It is the official season for gift giving. While some advisors have already sent out their gifts to beat the holiday shipping jam, others are still wondering what to choose. Advisor Ryan Hughes at Bull Oak Capital in San Diego is part of that gaggle searching for ways to show client appreciation in a timely and cost-effective manner.
“I sent gifts in the past and they were your standard chocolates or wines or sweets. It seems very disingenuous,” he said. Last year, he tried something new by sending out a boxed succulent plant surrounded by sweets. Some clients loved it, but he received an underwhelming response. Hughes is not an expert gift giver and says that his wife, who is, can attest to it.
So, he headed to the Twitter drawing board. Hughes surveyed his advisor followers about what they do and got a ton of suggestions. They ranged from personal touches to advice on not sending a gift at all.
“I try to call my clients within a week or two of their holidays. Mostly Christmas, some Hanukkah. And one client who doesn’t celebrate anything (had to intercept birthday cards last month),” tweeted Michael Policar, a HighTower advisor in Bellevue, Wash.
Policar explained in an interview that he never wanted to follow the gifting trend. “I feel like you’re rewarding clients for being your clients. I feel like the work should speak for itself and do that,” he said.
He said he’s not opposed to giving gifts because he sends them when a client refers someone to him. But he prefers to send his holiday greetings over the phone so he can reconnect with clients and find out what their plans are for the upcoming holidays.
Larry Sprung, founder of Mitlin Financial in Hauppauge, New York, tweeted, “I send Thanksgiving cards/gifts. It arrives earlier and often the saying on the card is more appropriate. Regarding the gift for most clients I use an awesome local business; they made amazing ice cream treats but they are limited in terms of geography (dry ice only lasts so long)."
Sprung said in an interview that there are three specific reasons he sticks with Thanksgiving gift giving. First, “you don’t have to worry about religious affiliation. Most everybody celebrates Thanksgiving. Second, the holidays tend to get really busy and the cards tend to get lost in the shuffle.” And the third thing: “Most people are getting together and so we typically send something that they can share and hopefully we come up in the conversation.” Hence the platter of ice cream truffles. Sprung’s treats are approved by his taste buds; “if I don’t eat it, I don’t send it.”
Hughes, who got more than 30 reponses to his initial tweet, said he is thinking of using advisor Jeff Levine’s Things Remembered gift idea. It will cost under $75 per client or family, which fits within his budget for the 70-plus clients he's sending gifts to.
“We’ve done a lot from Things Remembered, customized with a client’s family name. We had extraordinarily positive feedback a few years ago when we did a picture frame engraved with “____________ Family”. [In my opinion], most important thing is NO COMPANY LOGO. It’s a gift. Not marketing,” tweeted Levine, the CEO of BluePrint Wealth Alliance in Garden City, New York.
Below are the other suggestions from Hughes’ thread:
"We created an online store this year. Created 3 tiers of customized gifts. Then sent them their store credit via email where they could go and choose what they wanted. They loved it," tweeted Justin Brammer at JarredBunch, an independent RIA in Indianapolis.
“Take your total budget for gifts to clients and divide by number of people working at your firm. Ask each of them what charity they would like to donate that amount to. Send cards to all clients and others explaining why those charities are important to each person. Boom,” tweeted David B. Armstrong at Monument Wealth in Alexandria, Virginia
Stephen Nelson at Aldrich Wealth provided his reasoning for not giving gifts.
“Contrarian take: Don't give gifts during the holidays
-sets the expectation that it will happen every year
-it's what everyone else does”