The role of investment outperformance as a differentiator between advisors is rapidly diminishing. Now more than ever, client relationships set the foundation for a successful and lasting practice.
Industry-wide research confirms this shift. For example, a 2014 Spectrem Group-Vanguard study found that affluent investors gave more weight to communication, trustworthiness and transparency than to fees and performance when deciding whether to hire or fire an advisor. And a 2016 Ipsos-Vanguard survey found benefits of recent Canadian regulatory changes included greater client communication, demonstration of value and increased trust.
With this in mind, take these four steps to deepen client relationships.
STEP 1: INCREASE CLIENT TOUCHPOINTS
One of the simplest ways to improve client relationships is to reach out more often. Research reveals a direct, positive correlation between the frequency of advisor contact and the level of client satisfaction. In the Spectrem-Vanguard study, the most striking difference in reported satisfaction appeared between clients who were contacted at least quarterly and those who were contacted semi-annually or less.
While quarterly contact is an industry standard, many advisors reach out less often. If your client outreach is less frequent than you intend, resetting your objective may help. Setting calendar reminders immediately after meeting with a client for follow-up in a couple months can help you stay organized and ensure you don’t wait too long to connect.
Most effective client touchpoints have one objective: to pre-empt the question, “Has my advisor forgotten about me?” In other words, ongoing client contact serves to reinforce a client’s feeling of being well looked-after and gives them a chance to raise concerns as they come up.
Fortunately, frequency is more important than duration. Even a short phone call or personal email can be enough. The difference between a 30-minute conversation every six months and a 10-minute chat every two months can be significant.
STEP 2: DON’T JUST TALK ABOUT THE PORTFOLIO
Some advisors hesitate to pick up the phone because they have nothing new to say. But conversations don’t have to be investment-related, because the purpose of client outreach isn’t to reinforce the value of your investment strategy but, rather, to build a relationship.
With that in mind, reasons to chat to clients can become more numerous. Small details about their family and discussion of hobbies, achievements and significant life events all present new opportunities for contact. Mobile apps like Evernote, Google Keep and Todoist can help you easily track this information with reminders, notifications and alerts to optimize your effort.
STEP 3: MINE CONVERSATIONS FOR NEW KNOWLEDGE
Deepening any relationship has a lot to do with listening, and advisors who talk less and listen more tend to leave clients feeling valued and understood.
Advisors who maintain a perpetual curiosity about clients are more likely to create opportunities that lead to new business and to have conversations that reveal additional client needs.
For example, Spectrem found that affluent clients want to have deeper discussions, even if they are difficult. Yet both clients and advisors are generally reluctant to initiate these important, yet potentially sensitive, topics: examples can include long-term medical care needs for themselves or family members, the impact of cognitive impairment and whether the client’s heirs will be prepared for a sudden inheritance.
One way to initiate these discussions is to use a real-life example highlighting the potential risks of ignoring important issues. This may open the door for a deeper discussion.
STEP 4: CONNECT WITH CLIENTS’ FAMILIES
Connecting with clients’ families is another simple, yet critical, way to strengthen relationships and expand your practice.
Connecting with children and grandchildren of clients offers multiple benefits. In the near term, you may gain stronger relationships with current clients. You also gain experience with younger investors in general, and with potential future clients in particular.
Getting to know your clients’ families can also create the opportunity to become a trusted financial consultant for all family members, which opens the door for them to seek your counsel on a variety of issues that could help you use your professional referral network. One way to connect casually is by sending client-friendly articles and education materials periodically – with your client’s blessing.
Whether you simply reach out more often, cultivate deeper discussions or initiate relationships with clients’ families, the key to more meaningful relationships is honest conversation. When you provide the opportunity for clients to speak sincerely and openly about their goals, their families and even their legacies, you’re creating a bond that cannot easily be rivaled by a competing advisor or less-expensive digital alternative. It’s a foolproof way to reinforce your client relationships.
Atul Tiwari is managing director and head of Vanguard Investments Canada. He is also chairman and a director of the Canadian ETF Association.