Steal this idea: Hire a relationship manager

By Kate McCaffery | November 12, 2007 | Last updated on November 12, 2007
4 min read

Perhaps this isn’t an original idea, but all the talk about building relationships — clipping and sending articles of interest to clients, systematic phone calling, even staying on top of birthday cards — almost seems like enough work for a full-time person to manage nicely. It’s too bad you’ve got a job to do, eh?

Even the most superhuman assistant can’t do it all. It’s becoming more acceptable to recognize that one person can’t reasonably be expected to be a genius about all things — daily communication, website administration, newsletters, office tech support and bill payments — all while booking your appointments. If he or she is savvy enough with the customer relationship management software you have installed, it is possible that they’ll get the drink order right, maybe, provided your clients’ tastes haven’t changed since the last time you met with them.

Now, some administrative assistants are superhuman. Some advisor businesses are completely automated, systematic, focused and in control. It is possible, though, that such service might not be feasible to deliver to more than a few hundred clients. It is also somewhat apparent that the high-net-worth clients so many are counting on to boost assets under administration and make a smaller client list economically feasible are perhaps not as numerous as once thought.

With all that in mind, perhaps it’s time to rewrite a few job descriptions and put all the wonderful things you would like to do to retain clients, and make them feel appreciated, all under one title. Free up your assistant to handle the administration and paperwork more effectively. Figure out how much time it takes to deliver all the extras, then sit down at some point when you’re feeling relatively clear-headed about the situation, and figure out what all those extras could mean to your business.

If you can, get someone who is good with databases and who can take notes (or understand yours) to keep track of client likes, dislikes and interests. They can set Google and clipping service alerts to build and maintain a ready library of interest-specific material in fairly short order.

A relationship manager who is systematic about their calling schedule can be the one to make your semi-annual or quarterly client phone calls. This assistant doesn’t need to be licensed — these calls don’t need to be related to finances at all. Simply checking in to find out if everything is OK in the family, or if circumstances have changed in any way, can be all that is needed to uncover opportunities your planning team can follow up on, all while making your clients feel incredibly valued.

Our recent round of interviews for the Sixth Annual Dollars & Sense Survey, available for you to read in the November 2007 issue of Advisor’s Edge, turned up a few interesting discrepancies — it found that advisors believe quality advice is the most important thing they have to offer, yet only 32% of clients said the quality of your advice affects their decision to stay.

Clients told us they typically seek out good service (and many times this quest leads them to change advisors) in response to life changes. Proactively finding out what those life changes are, before they need to come to you, might be the edge your practice needs. Your time and your advice don’t even need to come into play for them to believe you offer quality and essential service.

When finding the right person for a role like this (after all, like anything else in this industry, finding the right fit is key), it helps to identify your own service objectives and requirements beforehand. Create a wish list, then draft a job description describing the perfect person for your business.

This person should be a pro — someone willing to read trade publications (like this one), someone willing to get up to speed on your objectives, the requirements of your business and the industry’s restrictions.

In addition to being incredibly organized and good with the CRM software, this person needs to be genuinely concerned about making contact. There are natural networking junkies out there. They make connections. They enjoy finding the right articles to send to people. They would feel compelled to research options for your client whose first grandchild was born disabled.

It’s not exactly specialized work. Like finding a good assistant, it might be necessary to try a few people out before you find the right employee or associate who shines brilliantly in this role, but you don’t need to pay some super-keen up-and-comer who has massive student loans to pay off. Rumour has it there are going to be quite a few baby boomers out there soon, all looking for semi-retirement jobs for fun. I can think of three people off the top of my head who would be fantastic doing a job like this.

Keep in mind that this person is probably not a jack of all trades, though. They’re not exactly the high-end help either. Tack on a few creeping administrative burdens and, unless this person is one of those superhuman assistants we mentioned earlier, you could well compromise their ability to effectively make these connections for you.

Finding the skills and the drive in one person to meet the needs of two distinct jobs can be a difficult task. Also, if you do find someone who is really good at the relationship thing, do you really want to waste their time with paperwork? Wouldn’t it be better to have them focus on their number one mandate: to make your clients love you and believe that you really do care about the details of their lives?

Kate McCaffery