It’s Time to Get Personal--Again

You are a successful advisor. But like any superstar athlete practicing the fundamentals, you can always use a few extra tools to keep you winning. 

Complex financial planning quarterbacked by financial advisors requires collaboration. The advisor may work with their client’s attorney, CPA, PnC and life insurance professionals or connect their clients with qualified professionals in their own networks. A corporate trustee championing the advisor relationship can help increase or retain an advisor’s AUM.

Clients get the best results when they can sit down with this extended team of financial and legal professionals to come up with the best course of action.

Zoom, Team Meetings, email and texting skills are beefed up.  But these virtual communications are no substitute for sitting down together to quickly solve clients’ problems, share knowledge, and strengthen relationships—the bedrocks of successful business-building.   

In short, we all need to wean ourselves away from using technology as a convenient excuse for avoiding in-person interactions. 

The Email Crutch

Call people. Stop emailing.

COVID-19 and the “remote working” revolution it inspired have given us an excuse to substitute inefficient, time-delayed one-way communications like texts, voice mail and email for real-time two-way interactions like phone calls and meetings.   

And when this happens, we’re all the worst for it. Especially our clients.

I’ve been as guilty of this as the next person. Let me give you a personal example.

The client of a financial advisor I work with wanted to understand the pros and cons of establishing a charitable remainder trust. The advisor asked me to work with the client’s CPA and estate planning attorney to provide the answers.

In the pre-COVID era, we all would have gotten together for a working session with the client that would have given her the information she needed to make an informed decision.

Instead, I’m ashamed to admit, we communicated primarily through email. Over several weeks, we often sent each other ten or more messages a day designed to gather information, ask questions, and discuss various issues.

I probably spent close to six hours reading and responding to these ever-expanding email chains. We weren’t getting any closer to providing the definitive answers the client needed. Even worse, we were making her wait far longer than she should have.

Fortunately, the advisor finally decided that enough was enough and organized an in-person meeting with all of us and his client. Within thirty minutes, the CPA was able to articulate the income tax issues. The attorney addressed the legal issues. The advisor discussed how the money might be invested. And I discussed what would be involved in setting up a charitable remainder trust.

When the call ended, the client had a clearer understanding of the issues she needed to think about than was chronicled in the hundreds of email messages she waded through over the previous month.

After that fiasco I realized that I was using email as a crutch to avoid real-time conversations.

Since then, I’ve resolved to only use email to resolve quick-fix situations. But when it comes to client situations where multidisciplinary expertise is required, I’m making the extra effort to speak to the professionals I work with, whether it’s on the phone, on Zoom or, whenever possible, in person.

Sure, it takes more time and isn’t always convenient. But in the end, it’s in the client’s best interest. And that should be the only thing that matters. 

Getting Out and About

Set a goal to meet in-person at four to twelve centers of influence per month. Two promises: (1) The dividends will be slow to arrive, and (2) Results will be long-lasting.  

Increasing our in-person interactions shouldn’t be limited to client situations.

We all benefit by constantly expanding and strengthening our circle of relationships with other centers of influence (COIs), whether they’re advisors, CPAs, attorneys, insurance professionals, and, yes, corporate trustees.

Even if we’re not working with the same clients, meeting with these professionals helps us understand the different kinds of financial challenges people of all ages are going through, and how these issues are being resolved. These sessions may even identify situations where one of their clients might benefit from our unique expertise—and vice versa.

Unfortunately, the pandemic shuttered many of the formal industry conferences and local professional gatherings that were our bread-and-butter networking events.  While some of these are gradually coming back, there’s no reason why we can’t fill this networking gap on our own.

Has it been a year or more since you’ve broken bread with members of your network? Don’t wait for someone else to get the ball rolling. Pick up the phone and invite them to your office or organize a get-together at your favorite restaurant or watering hole.

Even if one or more people passes on your offer, you’ll get a lot of credit for being the person who reached out to them.

I know this from experience. Over the past six months I’ve been the primary ringleader in organizing happy-hour get-togethers with members of my own network at a local craft brewery. Nearly all of them have attended at least one event and the few who haven’t because of COVID-19 concerns have thanked me for thinking of them. And nearly everyone I’ve invited has contacted me at some point to pass on a referral.

I can’t stress enough how meeting in person with potential referral partners is critically important for younger advisors, who will need to rely on more than recommendations from friends and family members to build their book of business.

If they’re used to working remotely and communicating primarily through email and texts, they’ll need to get out of their comfort zone and attend in-person or virtual networking events to start building their own circle of COIs.  

Don’t Forget to Add Friendly Corporate Trustees to Your COI Circle

Perhaps only 10% of your largest clients or prospects will ever need an advisor-friendly corporate trustee. But when they--or you--need one, you'll want to have a trustee championing the advisor relationship on speed dial to answer questions fast and easily.

Just about every financial advisor is trying to figure out how to get involved in solving their clients’ wealth distribution challenges.

They typically bring in CPAs, estate attorneys and life insurance professionals to deal with various issues. But for many, the one professional they should have on their contact list is often missing—an independent corporate trustee.

This omission is understandable. Advisors often feel, with great legitimacy in many cases, that large bank trustees are out to steal their clients’ assets away from them by shutting them out from managing this money once it’s been transferred into a trust.

What many advisors don’t realize is that there are hundreds of independent advisor-friendly corporate trust administrators that don’t manage investments at all.

They primarily offer directed trusts where advisors handle all investment responsibilities for their clients’ trusts. The assets remain on the advisor’s book of business, even if they choose not to serve as co-trustees.

Adding trust officers from these firms to your professional network lets you truly expand your ability to help people of all ages solve their complex asset protection and distribution challenges, from older clients seeking tax-efficient ways to pass their assets on to their children or favorite charities to parents who want to set up special needs trusts to provide lifetime income to their children with disabilities.

Keeping it Personal

People like talking to people. People like meeting people. Always.

Emails, texts, voice mails, conference calls, Skype and Zoom all have important roles to play in your communications toolkit. But no matter how effectively you use them, they’re no substitute for sit-down sessions.

If you’ve been mostly office bound for the past two years, get in the habit of getting out and about with your clients, prospects and professional peers. After all, our businesses are about delivering exceptional service. And clients have the greatest appreciation for service that is delivered with a human touch.

Christopher Holtby is co-founder and Trust Educator at Wealth Advisors Trust Company, an independent trust company headquartered in South Dakota that is included in the 2021 America's Most Advisor-Friendly Trust Companies guide published by The Wealth Advisor. To learn more about Wealth Advisors Trust Company's capabilities, please CLICK HERE.


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