Maximizing client meetings

By Janine Purves | November 1, 2009 | Last updated on November 1, 2009
5 min read

I’ve been in the financial industry in some shape or form for close to 20 years. I’ve won customer service awards, but some days, I still have to ask myself this question: What do clients really want?

There are lots of gurus telling us how to run our businesses; giving us strategies to help it grow, how to generate referrals, but it still comes down to one main thing:

Sitting across the desk from the client and helping him find the best way to manage the money. We can only do this by anticipating their needs, and making solid recommendations.

But how do we know the client has bought into the solutions we’ve brought forth? And how can we meet all the client’s needs and still ensure we’re satisfied and profitable in our business?

Sometimes it’s tough to help take care of the client and try to get compensated to the fullest ourselves. I believe our business has become too complicated. And if we feel that way, imagine how the client feels.

I also believe that most people think we should get paid. The problems lie in the way our compensation has been largely behind the scenes for so many years. We know how much we’ve received per client, but they’ve often had no idea.

The other issue is that as our compliance requirements have consistently become more challenging, and it’s certainly made it harder to have a strong income flow from a practice that’s geared to the upper-middle-class. Does this mean that most ‘Average Joes’ will not have advisors in the future? If so, our industry will change a lot.

Much of what we deal with focuses on how to bring on new clients. Yet, servicing the existing ones, and then moving ahead with them and anticipating their needs can sometimes be just as challenging. How do we proceed with this?

Here are some guidelines I follow. I hope they’ll provide some insights to help retain your clients and, even better, keep them happy while still fulfilling your own business objectives.

1. Have an annual overview meeting. At most meetings we’ll discuss what’s current, update critical status, talk about investments, and so forth. However, check in on what they feel about what you’ve done together, what went well in the past year, and what could have been improved upon. It need only take an extra five-to-10 minutes at the end of the meeting, and they may have little to say. But opening up this area will show you care, show you are ready to be measured, and also help to ensure you are meeting levels of satisfaction.

If they don’t say much, leave the door open for them to send you some comments or call later if they think of something. Initial silence may mean simply they can’t think of anything offhand, which means there’s nothing wrong. Or, it may mena they’re not ready to tell you because they’re not comfortable. Leaving the door open helps advisors deal with the second of those two scenarios.

At each meeting, touch on a different area of business. Once you touch on various key points that often make the press – for example, your compensation – explain how it works and how it impacts them. And talk about industry protection and what applies to your firm, tax planning, etc. Pick different areas that help to ensure that you are being open and upfront about any specific issues. Again, by opening the communication, you are helping to provide a level of comfort that there’s full disclosure.

Start each meeting with a quick summary of where you left off at the last one. And then determine what their priorities are for the current meeting. What do they want to deal with? Find out. Better yet, if you send an agenda ahead of time, you can ask them to notify you of any pending issues they need to discuss. That allows you to be better prepared.

Watch the “lingo” and the numbers. Most of us in the industry believe that’s why they’re coming, and that’s true, but not all clients share our love of numbers. Help explain account updates in language that they can relate to.

Mention a recent topic that’s been on the news. For example, when GIF products were receiving lots of press, I made a point to mention it at every meeting to get their thoughts. It helped me learn how much attention they paid, and their impression of the product or scandal of the day. By being proactive in this regard, it helps the client to know you’re thinking of their best interests and following the trends, even if it’s not for them.

Leave each meeting with an action plan. Maybe it’s time to re-do the retirement calculations, maybe it’s time to re-assess insurance coverage. Whatever it is, make sure they know there’s a next step that will set the stage for the next meeting.

What do the clients want? Honest good advice. That old saying bears repeating: they don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

Most of them will forgive an error as long as they don’t absorb the cost, and recognize we’re not going to get market timing right all the time. However, more than ever, it’s critical to document key points and ensure the client either signs off on these at a meeting, or acknowledges by e-mail to ensure it doesn’t come back to haunt you.

We are human and can make mistakes. We care and want to understand the client to help do what’s right for him. We have good knowledge to help our clients. Hopefully we can all find the combinations to help meet the clients’ needs, and ensure we get fairly compensated in the process.

  • Janine Purves is a senior financial advisor at Assante Capital Management Ltd., specializing in wealth planning for seniors, business owners, & professionals.

    Janine Purves