Put Clients First, Put Your Firm on Top

It’s not counterintuitive or selfish — unprofitable firms forced to close their doors can’t serve clients.

By Gretchen Halpin
Gretchen Halpin
Gretchen Halpin

At first, the title of this article might seem like an impossible contradiction. After all, it is a dictum in the RIA space that our fiduciary duty toward our clients requires us to prioritize their needs ahead of everything else — including the profitability of the firm.

On the other hand, we can’t serve our clients if we are forced to close our doors because of unprofitability. Anyone who has ever flown commercially understands the concept: you put your mask on first, then you help the child sitting next to you. As financial advisors, we provide a service that has value to our clients, and that value must be the basis for our continued growth and profitability.

So, how do you balance “doing what’s right” with “doing well”? As James Brewer shared recently in these pages, a relentless focus on AUM could lead some to believe that managing assets is all that matters. But as all good advisors know, those assets are contained in accounts that represent the lives, dreams, needs, and legacies of the human beings who form our client base.

At Beyond AUM, we’ve tried to capture this in our name: We believe advisors, in order to be truly successful for the long term, need to go “beyond” asset gathering to interact meaningfully with each client. When advisors become a meaningful part of their clients’ lives — and especially when they are able to replicate that experience consistently across all their client relationships — we believe sustainable, organic growth is the natural result.

So, how can advisors obtain or leverage the resources necessary to effect authentic relationship management and consistently meaningful client interaction on a scalable basis? Let’s take a look at four concepts we believe are key to building a practice that is both sustainable and true to our most important fiduciary principles.

1. Personalization

Don’t be misled by this term and envision boutique firms with a dozen mega-wealthy clients (not that such situations are a bad thing — they just aren’t reality for the vast majority of RIAs). Personalization can be achieved at scale. In fact, we have better tools with today’s technology than at any previous time in the industry.

With the information-gathering assets now at RIAs’ disposal, client and prospect information can be assembled into profiles that permit not only refinement of mission, but also development of interactive menus (i.e., your website landing page) that offer clients and prospective clients meaningful choices targeted to their specific interests. Imagine how much easier your CRM intake process would be if your new clients were able to “self-select” in a way that allowed you to get to the heart of their needs and interests in your very first interaction? We know that 80% of potential clients are more likely to do business with a firm that presents them with an option personalized to their needs or interests.

2. Clients Drive Technology

You read that correctly. In these days of tech evolutions that seem to take place over exponentially smaller intervals, RIAs must ensure that the tech “tail” doesn’t wag the dog. Closely related to the concept of personalization at scale is the idea that each client is unique, and that includes how they prefer to engage — or not engage — with technology.

Futurists like Alvin Toffler and John Naisbitt said it decades ago: For humans, every “high-tech” interaction must be balanced by an experience of “high touch.” While it is certainly true that younger clients are more likely to embrace the concept of robo-advisors and all the AI-driven technology entailed therein, the proportion of high tech and high touch appropriate to each client is something you must pay scrupulous attention to if you want to grow your business efficiently.

That said, however, investments in automating and updating your CRM and portfolio management platforms can afford you the time you need to assess and implement the appropriate mix for each client.

In other words, make liberal use of technology, but never forget that it is a vehicle for freeing you up to spend time with clients in the way they want, whether that means a Zoom meeting, a text chat or a (socially distanced) traditional face-to-face conversation. Your tech is a means; your clients are the end.

3. Authenticity

Do you really know yourself? The answer has major implications for the kind of practice you’re building. Clients want to interact — whether online or in person — with a person or organization that projects genuineness. You will always be at your best, your most creative and your most empathetic when you are presenting your most authentic self.

Whether you call it your “brand,” “your ideal client,” or some other term, the more integrated your personality and approach are with your client interactions, the more effective your communications and the better the outcomes will be for your clients. Never forget: Clients who have been converted into fans will attract more of the same. That’s a recipe for organic growth.

4. Centers of Influence: Your “Board of Directors”

Anybody who has spent more than five minutes in any sales-related activity knows the importance of referrals. They’re the gold standard of any business built on relationships. According to the 2018 “World Wealth Report” by French infotech and consulting company Capgemini, 44.4% of HNW individuals surveyed reported finding their current financial advisor via a referral.

It is highly doubtful that any RIA firm will survive long term without cultivating mutually beneficial relationships with estate planning attorneys, CPAs and others who offer the type of professional services so necessary to the HNW clients that are the backbone of any advisory business. But should you be thinking more broadly about your centers of influence?

Would some of the other women in your yoga class appreciate knowing someone with whom they could discuss financial matters? Is there someone on your museum board with a friend who is facing thorny estate planning issues? Is someone in your usual golf foursome trying to figure out how to fund care for an aging parent or other relative?

These situations can provide you with an opportunity to display your knowledge and professionalism in a context that genuinely meets a need. When you position yourself as a dependable, valuable resource to others in your community, you are creating new centers of influence, opening doors to new circles of people who may one day need the expertise you have to offer.

The common theme among all four of these principles, of course, is the primacy of people. By treating clients and prospective clients with the dignity and sincerity they deserve, you build the basis for trust and open communication. And those qualities are where success of almost any kind has to originate.

Gretchen Halpin is co-founder of Beyond AUM, a growth, marketing and technology agency that specializes in serving financial advisory firms. A strategic visionary with over 25 years of leadership and marketing experience, including a history of starting and growing successful companies, Halpin pioneers the strategy and growth initiatives that drive success across every aspect of business while ensuring that decisions are aligned with her clients’ overall mission.





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