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Safeguard Yourself Against Litigation

When unhappy clients lose money and decide to sue somebody, chances are that somebody is you.

“You don’t have to have done something wrong to get sued,” Greg Severinghaus, marketing manager and senior underwriter of Markel Cambridge Alliance, said in a breakfast session April 25 at FPA Retreat at Chateau Elan in Georgia.

Markel_Greg S

Greg Severinghaus of Markel Cambridge Alliance presented the session, “Improve Client Relations to Limit Litigation” at FPA Retreat 2017.

Severinghaus said many advisers he works with don’t think they could ever get sued. They tell him they’ve got good client agreements and they get good results. But then they get sued for something frivolous or something that wasn’t their fault.

For example, he said, an adviser he worked with interviewed with a married couple who never even signed on as clients who eventually sued him.

“We spent $50,000 defending him,” Severinghaus explained. That was a small claim, he said. The bigger claims run into the millions.

Severinghaus said there are many areas in which advisers get sued most, and he offered tips on how to safeguard yourselves:

Execution errors. Advisers frequently get sued for making trade errors. This is the most frequent source of loss for advisers who manage assets.  To safeguard from this, Severinghaus suggested advisers put basic policies and procedures in place to reduce the magnitude of errors. For example, match every order against confirmations and promptly resolve discrepancies.

Also, keep a log of erroneous trades to look for patterns and promptly address them.

Finally, maintain a discretionary fund to address erroneous trades before they get worse. Fix errors as soon as possible.

Client selection and deselection. Focus on onboarding clients who will take your advice. Steer clear of clients who are overspenders, who won’t take your advice, who are unwilling to take effective risk, who are not in need of the services you provide, who are unethical or who are high maintenance.

Clients who overspend are particularly prone to bring lawsuits against you.

“When the money runs out, they’re going to blame somebody and it’s always the person managing their money,” Severinghaus said.

Documentation. This is the biggest piece in defending yourself against litigation. Document everything—every client interaction and meeting—especially if the client did not take your advice. At your quarterly meetings, have the client sign documents noting they understand the reports and your recommendations.

Clients don’t always tell the truth, Severinghaus said, so having proof of what was said at your interactions is key.

“Competent behavior requires ongoing documentation,” Severinghaus said.

Wire fraud. This is a hot-button topic in recent years. More advisers are getting duped into wiring their clients’ money to clever hackers who have enough knowledge of the clients to be convincing.

If you suspect an email is fraudulent, pick up the phone and verify with your client that it was in fact them who contacted you. Don’t trust voice recognition either. When a client calls asking for something you think may be out of character, ask them if you can call them back with the number on file just to verify.

Also, ask questions fraudsters won’t know, and don’t send pre-filled wire instructions.


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All Business is Personal: 3 Tips for Addressing Difficult Client Conversations

“Hi Jim. I wanted to inform you that your funds will be transitioning from an A share to a C share, which means you will actually pay less in fund fees, however, my fee cost will be increasing just a big. Let’s set up a time to discuss.”

Now there’s an email nobody wants to send or receive. As the financial industry evolves and advisers are held to an increasingly higher standard, you may have to take a new approach to difficult conversations with your clients. The ability to engage clients in these discussions is critical in building and retaining a successful practice.

Here are three tips based on the research of G. Richard Shell, award-winning author and creator of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School’s “Success Course,” on how to better approach challenging conversations and ensure you’re creating Demonstrations of Value (DOVs).

Talk About Client Goals First
When times are tough, take a positive approach by focusing on their goals while still acknowledging the concern. For example, you could say, “I know you set up this portfolio to save for Katie’s college education. She’s starting high school next year, so we still have four years until tuition starts. I know the markets have been rough, but I believe we’ll still be able to achieve your goal. Here’s why.”

By leading the conversation with knowledge of your client’s specific needs and concerns, you can better address the need to maintain an objective view throughout market challenges and not let emotions cloud a commitment to a longer-term strategy.

Help Them See the Big Picture
Your client comes to you with big news. She and her husband are ready to buy that house on Lake Winnipesaukee they’ve been talking about for years. While you share her enthusiasm, you want to make sure that she’s putting this decision into context.

During this conversation, you have an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of your client’s plans and needs. How long do they plan to own this house? Will they need to consider space for additional family members later on? Is this where they’d like to retire one day? If yes, how does that fit into their overall retirement plan?

When you help them consider the questions that matter, you reinforce your value more deeply than their investment positions. You can help be a leader when it comes to a family’s important life decisions.

It’s About More Than Money
Get to know your clients beyond their portfolio. While it may seem obvious, occasionally our time gets the best of us and we don’t focus on the details that could make a difference.

Keep notes on their hobbies and interests, where their priorities are, how old their kids are and family anniversaries and birthdays. Knowing these specifics can help foster a relationship that goes beyond just business, creating a partnership that can withstand even the toughest financial environments.

Are you ready to demonstrate your value in a collaborative client relationship? For more tips on how to boost your communication skills, learn about the 3Cs to enhance your negotiation skills.

JohnEvans

 

John Evans
Executive Director, Janus Labs
Janus Capital Group
Denver, CO


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Why Clients Choose You

Why would a prospect end up choosing you over another adviser?

There’s really only one thing that a prospect is looking for when they begin the conversation with you. If they believe you can provide it, it’s much more likely that they’ll become your client.

What Prospects AREN’T Buying

Despite what most advisers think, people aren’t working with them because of their:

  • Superior investment selection
  • Comprehensive financial plan
  • Account aggregation software
  • Years of experience
  • Credentials after their name, etc.

We’re all proud of those things and they play a role in the decision to work with you, but they’re not the reason people choose you over everyone else. Prospects aren’t buying the products or features you provide. They’re actually not buying the benefits either.

They’re Buying Transformation

The one thing that they are buying is the transformation that they believe they will get by working with you.

What do I mean by that? It doesn’t matter what people are buying. Whether it’s a candy bar or new car, we’re all looking for the same thing: we’re living in a current state and we want to move into a desired “after state.” We believe making the purchase i going to move us into that place we want to be.

Imagine what your prospect’s thinking. Why are they talking to you? Why are they looking for a financial adviser? I can definitely tell you that they’re not calling you because everything is perfect with their finances.

They’re calling you because they are discontent with some aspect of their financial life. They’re not completely happy with everything they’re doing. They have a problem that they don’t know how to solve and they may be frustrated, worried or confused. The fact is they’re looking for an adviser because they are in a place that’s less than ideal.

And that’s your ideal prospect. Why? Because you know that you have the solutions they’re looking for.

Where Do They Want Go?

If their existing state is discontentment, then they need to move into a place of contentment.

This is the entire value of your service business summed up in one sentence: you are helping people move from their before state to an ideal after state.

If you can clearly communicate this in a way that they understand, you’ll never have to sell anything ever again.

What’s The Next Step?

Take out a sheet of paper and write down answers to these questions.

  • Where are they now?
    1. What are their problems?
    2. Why are they looking for help?
    3. What’s their emotional state?
  • Where do they want to be?
    1. How will this change after working with you?
    2. What will they have?
    3. How will they feel?
    4. What will they leave behind?
    5. What kind of person do they want to become?

Once you’ve written these answers, you’ve taken the first step to discovering the transformation your ideal client is looking for. Start using these things you’ve discovered as you talk with prospects moving forward. Pay close attention as you talk about their desired “after state.”

dave-zoller

 

Dave Zoller, CFP®
Financial Adviser
Streamline My Practice
Warrenville, IL


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A Client’s Evolution

It’s no secret that advisers want to have a client base made up of loyal clients. However, most advisers may not take the time to fully understand why some clients are one-time customers while others are lifetime advocates.

Let’s take a brief look at what I call “the client’s evolution”—an evolution that we all have with our clients to some degree—so that you can better comprehend how you can build client relationships that last a life time.

The Customer

More than 20 years ago, I began building my business by following some simple advice from my branch manager: Find a good double tax-free municipal bond and tell everyone you can about it.”

As an eager rookie I did just that and soon I was opening up new accounts with what I thought would be “forever” clients. Unfortunately, I soon realized that many of those clients were simply one-time customers—people who had decided to buy a product. They were trying to find the best-yielding bonds and it didn’t matter who they were buying from. Some of those individuals bought additional bonds but for the most part I was one of several advisers they were working with and my value was merely a function of how well my product was doing at the time.

If you have several “customers” working with you and you would like to forge stronger relationships with them, you must find a way to show your value to them. One of the best ways to do this is to stop being a product pusher and start being a problem solver by getting to know them. Once you do, you can find their needs and fill them.

The Client

As my practice grew, I decided to take a different approach and offer prospects a complete plan to help them achieve their financial goals. This opened the door to creating solid connections from the start because I was able to identify specific needs that the prospect had and share with them how my products and services could be their solutions. I was no longer pushing any specific product but rather solving their financial concerns. As a result, these types of people became clients.

If you have customers you’d like to turn into clients and get to know even better, it’s time to get to know them on a more personal level.

The Friend

After a number of years, I noticed that some of my clients had turned into close friends. Just as any friendship evolves with communication and respect, so can an adviser/agent/client relationship.

I never started out to form friendships with my clients, but friendships occurred naturally over time after I showed genuine interest in their lives. They were no longer just clients to me, but friends who I wanted to help—not only with their financial goals but in any way that I could.

The Advocate

At some point in my career, I realized that a select group of clients whom I had formed friendships with had an interest in my success. I had developed a level of professional and personal trust with them and they were absolutely convinced that I was not only capable of helping with their financial advisory needs, but that I truly had their best interests at heart.

That’s when I realized that I had what I now called “advocates” or clients who willingly wanted to help me succeed by introducing me to their friends and family. In addition, some of these people shared their own experiences in business and suggested marketing, staffing and even branding strategies to help me.

Why Clients Evolve

I’m sure by now you might relate to having clients of every stage that I mentioned. The secret to evolve your client base is to evolve as an adviser yourself and be involved with your prospects and clients from the very start.

If you are ready to evolve your practice, schedule a complimentary 30-minute coaching session with me by emailing Melissa Denham, director of client servicing.

Dan Finley

 

Daniel C. Finley
President
Advisor Solutions
St. Paul, Minn.


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To Instantly Connect with Your Prospects, Use The Magic Question

After learning this single question, your initial meetings with prospects will never be the same.

This question will help you instantly connect, differentiate yourself, and pre-qualify your prospects within the first few minutes of the meeting.

Once you see the effect it can have, you’ll most likely make it a mandatory part of every first meeting with a prospect.

Why Is This Question So Effective?
I first learned about the Magic Question from the business coach, Dan Sullivan. He wrote an entire book (titled The Dan Sullivan Question) on this question and why it works. After reading the book, I tweaked the question slightly so that it would make sense for financial advisers to ask their prospects.

At first, you may be a little hesitant to ask the question because it’s so different. And you can be pretty sure that they’ve never been asked this by their financial adviser before. Once you start using it, it will become clear how quickly you can connect with complete strangers over the phone.

The great thing about the question is that everyone can answer it—but they are required to think before they do. This is an important part of the process because you want to make sure you’re working with people who care about their finances and want to put the proper effort and thought into planning their future.

You may notice that about one out of 20 people do not answer the question. Either their brain cannot function in a way to think futuristically or they simply do not want to answer. This is actually a great thing because the people who don’t answer the question or don’t give authentic answers are probably not the right fit. They are the kinds of people you can disqualify right away before wasting any more time.

There are three reasons why this question works:

1.) It’s about them. About what they want. The results they are looking to achieve.

2.) It brings clarity. To where they want to go. To what’s most important to them. To how they define success. As you know, It’s hard for some people to specify their goals. This question makes it easy.

3.) It encourages them. One of the fastest ways to influence someone is to encourage their dreams. They are opening up to you about what’s most important and you are their ready to stand next to them and show them how it’s possible. People are attracted to those who encourage them in what’s most important in their life.

The 4-Part Magic Question
The first part of the question is the most important. That’s the one you will ask to instantly connect with someone. The following three are not necessary but they can be great to follow-ups to delve deeper into what they’re are looking for.

Here is the magic, four-part question:

If we were meeting three years from today, and you were looking back over those three years, what has to have happened in your financial life for you to feel happy with your progress?

  • What are the biggest challenges you will have to face in order to achieve that progress?
  • What are the biggest opportunities that you would need to focus on to achieve those things?
  • What role would you like an adviser to play during those three years?

Give the magic question a try during your next initial meeting with a prospect. After you do, I’d love to hear how it went. Email me at dave@streamlinemypractice.com to share your results.

dave-zoller

 

Dave Zoller
Financial Adviser
Streamline My Practice
Warrenville, IL


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The 3Cs to Enhance Your Negotiation Skills

A new calendar year represents a fresh beginning and an opportunity to think anew about the adviser-client relationship. Financial advisers know that their annual planning conversations with clients may need to address sensitive topics related to the changing regulatory environment, particularly as we near the proposed timing for implementation of the Department of Labor’s Final Rule. These issues will certainly be on the agenda if you are transitioning to a fee-for-service model.

But the ability to engage clients in potentially difficult discussions is always key to building a successful business.

Central to these discussions is the ability to negotiate—a skill I have spent years cultivating through personal successes and failures, and through teaching thousands of business leaders and professionals at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. I consulted on a Janus Labs program, titled the Science of Negotiations, to prepare advisers to have better planning meetings. The core tenets of the program, and negotiating generally, are what we call the three Cs: commitment, candor and credibility.

Commitment: We know that as a financial adviser, your commitment is to serve as a trusted counselor to your clients. Working in a client’s best interest isn’t something new that rules require—it’s what you’ve always done. You need to convey this commitment clearly and consistently in order to build and maintain the kind of trust that allows for open dialogue. By reminding clients of your commitment to them, and connecting your actions to that commitment, the value of your relationship and services should always be top of mind for them. This way you can raise sensitive issues when the client can hear and process them fully, not simply because a deadline requires it of you.

Candor: We’re big proponents of the “radical candor” used at Silicon Valley companies like Facebook and Google. For advisers, this means demonstrating that you care personally about each client, while also directly addressing how DOL-related changes will affect them. Be a straight talker. Don’t beat around the bush: be clear that this is a difficult subject but the new services you offer are commensurate with what the client needs. Telling clients about the products and services you are not recommending is also important. Transparency is key. When you reveal information that’s not necessarily in your best interest, but is clearly in the best interest of the client, you build trust.

Credibility: Openly and willingly revealing information about products and fees increases your credibility, and research shows that credibility is the single most important asset of effective negotiators. Your credibility rests on expertise, competence and trustworthiness. It means that: 1) you bring your clients valuable knowledge and insights; 2) you apply your expertise to their benefit with skill and diligence; and 3) you consistently use your expertise and competence to create long-term value as a trustworthy counselor.

Strong negotiation skills will help you communicate more effectively in all your interactions. Demonstrating that you are credible, candid and committed will put you in a position to better navigate the sensitive topics that are inherent to financial advice, including fees and regulatory concerns. And this is a good time to start strengthening those skills, as you begin scheduling the conversations that will guide your client relationships throughout the new year.

For more information on how to use The Science of Negotiations for meaningful conversations with your clients, please contact your Janus Director or visit www.janus.com.

G. Richard Shell

 

G. Richard Shell
Legal studies and Business Ethics Professor
University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School
Philadelphia, Pa.


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Helping Your Clients Face Their College-Financing Fears—Part 2

In part one of this two-blog series, we established that higher education is frighteningly expensive. But with a proper plan in hand, you and your clients will be better prepared to tackle college tuition bills in an organized and financially sound way.

Recently, I explored the factors that affect financial aid eligibility. In this post, I’ll provide some tax smart tips to help your clients maximize their tax benefits. (Our new research, Tackling the tuition bill, has all the details on both topics.)

While it may seem intuitive to first tap into the qualified education savings accounts when the bills come, there are a few things your clients need to consider before doing so.

Educate your Clients on Potential Tax Breaks Before They Tap 529 Accounts
Consider the AOTC for the parent, or the child. Don’t rush to deplete the 529 account in the first year, as there may be some beneficial tax credits available each year. For example, the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) is available to taxpayers who meet income eligibility requirements.

The credit amounts to the first $2,000 spent on qualified education expenses and 25 percent of the next $2,000, for a total of $2,500. Funds counted toward this credit must come from current parental income or parental-owned assets held in taxable accounts. In other words, they cannot be funds from qualified savings plans, such as 529 plans. This tax credit can be taken each year in which qualified education expenses are incurred for a maximum of four years per student. With a total benefit of $10,000 over the student’s educational career, it may be smart for eligible parents to first take advantage of this credit before spending from 529 accounts.

Note that if the parents’ income exceeds the AOTC limits, but the child is reporting income for that tax year, the child may have the option to claim the AOTC. This would require the child to file as an independent, rather than as a dependent the parent’s tax return. Although this is possible, there may be other financial implications in doing so. The AOTC is refundable up to $1,000.

See if your clients qualify for the LLC or other deductions. Some taxpayers, such as those who have exhausted the AOTC, may qualify for the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC). This credit is worth up to $2,000 for expenses related to tuition and other qualified expenses for students enrolled at an eligible financial institution (note that for the 2016 tax year, the Lifetime Learning Credit is worth 20 percent of the first $10,000 of qualified college expenses. The LLC is not refundable). The credit can be used each tax year and applies to undergraduate and graduate school, as well as programs geared toward professional degrees or expanding job skills.

If they do not qualify for the AOTC or the LLC, the Tuition and Fees Deduction may be another option. For the 2016 tax year, this deduction can total up to a $4,000 reduction in income. Note that only one tax credit or deduction (AOTC, LLC, or Tuition and Fees Deduction) may be claimed per tax year. Keep in mind that IRS Publication 970 is a good source for more information on education tax credits and deductions. The figure below provides a brief summary of the most basic information.

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Tax benefits may ease both tuition and tax bills.

Be Mindful of Tax-Sensitive Withdrawals
Aside from the potential tax benefits that can be received from paying for college expenses out of pocket, there are tax implications to be aware of when your clients are withdrawing from retirement accounts and taxable savings accounts to pay for college. Withdrawals from parent-owned and student-owned tax-deferred retirement accounts (such as traditional IRA and 401(k) accounts) are taxed as ordinary income. Note that withdrawals that meet the criteria of qualified education expenses are not subject to the 10 percent penalty tax. Withdrawals from parent-owned and student-owned Roth IRAs, on the other hand, can be taken tax free as long as the distribution is composed of the contributions made into the account on an after-tax basis. Withdrawals that represent earnings will be taxed as ordinary income. Note that Roth withdrawals in excess of contributions are not subject to the 10 percent penalty tax if used for qualified education expenses.

As you’re aware, care should be taken when selling assets from taxable accounts, whether parent-owned or student-owned. Realized gains will be subject to capital gains tax, but they may be offset with realized losses elsewhere.

Although the challenges of paying for college expenses may seem overwhelming to your clients, proper planning is critical to a successful outcome. Remember that bottle of smelling salts I suggested keeping at your desk in part 1 of this series? Put it away! Remember that balancing financial aid and grant considerations with tax-efficient spending strategies is a good way to help your clients start facing their college financing fears.

maria-bruno

 

Maria Bruno, CFP®
Senior Investment Analyst
Vanguard Investment Strategy Group
Philadelphia, Pa.

 

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the Vanguard Advisor Blog. See also Part I of the series. The author gives a special thanks to her colleagues Jonathan Kahler and Jenna McNamee for their research contributions.