Engage: How to create enduring client relationships

Financial Standard Online
April 15, 2024 AEST

The not-so-secret sauce of enduring client relationships is an effective and engaging onboarding process. Do it well and you will likely have clients for life.

What a prospective client wants from the financial planning process is to understand how you will help them meet their needs. What you want is an efficient and compliant process to achieve this.

To meet these competing needs, you will have to engage the client at the source – that is, from the very beginning – from first impressions to client discovery to the development and explanation of strategies.

First Impressions

Before the meeting

Your website

The prospective client’s initial impressions often begin when they first visit your website, so make sure it’s up to scratch and not only details the services your practice offers, but also the way in which you deliver them.

Your website is a great place to host video presentations and interactive tools explaining how financial planning can benefit prospects and how they can get the process started by completing simple questionnaires.

These tools are provided by some of the better financial planning software providers and add a professional touch to your website.

The phone conversation

The next point of contact is often a telephone conversation. It should always be your responsibility, as an adviser, to take these calls and answer any questions. By talking directly to prospective clients, you can also ensure only the right kind of prospect is invited to a meeting.

Your client portal

Initially, the portal presents an opportunity to have prospects complete intuitive online questionnaires about their personal and financial information, goals, and concerns. The collected information helps you understand them and their needs before you meet, and allows you to prepare for the first meeting.

Once a prospect becomes a client, they should be able to access and update all their financial information, track their goals, communicate with you, and provide or retrieve documents in the secure portal environment.

Using a client-friendly portal sends a strong message that you take the security of their information seriously. It also provides them with a valuable ‘source of truth’ about all their financial circumstances in one easy to access place.

The first interview

A visit to your office usually follows a phone conversation. Prospective clients will be assessing your décor and the friendliness and presentation of your staff. They will expect these to be at a high level and in keeping with the tone and style of your website and portal.

Visual tools

It is in this first interview that the prospect will come to understand that the information they provided via your portal has given you a head start.

You will be able to deliver an in-depth and valuable meeting, which can be further enhanced by presenting the information visually on a large screen with tools and graphs which explore their goals and other information.

This a far more engaging experience for them and much more efficient for you, as more ground can be covered in less time with fewer meetings. An electronic audit trail can also be embedded in the process. The use of interactive and visual tools also allows subsequent meetings to be conducted virtually through screen sharing, providing further benefits to both you and your client.

Client discovery

As a financial adviser, you are expected to engage in dialogue with prospective clients to determine their current situation and what they want to achieve. This is typically broken into two parts: Gathering facts, and, discovering the client within.

Gathering facts

Gathering facts involves understanding the prospect’s financial and personal position, including things like family details, assets, liabilities, income, and expenses. Most advisers are great at this part.

The process is usually conducted via a series of questions and followed up with authorities signed by the prospect to approach various institutions on their behalf to access up-to-date information.

It’s a process that is slowly being improved through legislation and technology. Applications such as open banking are already in place and superannuation and life insurance transparency is expected to follow.

The client within

The second part is about discovering who your prospective clients are and what they want. It’s less about facts and more about understanding their emotions. It is typically conducted through a discussion about goals and is another process you can start before the first meeting, using a questionnaire.

The questionnaire should guide and educate your prospects through a process that prompts them about the kind of goals they should consider and how to articulate them. It also gives them an opportunity to discuss their goals between themselves and reach agreement on them before meeting you.

Once you know what the prospect’s goals are, you can probe each of them to make them Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound (SMART), organise them in order of priority and identify any conflicting goals.

This information can then be transferred electronically to a visual tool. The SMART goals process can be embedded into this tool, icons and colour added to make it more engaging and the goal progress tracked over time. New and revised goals can be incorporated along the way.

This experience helps bring the financial plan to life for the prospect. If they become a client, they will be able access it at any time via their portal. It will also help maintain the relevance of their goals over time, reinforcing the purpose of their financial plan and helping to cement their ongoing relationship with you.

Development and explanation of strategies

Next, you have to determine how you are going to help your prospective clients achieve their goals and convey that information to them in such a way that they have confidence in you and your methodology.

With the right tool, the scope of advice, often viewed as a time-consuming compliance nuisance, can be a great way to allocate goals to specific segments of advice. It can then identify from a list of strategies, those that will (and those that won’t) be addressed in the advice.

This provides your prospect with a good understanding of the breadth and depth of your service, and how detailed and systematic your process is. It also ties their goals to your advice.

Cashflow modelling, used live with prospects, is another powerful way to demonstrate whether or not they are on track to achieve their goals and identify if there is a financial shortfall in any given year or in their expected lifetime.

A discussion about non-financial goals, such as reviewing the prospect’s insurance, debt or estate planning will demonstrate the thoroughness of your process and the benefit to them.

Building a structured onboarding process that is compliant, engaging, and efficient from the start will help you convert more prospects, build more enduring relationships, and help keep your clients for life.

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