FEBURARY 18, 2020

How financial advisors can improve client engagement.

By Scott Brewster

25,000 clients in Australia rate the review service delivered by advisers as the worst-performing area from the perspective of client satisfaction. So it’s safe to say the industry has some work to do when it comes to engaging clients.

The media on the back of the Royal Commission spotlight profiled isolated cases of financial advisors who don’t really care about engaging with clients and try to compensate by lowering costs. We’ve entered a brave new world. Client needs are changing and it will come as no surprise that value, trust and transparency are the most important factors financial planners need to address in order to improve client engagement.

But in today’s world where a client has information, literally, in the palm of their hand, when they’re being influenced by the likes of Google and Facebook, information alone is not enough to keep them coming back.

Advisors must engage with clients in a meaningful way and this begins by understanding what our clients want and need from us.

It’s not them, it’s you

To see client uplift, a savvy financial advisor will realise their clients are no longer comparing their services to other financial planners or the banks. Instead, what they’re seeing is their client’s willingness to integrate technology and apps into their day to day lives.

This is great news for the financial advice industry.

If clients are keen to use technology, don’t you owe it to them, and yourselves, to deep dive into your processes and see where you can evolve?

It’s important for firms to embrace new technologies and to realise the benefits that will flow naturally into their business. And the experts agree. For example, this 2017 Financial Planning Association of Australia Fintech paper discusses how some aspects of financial management can be automated and replaced by algorithms. But at the core of the financial planning experience is client engagement. When a client feels listened to, valued and involved in the process, a deeper (and more profitable) relationship follows.

By adopting fintech solutions, financial planners can see an increase in client engagement, increased revenue and improved productivity within their teams.

Improving client engagement is not just about what you know

As a financial advisor, you’ve likely spent long hours honing your technical skills, becoming highly competent in your ability to deliver great outcomes for your clients. However, as you’re working in an industry surrounded by negative commentary in recent years, building trust and clearly articulating the value that you offer has become increasingly important.

The relationship you have with your clients, new and existing, must be cultivated, developed and nurtured - and this takes time. It’s easy and natural to be curious about new clients, and they about you, so new relationships should be built on good communication from the start. But what of your existing clients? How do you keep them engaged and coming back for more?

As with any relationship, your clients want to know that you, as their advisor, care about them and listen to them. They need to know they’re more than just a number.

In their article on ways to engage clients, the Macquarie Group suggests not only capturing financial information and using your available CRM tools, but paying attention to personal details such as:

  • birthdays and anniversaries
  • children’s names
  • hobbies and interests
  • their favourite coffee (and have it waiting when they visit).

If you take such care to note and remember these intimate details about your clients, they’re going to almost unconsciously understand the service they receive from you will be tailored just for them.

Make no mistake, a loyal and happy client is one of your business's most valuable assets. Not only will an engaged client provide ongoing business, they’ll also be your mobile marketing team, generating new referrals that create more ongoing business.

We can no longer ignore the fact that building great client rapport into your business model is a smart strategy. So, how do you ensure every client walks away from their interactions with you feeling happy with the service they receive?

It all starts with the very first interaction.

A missed client engagement opportunity from the start

We all know the advice space is competitive. We also know that people will often leave an advisor and go somewhere else if they're not satisfied with the service they’re receiving. It seems we can no longer deny that winning new business and retaining existing clients is often down to the client’s personal experience, not just the financial advisor’s business knowledge or acumen.

Therefore, the first face to face meeting with a new client is vital. It sets the foundations upon which to build rapport and trust. But what if you can build this rapport even before the client has come into your office? Can you add them to a marketing email automation that has been set up specifically for their life stage that shares with them blog posts and interesting information to get them thinking about their first interaction with you? So they are already feeling like you’ve helped them out before they’ve sat down with you.

You will also want to ensure that your first-time consultation isn’t slowed down with so much time spent on the paperwork; filling out forms, data entry and signatures.

Often, a client won't have the relevant forms or relevant supporting documents. Or if there’s multiple documents to view and sign, it’s not uncommon for a signature box to be missed.

All this data entry is taking valuable time from your core work. You find yourself left with little time to sit with the client and have meaningful, focused conversations. At this point, we’re not even considering the hefty labour costs involved when financial advisors manually complete all these administrative tasks.

Inexperienced financial planners may be tempted to open that initial meeting with a prospective client by sharing information about themselves and their history. In reality, the clients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. This is what truly counts when it comes to engagement uplift.

Turn your first meeting on its head and change the conversation from “I want to win the client” to “how can I better understand the client?”

Client engagement uplift is about delivering from the very first meeting

When your client first comes to you for advice, they also want to see how easy the process is, how easy it is to deal with you. If you only have an hour with a client who has taken time out of their day to come into your offices, they want to feel they've got their money’s worth.

Also, because they're being charged for these services, they want to spend as much time getting value from their advisor. And that value comes not from the filling in of paperwork, but from the advice you give them. After all, that's what they're paying for. In a client's eyes, they’re not paying to watch you process data, they’re paying you to show them how to plan for and manage their wealth. They want to walk away from their interaction with you excited about their future and goals.

You could consider utilising technology to set up visual representations of how they are tracking towards their goals. And provide charts and graphs to help your clients feel engaged and that you really do care about their financial future.

Getting to know you… before I get to know you

If an advisor spends most of the time at an initial meeting looking down as they ask questions and filling in forms, the engagement is just not going to be there.

The more you know about a potential client before the first discussion, the more rewarding the meeting will become. Sending a form to a client pre-meeting and collecting much of the basic data such as names, addresses, birth dates etc in advance, means more time can be spent discussing opportunities or options with the client.

This allows the actual first meeting to be a real conversation with the client feeling fully valued and getting their money’s worth.

Having all this information in advance also means you:

  • will be well prepared for the meeting, impressing your client from the moment they step into your office
  • can begin asking meaningful questions, tailored specifically for this client
  • can focus your conversations on the future because you already know their past

While this might sound like only a small change, the impact it may have on your business could be profound.

Let’s get personal

Personalising your interactions will deepen the connection, allowing trust to build much faster. And that's the key to being a brilliant financial advisor. You can communicate well, be able to effectively share your knowledge and skills, so your clients can achieve their own goals.

Go deep when it comes to understanding your client’s financial affairs. Go past the obvious assets, liabilities and income. Seek to discover:

  • what motivates and drives them?
  • what excites them?
  • what’s important to them?
  • what are their fears for their financial future?
  • what kind of lifestyle aspirations do they have?

Asking any or all these questions will show your new client that you really care. You’re starting off strong in building a solid relationship from the start.

And what of your existing clients? When was the last time you asked them about their hopes, dreams or financial aspirations? Until the client has walked out the door for the final time, it’s never too late to start building a stronger, deeper and more meaningful connection.

People’s goals and what is important to them changes over time. So if you can build in automated processes in your firm to relook at some of these questions with existing clients on a regular basis, what you may discover is that your clients needs are evolving. And there are other products and services that might naturally align to help expand your relationship with your clients.

Because we all know that it’s far more effective to retain an existing client than it is to attract a new one.

Client engagement is improved by utilising technology

We’ve already established that today’s clients are keen to use technology and to integrate it into their day to day lives. If you’re doing it right, once a client has made initial contact with you and you’ve entered the fact-finding stage, this entire process can be streamlined with the use of technology.

We no longer fear technology will diminish the rapport you build with your client, in fact, the opposite is true. By implementing a technology-driven solution, the financial planning process moves seamlessly to an online-based solution that incorporates up to date data, giving an accurate picture of a client's current financial situation.

Gone are the days of spending three or four hours on paper forms and getting printed statements. Technology has created real time-saving solutions that, in turn, increase the client-facing capacity of advisors. Subsequently, your business model naturally creates an enhanced client experience.

You should also keep in touch regularly with your clients between appointments. But go further and utilise technology to place them in a marketing funnel where the content you are sending them is relevant to their life stage or the product mix that they have with you. If rules and regulations are changing, are you sharing this with your clients and making them aware you are a thought leader in the industry?

Financial advisors need to do what algorithms can’t

With significant advances in algorithmic management of client portfolios, the role of a financial advisor is rapidly changing. Previously, you’d draw on data and make calculations across all asset classes. But in this modern world of fintech, the basic proposition of a financial planner as an “investment manager” using historic research to put forward recommendations, is less appealing.

The construction and constant monitoring of a client’s portfolio can now all be done online, with little need for any human intervention. Competing against such powerful data analytics is simply not practical anymore.

As planners, you need to do what the algorithms can't, which is having deep and powerful conversations with your clients. Afterall, all the data in the world won’t tell you that a client’s goal is to retire at 70 and live in Paris for a year to write a novel.  It’s human conversations that tell us these things.

And don’t forget to check in regularly. Maybe something has happened in your client’s life and they just hadn’t thought about reassessing where they are and how they’re tracking.

Any great financial advisor understands that life changing events can be a strong motivator to re-evaluate financial situations.By regularly checking in with clients and keeping their records up to date, you’re giving yourself every opportunity to be there at a time in their lives when they need advice.

Why the perfect financial plan isn’t enough

Creating the ideal financial plan that helps your clients achieve all their financial goals, is a waste of time if you can’t bring the client along on the journey and encourage them to commit to the plan. Excellent communication skills are vital for a planner to develop trust with a client. Not only do you need to fully understand your client’s financial, emotional and physical situations, you may also need to discuss complex strategies and concepts in terms that are easily understood and valued by your client.

Even the best technical advice and financially sound solutions to their needs won’t fly if the client is uncomfortable and doesn’t feel engaged in the process. If a client feels that you don’t understand them and their situation, they simply won’t accept your advice.

Many advisers find themselves working with clients they have inherited from other advisers. In some cases, it’s more difficult to establish a relationship and connect with the client who’s used to seeing someone else than it is to build a rapport with a new client. Another advisor’s clients will be expecting you to already have a full understanding of their situation and will expect you to step in where the previous advisor left off.

The ability to do this well depends on many things, including the quality of the file notes and documentation kept by the previous advisor. Regardless of what written information you have, you still need to establish a personal relationship with a client who’ll likely be comparing you to your predecessor. In these instances, you’ll need to provide them with more than just a sound financial plan.

Improved client engagement helps retention

When the focus of a client meeting moves away from administration work to focus on the client's goals, the outcome is that the advisor, and the company, appear more professional and engaged.

Technology is here to stay and will play a vital part in any transaction in financial services. It not only allows the advisor and the client to be better prepared for a meeting, it means there’s more time to focus on the client themselves.

This is great news for client retention and engagement.

Macquarie research shows there are danger periods in the client relationship. When engagement levels fall, clients are most likely to leave. The 2014 survey found that engagement levels fell sharply after year three of the relationship, before rising again towards year 10-year mark.

Yet again, regular contact is the key to retaining clients through the in-between years. If you manage this, you’ll likely have won their loyalty for life.

Great client engagement is good for business

Process matters, of course it does, but engagement and the human connections made with clients is a key element to improve the financial planning process. The engagement uplift that can be achieved, along with the clever use of the technology now available to financial professionals, is not to be underestimated.

Skilful use of technology in your business can deliver compliance, increase engagement and create plenty of productivity efficiencies. In fact the 2019 Netwealth AdviceTech report estimates that there is a 44.9% increase in improved client engagement and communication by using technology to facilitate the financial advice process. Coupled with a 43.8% increase in client satisfaction.

There is no doubt that your business will start to reap the rewards of:

  • higher conversions rates with prospective clients
  • greater retention of your existing client base
  • higher profitability and margins

We can help make your day to day work life easier, giving you the tools to focus less on paperwork and more on building real client connections.

Book a demo with us, we can show you how to increase the efficiency of your processes, and in turn, help your business to see a significant engagement uplift.

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