Advisors Should Send More Personal Letters

Get out your pen, paper and stamps. Here are 10 impactful ways to use personal notes, says our columnist.

By Bryce Sanders

I have always been impressed that Bill Marriott sent me a handwritten note. I am a believer in letter writing. After staying at a Marriott hotel in Asia and receiving excellent service, I typed out a letter to “Mr. Bill Marriott, CEO,” printed it on nice stationary and mailed it to the corporate Marriot’s corporate headquarters in Maryland. Awhile later, I received one of his personal notecards with his reply. When we stayed at another Marriott property in NYC (where rooms start at about $900 per night) I sent a letter to the general manager. A few days later, I received a handwritten reply. Personal letters make a difference.

How correspondence has become depersonalized

Contrast those examples with the accepted strategy of hiring a virtual personal assistant to handle your social media accounts. They might ignore “likes” or generic comments like “great post.” They might use generic text to acknowledge other comments, giving the impression it was read by the intended person. Someone might determine which messages are worth forwarding to the human named on the account. It’s impersonal.

In my opinion, most people will react positively to a personalized letter that is not selling something. Think about birthday cards and anniversary cards. Aren’t you thrilled (or at least a little pleased) when you see one? Many seniors have respect, politeness and courtesy hardwired into their personalities. That’s how they were raised. Personalized correspondence makes an impact.

Handwritten notes and letters are ideal, but typed letters on quality stationary make a positive difference, too. I bring up typed letters because the financial services industry has many rules concerning correspondence. There is likely a procedure for getting typed correspondence approved. Ask your compliance manager.

When to use personal cards, notes and letters

Your Gen Z client might think actual letters are quaint. (You’ve seen the TV ad from the chocolate peanut butter cup company, haven’t you?) Generally speaking, though, the older the client, the more impact personal letters deliver. Here are some easy ways to have impact.

  1. Scheduling reviews

The actual scheduling is likely done by phone or e-mail, but send a letter ahead of time. Include the important questions: “Please let me know if there are any items you want added to the agenda?” and “Has anything significantly changed in your life since the last time we met?” Positioning referrals isn’t a bad idea: “We have worked together for seven years. I enjoy our working relationship. Is there anyone else you think I can help?”

Reaction: The client realizes: “This is a meeting about me. We aren’t just reviewing a generic report. Perhaps I better give this more attention.”

  1. Birthday cards

We got them as kids. When we got older, we stopped getting them. This idea extends beyond clients to friends and family. Build a calendar of birthdays for each month. Buy cards in bulk online. Why? So you aren’t paying $7.00 apiece! Handwrite an appropriate greeting.

Reaction: Older clients will likely pick up the phone and thank you for ending the card. You want clients to call about positive things.

  1. Anniversary cards

I bet you saw this one coming! Here’s another approach: How about sending them a card recognizing their anniversary of becoming your client at the firm! Yes, sending out cards recognizing their wedding anniversary is a good idea too.

Reaction: This should also generate a call from your client. If you recognized their business anniversary, now they have business on their mind.

  1. Postcards on vacation

An advisor who traveled to California would send them to clients and friends back home. Include some details beyond, “Having a nice time.” You are opening the door, bringing clients into your personal life.

Reaction: If you sent a postcard to them, they will likely do the same while on vacation. Older clients remember things like that.

  1. Gift cards

These are not $25 debit cards to their favorite store; they are physical notes attached to presents brought to parties. These gifts are often termed “house presents” because it’s considered bad manner to arrive at someone’s home emptyhanded. At a big party, gifts pile up anonymously on the hall table.

Reaction: The hosts have fun opening the cards. They connect up your name with the gift you delivered.

  1. Charity fundraiser invitations

The lines between friends, family, prospects and clients often get blurred. Many advisors are involved in the community at local nonprofits. Clients are too. You might buy tickets to their group’s events. It is a great strategy to add a personal note: “I hope you can join us” and sign your name.

Reaction: The recipient makes the connection that this is your charity. It’s a form of personal appeal for a good cause. This may motivate them to attend or send in a donation.

  1. Holiday cards.

My wife and I send Christmas cards. They are designed by an artist friend who sketches a cartoon of us and our pets. In fact, 2022 will be the fortieth year (yes 40!) he has drawn our card. These framed cards hang on three walls of our guest powder room! We include handwritten greetings on the holiday cards we mail.

Reaction: Holiday cards have staying power. They are often on display until New Year’s Day.

  1. Thank you notes (1)

Clients sometimes give gifts. There are plenty of compliance rules about the giving and receiving of gifts, but the items are often of nominal value. That doesn’t mean a thank you note is unnecessary.

Reaction: When clients open a handwritten thank you note, they know you appreciated the gift. They make a mental note that you were raised well.

  1. Thank you notes (2)

Maybe people don’t show up at your home bearing gifts. Sometimes they pick up the check for dinner. You might vow “this will never happen” until they take you to their country club which operates on a different set of rules. Perhaps they invited you to their home for dinner.

Reaction: These were often called “bread and butter” letters. Sending a note after a meal or party where you were a guest makes a good impression.

  1. Get well and sympathy cards

We often want to pretend bad things don’t happen to good people. We take them off the radar, assuming they don’t want to hear from us. These are often life-changing moments. And your clients may have needs you can help address.

Reaction: Sending these cards acknowledges your clients’ grief while keeping a respectful distance.

Don’t limit yourself to clients; send letters to friends and family, too. You can tell when a handwritten card or a typed note or letter is the appropriate approach. These are all situations where e-mail, texts and even phone calls do not do the job as well. Why? Because those methods, though easier, lack permanence. You cannot save a phone call like you can a holiday card..

Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, “Captivating the Wealthy Investor,” is available on Amazon.


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