In what had been a bull market for over a decade until just recently, many advisors have neglected the importance of a strong, proactive client communications plan. This lack of attention to client communications was demonstrated in a recent survey of high-net-worth individuals currently working with an advisor. Of those surveyed, a staggering 64% indicated they felt their advisor contacts them either “infrequently” or “very infrequently.”
The threat of falling short on client expectations and losing valuable clients is very real for advisors. Research done by Spectrem Group indicates that 58% of high-net-worth investors have switched advisors in their lifetimes, and 23% have switched in the past five years.
However, it’s not just more frequent communication clients are looking for. In today’s world, clients are looking for an advisor with a proactive approach. A survey of over 650 clients conducted by YCharts found that 75% of clients agree that their advisor anticipating questions they might have and reaching out proactively was very important. In fact, the same research referenced by Spectrem indicated that clients who educate themselves on the market and do their own investment research are much more likely to switch advisors due to lack of proactive communication.
For advisors that don’t prioritize adopting a proactive communication strategy, the potential negative impact can include:
- Poorer client outcomes (due to inadequate/stale information)
- Less client confidence in their plan
- Less client referrals to friends and family (often the most important channel for new client acquisition)
- Higher likelihood of clients leaving for a new advisor
As an advisor, if you feel you lack strategy around your client communications plan and you often find yourself just providing service to whichever client needs it most in that moment (read: whoever screams the loudest), it’s likely you are in reactive-mode. In this post we will explore actionable strategies that will help you become more proactive in your approach to client communications.
Segmenting Your Clients
Today’s top-performing advisors are segmenting clients in order to build an effective communications approach around each type of client. The reality is, as an advisor with a growing practice, you cannot provide the highest level of service to each and every client. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for you to do that.
However, what you can do is segment clients into those that need the most proactive, high-touch support, and then build a communications plan from those segmented buckets. When it comes to segmenting clients, it’s important to consider several factors. Each advisor is unique, but your segmentation strategy should be centered around your business model and like client types. For example, some common segmentation strategies to look at include:
- Amount of referrals provided
- Connection or relationship to a high-value client
- Stage of life (e.g. “recently retired,” “newlyweds,” etc…)
- Tendency towards certain details (e.g. always asks about market commentary)
We recommend using the above factors too and including tiers for your clients such as A+, A, B, and C to make sure you’re aligned with your business model. Of course, customize the approach to whatever works best for your firm. Once you’ve established parameters and placed existing clients into groups, you can then move onto developing a unique communications approach to each of those groups. Some questions to consider include:
- To which segments will you provide specialized services, such as retirement income projections?
- For higher-tier clients, what are unique value-adds you can offer in the form of knowledge or services?
- How many regularly-scheduled client meetings will you offer top-tier clients? What about for the other tiers?
- How many proactive touch points will you offer top tier clients? Smaller clients?
- What special experiences will you provide A+ clients?
Proactive Communication Clients Care About
In order to be a proactive advisor, you must have a thorough understanding of your client’s concerns and challenges. To do this, you must get into the mind of your ideal client and use their motivations and challenges to inform what your proactive communications should center around. You should consider:
- Key stages a client goes through in his/her journey, including important milestones, critical decisions, and other transformative points
- The actions, feelings, information needs, and touchpoints your target client experiences at each stage
- Other stakeholders involved in that journey including spouses, children, and other professional advisors
- Opportunities to support clients at each stage of their journey, thinking beyond your core offer
Once you’ve taken the time to truly understand your ideal client’s journey, you can begin to craft compelling proactive communications around that journey. Take the following steps to craft that plan:
- Identify the stages of the client journey where you can have the greatest impact (thinking beyond your core offer)
- Brainstorm ways in which you can have the greatest impact with your communications at each stage
- Identify the communications and activities you will deliver
- Create a client communications calendar
By aligning your communications with your client’s journey, you can start becoming more intentional and proactive in your client communications. In one particular example of this process in action, an advisor that works with small business owners identified his ideal client’s top challenges as getting comfortable with the idea of having less control over their business, helping their children make good financial decisions, and enhancing the long-term enterprise value in the business.
In order to deliver proactive communications around these challenges, the advisor began using third-party articles, Ted Talks, and live workshops with partners to help educate his clients. He also began creating regular blog content and podcasts around these key subjects in order to support his clients along their journey.
Since every firm is unique, you must determine what type of touchpoints, channels, and frequency make the most sense for your clients.
Involving Spouses and Children
Another area of important consideration when becoming a proactive advisor is how you’re involving your clients’ spouse and children. Many advisors underestimate the importance of being proactive about involving the spouse and children in the relationship-building process. An article by InvestmentNews indicates that 66% of children fire their parent’s advisor. On a similar note, 55% of widows fire their husband’s advisor.
When it comes to wealth transitions, being proactive is more important now that ever before. Especially with an aging client base, starting to build relationships with spouses and adult children in an intentional and genuine way is one of the best things you can do to protect your book of business from client attrition. It will also help you better serve that client today as you learn more about broader family needs. Here are some tips you can leverage:
-Don’t wait until it’s too late. Start establishing relationships now, rather than when the estate is being settled.
-Suggest your client bring one of more of their adult children into conversations about long-term financial goals and estate planning
-Determine who your client’s “alpha child” is when it comes to their finances. This is the child who will likely drive most financial decisions and handle trusts and wills. It is key to develop a trusting relationship with this individual.
-Be genuine. You don’t want to make these relationships feel forced or like business interactions. Remember, broadening these relations also helps you better serve clients today. Consider social or educational programming that involves the entire family as a first engagement point step.
How to Handle a Down Market
As an advisor, how you handle your client communications during a down market can truly make or break your long-term relationships with clients. In fact, research by Cerulli Associates found that during the 2008-09 recession, advisors with the best communications strategy received an increased number of referrals to clients’ friends and family (many of whom were receiving subpar communications from their own advisor).
Of clients who rated their advisor experience during the recession very highly, 68% felt it was because the advisor was accessible. When it comes to a down market, clients want to know that:
- You’re available to them
- You’re engaged
- You’re paying attention, making necessary updates, and prior plans have them protected already
When the market is being turbulent, it’s a crucial point in which you can take a proactive approach and address client questions and concerns before they arise, rather than blow-by-blow. When crafting your communications, keep in mind that clients want to know:
- What does this mean for me?
- What do I need to do (if anything)?
- Am I still on-track to reach my goals?
Although the COVID-19 situation was unprecedented, many advisors still leveraged proactive communication strategies to help calm their clients. For example, one firm sent proactive email updates explaining what drove the sell-off. Another topic many firms covered was what the potential economic impact of the virus will be in both worst and best-case scenarios, so clients could feel informed. Lastly, it’s important for proactive advisors to explain how portfolios are prepared to deal with such uncertainty.
How to Leverage Technology to be More Proactive
It’s important to note that proactive communication can help clients understand that you’ve designed their portfolio to tolerate risk, so no matter what happens, they will be okay in the long-term. This can help avoid the mass-panic and confusion that can sometimes come with fluctuations in the market.
As an advisor, when you are consistently communicating with clients that they’re on-track and you’re taking steps to get them to their goals, they will have more trust in the plan and more trust in you. There are technology solutions which can help advisors automate and streamline sending proactive, personalized communications to clients. At Bridge, our practice management software allows advisors to send regularly-scheduled, personalized updates to their clients. These frequent, valuable updates will keep clients informed and provide transparency into the relationship, so during market shifts, they already feel they know what’s been going on with their finances, and they know their advisor is being proactive.
As a modern advisor, determining how to best leverage technology to drive proactive and impactful client communications is an important consideration. If you’d like to learn more about how to use technology to better manage your practice, schedule a call with a member of Bridge’s team today.