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How to help clients through financial downturns

 

as featured in Investment Executive

 

 

Since the great depression, dips, downturns and nosedives in the financial markets have set investors on edge. In the wake of Covid-19, the razor’s edge has never been thinner. As financial advisors well know, sleepless nights often transform into decisions that are more ill-conceived than prudent. Coaching investors through these uncertain times — before, during and after a crisis — is critical.

 

When the market drops, conversations with your clients become vital. The importance of those exchanges does not wane as a crisis abates or, in the case of the coronavirus, isolation becomes standard operating procedure. “Financial advisors need to connect with their clients to find out what concerns them,” says April-Lynn Levitt, a certified financial planner and business coach with The Personal Coach, which offers customized business coaching for advisors, in Oakville, Ont.

 

Dig deep, advises Chris Hornberger, a certified executive coach in Halifax. “You need to understand your clients’ specific concerns. Identify what they are worried about.”

 

Forward projections help you do that, Hornberger adds. Determine where clients want to be financially (and otherwise) in five years’ and 10 years’ time. Review their financial plans to see if, even in the midst or the wake of an economic upheaval, those goals still can be attained. If not, discuss how a plan could be revised to make them attainable.

 

Taking a step back in time with a client also can be beneficial, says Hornberger. “Ask them to recall a similar time previously when they were concerned. Ask them how they got through it. Ask them how their life — and their finances — were affected.”

 

Coaching clients is fundamentally about building trust. Will clients naturally turn to you after the storm has passed? “That is a measure of their trust in you when they reach out,” says Hornberger.

 

Hornberger adds that not receiving calls from clients is not necessarily a good thing before or after a crisis. “Do not assume if you are not hearing from clients [that] it is because they are not worried. If they do not hear from you, it can create distance.”

 

Looking at the issue from more than one angle and time frame can also help clients put any declines in financial markets in perspective. Covid-19 aside, market downturns are status quo. “Remind clients that we [recently were] in the 11th year of a bull market, which is historically much longer than normal, so downturns shouldn’t [have been] unexpected,” notes George Hartman, CEO of Market Logics Inc. in Toronto.

 

Coaching clients through uncertain times is about more than pointing to longer-term projections. “Play a leadership role when things are bad. Go beyond the investment information. See the big picture,” says Levitt. Coaching is ultimately about building a relationship that will stand the test of time and tumult. That relationship requires ongoing touchpoints as situations change, often at breakneck speed. “Communicate before, during and after,” says Levitt. “Define your market philosophy.”

 

Clients need to know you are there when they need you — and even when they don’t. But during downturns and their aftermath, visibility is paramount. “It’s about sharing. It’s about being proactive,” says Hornberger. “Reach out. Communicate early and often. Reassurance is central to this process.”

 

In situations such as market downturns, when you may be concerned that clients may blame you for poor performance, there’s a natural tendency to be guarded. “Our first instinct is often to defend,” says Levitt. “Our recommendation is to step back. Ask the client what concerns them; then you can offer solutions and advice.”

 

Stepping back can be hard, Levitt adds: “Clients can be confrontational. There is so much uncertainty, and it is not just financial.”

 

Clients aren’t the only ones who have anxious nights when the markets go in unwanted directions. You’re adversely affected in two significant ways. First, you’re worrying about your clients and their concerns. Second, you’re worried about your own business in both the short and long terms. Frightened clients can go elsewhere or exit the investment market altogether.

 

You also must focus on yourself when the going gets rough. “You need to take care of yourself. Meditate, exercise, get out in nature,” says Levitt. “You need to handle the stress and not get sick.”

 

You can feel better knowing you’ve laid a solid foundation for whatever crisis — natural disaster, market crash or pandemic — clients are in the midst of weathering. Indeed, your coaching role begins before there is anything to worry about, says Hartman: “The key to mitigating concern in market downturns is to prepare clients ahead of time for the inevitability that markets will likely be volatile during the time [clients] are invested.”

 

Hartman suggests you make a point of talking with your clients about the ups and downs of market performance during every annual review: “This should include historical performance illustrations, magnitude of decline [and] recovery periods.”

 

Managing clients’ expectations is essential, agrees Levitt: “Everyone will see a slowdown. Before anything happens, you should be talking to your clients about downturns.”

 

It is important to ensure you have a current market meltdown plan in place, Levitt notes: “This does not have to be complicated. If something happens, how can you be ready to reach out and to whom do you reach out personally? This is not a case of sending out just one email.”

 

Your meltdown plan will contain such information as which clients need to be on speed-dial for reassurance and which clients like to buy during a downturn. Your plan also will contain draft emails and templates that can be sent quickly to all or certain clients with little revision. Where appropriate, the information can reaffirm that there is insurance in place and/or a rainy-day fund.

 

“Emphasize [to] clients [that they] are working toward a goal — not reacting to market downturns,” stresses Levitt.

 

Post-crisis is an ideal time to update your plan: review what worked well, what worked as planned and what needs to be revised and rethought. As a crisis wanes, it also is an optimal time for you to identify gaps in your market meltdown plan and ensure those gaps are addressed for next time — because there will be a next time.

 

Your updated plan also must spell out how you will connect with clients, and continue to connect with them if you can no longer get to your office, if power service is more than sporadically interrupted or if concerned clients cannot meet with you face to face — perhaps because much of the community has been shuttered. Literally.

 

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Too many clients or too many non-ideal clients?

A CASE STUDY ON “RIGHT SIZING” YOUR BUSINESS

 

 

I was invited to speak at a dealer conference to discuss the importance of having the right people around you and how to create a great team. All of the attendees at the conference received a complimentary copy of The Personal Coach booklet, The Right Fit, which is a guide to help advisors make great hires.


At the end of the presentation, “George,” one of the attendees, approached me and asked if I could help him with a hiring project. We booked a conference call for the following week so I could learn more about why he felt that he needed to make a hire for his team, which already consisted of four support staff.

 

During our call, George shared with me that because of his large clientele and significant asset book, his current team could not handle all of the transactions and client requests. George had concluded that he needed to hire another team member.


I asked George one of my favourite questions, “Do you have too many clients or do you have too many non-ideal clients?” George had never heard this question before and asked what I meant. I shared with him that, as coaches, we see many advisors like him building a large clientele. However, as they evolve and mature as a financial advisor, many of the clients do not fit their ideal client profile. I suggested to George that before we move forward with a new hire, we complete an exercise called Best Case Scenario from Cotton Systems. This exercise examines the 10 best sales that an advisor has made over the last 6 to 12 months. George agreed to complete this exercise with the help of his team.

 

At our next meeting, I could tell that George, having completed the Best Case Scenario exercise, had experienced an epiphany. He was happy to have spent time reflecting and better understanding who his top clients are and more importantly, was excited to see how we could apply this information to his business model. We used the information from the exercise and completed an Ideal Client Profile (ICP), which we committed to paper. We referred to this for the next exercise by starting to use this ICP as part of our referral/introduction process.

 

I asked George, “Tell me about how you’ve built your contact management system and when it was last updated?” George said that he has a program called Act! and has been using the system for 8 years. I shared with George that a contact management system is not just a technology tool. It needs to be viewed as a business process encompassing 4 steps:

 

  1. Segmentation
  2. Building a relationship management strategy for each segment
  3. Identifying a champion to manage the system
  4. Using technology to manage the process – in this case,
  5. it was Act!

George said, “This is all fine but I really need your help in making a hire.” I said to George that I understood this but before we made a hire, we needed to “right size” his practice. I shared with him a number of stories where we had completed this exercise with advisors with large clienteles and in many cases, the advisor decided to right size the practice and by doing so, decided that he/she did not need to make an additional hire. I asked George to go along with me on this one and work on his contact management system before we discuss hiring. George begrudgingly agreed to take this step. I then showed him some sample customized segmentation scorecards that we had created for other clients and I suggested that we build a customized segmentation scorecard for him. He agreed and we built this scorecard with a particular focus on the following items:

 
  • Size of assets
  • Future potential
  • Coachability
  • How clients value the services
  • The client history of providing referrals
  • Occupation status
  • Family income

One of our support team members at TPC created a scorecard with the above items and a rating system to grade each client from 1 to 5. We had 7 items with the maximum score on each item being 5, which meant that the best client score could be 35. We then created a rating system using the numbers so that we could create 5 different segments – platinum, gold, silver, bronze and lead. I left this exercise for George and his team to complete and within a month, George sent me an email outlining that he had the following clients in each segment:

 

Platinum clients – 21
Gold clients – 147
Silver clients – 101
Bronze clients – 174
Lead clients – 57

 

With this exercise behind us, I arranged to book my next face-to-face coaching meeting with George and asked him to have his employee responsible for booking appointments to join the meeting. This employee, “Kathy,“ is very engaged in the business and was quite intrigued with what we were going to achieve during this meeting.

 

Next, we built a relationship management strategy with each segment. I showed Kathy and George some sample relationship management strategies. We spent the balance of the morning outlining a relationship management strategy that Kathy thought she could implement for each of the segments. Our most concentrated relationship management strategy would be focused on Platinum clients and minimal for Bronze and Lead clients. As part of this exercise, I asked for names of clients that fit in each of these categories so George and Kathy could think about these clients when delivering their strategy. Putting client names to the categories helped us immensely in creating strategies for each segment.

 

The third step in building the contact management system is identifying a champion. Kathy was up for the challenge and she was excited that she had clarity around managing clients going forward.

 

The next step after completing this project was to focus on helping with a new hire. George was no longer as eager to work on this project because he discovered what so many advisors discover after this exercise – he felt that a number of clients should be sold off because they did not fit the ideal client profile and decided he wanted to focus on “right sizing” his business.

 

After having a thorough review of the business, not surprisingly, George and Kathy determined they could sell off 25% of their clientele. This would only reduce their revenue by 10% and then they could focus on bringing in more Platinum and Gold clients. We helped identify advisors that would be interested in buying these clients.

 

At the next meeting, we shared with the full team what we had been doing. After announcing that we had right sized the business, the other team members were in total agreement with selling off 25% of the clientele. Guess what happened next? They decided that adding a new team member was no longer necessary if they pulled the trigger on the sale!


I suggested to George that we take a coaching break and give the team time to implement what we agreed upon. I followed up in six months and George shared with me that he had almost replaced the 10% of lost revenue because he was now focused on his best clients. Additionally, those best clients are providing him with introductions to people just like them. His team is now more energized, has less stress and everyone is feeling like they are running the business whereas previously, they felt like the business was running them.

 

Good advisors do an excellent job of building their clientele but quite often, they do not take the time to review their clientele and see if these clients are a good fit for their current practice. Also, some advisors have “FOMO” - a fear of missing out. In other words, they think that they will miss opportunities if they release some of their non-ideal clients when in fact they will find more opportunities when adding Platinum clients in their place.

 

Please contact us at confidence@thepersonalcoach.ca if you would like to speak with a coach about right sizing your business.

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