Over the past four months so much of our world has changed, yet so much remains the same. The markets continue to be unpredictable, and are likely to continue to be so until we have a vaccine available to everyone, the upcoming school year is coming soon with no certainty of how, and businesses are opening and closing as though this virus is playing games with our very existence. Everything is fluid.
Amidst all of this, the quality of the advisor-client relationship, especially the affluent client, continues to define the strength of the relationship. When it’s a strong and expanded relationship that has an emotional connection, positive word-of-mouth-influence is spreading faster than ever. If the relationship is stagnant, loyalty is weakened and the client becomes vulnerable to being “pinched” by a proactive financial advisor.
All of which leads me to the topic of client review meetings. Many of the elite advisors we coach have repurposed the traditional client review meeting into more of a relationship-building - advisory forum. Meetings that have traditionally been framed around performance, a review of the client’s portfolio, have now taken a much more holistic flavor. Yes, performance is still very important, but COVID-19 has put it into context. The following is an outline of a recent advisor-affluent meeting, conducted virtually using Zoom video, as recalled by the advisor through his coach:
- I began by asking, “How are things with the family?” I quickly discovered “things” weren’t good. Their 23-year-old son, home from college and acting like the typical college student—not taking COVID seriously—is now quarantined at home with the virus. The clients both got tested, the father is over 60 and immunocompromised, he got his results within two days, the mother still has not got her results—it’s been two weeks. Needless to say, this dominated our conversation.
- Much of the call was centered around COVID-19, the “I’m invincible” mindset of today’s youth, and the vagaries of our health care system.
- Then we also talked about working from home—sharing our experiences and discussing possible solutions.
- Less than 10 percent of the meeting focused on their investments. I was making a couple of changes, explained my reasoning, they agreed, and we ended the meeting sharing our plans for what remained of the summer.
This meeting via Zoom video had a major impact on this financial advisor. No longer was he going to conduct “client review” meetings. Going forward he was going to refer to them as simply client meetings. Yet, much remained the same. He emailed a follow-up outline of what was discussed and sent flowers as a “feel good” in light of all the client was “dealing with.” There was an agenda for the meeting, and although it wasn’t adhered to as the client took the lead, there were still action items (changes to their portfolio) and an email summary sent to the client; all components of an effective client meeting.
And within hours of receiving the flowers, the client (mother) called gushing with thanks and suggesting a family member she wanted to introduce him to on Zoom.
Not all client meetings will evolve like the one I just shared, but, from the perspective of the affluent client, the standard client review meeting is forever changed. And financial advisors should not only recognize this but take the lead.
There’s no telling what will be uncovered during client meetings in today’s environment. Nothing is static, planning is ongoing and fluid. Today’s client meetings, formerly client review meetings, serve as a platform to communicate with clients, discover what’s going on in their disrupted lives, offer advice and counsel when appropriate, discuss what’s happening (any adjustments that need to be made) regarding the financial goals that have been established, and provide the perfect window of opportunity to strengthen the emotional connection.
Clients, especially affluent clients, understand that the economy is on life-support and framing a meeting as a platform to pontificate your views on the market and the economy that you support with streams of data is NOT positioning you as the trusted “go-to” professional for their family. The time is now for financial advisors to STOP attempting to prove their worth by dominating the conversation. Ideally, the client should be speaking 70 percent of the time – while you are listening, asking follow-up questions, and uncovering needs, concerns and opportunities.
Many of the elite advisors we coach have changed the format of their former “client review” meetings, beginning with renaming them with titles such as; client meetings, advisory meetings, progress meetings, formal assessments, check-ins, check-ups ... the list can go on and on. Much of what was behind the name change was to serve as an internal reminder that the context of these meetings has changed, as it’s well known that habits are hard to break.
Because these meetings are being conducted virtually, hopefully by video, it’s important that the technology works on both ends; advisor and client. This often requires practice internally, and a technology check-in with clients to make certain they are functional on their end. Assuming all of this is in good working order, an effective client meeting (you can choose your own name) has a number of similar components to the old Client Review meeting…
- Scheduling and confirming
- Creating an agenda (much simplified)
- Preparing financial documents and developing an advisory plan of action
- Reviewing all personal information on the client (Know Your Client Worksheet)
- Confirming the meeting 24 to 48 hours in advance
- Conducting the meetings (client dictates the flow)
- Email follow-up summary
- Surprise & delight gift if appropriate
What we’ve discovered throughout this process is how these meetings are much easier to schedule, less likely to be rescheduled, and how with some practice the video component is nearly as effective as meeting in person. Clients appreciate them, they feel as if you’re with them in person, while you’re able to read body language, facial expressions—all the non-verbal clues that contribute to effective communication.
None of this should come as a surprise. Take the lead in repurposing client meetings, and not only will you strengthen your affluent client relationships, you’ll find yourself generating new prospecting opportunities.
Matt Oechsli is author of Building a Successful 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing & Retaining Affluent Clients. www.oechsli.com