Working with Clients when Markets are Tough
November 20, 2012
by Beverly Flaxington
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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It’s hard for me to get clients excited and upbeat these days. The markets have been disastrous and unpredictable for too long. Clients who know me no longer trust me when I say things like, “Focus on the long term” or “It’s all about meeting your goals.” I question what I am doing some days. How can I get myself back on track?
You are voicing something that many advisors are dealing with but most don’t talk about. One of my clients said he felt “guilty” about feeling badly because “...it’s not like I or my clients have a terrible disease” but it is people’s money. It is their livelihood, their lifetime savings and their nest egg. It’s natural to feel a sense of malaise when it appears that everything we’ve learned is going completely out the window with regard to investing! Many investment managers I know feel as though they are being thrown new curve balls all of the time.
What to do? First of all –find a resource to shore up your confidence and your enthusiasm. You cannot come into the office every day with a cloud of depression. It will start to permeate your decisions, and your employees and clients will sense it, no matter how discreet you think you are. See a trained counselor, put together a working group with other people in your field to talk strategy, take a few mini-staycations if you don’t want to be away from the office. But do something. Practice meditation and positive self-talk, and get some exercise, too!
The markets have highlighted the criticality of education. Continue to communicate to your clients that it isn’t about short-term gains or losses. Bring in experts to talk about the economy, investment trends, or strategies for minimizing taxes. You can do this as conference calls, webinars or in-person events. Keep educating your clients on a multitude of topics, so they view you as a resource and a “go-to” center.
Whatever you do, do not focus on investment returns or performance. I don’t get the sense you were doing this before, but I want to underscore how it can backfire. Stick to broader education; it’s much safer no matter what the markets dole out.
We offer traditional wealth planning services, but we also have a deep knowledge in retirement and de-accumulation planning. My partners and I disagree about whether we should use the retirement clients as a source for new business on the wealth planning side. A couple of us think there should be a “Chinese wall” and a couple of us think it is a great source for new business (I won’t tell you where I come out on the debate). It is becoming a very divisive topic in our small firm.
Dick N., Southern California
I’m struggling a bit to figure out whether you want my advice on how you, as partners, can reach a mutually beneficial solution without too much angst, or whether you want me to put on my marketing hat and give you my insight into the debate! Because I don’t know, I’ll offer some advice in both cases.
First off, as a group you need to make sure you have agreed on the ultimate goal for the company. Is it to brand the approaches differently? Is it to increase referrals? Is it to grow the business overall? Is it to carve out a niche as a retirement provider or a wealth management provider? Where are you trying to go?
These discussions are hard without a beacon to direct you all back to your mutual destination. You want to establish criteria for decision-making around this goal, too. So, be sure you are headed in the same direction and one where you have all mutual agreement. Second step, brand your firm with a consistent platform that goes across both foci. Unless there is some business reason I don’t understand (in which case, please go back to my first point), you don’t need to have a wall between your business lines. We see many, many very successful firms merging these two areas. So, depending on your business objectives, it will work just fine.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995; in 2008 she co-founded Advisors Trusted Advisor to offer dedicated practice management resources to advisors, planners and wealth managers. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate students Leadership & Social Responsibility. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.