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Practice Management > Marketing and Communications > Client Retention

3 Steps to Transitioning Clients to Other Advisors

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What You Need to Know

  • Firms should aim to gradually establish a relationship between the client and the new advisor.
  • Lay the groundwork for the relationship with the new advisor through phone calls and email.
  • Clients who are being shifted will inevitably have questions, and some will be more difficult to satisfy than others. Be clear but diplomatic.

“How do we transition clients?” That’s a question Herbers & Co. is hearing more and more from financial advisors. 

Successfully moving a client from one advisor to another doesn’t have to be complicated. But before I get into that, let’s look at why the topic of client transfers has become so popular. 

For the past decade, there’s been a perceived shortage of financial advisor talent within the industry. Some have argued that there’s little to be concerned about: Capacity challenges will be solved through technological innovations. Others argue that clients need human advisors to understand their emotions, and then help them pivot with confidence to facts and figures. 

In the past couple of years, it’s become clear that we are indeed short of advisors. Asked to name their top business challenge, firm after firm will point to the difficulty of recruiting, training and retaining talent. Amid the human resources crunch, advisory firms continue to grow. To accommodate that growth, they need more advisors — who are in short supply. 

Thus, organizations have been looking at ways to serve more clients with the human resources they have. And many are finding that the best solution is to transition clients from busy primary advisors to advisors who have excess capacity.

Firms often have a hard time moving forward with client transfers, though. One reason is that they fear a negative reaction from the clients that may threaten growth. Thus, the question: How to effectively transition clients without losing them? 

Here are some guidelines to help transition clients.

1. Take It Slow

The first rule of client transitions is to go slow. Don’t send a letter to the client informing them that they’ll be working with another advisor; that will only create fear and uncertainty. Instead, aim to gradually establish a relationship between the client and the new advisor.

Many firms will begin the transition by having the “new” advisor at the next client meeting. Rather than focusing on meetings, having the new advisor answer clients’ questions between meetings often builds trust faster. 

If the client emails, the primary advisor forwards it to their colleague. The client hears back from the new advisor, explaining that the request was forwarded to them, and adding that they’re happy to help, while explaining what’s been done in response, or what the client might do.

Likewise, an incoming phone call may be routed to the new advisor, or the new advisor might return a call placed to the original one. The key here is that the new advisor be perceived not as a replacement but as an added, helpful resource. 

2. Transition the Meetings

Once the groundwork for the new relationship has been laid through reactive responding to a client email or phone call, the next step is transitioning the client meetings. Ideally, the original advisor leads the first meeting or two, then steps back to let their colleague run the meetings, and then lets them take over the meetings completely. 

This sounds straightforward on paper, but in real life, human psychology can get in the way. Often, it’s the advisor who has a harder time letting go of the relationship than the client. Many advisors believe that clients need them — them specifically — more than the clients themselves do. 

The typical wealth management client just wants their needs met. They want to work with someone they trust to give them sound advice and responses to their needs.

Our consultants often hear, “We can’t transfer that client.” And our response, informed by two decades of experience, is, “Do you want to bet on that?” 

When firms are looking at transitioning client meetings, we advise them not to emphasize the relationship the original advisor has with the client, but rather to emphasize the service that the organization is providing to the client. The goal is to maintain or improve on the level of service with the new advisor. Indeed, service often improves because the newer advisor has more available capacity.

We have seen firms successfully transfer clients without having the previous advisor in a single meeting. In those cases, the new advisor has responded effectively to email and phone calls over a period. When the original advisor informs the client that the new advisor will handle the next meeting, the client typically doesn’t question it, because a relationship of trust and confidence has already been established. 

3. Answer Frequently Asked Questions

During this process, clients often ask some standard questions. A common one is: “Is [name of previous advisor] still my advisor?”

A good response is along the following lines: “Our firm works as a team, although it occurs to me now that you may not have known this. In the future, there will be times when you work directly with me and times you may work with [the previous advisor], depending on schedules and responsibilities of staff.”

In rare instances, that won’t satisfy the client, and they’ll push. A possible response: “I hear you. We are all here to help you when you need it. [The previous advisor] is here for you too, and if you have any questions or issues that you’d like to talk directly to them about, I can notify them for you.”

Another common question: “Will [name of previous advisor] be attending our meetings?”

A good answer would be: “It depends. We work as a team and we’re all familiar with your situation. You may not know this, but for the last several years, I have worked behind the scenes on your financial plan and other services we provide for you. You’ll see my face more often now in the meetings, and if there are any issues, [previous advisor] can be brought into the meetings as well.”

On a few occasions, the client will insist that the original advisor be present in all future meetings. I suggest responding with empathy: “I hear you. We are all here to help you when you need it. Let’s talk with [previous advisor] together and see how we can accommodate this. Are you willing to schedule another appointment now?”

At that meeting, the original advisor should be clear but diplomatic.

Some helpful remarks could be: “I want to be in all your meetings, and I am here if you need anything. As an advisor, I have a responsibility to ensure all clients are taken care of. As a result, I have developed a team around me. What if I am out on vacation and you really need help? I want you to have someone else, not just me, you can depend on. To help you build these relationships within our firm, I’ve asked [new advisor] to lead your meetings. Are you willing to give it a try and see how it goes?”

For client transfers to be successful, the original advisor must let go and trust their colleague and their team to take care of the client. That, in the end, is what teams are all about. 


Angie Herbers is managing partner and founder of the advisor consultancy firm Herbers & Co.


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