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Terminating the Problem Client

When sticking with a client is not the right choice

Yes, some advisors think this is a nice problem to have—getting rid of clients. Actually, I have found sticking with the right kind of client is a huge part of being a successful advisor. That means to be very careful with how you are planting your garden, and when to do the necessary pruning.

Recently our COO Josh and I went through our entire client list and identified those clients who were (to put it nicely) very high maintenance.

Now don’t get me wrong—our practice is built around helping the high maintenance clients feel loved up and comfortable. Even I, the woman who had 12 hour-and-a-half meetings with a client before she pulled the trigger, has a breaking point. Yes, that point where you don’t care how valuable the relationship could be, you just don’t have the patience, the mental energy or the time to deal with this person sitting across the table another minute. You sense that even if you spend all the time in the world with them, they will never be happy. These are the ones to prune.

Here are a few lessons I have learned along the way.

Choose Carefully

Rule No. 1: Choose your clients carefully in the first place.

Our first meetings are a chance for me to interview prospective clients to see if they are a good fit for us. I never worry about showcasing our firm, because they wouldn’t be in this meeting if they hadn’t heard a lot of good things about us from their colleagues.

I spend a lot of time trying to get to know clients during the data intake. I want to know where they come from and how they make decisions about their money. Another issue: What kind of person are they, really, and will we be able to satisfy them? My overall goal is to only work with wonderful, fun clients, who refer us to lots of other people just like them.

Some great questions to try to rule out problems in the first place are:

  • What was the best investment you ever made, and why?
  • What was the worst investment, and why?
  • What kind of criteria are you using to pick a financial advisor?
  • If there were one thing I did that was sure to totally tank our relationship, what would it be?
  • Here is the big question I am silently asking myself during the initial meeting: Would I invite this person over to my house for a barbeque?

The answers tell me about their thoughts, their emotions and their personality traits. I also get a clue as to how they make important financial decisions. If they are placing all of their decisions based on returns, this is not a good client for us. Sure there will be years when we are ahead—and ones when we are not. Also, if this person is exhibiting difficult tendencies up front, it is not likely to get better as the relationship goes forward.

I like to keep their scorecard based on things we can control. I can control the client experience. I can’t control the market. We take clients who value the total experience and are fun to be with. We avoid the others.

I was presented with this situation a few years ago. My prospect, whom I’ll call Suzy, 30 years old, had finished her education within the past two years and was now making over $200,000 per year. She was single and had no children. On the surface, she looked like an ideal client. However, her brother, Brad, had just finished his undergraduate degree and was working at a major financial institution in the bond department.

Brad may have only been 21, but he had an opinion about everything. He didn’t like my 60% stock/40% bond suggestions for Suzy because he told her they were too risky! He suggested she needed a nice, safe investment, like a hedge fund! (I am not making this up!) Finally, after three or four meetings, Suzy says to me: “I am so confused. I don’t know what to do. I don’t whether I should believe you or my brother…”

Read the full article on ThinkAdvisor here

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