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A question of service

How does any financial adviser establish what elements of their service a client does or does not want? Why not take the revolutionary step of simply asking the client to make the choice?

Do what your customers value, do lots of it and get rich. This quote has stuck with me and comes from a presentation on marketing that I attended a couple of years ago, which was delivered by Professor Malcolm McDonald of Cranfield Business School. Of course, it makes sense. But it seems many advisers find it hard to identify or articulate exactly what it is they do for their clients that clients genuinely value.

In my experience, advisers often deliver service elements that clients don’t want or need. Reams of fund factsheets at annual review meetings, for example, are a case in point. While the odd detail-conscious client might value such information, most won’t. Often, this paperwork mountain is the result of a perception that it is a compliance requirement or that it in some way justifies ongoing trail income or fees. While I am no compliance expert, I don’t accept that either is the case.

A fellow business consultant I have had the pleasure to work with, Steve Moore, who is based in the US, was formerly the offensive coach (as in attack, not rude) for the Seattle Seahawks football team. In his work with advisers, Steve explains that Seahawks fans were uninterested in the technicalities of each individual play or how many hours were spent in the gym or on the training field. In Steve’s words: “They just want to see the ball move.”

If the ball was moving towards the opposition goal line 10 yards at a time, they were happy. The how was irrelevant. I agree with Steve, that in many ways your clients just want to see their financial ball move to their long-term goals.

How do you establish which elements of your service clients value? Just ask them. Whether through a formal survey, client feedback forum or, more informally at a client review meeting, does not matter although the formal routes will provide more feedback, more quickly.

Client surveys:

  • Identify client needs and preferences in terms of planning areas, frequency of contact, type and nature of communications preferred
  • Remind clients of what you do and what they value as well as increase their awareness of specific services
  • Provide insights into satisfaction, expectations, preferences and interests.

There are several key areas your questions should cover in order to provide worth while insights. They should focus on service satisfaction – generally and specifically – probe client expectations and gauge their interest in education/ learning, as well as determining preferences regarding frequency and format of communications Ask for profile information for your database. After you have collected and collated your feedback, ask yourself:

  • What are you doing for clients that should be eliminated, reduced, or improved?
  • What should you start doing for clients that you do not do at the moment?

It is crucial to follow up with clients to communicate the positives and tell them about the changes you intend to make as a result of their feedback. You should also consider summarising the results for your introducers and Centres of Influence to show them you put client interests centre stage and respond to their feedback.

CapGemini/Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management, recently published their 2009 World Wealth Report, a global study of the growth in the number and wealth of individuals classed as high or ultra highnet-worth. The report talks of a “lost decade” in terms of gains and suggests that the recent banking crisis and economic downturn has resulted in a lack of trust and confidence in markets, regulators and institutions.

The key message is that the behaviour changes and additional requirements of this key group of customers can help you to decide what changes you need to make to your client propositions, communications and service delivery. So what are these clients now looking for from their advisers?

Many advisers find it hard to identify or articulate exactly what it is they do for their clients that clients genuinely value

They want to be more involved in investment choices (maybe suggesting advisory not discretionary advice) and want more specialised advice and full product disclosure and transparency (perhaps a warning for the bundled/rebate platform model). They are more concerned on downside risks and are validating advice through other sources like friends, colleagues and other advisers.

They want products they can understand. Significantly, they want improved client reporting and more frequent updates (which supports other research I have seen). High-net-worth clients are clearly looking for a more integrated approach to meeting their needs, built around specialised,
independent, transparent, simple advice. I urge you to review your client proposition, communication, reporting and service standards and consider whether, in light of what your target customers are saying they want, you need to make changes.

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