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Advisers Need Better Strategies, Technology for Client Communications

Good advisers are great relationship managers.

They are the rainmakers, the go-to people and the face of the business. Probably without exception, advisers have been successful when they are able to go out and obtain and retain clients through managing those relationships well. This is one of the (increasingly) few things that ties all advisers together—they have very strong relationships with their clients.

But great relationship management is not enough to become a great adviser; or at the very least, a great firm. Clearly, a great adviser also needs to be a great financial planner. But then there are those secondary characteristics—outside of planning and being relational—that push an adviser from good to great. Chiefly, the adviser’s ability to successfully run a business.

FPA recently released a study on the communications practices of financial advisers and confirmed that advisers are great relationship managers, but many still struggle with implementing core business practices, especially technology and communication strategies.

Revealing Metrics

According to the 2014 Trends in Client Communications Study by the FPA Research and Practice InstituteTM, advisers give themselves an average rating of 3.9 out of 5 when it comes to overall effectiveness of the client communication process. Granted, this is still not in the range of “very effective,” but good nonetheless. The details, however, show room for improvement.

For example, of those advisers who seek client feedback, 83 percent “ask informally how things are going,” but only a minority conduct formal surveys, whether written, online or by phone. Just 10 percent have advisory boards. This is one of many examples showing high relational intelligence yet little formal marketing practices being applied by advisers.

When it comes to formally defined service standards, 56 percent of advisers have them in place, yet less than half of those advisers have a process to track whether or not they have delivered on those same service standards. The primary use of those service standards was to define how often the adviser meets with clients. These standards were used much less often to determine things like frequency of contact outside of those review meetings and the number of appreciation opportunities and educational opportunities. Again, a high focus on the relationship, but a low focus on the business strategy.

A Different Kind of Adviser

Of course, none of that matters if relationship management is the only thing necessary to have a great practice. But that’s not the case. As the study says, “Those who give themselves a high effectiveness rating behave differently. They define and communicate service standards, provide more documentation to clients, structure their review process and create more ‘touch points’ with their clients.” Among advisers who say they have “somewhat” or “very” effective client communications, a majority:

  • Formally define service standards
  • Communicate service standards to clients
  • Give Investment Policy Statements to their clients
  • Give clients a letter of engagement
  • Ask for client feedback
  • Have a clearly structure client review process
  • Encourage spouses to attend meetings together

Successful advisers also communicate more and in multiple ways. For advisers who segment and use tier service, let’s look at how often they are, on average, communicating in various ways with their top clients:

  • 9 face-to-face review meetings per year
  • 5 other review meetings per year (telephone or web)
  • 8 articles of interest (educational) per year
  • 3 invitations to social events per year
  • 3 invitations to an educational event per year
  • 9 other communications per year

From this and other evidence presented in the study, it’s clear that great advisers are going beyond what’s expected of them to deliver exceptional service to their clients by implementing strong communication strategies.

Future Plans

The study also indicates that advisers plan on strengthening their communications strategies in the future. This includes formalizing their marketing and communication plans and using technology to implement those plans, as well as to review and monitor what they’re doing.

Specifically, advisers mentioned using technology to expand the way they communicate with clients, especially younger generations. This means anything from web conferencing to changing the way they communicate, such as adding social media and more email communications. Advisers are also looking to create standards for communication processes and creating systems to make sure they are doing so effectively. They’re also recognizing the need to invest in technology as a way to automate workflows and respond to social trends. They’re looking to increase their ability to segment clients more meaningfully and let that drive processes and communication strategies.

Regardless of where you’re at with your own practice, take some time and look at the final sections of the study, featuring direct feedback from advisers about where they’re headed with their practices. Some clear trends will emerge and you may get some ideas on how to take yourself and your firm from good to great.

Market Analyst
Advicent Solutions
Milwaukee, Wis.

Editor’s note: Visit Advicent Solutions at FPA’s annual conference, FPA BE Seattle 2014, Sept. 20–22 in Seattle. Look for them in the exhibit hall, booth 705.

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5 Steps to Manage Conflict in a Small Office

Conflict is a natural part of any work environment, but that doesn’t mean that we enjoy dealing with it. Conflict situations are often exacerbated among small teams, where we have to deal closely with one another on a daily basis. Knowing this, you’d think it would be impossible to hide from conflict in a small office. Surprisingly, the opposite is often true. Some advisers sweep it under the rug, pretending it doesn’t exist. Others are so averse to conflict that they agree to things they have no intention of following through on, which creates an entirely different situation altogether.

As firms become more sophisticated and complex, among the many skills business owners need to have is the ability to manage conflict—be it among staff, other advisers, or throughout the organization. How do you deal with it? Approaches can vary, but I believe the following five steps should form your core strategy:

1. Understand the Significance of the Issue

Who cares about the issue, and how does it affect the organization? It can be difficult to separate the issue from the emotions of the individuals involved. One way to diffuse an emotionally laden situation so you can reasonably discuss the problem is to bring clients into the equation. How are they affected by the conflict? Shifting the focus to another party can help put everyone—advisers and staff alike—on equal footing.

2. Gather Information

It sounds basic, but you should ask each person involved in the conflict to share their perception of the issue. Take turns listening to each side’s point of view—you can even use a timer to make sure they have the same amount of time to present their case.

Another information-gathering technique involves drawing a line down the center of a whiteboard and asking each side to list the facts (not perceptions or opinions) relating to the problem. Focusing on the facts naturally takes some of the emotion out of the response.

3. Articulate the Problem

A well-stated problem is half solved. Writing down a “problem statement” gets everyone to agree on what the key issue is. And that word is important. People in conflict situations tend to dredge up past history—whether the issues are related or not—resulting in a clumpy mess resembling a bowl of cold spaghetti. Agreeing on the one specific problem is critical to finding a solution.

4. Propose Potential Solutions

As a team, brainstorm different approaches to solving the problem. This allows everyone’s voice to be heard while also improving the chances that you’ll come up with a creative solution that no one has thought of before.

5. Agree on the Process

The final step to manage conflict often requires negotiation. Consider doing a pilot test of a particular solution. This way, participants can regroup to assess the effectiveness of the approach in solving the problem and decide whether a different approach may be warranted.

In a small office, the kneejerk reaction is to run away from uncomfortable situations. But finding a way to manage conflict with a logical approach can help you defuse the situation, engage participants, and discover a solution better than anyone could have arrived at alone.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for webJoni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management

Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.

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Sowing the Seeds of Significance

How do you want to be remembered? We would like to think that for most advisers, the true meaning of leaving a successful legacy is about changing the lives of your clients for the better.

If you think about it in these terms, imagine the passion that you could infuse into your practice each day. Knowing you are making a difference in people’s lives in a very important way is definitely something we should all aspire to.

As any good gardener knows, you must take meticulous care when planting and nurturing seedlings and harvest when the time is most appropriate. Planting the seeds of significance and sowing them when the time is right in a business setting is no different.

Plant Your Garden

Prospecting with the mindset that you want to truly help others is the first step. You need to be confident and honest with your intentions. There are more people that need your help then those who do not. All you have to do is help them understand how your solutions and expertise could change their lives.

Be sure to know your target market’s common challenges, know what the solutions are for them and know how to ask the right types of questions so that they come to the conclusion that you will bring value to them. When they understand that you are not trying to sell to them but instead are offering real world and relevant advice, what will result is hopefully a long-term relationship.

Nurture Your Garden

Once you have a client base, you must nurture them with your knowledge, expertise and integrity. Your business is truly like a garden. If you choose to neglect it, it will not bear any fruit; the roots of your client relationships will wither, and your clients will simply find another adviser.  However, if you are sincere with your communications and dialogue about wanting to make a positive impact in their lives, they will sense your genuine interest and continue to grow with you.

Harvest Your Garden

Although you may never be privy to the full extent of how your advice and solutions impact your clients’ lives (or maybe the lives of their children or grandchildren), you will know that you have played an integral role in sowing the seeds of significant financial security for your clients and maybe even future generations.

Taking the time to plant, nurture and harvest your business takes dedication, commitment and an unfailing motivation to continually repeat the process. Those in our profession who do just that will find themselves with a bountiful garden.

If you are ready to learn how to bring additional value to your clients, simply schedule a complimentary 30 minute coaching session with Dan Finley at Advisor Solutions by emailing Melissa Denham, Advisor Solutions’ director of client servicing.

Dan FinleyDaniel C. Finley

Advisor Solutions
St. Paul, Minn.

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2 Easy Steps to Effective Drip Marketing

How do you maintain a presence with clients outside of face-to-face meetings? Perhaps you send a holiday card to all of your clients once a year, or your firm emails clients and prospects with a monthly update. No matter how you communicate, chances are your strategies could be improved—especially when you consider that a top reason clients leave advisers is due to a failure to communicate on a timely basis.

How can you boost your communication strategies without investing too much time? With just minutes of set up, you can create year-round campaigns that send targeted resources to every client and prospect in your book.

What Is Drip Marketing?

Drip marketing means sending valuable content to clients and prospects on a regular basis to maintain your presence, strengthen relationships and prove your expertise. Strategically “dripping” messages to your contacts implies tailoring the resources you share to pertain to recipients’ behaviors and statuses. Just like receiving a good article from a friend, receiving relevant content from you will help clients remember you as a consistent source of valuable information, both in and out of planning meetings. Similarly, imagine a prospect who isn’t ready to commit but continues to receive relevant resources from you each month. How likely are they to reconsider in six months—especially if their current adviser does not provide the same thing?

Step 1: Choose Your Groups

To be most effective, you want to send resources that speak specifically to individual issues or targeted pain points—not just generic information. Segmenting your clients and prospects into distribution lists based on like qualities makes this easy to do. Try grouping your clients by investment style, life stage, age or any other relevant factor, and don’t hesitate to include a contact on more than one list. Going forward, whenever you gain a new client or prospect, immediately add them to the appropriate distribution lists. By personalizing your messages a bit further, you can see great results in client retention and prospect engagement.

Step 2: Deliver Valuable, Personalized Content

Your objective is to consistently deliver resources that personally resonate with recipients. Ideally, you should be sending at least one document per month to keep your name top of mind. These monthly activities could range from sending a timely email to sharing a relevant article to delivering an educational piece. Once you have distribution lists created, it’s easy to choose content relevant to an entire group to simplify your work and share with ease.

Use the Right Tools

Most advisers agree that drip marketing is a great idea, but lack the necessary resources (time, good collateral and the right tools) to execute it. A software solution can set up drip marketing campaigns for all of your prospects and clients in minutes. Attendees of FPA’s Annual Conference—FPA BE Seattle, visit us in the exhibit hall at booth 705 to learn more.

Market Analyst
Advicent Solutions
Milwaukee, Wis.

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Are You Spending, or Investing for the Future?

What is the first thing you did today for your business? Did you have coffee with a prospective client or draft the quarterly market letter? Was it interviewing a potential new employee or reviewing a client’s financial plan? How is the rest of your day shaping up? Will you be moving the business forward toward your vision, or simply making sure your business lives to see another day?

As a financial professional, you know that an investment in the future has the potential to pay far greater dividends than spending for immediate gratification. Are your business activities investing for the future or spending?

Investing in your business requires that you have a vision of what you want that business to be. It is identical to the process of creating financial plans or developing investment portfolios for clients. You must discover what your client desires for the future—providing for retirement, education expenses, starting a business or eventual wealth transfer. Specifying an outcome for the future determines the steps needed today, tomorrow and so on. A client invests for the future outcome.

A client without a plan or vision for the future is much more inclined to spend rather than invest. Isn’t it more fun to have the immediate gratification of a new house, car, clothes or a vacation, than to think “I’ll save this for the future”? If there is no compelling vision for the future, the choice often defaults to spend.

Without a vision, you spend time on activities that may not create value for the future. Regular networking at your local chamber of commerce may be a frequent marketing activity for you. Yet, if your ideal client—the person most likely to benefit from your vision—is not represented at the meeting, you’ve spent rather than invested time. Without a vision for your firm and who it serves, it is unlikely you truly know who your ideal client is and where to find them. You are spending for the gratification of being able to check “marketing” off your to-do list.

Financial advisers with a vision know what activities will move them in a direction that prepares for the future. Serving on a non-profit board for a cause they care about puts them in front of other professionals with similar values. Relationships deepen, referrals are made and an expanded meaningful network is created.

Invest the time to develop your vision. Invest your team with the vision, and together you will discover myriad ways to grow that investment, enjoying a multitude of returns along the way.

Barbara StewartBarbara Stewart, CFP®
Coach to financial advisers
Owner and founder
Accelus Partners
Houston, Texas


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21 Questions Your Website Needs to Answer (Fast!)

As an adviser, your website is one of the most essential marketing tools and is likely the only member of your team working 24/7 to represent your brand. Determining its focus and direction should be the cornerstone of your firm’s online marketing strategy. You can bet that your target market is looking for you online. Make sure they find you, as well as find answers to all of their questions about your firm.

So, what do people do on the Internet? The majority of web users are seeking information. To give your website a chance, focus on its visitors’ intentions. What information are they looking for, and how can you help them find it? Focus on making your website easily navigable and chock-full of answers.

Most advisers feel they need a website to validate their firm and provide legitimacy to the organization—and that’s true! But when visitors arrive to your company’s site, they’ll want to know more than whether or not you exist. In fact, they’ll want to know a lot more. Many of these questions are answered within the subconscious. (Is this company good or bad? Trustworthy? Credible?) And many of these questions are answered rather quickly. In 2012, a research team from Carlton University discovered that people make a decision about the appeal of a website in only 50 milliseconds—that’s 50/1,000 of one second!

The bottom line is, you have very little time to win over web visitors. Here is a list of 21 questions that web visitors want answered when they arrive to your website. Make sure answers to these questions can be found easily and quickly. A good rule of thumb is to have answers to the following questions answered within three clicks of entering your site.

  1. Am I in the right place?
  2. Is this company real?
  3. Is it credible?
  4. Is this website up-to-date?
  5. Is it trustworthy? Why should I trust the people who work here?
  6. Is this a professional company?
  7. Is this company stable?
  8. Does this site make me feel welcome?
  9. Is the navigation easy to find and use?
  10. Can I find the information I’m looking for?
  11. Is this company affiliated with other financial institutions?
  12. Does this company have a physical location? Where is it?
  13. How many people work here? Is the team large enough to fulfill my needs?
  14. What is the company culture like?
  15. How is this firm different than the last firm I looked into?
  16. What is it like to work with your company?
  17. How do other people feel about this company?
  18. Why should I spend money here?
  19. How can you help me?
  20. I’m not ready to make a decision, but I want to stay in touch. Can I subscribe to a blog or newsletter?
  21. What should I do next?


Maggie Crowley 1Maggie Crowley
Marketing Coordinator
Advisor Websites
Vancouver, British Columbia


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Tips for Building a Referral Strategy

It’s no secret—more client referrals mean better business. In fact, a 2010 report by The Oechsli Institute found that 54 percent of affluent clients surveyed had made their selection of financial adviser as the result of a personal introduction. However, many clients find being asked outright for referrals to be off-putting or overly aggressive. With an increasing emphasis being placed on garnering client referrals and gaining client trust, how do you generate one without jeopardizing the other?

Beyond Advising—Breaking the Social Barrier

Sure, you know your clients well on paper. But what about on the golf course? Hosting client events are important because in order to trust you, your clients need to feel that they know you on a personal level. Consider hosting a small, strictly social event that allows clients to mingle with advisers in an informal setting. Clients surveyed by The Oechsli Institute stated that they would be most likely to attend this type of event and that they felt the most comfortable bringing guests to this type of an event—and guests mean more opportunities for face-to-face referrals.

Establishing a social repertoire with clients can also allow you to feel more comfortable asking for direct referrals without coming off as pushy. More than 40 percent of elite advisers (defined by The Oechsli Institute as those making $1 million or more per year) held four or more of these small social events over the past 12 months. Coincidence? Definitely not.

Expand Your Strategic Approach

In addition to hosting social events, elite advisers employ other client-generating strategies that are also worth imitating:

Referral alliances: Develop working relationships with others in the financial field to open up your referral flow. Look for professionals who don’t compete with you, who appreciate your expertise and who are open to a two-way referral alliance relationship. You may be surprised at how many referrals a solid professional presence can provide you.

Niche marketing: Focusing on just one or a few types of clients can seem limiting, but often the most successful advisers actually have fewer clients. How? These advisers have learned to focus on client specialization. Narrower markets offer more opportunity for recognition and referrals, so client acquisition through word-of-mouth becomes exponentially easier. With fewer clients, you can spend more time building client relationships, which eventually leads to greater client loyalty and a greater chance that clients will introduce you to other prospects.

Strategic networking: Get involved in organizations within the community that attract high net worth clients, such as country clubs or fundraising events, and commit to spending some out-of-office time in these places. By prospecting clients in these types of environments, you are more likely to attract the type of clients you want and gain both respect and trust within these communities.

Above All, Don’t Be Passive

Many financial advisers assume that if they remain in business for long enough, doing what they have always done, they will become successful over time. Although it’s nice to believe that doing well and meeting client expectations is enough to succeed, this approach is simply not effective. Many advisers with the highest earnings actually have less experience than other, lower-earning advisers. But how could they have built a stronger reputation in a shorter amount of time? After looking at the strategies these advisers use, it’s clear that they have learned where to focus their energy to be successful rather than taking a passive approach. Start socializing, find your focus, work at networking within your community and see improvement in your client relationships and client referrals.

Brian WalshBrian Walsh, CFP®, CLU®, CASL®
Manager, Partner Relations

Advicent Solutions
Milwaukee, Wis.


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