Practice Management’s Blackhole: Process Overload

Practice Management’s Blackhole: Process Overload

Los Angeles:  In debriefing a peer-to-peer discussion about service models, David, a spokesperson for one of the peer groups took the conversation in a different direction. “What we talked about was ‘process overload’ -- when practice management processes become the end-all-be all and replaces thinking about individualized client needs.  Managing the relationship of our affluent clients must be personal—which means our top tier service model needs to be personal, not mechanical.”

Not only did David’s comments change the tenor of the discussion, it led him to sharing a painful, yet insightful story about how he lost a $5 million client last year.  His firm was planning to hold a firm-sponsored client appreciation dinner, with one of their top analysts as a special guest speaker.  The breaking point came when the advisor, had convinced the spouse to attend as her husband was out of town.  The problem was that this particular client never had any interest in these types of events.   David went on to explain, “At the conclusion of the event, my client walked up to me and asked, ‘Why did you make me come to this dinner?  I didn’t understand a word that guy said!’ then she pointed her finger at me and said, ‘You owe me.’”  Ouch. 

That was the beginning of the end.  Three weeks later, Mr. Affluent Client (husband) called David and explained that his wife had been introduced to another advisor and that she wanted to make a change.  As David pressed for a reason, the call became an exit interview.   It was then David learned that Ms. Affluent felt that he never took the time to get to know her, didn’t really know the family, and his non-personal communication was evidenced by ‘forcing her’ to attend this analyst dinner event. 

As David shared his story, I found myself thinking:  personal communication, knowing your affluent clients and their families is common sense – but apparently not common practice.  David’s confession highlighted the danger of allowing practice management policies and procedures to become a black hole that interferes with managing affluent client relationships on a personal level. 

According to David, these firm-sponsored client events were supposed to serve as one of the personal touches within the firm’s practice management model.  However, most of the “client touches” were non-personal and took the form of approved emails and e-letters that were to be complemented by a monthly phone call. 

David explained that he’d embraced his firm’s practice management model because too many things were falling through the cracks.  Clients weren’t being contacted on a regular basis and his team members weren’t really working together.  His solution was “to get things under control” by strict enforcement of practice management.  According to David, his team suddenly had a process and written procedure for everything.  It was only through the hindsight provided in the exit interview of his lost $5 million client that he realized many of these “client touches” were too impersonal -- especially for his affluent clients. 

I closed this discussion by asking David and his colleagues the “why” question; Why is practice management so important?

After a heady give-and-take dialogue, these advisors boiled it down to three key areas:

The Practice Management Why?

1. Provide comprehensive wealth management services in a professional and consistent manner to affluent clients.

2. Develop loyal affluent clients through personalized service, personal interactions, open communication, periodic surprise and delight moments, and a thorough understanding of the inner-workings of their family unit.

3.    Enable advisors to spend time on relationship marketing; socializing with their affluent clients and penetrating their affluent spheres-of-influence.

What was so encouraging to me was how well aligned these “why” areas were linked to the two Macro Affluent Trends identified in our latest research; gender shift and the relationship shift. 

Today’s affluent want their financial advisor to be a first rate professional, but they also want their advisor to understand and know them on a personal level, just as they need to understand and know you on this visceral level.  All of this is a trust issue.  David’s experience losing a $5 million client highlights the importance of understanding the woman of the affluent household and being personal. 

Mechanical contact with affluent clients combined with a superficial understanding of what’s important to the female of the affluent household is an accident waiting to happen.    

In the spirit of keeping things simple, you might think in terms of focusing your practice management policies and procedures around a set of core performance results that all affluent clients seek.  Your ability to respond to those expectations requires both the desire and effort to continuously improve.  Think in terms of…


  • Everything done right the first time.
  • The information you provide to be clear and easy to understand.
  • Knowledgeable and helpful assistance from you and everyone on your team.


  • Everything delivered when and where they want it.
  • You and all your team members to keep every promise.


  • Everything personalized to each client’s unique needs and wants.
  • You and all your team have developed a strong relationship with both spouses of each affluent household.


  • To be convinced that the value you provide justifies the trust they place in you, and the fees they pay.
  • To be convinced that your value-added services are continually reducing their “costs” in terms of time, effort, and dollars.

As David discovered the hard way, practice management should be designed to help you service your affluent clients, strengthen these relationships, and attract more affluent clients.  Keep it simple and keep it smart.

Matt Oechsli is the author of The Art of Selling to the Affluent.  His firm, The Oechsli Institute, does ongoing speaking and training for nearly every major firm in the US.  @mattoechsli

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