Financial advisers are increasingly thinking about their online and social media presence as a marketing tool, so it is easy to forget the old-fashioned method of meeting people face to face still works, especially for older clients who may not be internet savvy.
Whether advisers want to cement relationships with existing clients or attract new ones, hosting seminars can be effective. However, careful planning is required, as well as ensuring they offer something interesting or different to spark people’s interest.
Independent financial advice firms Applewood Independent and Baxter & Lindley have both reaped the benefits of a seminar strategy. Both firms drew inspiration for seminars from the Million Dollar Round Table, a global organisation for financial professionals of which they are members.
Applewood Independent managing director David Pritchard hosts around three seminars a year, covering his firm’s areas of expertise in investments, inheritance tax/estate planning and pensions. He says it is important not to expect to reap rewards immediately.
“You have to see it as a long-term investment, until people know your name. That will give you a regular stream of high quality new prospects,” he says. “You may not make money on some seminars but I’ve only not made money on one in 15 years. If done properly it pays for itself many times over.”
Pritchard says a successful seminar needs an interesting topic, an interesting venue that people may not have seen before and food. “If you feed people their resistance to coming is less. But never give them alcohol,” he says.
Pritchard aims his seminars at a target market.“They are focused prospects, not just anybody off the street. We invite people aged 55 plus who already have lump sums and pensions, who have some capital to invest and may have IHT issues. Twenty years ago you had professional seminar goers who would be looking for a free meal. We don’t get see that now but you still get them if you don’t filter them out. We know who the professional seminar goers are and take their names off the list,” he says.
Pritchard invites over 10,000 people to each seminar as he concedes response rates have fallen. “Twenty years ago it was well over 1 per cent but it is less than 1 per cent now. However, the people who come along are genuinely interested and have a problem they want to solve. I might have invited people five years ago and because something has recently changed they have a reason to come along.They may have inherited some money, are coming up to retirement or their investments have gone down,” he says.
Baxter & Lindley director Katy Baxter says Pritchard’s presentation on seminars at the MDRT conference three years ago gave her the idea for client seminars.
Baxter & Lindley invites around 10,000 people across local postcodes. Its first seminar generated between 4,000 and 5,000 leads, then subsequent seminars were promoted through a video clips on the firm’s website and direct mail.
“Seminars lead to new client relationships but we found it can be a slow burner. We still have people who came three years ago or were referred to us by other people. We picked up several clients who had the mailing about the seminar but didn’t want to wait for the next one. Around £15,000 to £20,000 in fee income came from people who saw us on a face-to-face basis and the client benefits are educational at the very least, while at the very best they get access to advice,” she says.
Baxter & Lindley decided to hold seminars at a stately home not usually open to the public. But, as Baxter points out, this does not come cheap. “Operating costs were £5,000 to £7,000 by the time you factor in the cost of the venue, marketing and postage. It’s a significant outlay so you want to have a quick turnaround on business but something like estate planning can take a little while before the concept is understood,” she says.
“We like to position ourselves with a reasonably niche type of client – quality clients – and we felt the venue was very consistent with that. But you have to couple that with a professional process that includes independent consultation, the opportunity for people bring someone with them and asking them if there are topics they want to cover.”
Baxter says advisers can do it with no frills to keep costs down, so people come along just for information and help. What is important, however, is to have good speakers. These do not have to be professional speakers but, if not, Baxter suggests they polish up their public speaking skills by practising in front of family and friends.
Baxter and Pritchard both agree seminars need to give people enough information to give a good impression of the adviser but not so much information that they can do it themselves.
“An idea I had was giving people an appointment card with an appointed time to see one of the directors of the business so the onus is on them to say yes or rearrange,” says Baxter. “In my experience at least 50 per cent say yes.”