8 Tips for Working with C-Suite Clients

Senior executives are take-charge people who often demand no less from their financial advisors.

By Bryce Sanders
Bryce Sanders
Bryce Sanders

Were you a fan of Downton Abbey? If so, you know that Lord Grantham’s lawyer, accountant and stockbroker all came to him when he had a request. There is a certain deference shown when you are a peer of the realm. He had wealthy friends. When the 1912 Titanic sinking was announced in the first episode, Lady Grantham inquired after their friend, John Jacob Astor, one of the richest people in the world.  Spoiler: Astor didn’t make it off the ship. These folks would be considered ultra-high-net-worth clients. Astor would qualify as a C-suite client because he actually worked.

What is it like, having C-suite clients in the 21st Century?

I asked a financial-planner friend, whose 17-person firm sought out C-suite clients, to share some thoughts. Her firm is organized like a law firm, with senior planners, associate planners and paraplanners. She hit the highlights about working with senior executives.

1. Their job is their life.

They have little free time, but they are excellent time managers. They want a very businesslike approach that mirrors the rest of their structured life. They are used to seeing the world via spreadsheets, measuring projected vs. actual performance numbers. They are big-picture people. If they ask the time, they do not want to know how to build a watch. They understand there is background work behind the recommendations you make. They know that having their money managed is ideal. You select managers in various allocation buckets and measure performance against benchmarks and your clients’ financial planning goals.

2. Their ceiling becomes the floor.

You have set goals for your clients. How much should their money grow? What is their objective? They are in a position where they can be adding additional assets. It is possible they reach the anticipated retirement monetary goal. You worked hard to help them get to this point. Now it starts all over again. C-suite executives tend to go from one goal to a new, higher goal. They do not say, “That is enough.”

3. Trouble looms larger for them.

CEOs and other C-suite executives are held to a higher standard than the rest of us mortals. They must avoid any suggestion that they made money trading on inside information. You might hear rumors. That’s how the wheels of Wall Street are greased. Acting on nonpublic information can be a career-ending move for executives.  Their personal reputation and the reputation of their firm are often interchangeable. This is another reason why managed money is ideal. Day-to-day decision-making is devolved to others unconnected to the executive.

4. They can’t avoid concentrated positions.

You know the standard advice for concentrated positions: Diversify to reduce the risk. This does not work when you are at the top of the company. Wall Street and the general public know the size of your holding in company stock. Often the stock is Rule 144 stock, meaning it is held by a control person and is restricted. Lightening up on their holdings sends a negative message to investors. As their advisor, you will need to structure their portfolio with this issue in mind.

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5. They delegate in their personal life, too.

They can understand why they need a financial planner or personal banker. They are not expecting to field calls from their insurance agent or other financial professionals. You might be designated as the team leader. You interact with the other advisors and then you interact with the executive. This can create other problems too. Unlike the tagline from the television show “The Apprentice” (You’re fired!), CEOs do not like to deliver bad news. If they think one of the financial professionals in the stable is underperforming, they might tell you to fire them instead. Expect to take charge and be responsible for the consequences.

6. They work 24/7 and so do you.

Their job is their life. They work long hours. They work on weekends. They have a trusted team of executives around them. They are expected to be available whenever they are called upon, dropping everything to address the latest crisis. Although you are not employed by their firm as a member of their team, they expect the same responsiveness from you. Their calls will be infrequent, but they’ll expect you to address their issues immediately.

7. They may be more likely to refer mentees than peers.

Referring peers may be a mixed bag. One C-suite executive explained he had arranged 50 introductions for his advisor! The advisor would ask him, “Do you know X or someone who can put me in front of X?”  The executive added, “Of course, the advisor had to have been making money for me; otherwise, I would not be introducing him!” Other senior executives don’t refer peers because the peer might perceive it as doing a favor. They might say, “Yes, I would be glad to meet with your advisor,” with the unspoken message “Someday I will ask you to do something for me.”  But senior executives often mentor other executives in the firm. These up-and-comers might be introduced to you. If the relationship is good, introductions should follow.

8. They may ask you to do unexpected things.

There’s the old story of how the private banker is also pressed into service as the dog walker. That is usually limited to films, but the executive might ask you to help find a job for their nephew or the child of a friend. This comes under the heading of a personal favor. It is beyond your scope to actually get them a job at your firm, but you could meet with them, get to know them and make some introductions, even if it is only for informational interviews. The important factor is, you made an effort.

When people talk about dating, you sometimes hear the expression “high maintenance.” Senior executives can require lots of attention, but the rewards from these client relationships can be significant — especially if they continue to move up the ladder.

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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