In anxious times, it’s vital to stay close to clients. The last year tested advisors’ ability to keep in touch.
The pandemic upended the normal rhythms of advisor-client communication. Fewer face-to-face visits left some clients feeling isolated.
The torrent of bad news, especially in March 2020 when markets plummeted, stoked client fears of steep losses. Advisors used other communication channels, from phone calls to video chats, to reinforce messages about sticking to the plan despite severe disruptions.
Over the past year, advisors have conducted periodic “pulse checks” with clients. Checking in to ask how investors and their families are doing helped strengthen the relationship when it might otherwise fray due to lack of in-person interaction.
There’s no single answer when weighing how often to contact a client during a typical year. In 2020, many advisors increased their outreach to reflect the difficult reality that took hold.
“In 22 years, I’ve never had a client say to me, ‘You contact me too much,’ ” said Aaron Lieberman, a certified financial planner in Melville, N.Y. “Our goal is they get four to six check-in calls per year. With Covid, it was easier to reach them because people were at home.”
With roughly 80 clients, Lieberman works with his operations director to make the calls. They usually stick to a monthly or quarterly schedule, using their customer relationship management (CRM) platform to generate a contact list.
Like many advisors, he asks clients in advance how they want to hear from him — and how often. Some prefer phone, while others like email or a videoconference.
Video Greetings Add A Personal Touch
If clients answer the phone, Lieberman kicks off the conversation by asking questions such as, “How’s your health?” or “Do you have any new financial goals?”
He leaves a voicemail when he doesn’t reach a live person. If he doesn’t receive a return call, he may use his phone to film a quick video greeting and text it to the client.
“It’s a little different,” he said. “I may sing ‘happy birthday’ or just send a video of me talking” and sending best wishes.
Some advisors block their weekly calendar to make check-in calls. The trick is figuring out how much time to set aside.
Emily Haberkern, a certified financial planner in Ann Arbor, Mich., reserves about 90 minutes every month on a Monday afternoon to contact clients. She finds that by calling just after the lunch hour, she tends to reach more people.
“My CRM gives me a list and I call 10 to 15 people,” she said. “About half don’t answer so I leave a voicemail. With the others, I don’t make it about (portfolio) performance. I want it to be personal.”
Clients usually welcome her call and cover a range of topics. Often, they’ll start by saying, “I was going to contact you. I have a question.”
“They’re all so busy and they may not have time to reach out to me,” she said. “If I didn’t call to check in, I don’t know if they’d call me. But these quick calls will often result in meaningful conversations and potential planning opportunities.”
Review Portfolio Performance With The Latest Numbers
Technology can speed the check-in process. In addition to relying on their CRM software to produce a roster of clients to call, some advisors use automated behavioral coaching tools to guide investors to stay the course and follow best practices in saving and spending.
Jon Ulin, a certified financial planner in Boca Raton, Fla., calls four client households every morning based on an alphabetical list. He usually reaches at least two of them. Aside from asking how they’re doing, he updates them on their holdings by referring to a report from Albridge, which consolidates a client’s investment accounts.
“Before each call, we run each client’s performance report,” Ulin said. “It takes just a few seconds, and it gives me real-time numbers. Many of my clients are very busy, so having the latest results in front of me is an important tool.”
During these calls, he also uses his CRM to identify any pending issues pertaining to the client’s situation. This way, he can remind them to follow through on to-do tasks involving insurance, estate planning or other financial matters.
“Automation is everywhere,” Ulin said. “But nothing beats an unplanned, outbound phone call to a client, especially during bouts of high market volatility.”
After completing a check-in call, Ulin may email the client to summarize key points they covered along with the latest data from their performance report.
“Documenting the conversation, and archiving each email, is good business for the advisor,” he said. “And it generates referrals because clients appreciate the follow up.”
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