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What Do Your Clients Expect?

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What You Need to Know

  • If you want to be independent, you have to manage your time.
  • You also have to manage client expectations.
  • One strategy is to share responsibility for client communications with the clients.

As much as it pains me, I am indeed a manager. I have tried to stay as independent as possible during my 37 years in this business because I do not want to be managed, and I do not want to manage. I have been successful regarding the former and have failed miserably regarding the latter.

I have to manage my time. For those who have raised procrastination to an art form, time management is an uncomfortable necessity.

I have to manage my practice. I pay attention to technology, administration, paperwork, marketing — details! For those of us who hate details, practice management is another uncomfortable necessity.

Most importantly, I manage my client relationships by managing both their accounts and their expectations. Managing their accounts is a fairly straightforward activity. The success of our business depends primarily on how well we manage our clients’ expectations.

Managing expectations is an art, and we all have different styles. Still, we should address some primary areas with our clients that will help avoid communication and relationship breakdowns.

1. Make sure clients know what you do (and don’t do). If you manage money, make sure your clients understand your process.

If you aren’t managing money but are choosing managers who manage money, make sure your clients understand the difference. The expectation is that clarity and precision are standard operating procedures.

2. Resist the temptation to take credit for client gains when the markets are good.

Instead, explain why their investments responded well. Then, when the markets turn, and you explain why their investments responded poorly, you aren’t taking the blame. The expectation is that you will guide them through all kinds of economic situations with calm certainty.

3. Establish communication expectations.

Surveys indicate one of the main reasons people leave their advisors is a perceived lack of personal contact. Of course, we have annual reviews and compliance requirements. Still, they don’t necessarily assure our clients view us as being accessible.

Make a deal with them. Tell your clients that the minute something happens that significantly impacts their accounts, you will call them, but any time they have a significant life event, they must call you.

Tell them this relationship only works if you both take responsibility for keeping each other informed. Please give them your cell number. The expectation is that even though you are very responsive, communication is a two-way street. The more buy-in they have, the less likely they are to complain — or leave.

4. Make sure your clients have a crystal-clear retirement picture.

Our industry has this annoying habit of creating brochures and commercials that portray retirement as model-perfect couples that either plant vineyards, raise horses, or sail to exotic islands. We are the ones that will get them there.

For the handful of our clients who will be able to live the commercial, all our clients need to know that the first goal is to make sure they will have an after-tax income that covers their living expenses and keeps pace with inflation for the rest of their lives. The expectation is that even if they are never rich, they will never, ever be poor. And, if they have enough left over to buy a vineyard and start a winery, make sure one of the first bottles is for you. It is a perfectly reasonable expectation.

Stephen Dybwad (Credit: Bill Broich)Stephen Dybwad is a retirement planner based in Nineveh, Indiana. He’s also the host of the Steve Dybwad Safe Money Radio Show.


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