If you think that potential clients obtain a list of brokers, devise a slate of questions and go on a round of interviews, think again.
The reality of how clients hook up with brokers is much more disorganized. They bump into brokers on planes, meet them at dinner parties or take referrals. Others attend seminars or have their accounts transferred from a retiring broker.
But after a potential client has met a broker, how does that client decide whether to sign on? And once he does, what makes him stay? Most of the time its not an analytical reason. Many clients select and keep their brokers based on emotional factors.
Clients say that feeling at ease is a prerequisite to entrusting a broker with their money. It was a comfortable feeling that led John Kozlevchar, a retiree from Wickliffe, Ohio, to work with Randy Carver, president of Carver Financial Services, a Raymond James Financial Services firm in Mentor, Ohio. In laying the groundwork for Kozlevchars retirement, Carver made sure my wife understood the process before he moved on to the next step, Kozlevchar says. I had a comfortable feeling. Other brokers really didnt lay out a plan.
About 17 years ago, Matt Sternigs account was transferred to broker Gene Szaj from another broker at Harris Upham in Milwaukee. Sternig felt comfortable with him, so he stayed. He was not a pushy guy, and he was a nice guy to talk to--seemed intelligent, Sternig remembers. When Szaj later formed The Disciplined Investor Group in Brookfield, Wis., with partner Ken Fockel, Sternig, now retired, moved with them. I feel comfortable, Sternig says. I sleep nights.
In Brokers We TrustPart of clients comfort comes from trusting their broker. Trust lays the foundation for the relationship.
David Goudge, a Vancouver, British Columbia, realtor, trusted Jason Leemans, an investment adviser with Nesbitt Burns in the same city, so much that he dumped his big shot adviser three years ago to work with rookie Leemans. Leemans had been Goudges real estate client. I got to know him as a person, which is part of the reason I supported him in return, Goudge says. He phones just to inform me about things--not just to make a sale. I trust him categorically.
It was on an airplane 20 years ago that Paul Cutler met Carol Rogers, now senior financial adviser with Rogers & Co., a Corporate Securities Group firm in St. Louis. It was a chance meeting, and she obviously wasnt trying to sell anything, says Cutler, then president of a New York travel agency and now retired in Hillsboro Beach, Fla. I liked the way she handled herself. It grew from there.
About 20 years ago, Dennis Waetzig also bumped into Rogers--this time on foot in St. Louis. Waetzig knew Rogers family from Topeka, Kan., so he was familiar with her background. I knew her word was her bond, he says. He decided to give Carol a shot. I worked with two other brokers, and eventually I got rid of them, Waetzig says. I trust her with my money.
When Salt Lake City entrepreneur Steve Benchs broker retired about 13 years ago, his account was transferred to Chris Freymuller, associate vice president of investments with A.G. Edwards in Salt Lake City. Bench stayed with Freymuller because he liked his straightforward approach. I trust him, otherwise I wouldnt be with him, Bench says. Ive had five brokerage accounts, and hes the one thats endured.
Clients Come FirstClients trust develops when they know the broker puts their interests first. It was Cinda Collins client-focused approach that convinced Cindy Jepsen, vice president of government affairs for a Bloomington, Minn., credit union, to do business with her a year ago. Jepsen had been managing her own money. I decided I needed someone more hands-on, she says.
Jepsen met Collins in a social setting and was impressed with her enthusiasm for investing. Collins is an associate vice president-investment officer at Dain Rauscher in Minneapolis. After checking a client reference, Jepsen met with Collins three times to discuss her portfolio. There were a couple of things in Cinda that made me realize she was the right one, Jepsen says. One, I didnt feel like she would sell me something just to make her commission that day. Two, she would manage this like its her own money.
Cleveland attorney Tim Sauvain was struck by Carvers integrity when he saw him speak at an educational seminar for attorneys six years ago. My impression of most brokers was that they were used car salesmen with a license, Sauvain says. But I was very, very impressed with Randy. He was a professional with great intelligence, not a huckster.
When Sauvains wife retired, they invested some money with Carver. He didnt put things on the table that would make him a lot of money, Sauvain says. He put things that were best for us. That made me respect him right away.
Cutler respected Rogers approach in proposing changes to his portfolio. The nice part was that she didnt change everything, Cutler says. She kept the good and suggested other things. It wasnt a hungry approach. It engendered goodwill and trust.
The Personality FactorWhen clients are selecting a broker, chemistry counts. A common thread among happy clients is that they have a personal relationship with their broker.
It was Szajs amiable personality and integrity that made Clifford Mochalski, a retired dentist from Greendale, Wis., decide to do business with him about 10 years ago. I had been investing on and off with another broker, Mochalski says. His daughter referred him to Szaj, who won out. Hes an honest, friendly person--easy to talk to.
Freymullers friendly personality won over client Ed Zajac, a retired resident of St. George, Utah. About 13 years ago, Zajac was assigned to Freymuller after his broker retired, and Zajac didnt like it one bit. The 83-year-old Zajac, a 62-year market veteran, recalls, I thought I would meet with him and keep him until he showed some negative trait, and then I would get rid of him. But that never happened. He had a nice personality. He grew on me.
Ultimately, it is the clients decision which investments to make with which broker. You can improve the odds of getting--and keeping--business if you are trustworthy, personable, communicative, forthright, and always put your clients interests first. But you know that already. Its a message driven home more forcefully by clients themselves.
Clients want brokers to communicate clearly and honestly. Theyll dump brokers that dont. Case in point: David Goudge switched to Jason Leemans, an investment adviser with Nesbitt Burns, because his previous broker was a poor communicator. I felt he was neglectful with me and impatient, Goudge says. If I had a question, he would talk over my head. Jason is not like that at all.
Herb Isermann, a retired Milwaukee engineer, switched brokers about seven years ago because his previous brokers werent communicating with him, and they were doing a lousy job, he says. After receiving a letter from Gene Szaj and Ken Fockel of The Disciplined Investor Group, he decided to meet with them. I thought they were plain, down-to-earth, Isermann says. They explained what they tried to do and how to do it. Theyre personable, and they listen to you.
Effective communication is based on honesty, and clients appreciate brokers who tell it like it is.
Dennis Waetzig says that when he started working with Carol Rogers of Rogers & Co., a Corporate Securities Group firm, he almost fired her because she was not expressing her opinion about his ideas. I said, Carol, youre not my wife, mother or father. If Im a dumb-ass, just tell me. After that, Rogers would tell me her opinion--not what I wanted to hear, Waetzig says.
I think its similar in any sales situation. You have something that clicks. You like each other. You feel comfortable. You have to get along before you do business.--Chris Freymuller, A.G. Edwards
Theyre looking for someone theyre comfortable sitting across the table from--a friend, a neighbor. When they walk in the door, it feels like home. And theyre looking for good service.--Carol Rogers, Corporate Securities Group
Ive picked up accounts where clients made money, but they never got a phone call from their broker--no service. Its not your track record. Its not the firm name. Its the relationship.--Randy Carver, Raymond James Financial Services
What clients are looking for in a broker is personal attention. If a client doesnt care about personal attention, then theyre investing on the Internet.--Gene Szaj, The Disciplined Investor Group
There are a few factors clients are looking for: a broker who listens, provides good service and explains things tothem. This results in trust.--Jason Leemans, Nesbitt Burns
His personality and his honesty.--Ed Zajac
Its a combination of her honesty, diligence and an interest in what she is doing for the client.--Paul Cutler
His personable nature and strategic planning.--John Kozlevchar
His personal concern about clients. --Matt Sternig
She is a person of integrity. She walks her talk. And if she thinks Im making a mistake, shes quick to point it out.--Cindy Jepsen
He seems to know his stuff, and hes level-headed. I like his approach. He tells me what he thinks.--Steve Bench
He recommends what you should or should not do--gives you options. And hes a good listener.--Clifford Mochalski
His integrity.--Herb Isermann
He puts his clients interest first. Thats the way I run my business. I found a kindred spirit in him.--Tim Sauvain
When I refer people to her, they ask me, Why do you like her? I say, Because I can trust her.--Dennis Waetzig