Talking to Clients: Key Touchpoints and Effective Strategies for RIAs
Talking to clients has become a challenge for the modern RIA or financial advisor, and much of the difficulty comes from a lack of time.
According to the 2023 J.D. Powers U.S. Financial Advisor Satisfaction Study, 28% of advisors said they don’t have enough time to speak with clients. Yet, these clients need updates and advice on the market, their portfolio, and short-term financial planning, among other things. Failing to talk with clients regularly can lead to high client turnover.
Two of the primary reasons clients fire their advisors is due to the quality of the advisors’ advice and the quality of their relationship. Both of these may be linked to poor or not enough communication.
The good news is that a sound communication strategy can help RIAs make more time to talk to clients and cover important topics effectively. It all starts with client expectations.
What communication clients expect
With the advent of omnichannel communication options — such as using phones, text, and emails — client communication has become more complicated across industries. As financial advisory firms’ growth hinges on client relationships, they must develop effective strategies to reach clients with their preferred method.
Before diving into the types of conversations every advisor should be prepared for when talking with clients (and best practices), let’s take a look at how people communicate today.
While 72% of clients prefer their advisors to send general updates and educational materials via email, 51% of clients prefer to resolve potential challenges over the phone. Live chat and in-person conversations are also popular when dealing with client service.
The challenge with most firms is that phone calls and in-person discussions can be time-consuming and difficult to scale. They also aren’t required for every single topic. But determining a communication strategy and prioritizing when to check in with clients also takes time to develop.
The best way to start is to consider what kind of conversations you are likely to have with your clients and how you can best respond.
Types of Key Client Touch Points
Client onboarding should always be a face-to-face or video-call conversation, which may take more than one session. During this conversion, you will want to welcome them to the firm, set expectations, gain access to their accounts, and review your risk assessment or contracts.
Another key conversation to have face-to-face is for financial planning sessions. While you can send emails with plan proposals or portfolio progress to clients, you will want to be able to set expectations and determine goals and milestones in person. Furthermore, you may want to check-in at regular intervals to check on how your client feels about the markets, their portfolio, and their financial plan.
There are a number of events that can be challenging to address for advisors. Deaths, divorces, family estrangement, job loss, and mental health all require financial advice but are extremely personal conversations.
It may not always be possible to have an immediate in-person conversation, as your client may be busy dealing with the matter at hand, especially if it’s a personal matter. Maintaining a healthy and respectful tone, regardless of the communication method, is key. It may also be useful to follow up, not necessarily to request a meeting, but to show support for your client. The stronger your relationship is with a client, the more likely they will come to you rather early.
With difficult portfolio information, it’s important to be clear and transparent with your clients. Most likely, your client will see a statement and call your office or leave an email. A phone or video call is likely the best option here, but you can also be proactive.
For example, Nitrogen’s Check-ins automatically sends two-question surveys to help flag which clients you should check in on first. Awareness of the market changes and your client’s tolerance can help you proactively contact them, thus strengthening their trust and optimizing your time.
Not every conversation needs to be serious or work-related. Holiday emails and even direct mail, such as for sending birthday or anniversary cards, are a great way to maintain communication and position the relationship as authentic and friendly.
Reminders and follow-ups
Finally, you’ll need to send reminders and follow-ups for meetings and events. These can be easily automated as email or text messages. But if it appears that your client is not responding or opening your communication, you may want to follow up with a manual phone call.
Tips for better communication
Respond in a timely manner
Immediate client responses can be challenging for advisors due to the amount of daily tasks required to successfully run a firm and manage portfolios. However, most clients assume that you will respond quickly to their emails, texts, and phone calls. The faster you respond, the better.
How soon is ideal? For 90% of clients, an immediate response is expected—the majority defining an immediate response as under 10 minutes. This time isn’t always possible for most advisors. The key is to respond quickly, even if it is only to confirm that you’ve received their message.
Set expectations early
Mismatched expectations of performance and services are the foundation of client dissatisfaction. Be clear upfront about what you provide, your fees, meeting frequency, and your process.
While you can’t guarantee performance, you can use analytics and custom models based on the client’s portfolio and risk tolerance. Clarity, brevity, and visual aids can ensure that your new client understands your role.
Record conversations as much as possible
Emails and text messages are fairly easy to keep track of. But it can also be helpful to record and store all video calls, in-person conversations, and phone calls. Not only will this help you to keep track of client information, concerns, and discussions, but it can be useful for maintaining compliance.
Use positive language
Even during market downturns and volatility, you can use positive language to mitigate stress and highlight solutions. This is different from downplaying or minimizing challenging portfolio discussions. Rather, this approach uses positive words and phrases to emphasize the solutions and an action plan.
Adjust your tone for your client
Another way to improve communication is to speak to clients in their own language. One client may be extremely formal, while another is incredibly casual and laid back. Being able to match a client’s tone can help you be better understood and build trust.
Consider small talk
Some clients may hate small talk, but engaging in some questions about your client’s personal life can kick-start meetings and show you pay attention to them. Agreeing or discussing minor topics in the beginning may also lead to a more open conversation when you get to the financials.
After a client call or meeting, it can be helpful to send a summary to your client, highlighting who is responsible for what. Perhaps you owe them a revised financial plan, but you need a few documents first. Sending this list will incite client engagement.
Optimizing your communication and engagement
Once you nail your client communication strategy, it’s important to optimize the process. Saving time through automation or using prioritization tools can help you and your advisory team more efficiently talk with clients.
Furthermore, client communication and the related tools are a part of a larger engagement initiative. To learn more about how communication fits into retention goals, learn more about our top client engagement strategies.