. The phone should be first. Reach out through email, or maybe even a text message. The object is to speak with them.

Desired outcome: They know the firm wants them to stay. They are considered an important client. 

3. Explain the situation. Learn what you are allowed to tell them. Their advisor is no longer with the firm. They made the move themselves. They had their reasons. Do not say anything to imply there was wrongdoing or otherwise blacken their name. And avoid remarks such as “In a sudden burst of insanity, they left our firm.” The firm takes the concept of continuous account coverage very seriously. Our manager asked me to work with you going forward. 

Desired outcome: You are being respectful concerning the departing advisor, who was your colleague. The firm’s desire for uninterrupted coverage shows their relationship is important. 

4. Be welcoming. The object is to retain the account. They might say: “Don’t I get a choice of advisors?” Review your experience and credentials. (This might be a step up for them.) You would like them to give you a chance. Some clients have had multiple advisors over the years. They might say: “OK. You are my new advisor.” Don’t say: “I do business differently” or “This discounting has to stop.”

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Desired outcome: You want them to feel their new situation will be as good or better than the previous one. They’ve had a shock: Their advisor left. You don’t want to create a second one: “I don’t think I like the new guy.”

5. Arrange a meeting. You want to win them over. It’s easier in person. They might still be considering moving to the other advisor’s new firm. Assuming everyone is comfortable with in-person contact and protocols and firm rules are observed, set up a meeting. Do whatever is most convenient for the client. You can go to them, they can come to you.

Desired outcome: You’ve often had the experience “If I can get in front of them, I can close the sale.” You are looking for the same effect, only now the sale is retention.

6. Provide great service. You want them to understand they are an important client for you and the firm. They might not have gotten great service previously. You have a service model to see everyone gets attention.

Desired outcome: Wouldn’t it be great if their previous advisor called and they said: “You never gave me this much attention! I feel really important!” 

7. Invite them to client recognition events. You want them to feel they are important clients of a great firm. Let them know your schedule of events, even if it’s only one recognition luncheon that’s months away. One RIA firm I know would have monthly wine and food pairings at their office. Clients were welcome, if they brought a prospect. A money management firm helped with expenses.

Desired outcome: You want the activity of “being a client” to be a positive experience they will talk about with their friends.

What About Reassignments Who Followed Their Advisor?

Obviously there will be some departures, unless it was a newer advisor who left the industry.

1. Sympathize with them. You called the reassigned account. They explained they are following their previous advisor. You understand. They have a long-standing relationship in place and are showing great loyalty.

Desired outcome: They depart on pleasant terms. You haven’t made the call adversarial. 

2. Follow up. People sometimes promise the world and fail to deliver. You’ve heard about buyer’s remorse. Call after a couple of months and ask if things worked out the way they’d hoped. The unspoken message is that you and the firm want them back.

Desired outcome: The former client might have realized they made the wrong choice. Pride might hold them back from calling you. By calling them, you are meeting them halfway. 

You notice we aren’t seeking immediate business. If the client’s account uses asset-based pricing, the ongoing fee income transfers to you when the account becomes yours. Looking for new business immediately can scare them away. Patience is a virtue. You and the client need to get comfortable with each other.


Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, “Captivating the Wealthy Investor,” is available on Amazon.