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Neil Liversidge: Don’t be afraid to sack mad and bad clients

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I have always been grateful to Paul Smee, the former director general of Aifa and now director general at the Council of Mortgage Lenders. In 2004 I attended his valedictory and the part that stuck in my mind, to which I have adhered ever since, was the advice that firms should sack problem clients. 

Paul’s advice was: “Tell them there’s a bank down the road that really deserves their business.”

It is probably one reason why – touch wood – we have had a relatively hassle-free decade and I am still sane despite all efforts to the contrary by a regulatory system that sometimes seems like organised insanity. 

My golden rule is that I deal only with clients I like.  

As an employee, from age 16 I put up with the rude, the obnoxious and, in many cases, the barking mad because “the customer is always right”. Really?

During a break from financial services working for a luxury bedroom firm 25 years ago, one of my fitters was locked up and held to ransom by a client while his mate went to get some wardrobe doors that had been missed off the order. Another customer terrorised
a designer by showing him the press cuttings on a murder case where the victim was his business associate and boasting how, despite having been pulled in for questioning, he had “gotten away with it”. 

Thankfully I have never come across loons of such magnitude among my would-be clients but there have been a few who were less than savoury. One had fallen out with the Halifax because he objected to it earning a 3 per cent commission.  I told him we would be working for an agreed fee or not at all, which he accepted with ill grace before screaming abuse at his petrified wife when she could not remember her National Insurance number. 

Enough was enough. I took great pleasure in shredding his fact-find in front of him and asking him to leave. 

“You can’t do that!” he yelled.  “You set yourself up as an adviser so you have to give me advice!” 

After his first disappointment with the Halifax and the second when he learned we would not work for nothing, being disabused of his delusions for a third time in an hour must have been utterly crushing. 

The luxury of being selective comes only with owning your business but it is one I allow myself. The Porsche I can live without.

It is also good for my clients. It may sound cheesy but I do not just like my clients, I love them. I genuinely do not mind getting calls out of hours and at weekends because I deal only with sane, polite and reasonable individuals who do not abuse the privilege of having my home phone number. They are all lovely people so why wouldn’t I go the extra mile for them?  

If an adviser likes and empathises with their clients, why wouldn’t they do their best for them?  

Do I miss the handful I have sacked? Only as I might miss toothache because the fact is the customer is not always right. Some are mad, some are bad and some are liabilities that no sane business owner would take on, no matter how much money they have. 

Mr Ombudsman, please take note.

Neil Liversidge is managing director of West Riding Personal Financial Solutions

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Comments

There are 8 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Brilliant – I read this article twice (even better on the second reading).

    I’m going to use it in my next client newsletter.

    Thanks

  2. Neil

    Absolutely – 100% I have even had sacked clients coming back after a few months asking if I’d take them on again! About as welcome as a dose of the clap!

  3. Rt Hon Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling 26th August 2014 at 9:49 am

    But how to tell beforehand (before face to face encounters) if the party is mad? Here are some pointers:
    1. They have a ‘premier’ account with a bank ( e.g. HSBC).
    2.They pay their utility bills by ‘budget’ account ( as in: lend money interest free to massive companies).
    3. They insure everything:(boiler breakdowns/laptop/extended warenty on a new kettle etc etc).
    4. They have hundreds of ‘friends’ on Facebook.5. Their offspring are named Kylie and Tyler.
    5. They holiday at Center Parks
    Enough! They are stark staring bonkers!

  4. Marvin the paranoid android 26th August 2014 at 10:09 am

    We also extend that to clients who are rude or aggressive towards our staff.

    They get the chance to apologise and if they don’t, they get a dismissal letter…

  5. LOL made much the same arguments to DBS in the 90’s about the madness of the Insistent client – Bring back any memories Neil ?

    What the client wants and what I advise don’t always match. when they don’t match we go our separate ways.

    Neil mentions “cheesy” – I was brought up on “would you sell this to your mother or would you buy this yourself ?” Changing “sell” to “advise” doesn’t change the point.

  6. Neil F Liversidge 26th August 2014 at 1:09 pm

    @ Bones: I could not agree more mate. In the days when I had a small fleet of consultants during the mortgage boom I trained them like this. “If you’re seeing a young couple in their 20s imagine it’s your daughter and son in law that you’re talking to. If it’s a bloke in his 40s imagine it’s your best mate who you’ll see in the pub most nights and who you go down to Elland Road with on Saturdays. And if it’s an old lady in her 70s imagine it’s your mother. Advise them accordingly. Do that and you’ll never knowingly and/or intentionally give anyone bad or self-serving advice.”

  7. Neil F Liversidge 26th August 2014 at 3:54 pm

    @ Bones: I could not agree more mate. In the days when I had a small fleet of consultants during the mortgage boom I trained them like this. “If you’re seeing a young couple in their 20s imagine it’s your daughter and son in law that you’re talking to. If it’s a bloke in his 40s imagine it’s your best mate who you’ll see in the pub most nights and who you go down to Elland Road with on Saturdays. And if it’s an old lady in her 70s imagine it’s your mother. Advise them accordingly. Do that and you’ll never knowingly and/or intentionally give anyone bad or self-serving advice.”

  8. On the very day this article was published I spoke to an adviser who had received a complaint via another adviser.

    When I looked at it, I found not only that he was once a solicitor but that the Solcitors Diciplinary Tribunal had concluded that evidence given by him was “not always believable.

    Good old Google would have found that.

    It is also worth remembering that if a client has asked you to support a complaint about another adviser, or just slags them off, it will be your turn next.

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