While there may not be 50 ways to leave your client, there are several methods — and the best one for your situation depends on your client’s needs.
Annie Bienvenue, partner at JPL Communications, says regardless of why you’re ending the client relationship, the golden rule is to make the person feel like the decision is being made for his or her own good.
Advisors agree, saying that breakups often happen for that reason. “I had to leave a client because he was geographically too far away,” says Hugo Neveu, a financial security advisor and board member of the Regroupement des Jeunes Courtiers du Québec. He ended another client relationship because the person only wanted appointments after 9 p.m.
In such cases, Bienvenue suggests explaining to the client that he would be better served elsewhere given his location or scheduling needs. But, she warns, do not make the conversation emotional or accusatory. To soften the blow, you can offer a referral to a colleague.
Other times, leaving clients is not a matter of fit, but of capacity.
Pierre Larose has been a financial planner for several decades and has a hundred loyal customers. When he decided to reduce his activities, it was important for him to make sure they were taken care of. “I found a replacement who has the same philosophy as me,” he says. “Initially, I put his name in signature of all the emails, and then, little by little, I introduced him to my customers in order to establish a climate of confidence. Today, some of them only deal with him. But it took five years.”
That being said, “there are some that I cannot leave, especially the older ones,” Larose notes, adding that the disruption could be too much for them. “Despite my 70 years, I want to stay active, so it’s them I keep.”
Jean Dupriez, financial planner at Valimax, suggests explaining the decision respectfully and calmly. Be considerate of your client’s emotions, but do not enter into a protracted discussion. Explain that the decision was not made lightly, and that you weighed the pros and cons. “We must not be convinced by the customer to keep them,” he says.
Dupriez suggests a phone call over an email, but Bienvenue says an in-person conversation or even an explanation over dinner can be better for certain clients. For clients who do not require a conversation, she suggests a friendly letter on a nice stationery could suffice. “Even if it’s a small client, he needs to feel important,” she says.