In 2010, Todd Peters rescued a client who’d lost everything.

The client’s house had burned down due to faulty wiring, and Peters was her first call; she was 67, single and had no immediate family. She’d even lost her two cats in the fire.

Peters, a Winnipeg-based CFP with IPC Investment Corporation, stepped up. He helped her list immediate needs, such as clothing and food. And he picked up supplies for her from a local drugstore.

He also found her a hotel, and dealt with her insurer. “The task was quite difficult because she’d lost all her paperwork, and she couldn’t even remember her insurer. But I helped her fill in forms for everything from hotel reimbursement to the listing of all her personal possessions.”

The process took more than three months, but it did result in the insurer reimbursing the value of the house and her belongings.

Since then, Peters says the client’s referred 12 more families. And, though she’d been his client for five years and only had about $40,000 in investments back in 2010, she’s now increased her portfolio to about $800,000. He’s also helping her buy a new home: he introduced her to a real estate agent and is working with her mortgage broker to put financing in place.

This wasn’t a one-off situation. This past fall, Peters travelled more than 2,000 kilometers east to Peterborough, Ont., to visit a client dying of cancer. Though he could have answered questions over the phone, he knew the situation required a personal touch to ensure the client was comfortable with how assets, including a pension, would be transferred to his wife.

Team support is critical to this level of service. Peters works with three advisors and three support staff at his home office in Winnipeg, which looks after 270 families. He also has a business partner in B.C., and together they serve 350 families in the Okanagan area. Plus, he owns part of an office in Toronto, adding another 400 families to his book.

“Having great support staff and associate advisors allows us to tailor services in a real, personal way,” he says.

Get started on the right foot

If you make enough of an effort to connect with a client, you’ll become a core part of his support network.

That’s why the first year with clients should be intense, says Kelly Pather, CFP, a financial planner at Assante Financial Management in Vancouver. During that period, ask lots of questions to determine the best way for you to work together (see “Questions to use,” right).

Also, share stories that highlight your personality, background and expertise. If you’re candid, clients will be more comfortable and honest (See “Get connected,” below).

But if a person’s timid, you may have to ask why several times, notes Tom McCullough, CEO of Northwood Family Office in Toronto. It can take time to get him to open up, but once he does, he can let go of any fears he may have.

After the first year, focus on deepening the relationship. Get to know clients better by providing educational workshops on markets or products, for example.

You can also show you care if you know what’s going on in someone’s life. For instance, Peters offered to speak to a client’s son who was moving in with his girlfriend, and gave tips on co-habitation agreements and paying bills jointly.

Get connected

Sharing personal stories helps clients relate to you.

  1. When assisting business owners and introducing wealth-protection strategies, Kelly Pather, CFP, a financial planner at Assante Financial Management, will sometimes tell them her parents lost money during the 1980s recession. During that time, all her family’s money was tied to her father’s business. When profits fell, they lost most of their assets, including their house. This example shows she knows the challenges of running a business, and how important it is to have several plans in place to protect assets.
  2. Non-personal stories help clients visualize concepts or strategies, says Tom McCullough, CEO of Northwood Family Office. For example, if a client is near retirement, he tells her to think of building and managing wealth as akin to climbing Mount Everest—growing wealth, or climbing the mountain, seems like the hardest part, but she still has to descend safely. His example clarifies her work is only half done since she has to avoid post-retirement dangers, such as overspending or neglecting to take estate-planning steps early.

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