Meeting with a prospective client can make for an exciting day, with the potential for a substantial addition to an advisor’s book of business. But getting to that point can be like pulling teeth, as an unsigned client may be reticent about divulging too much personal information.
But put yourself in the client’s shoes: he or she just met you, and you’re asking an awful lot of very personal questions.
Preparing for an initial meeting with a potential financial advisor, Roberta Montreb*, a 64-year-old widow in the high net worth (HNW) category, told Advisor.ca that she needed professional help but had not found the right match, even after meeting with advisors from two insurers, two banks, two fund companies and several smaller companies.
Montreb questioned how much attention her portfolio would get, how much control she would have to surrender and why her assets have attracted different estimates of fees in earlier meetings.
Still, she understood the urgency, especially with 97% of her holdings in equities, a dangerous proportion at any age.
“My portfolio is a mess, and at my age I know I have to be more conservative,” she told Advisor.ca. “It’s hard to become conservative when you have an aggressive approach.”
She has done fairly well on her own: she made $37,000 in capital gains and dividends last year. And that success leaves her wondering how badly she needs professional help. Her returns have been good, but risk management might need some attention.
In the equivalent of a first date, the advisor must demonstrate that he or she merits the client’s full trust. And the client — especially one in the HNW category — needs to know he or she will be treated with respect.
Putting a prospect at ease during the first meeting starts with a series of personal considerations, according Tina Tehranchian, CFP, a branch manager at Assante Capital Management in Richmond Hill, Ont., and a 19-year veteran of financial planning. She often does not request the usual financial documents at the initial meeting but instead sees building rapport and trust as the top priority. She focuses on listening, not on emphasizing her expertise and experience at this stage. This means asking detailed questions about the client’s personal, financial and professional situations.
Disclosure to a stranger presents problems for some individuals, especially those with little or no previous experience with an advisor. She may draw the analogy of a doctor asking questions that seem unrelated to the patient’s ailment in order to build up a complete picture.
“It’s just the same way when you go into your financial planner.”
Pragmatically, explaining her cost structures upfront during the first meeting — fee-based, fee-for-service and commission-based service—clears the air about costs, and she says potential clients appreciate knowing their choices at the outset.
Individual attention — the thorniest issue after costs — also requires the proverbial carving in stone. The service commitment reassures a client that his or her concerns will not become overlooked. It includes the number and frequency of meetings the client can expect, as well as the level of service.
Pragmatism also figures in dealing with a potential client who has always handled all of his or her own investments; these clients may equate working with an advisor with surrendering their independence.
However, simply making the appointment shows that the client is willing to surrender some control, Tehranchian believes. The decision to set up a meeting often means that the individual does not feel confident about continuing to handle everything independently.
In one best-of-both-worlds solution, the client continues handling part of his or her affairs, perhaps through an online trading account. In that case, Tehranchian builds up an asset allocation strategy that recognizes those holdings, as well as the assets under her administration. This allows the client to retain some independence, while resting assured that a professional advisor has the responsibility for most assets.
There are also privacy considerations to be taken into account, both before and after the first meeting.
Where the client insists on leaving assets with another advisor, Tehranchian requests full statements as a means of working effectively on the asset allocation strategy, but she does not contact the other advisor without the client’s written consent.
If the client has not provided all statements, it augurs badly for the future. “That makes me question the type of relationship that I’m going to have with the client going forward,” Tehranchian says.
In another dimension of the privacy issue, an individual may question the need to provide large amounts of information. Tehranchian deals with that by distinguishing between different levels of information she requests: some is required by regulation; some is required by financial institutions; and some is for her own requirements. By delineating which information is required for each reason, it is easier to explain how it is used.
In another privacy problem, an individual who is coming through a family referral may worry that the advisor will divulge information to relatives, a concern that she dispels with confidentiality assurances in the engagement letter.
* While Roberta Montreb is a real person, she has asked that her real name not be used.
Al Emid, a Toronto-based financial journalist, covers insurance, investing and banking.