Written by: Chris Ruppenstein
Understanding the challenges asset managers and their salespeople face in generating leads and winning new business has always been a key driver of our product development and enhancement efforts.
But the conversations we’ve been having with these firms have radically changed since the COVID-19 crisis began. The volatile market environment, in combination with the embargo on in-person meetings, has pushed typical product-and-performance meetings to the backburner. Sales teams have replaced lunch-and-learns and walk-in visits with digital marketing campaigns and Zoom sessions. As a result, wholesalers have had to find innovative ways to keep financial advisors engaged, many of whom are struggling with similar client acquisition and retention challenges.
A number of asset managers have told us their wholesalers are shelving their typical product-and-performance tactics for now. Instead, they’re using these conversations to learn how home-bound advisors are adapting their practices to address these pandemic-related challenges.
How Financial Advisors Keep Clients Engaged
Most advisors are very willing to share this information, and not only in phone or video conversations. One wholesaler sent an informal email questionnaire to all of her advisor clients and prospects asking them to share their client management challenges and best practices for cultivating prospects and strengthening client relationships in a socially distant environment. She received more than 100 responses.
Wholesalers who conduct these informal fact-finding exercises are paying back advisors’ participation by communicating their findings to them via email, phone conversations, and webinars.
While wholesalers surveyed advisors on a variety of topics, they’ve found that advisors are most interested in hearing from their peers about:
- The most common issues clients have wanted to discuss with advisors since the crisis began;
- How advisors are adapting to the world of virtual communications and what they do to make these sessions more effective; and
- How advisors are showing appreciation for clients at a time when in-person meetings and events are on indefinite hold.
We’ve summarized some of the key findings wholesalers have shared with us on these topics.
Investors’ Most Pressing Issues and Concerns
Advisors said that since the pandemic and bear market began most of their clients wanted advice on a narrow range of issues.
- Nearly all clients asked for a portfolio review to go over how their investments were performing. In addition, they wanted to discuss whether changes in their asset allocation or holdings were warranted.
- Retirees were interested in learning more about the CARES Act provisions that allowed them to skip taking their Required Minimum Distribution in 2020 and the SECURE Act rules that eliminate the “stretch” provisions for inherited IRAs.
- Younger clients wanted clear-cut information about the extended tax-filing deadlines in 2020. Also, they wanted an explanation of the documentation needed to take qualified penalty-free distributions from their IRAs to help pay for adoptions and COVID-19-related expenses.
- Parents of college graduates wanted guidance on the SECURE Act provisions. Specifically, they looked to use tax-free 529 Plan distributions to pay off some of their children’s student loans.
Best Practices for Virtual Communications
Financial advisors shared tips for making the most effective use of Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, and other videoconferencing technologies at home to keep clients engaged. These suggestions included:
- Recommendations on clothing advisors should wear (most popular: solid-color blue or gray button-down dress shirts for men; solid or muted-pattern sleeved blouses for women).
- Suggestions for video backgrounds (off-white or light-colored walls adorned with no more than one or two paintings or hangings).
- Tips to help avoid unwanted distractions (hold sessions in rooms with lockable doors; put a “MEETING IN PROGRESS” sign on the outside door).
“Virtual” Client Appreciation Gifts
Most advisors are postponing golf outings, birthday, anniversary, and retirement dinners and large client events until next year. So, many are showing their appreciation by using online vendors to deliver gifts that reflect their clients’ interests. These include:
- Golf players: Firm-branded golf umbrellas or golf balls to be used when courses reopen.
- Video watchers: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or Disney+ gift certificates, along with recommendations of their favorite shows on each platform.
- Home-bound foodies: Coffee-of-the-month subscriptions or gift certificates to GrubHub, DoorDash, or other services that deliver meals from local restaurants.
- Clients who are retiring or celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, or other key life events: Champagne and ice buckets; Edible Arrangements fruit baskets; prepaid charity e-cards that allow the client to donate the stored amount to one or more nonprofit organizations.
The Measurable Value of Client-Focused Communications
Most wholesalers who contacted advisors with an offer to share their informal research have noticed a boost in engagement rates. They saw higher open and click rates for emails, a greater willingness to discuss the findings, and increased attendance at webinars presenting the results.
More importantly, these kinds of communications help wholesalers strengthen client relationships. Wholesalers are demonstrating their willingness to listen and learn about advisors’ practices and sharing the results of this research. Therefore, they are creating a more receptive environment for future sales-focused discussions.