Why planning firms fall short of the ongoing service they promise and what to do about it.

Summary

By and large, financial planners talk a good game about ongoing service but long term clients are entitled to question whether much value actually transpires. This article provides a client’s perspective of what typically happens and poses some ways in which a better experience could be delivered.

In the beginning

The ongoing service process commences shortly after the initial advice is provided.

Both planner and client dutifully hail The Plan, which the planner goes to great lengths to explain has been designed to achieve The Goals. Money is exchanged for this outcome. The imperative of sticking to the plan is earnestly explained and a periodic payment is entered into to ensure that this occurs.

From the Firm’s perspective, it’s Happy Days – ongoing revenue goes up straight away and capital value is also boosted. A competent adviser is assigned to the client, who duly gets entered into your ongoing care system, to hopefully remain a loyal client forever.

However, having been on this path with various advisory firms for over 20 years, let me tell you that from a client’s perspective it’s an entirely different story.

How structural limitations limit the service experience

Lady at her desk buried in work

Some observations about how financial planning firms handle ongoing service –

  • You assign the aforementioned adviser such a full case load that there’s no time for the proactive calls and attention they used to delight clients with.
  • At a future point in time, you then assign the adviser further responsibilities, such as a bigger case load in the event another adviser leaves, responsibility for a joint venture or various management duties.
  • You allow the loyal admin assistant to go on extended leave, without appointing a stand-in replacement in their absence. The assistant thereafter works reduced hours, thereby delaying response times.
  • You become spasmodic with the newsletter.
  • Seminars are consistently run at times when working clients can’t get to them. Undeterred, you keep inviting them anyway, even after they’ve told you they can’t come.

Review meetings and portfolio reviews

The net result of the above is that the ongoing service becomes very much centred upon review meetings. Incidentally, between an overloaded adviser and a part time admin assistant, these are easy to let slip off a regular cycle.

The review meeting also becomes the defacto trigger to revisit the client’s portfolio i.e. once or twice per year depending upon how many meetings have been promised in the service package. Often, as the client, one can’t help but get the impression the portfolio has only been looked at the day before the meeting, or worse, whilst being kept waiting in reception.

There is therefore no buffer time to attend to things such as –

  • Items which should have been actioned post the last meeting
  • Non-performing assets in the portfolio that should have been actioned much earlier

The review meeting therefore tends to be very tactical, based as it is upon the adviser addressing these issues whilst trying not to overly alert the client. More general catch-up discussion ensues as assistants are summoned to check certain figures and run off more reports during the meeting. By the way, clients pick up and absorb an adviser’s stress during these situations.

This review cycle process continues through a number of cycles and from a client perspective, starts to become predictably underwhelming. Certainly, the initial excitement about achieving goals has greatly diminished. In fact, notwithstanding that this was the major selling point of the review service, it is rare for there to be so much as a graph produced tracking progress towards them.

Without there being a major client event, it’s all too easy for the adviser to focus on the present. Yet, along the way, clients’ circumstances inevitably evolve, meaning their goals become increasingly distant, fuzzy or less relevant.

Often, little attention is paid at the meeting to the currency of wills, enduring powers of attorney, binding death nominations and the like. I suppose this is understandable given the adviser has other matters piling up on his or her desk without looking for more work. Yet one can’t help but think that a rotating series of issues could be included on the agenda, ensuring they all get addressed over a rolling set of two to four meetings.

So in reality, the ongoing service proposition becomes an investment review service only and a reactive one at that. It’s not dissimilar to a tax accountant for that matter, although in the accountant’s defence everyone acknowledges it’s an historically based service.

Where this leaves the client

Little wonder that clients starts to think, “I’ve had enough of this” and begin to consider alternatives. Often this is only to repeat the cycle anew with another adviser. The alternative is an awkward discussion over fees, which is relished by neither party.

I can’t help but wonder whether the pattern has to be repeated this way. Treat me right and I’d much prefer to stay.

Some client service issues for consideration

Three business women in meeting

As a client, it’s not my role to solve the shortcomings of your service model. Yet, with my business coach’s hat on, there are some clear areas worthy of consideration –

  • Offer an annual meeting plus reactive portfolio review service, at a considerably reduced fee. Call what you’ve been providing for what it is and price accordingly.
  • Lift your investment game and review client portfolios more regularly. And do this in the context of whether the client is on track to achieve the objectives in their plan.
  • Better communication. If you’ve duly completed a review of the investments in clients’ portfolios and decided that there is no need to change anything, send them a message to this effect. They will feel very good that you are on their case.
  • Offer a series of options around the newsletters, seminars, boardroom briefings etc. you could provide and then tailor the service specifically per client.
  • Track progress towards your clients’ goals. Seriously, I shouldn’t have to tell you this but then again, exactly what means do you currently have to share this in a big, exciting, highly visual format?
  • In big, bold font, put Achieving Your Goals as the first item on your review agenda.
  • Adopt the rolling cycle to address ongoing issues, as described previously.
  • Create milestones about clients’ goals and acknowledge when these are passed. Better still, celebrate heartily with clients when their goals are achieved. Take and provide photos of such moments.
  • Make sure your client management system displays clients’ goals prominently, such that all team members can engage with clients about them.

All in all, it’s hard not to think that planners could dramatically improve their ongoing service experience. As a weary client, let me encourage you to do this.

Conclusion

From working with planners over many years, I know the special buzz they get when bringing on a new client. I can’t help but think though that adopting a different perspective, that of truly being there for a client and earnestly working to help them achieve their goals will ultimately bring far greater reward, both professionally and financially.

 

 

Scott Charlton is a Chartered Accountant and a director of Slipstream Coaching, a company dedicated to assisting financial practitioners achieve their potential. A long term business coach to both accountants and financial planners, Scott is also the author of three books regarding professionals in practice. Scott can be contacted by phone 07 3221 3796 or via email scott@slipstreamcoaching.com.au.