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The three moments that matter for advisors


There are three pivotal points in all your client relationships. Download our worksheet to help you evaluate how you respond to these moments. Also take our survey to see how you match against your peers.

Your client relationships are the lifeblood of your advisory firm. 

There are three moments in these relationships that, if you get them right, can almost guarantee you have a client for life. But if any of those moments aren’t handled smoothly, it could lead to a break in the relationship and potentially push a client away for good.

The first moment - new client onboarding.

It’s an exciting moment when a new prospect agrees to work with you. Depending on the size of the relationship or how the client found you (either through a referral, an online search, or via social media), it could have taken months of time and energy to get that prospect to say yes. According to Schwab’s most recent RIA benchmarking study, it takes over 45 hours of staff time and over $4,200 to acquire a new account. First impressions matter, and getting onboarding right is essential for establishing trust and credibility with a new client.

People now expect their financial experience to be as simple as most of their other everyday experiences. Think about how Amazon, Apple, and Tesla have transformed the customer experience for their clients. Your clients are used to being offered instant digital mortgages, insurance policies, credit card approvals, car and personal loans, not to mention tap-to-invest smartphone apps and seamless online purchasing. (Shopify estimates its  average checkout time is 90 seconds to 4 minutes.) Is a big pile of paper going to get them excited? A recent  Fidelity survey of nearly 300 advisors found more than a third (37%) reported opening an account was the most cumbersome part of their client interactions.

Setting up investment accounts is more complicated than buying a book – but advisors can alleviate much of the hassle for their clients by adopting a completely digital account opening process. The same Fidelity survey found that not only do clients prefer a digital process over paper-only or a hybrid approach (65% for digital versus 26% for paper-only and 9% for hybrid), but it also found that an entirely digital process cut the time needed to open a new account by almost 60%.

True digital account opening is now advanced enough that Single-Sign-On and digital signature capabilities allow clients to endorse multiple forms seamlessly, and predictive forms fueled by updated data from your CRM or custodian help clients fill out paperwork correctly, reducing the Not-In-Good-Order errors that often plague the new account opening process.

Clients notice when this process isn’t smooth, and it informs their opinion of your overall service: According to the Fidelity survey, 37% of clients, including older clients, said they would change their financial advisor if they weren’t using technology to enhance their services. This is a pothole you can swerve around.

The second moment that matters is the first time the market drops while you are managing their assets.

It’s crucial to have regular, ongoing communication with your clients about the markets and their financial plans so that they are mentally prepared when a market correction happens.

When markets are up and it’s easy to show strong growth in your client’s portfolios, there can be a tendency on either side to put off a deeper discussion. As part of our survival instinct, humans are wired to pay more attention to bad news than good news, whether it’s the general goings-on in the world or even in our own lives.

Be deliberate in your ongoing communications to educate clients about the ebb and flow of the markets. Tackle crisis topics before the crisis happen. Talk about choppy markets and what expectations they should have about market fluctuations. Demonstrate the investment opportunities you can guide them to in a market correction. Walk them through your process so you can hear their concerns and work through them. When the markets do correct, your clients will be prepared and be less likely to overburden you and your staff with frantic calls.

It sounds obvious, but a  Natixis survey of 2,700 financial professionals reported that the top two reasons for losing clients were failing to listen to clients’ needs (60%) and failing to meet client expectations on communications (58%). Two-thirds of respondents (67%) also said investors were unprepared for a market downturn.

Staying connected with your clients is easier than ever with the help of customer relationship management software. Your CRM should be able to keep important notes about each of your clients within their records, and it should be able to link those details to workflows so you’re anticipating needs and customizing your service. Aside from warehousing important details and organizing client service, a strong CRM also supports active client communication, such as automated scheduling and integrated email.

Your goal is to be a consistent, steady voice of guidance. That’s reinforced by regular communication, coaching and clarity into your process. If your clients get panicked by a correction, it means they didn’t get the reassurance they needed to see past the headline noise. They may seek it elsewhere.

The third moment that matters is that big life event you experience - and hopefully, plan for - together.

 A client’s personal finances are more than figures on a screen; they represent real-life outcomes. A significant life moment can instantly alter a client’s entire investment outlook – a new addition to the family or the loss of a loved one, a marriage or a divorce, a big job promotion, or a sudden layoff. These events are why clients hired you in the first place. Ultimately, what matters to your clients is not outperforming the S&P. It is about making sure they can live the life they want to live. 

When those life-changing events happen, are you prepared to show them how all your hard work paid off?

Again, you’re working to help your client achieve life goals. You’re an active participant, but you also retain the role of a trusted third party. You can empathize or celebrate the moment, then rise above the emotion to give guidance, even when it’s hard to hear.

Maintaining that balance and focusing on the client’s needs is your job in these major moments. If you’ve established trust, coached them, and been clear and proactive in your communication, they will understand your process and follow what action needs to be taken.

In these moments, it’s also crucial that your clients see their finances in context to visualize the steps that will keep them aligned with their financial goals.

A personalized client portal can help tremendously in moments like this by allowing clients to go in at any time and review their portfolio performance, including holdings and asset allocation. 

They can see how their performance aligns with their goals and answer several basic questions to help you tailor your conversation around what’s most important. And being digital, you again avoid the paper dilemma – the client can call up reports instantly, and important documents are saved in a secure storage vault. White-labeled portals that reflect your practice’s branding entirely also reinforce your value to the client.

The modern financial planning practice is powered by digital tools that enhance your enduring value as a trusted advisor. By combining your best practices with the latest tech, you’re ensuring that you are ready to help clients in the moments that matter most to them.

This blog is sponsored by AdvisorEngine Inc. The information, data and opinions in this commentary are as of the publication date, unless otherwise noted, and subject to change. This material is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered a recommendation to use AdvisorEngine or deemed to be a specific offer to sell or provide, or a specific invitation to apply for, any financial product, instrument or service that may be mentioned. Information does not constitute a recommendation of any investment strategy, is not intended as investment advice and does not take into account all the circumstances of each investor. Opinions and forecasts discussed are those of the author, do not necessarily reflect the views of AdvisorEngine and are subject to change without notice. AdvisorEngine makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made and will not be liable for any errors, omissions or representations. As a technology company, AdvisorEngine provides access to award-winning tools and will be compensated for providing such access. AdvisorEngine does not provide broker-dealer, custodian, investment advice or related investment services.