How to ask for referrals

By Melissa Shin | November 7, 2023 | Last updated on November 7, 2023
3 min read

Desperate. Pushy. Aggressive.

These were common adjectives used by financial advisors when asked at a seminar run by CFA Society Toronto last week what they want to avoid feeling when asking clients for referrals.

Rob Kochel, vice-president of Invesco Global Consulting, understands that aversion.

According to research comissioned by Invesco, 77.5% of financial advisors say referrals are their top source of new clients. Yet of those advisors, 88.1% have never asked their clients for a referral because they felt doing so would create an imbalance in the client/advisor relationship.

Many advisors aren’t equipped to ask for referrals properly, Kochel said at the CFA Society Toronto event, with many relying on inadequate “referral scripts.” He said scripts that don’t work include ones that position the referral as another form of compensation for the advisor and ones that frame the referral as an invitation to become part of an “exclusive club” of clients. (The latter is the number one referral technique in Canada, Kochel said.)

Instead, Kochel recommends that advisors use a technique his firm developed and market-tested with a focus group of wealthy clients. The script draws upon the advisor’s own aversion to asking for referrals.

“You’ve probably noticed I don’t often ask you for introductions,” the script begins. “That’s because I don’t want to appear desperate, and I don’t want you to feel obligated to provide one. But given current market volatility, I see some things that concern me: I see clients who were not contacted by their advisors. People who are going all-in on GICs right now. And I see many advisors who merely talk about markets, not about individual client situations.

“For these reasons, if there’s anyone you care about who could benefit from a fresh perspective, I would be glad to help them.”

Kochel recommended substituting “desperate” and “obligated” with adjectives that ring true for the advisor delivering the script, as well as personalizing the concerns within the script. Otherwise, “[clients] are going to say, ‘You went to a seminar. We’ve never heard you say this stuff before,'” Kochel joked.

He said the script works because it preserves the equilibrium between advisor and client, includes vulnerability from the advisor, allows the advisor to share their values, and closes with an offer to help versus a request for a referral.

Advisors often wonder when to use such a script, and Kochel suggests doing so after the client gives a compliment. He also said advisors have told him they’re hesitant to ask clients for referrals when their portfolios are performing poorly.

However, “people remember people that contact them during tumultuous times,” Kochel said. “What our research says is oftentimes, they don’t even hear what we say to them, but they listen to the tone of our voice.”

Reaching out serves the dual purpose of reassuring clients that you’re on top of their financial plans, as well as increasing the likelihood of a future referral. Research commissioned by Invesco found that 82.1% of clients who’d had a conversation with their advisor in the past five weeks were willing to refer their advisors.

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Melissa Shin

Melissa is the editorial director of and leads Newcom Media Inc.’s group of financial publications. She has been with the team since 2011 and been recognized by PMAC and CFA Society Toronto for her reporting. Reach her at You may also call or text 416-847-8038 to provide a confidential tip.