What is the ideal frequency with which advisors and clients should meet? Quarterly? Semi-Annually? Annually? And how often should advisors call clients? What about texting?
Jennifer White, director of client engagement at New Bern, NC-based BlueSky Wealth Advisors, said that when her company acquired a smaller firm that had 120 clients, it was surprised to learn that the company scheduled quarterly in-person meetings with all its clients. That sounded unwieldy to her.
Moreover, these meetings entailed discussing “all tax planning, all estate planning, and insurance reviews,” White stated.
BlueSky Wealth promptly surveyed its new clients and learned that virtually all of them considered quarterly in person meetings excessive. “Most of the clients were high-level executives who were too busy to attend meetings and felt relieved when we offered less frequency,” White said.
BlueSky Wealth concluded that “We only meet with them when we can offer great value for their time,” she said. Hence, they communicate via text, emails, and phone to develop a bond and meet in-person based on a client’s needs.
Dave O’Brien, chairman of the board at the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA), said, “It’s really about what’s right for the client. It would be imprudent to describe ‘Here’s what you must do.’”
Because clients regularly track their investments on apps, there is less need to meet in person, O’Brien adds. “Meeting four times a year is arduous for most clients.”
Hartford Funds surveyed 116 financial advisors in person, asking how often they meet with clients and how they prefer to communicate. The survey revealed that 73% favor face-to-face meetings and 64% contact clients weekly in some form. It also indicated that 38% plan to communicate more often with clients.
“It’s a relationship business. For a financial advisor to truly connect with clients, our favored mode is sitting across from them to watch their body language, hear what their goals are, and have a human to human connection,” explained Julie Genjac, the Seattle-based managing director of Strategic Markets at Hartford Funds.
Most advisors ask clients how often they want to meet and establish a plan, Genjac said. Advisors often communicate monthly via a phone call or email newsletter. That frequency though can change depending on a client’s needs.
In most interactions, according to Genjac, clients are essentially saying, “educate me and connect me to resources, either about market conditions or other life issues, like caregiving.”
Genjac said what’s proven most effective is relying on the four C’s: clarity, consistency, content and category. Clarity involves clear communication; consistency entails arranging regular meetings; content means eliciting information from clients; and category determines the mode of conversation, be it in person, on the phone or texting.
“The biggest mistake advisors make is they don’t define what the client expectations are,” noted Howard Lashner, a Huntingdon Valley, Pa. financial advisor and author of 10 Common Mistakes Financial Advisors Make & Simple Ideas to Avoid Them.
Asking clients how they want to be contacted helps everyone. Some require face-to-face meetings in an office while some want to meet at their home.
For most clients, an annual meeting is sufficient because for most of them, “not enough changes dramatically,” Lashner asserted
However, not communicating enough can make a client feel neglected, Lashner noted. These clients may then consider the relationship to be purely transactional, spurring them to switch advisors. So staying in close contact is one way to retain customers.
“I like to ask clients, what kind of relationship are you looking for, and five years from now, what is it exactly you want to achieve?” noted Lashner.
Most clients 50 and older prefer more communication than do millennials and Generations Xers. “Someone at 30 doesn’t care that the market just dropped today or an election is coming up,” Lashner said. But when you’re 60 and closing in on retirement, you pay close attention to stock market swings and political factors that could affect your retirement savings.
Client needs dictate meetings, explained Andrew Crowell, the Los Angeles-based vice chairman of wealth management at D.A. Davidson. The number of meetings is established when the advisor first meets a new client during the planning process and elicits the client’s goals and objectives.
“We ask their expectations and discuss their preferred communication,” Crowell noted. That information is plugged into a client relationship management (CRM) system, which alerts advisors to call quarterly, for example.
Most clients expect that “if something important happens, you’ll notify me,” Crowell suggested. If a client has 10% of their portfolio in Johnson & Johnson stock, and the company must pay an enormous legal settlement, the client will expect a call explaining how the verdict affects the stock, he said.
But most clients these days aren’t shy and will call if a problem with communication crops up. “Clients have so many choices; they are comfortable raising their hand,” Crowell said.
In addition to communicating with clients via websites, blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, advisors can email daily updates and answer personalized client questions, Crowell said. (Of course, advisors need to be particularly careful on social media.)
According to Lashner, communicating with clients is “always whatever you and the client agreed on. It’s about meeting and managing expectations. If the advisor is set up to meet once a year and the client wants a weekly call, they’re not a good fit.”