How do you approach that first client meeting?
Three advisers tell us how they prepare when meeting clients for the first time, their dos and don’ts and the immediate steps they take thereafter.
The first meeting with a potential client can often mark the start of a lasting adviser/client relationship, but how do you ensure that you get the most of out? For most firms, the focus is upon getting the client to open up and feel comfortable, but is there a process you should be following to build that trust? And what if they’re not the right fit? Here, several advisers discuss their approach.
Getting to know the client
Impressing a potential client often happens before they’ve even stepped into the office. Prior to the first meeting, firms usually send an email confirming the meeting and, in many instances, preparing the client for what it will entail.
Chris Budd, managing director of Ovation Finance, says it’s important that potential clients are aware they will be asked personal questions in the meeting.
“The first meeting is all about understanding the real needs of that person. Advisers have a dichotomy; clients normally come with one very specific question or request, but it is our job to address all of their needs which often emerge through the course of that first conversation,” he says.
Budd acknowledges that for many clients, this will be a new and unfamiliar process.
“We have to be sensitive to the fact they may not like the idea of intrusive questions, which is why it’s helpful to know in advance what will be asked of them. If they’re steadfast in their refusal to answer those questions, then they’re not the right client for us,” says Budd.
For Budd, the focus is much more upon the person than their financial information, and he never requests that they bring documents with them to the first meeting.
“If they bring information, we will make a photocopy of it, but we will never sit and trawl through it during that first meeting, nor do we complete a fact-find because for us, that gets in the way of the conversation. However, we do find that the majority of time, all the facts come out naturally as part of our conversation.”
Julie Lord, managing director of Magenta Financial Planning, agrees it’s important to prepare potential clients for the process ahead.
“Once the meeting has been confirmed, we will email the potential client with directions, requests for certain documents and ask them five or six touchy-feely questions. Those questions, which focus on things like their passions, what they might do differently if they only had six months to live and so forth, help us to build an idea of the individual and gets them thinking about the bigger picture,” she explains.
If a potential client shies away from Magenta’s approach and wants to solely focus on the investment side of their finances, the firm makes clear that they will not be able to work together.
“We are blunt if we feel that we aren’t able to work together and very clear on the fact that we are financial planners not investment specialists,” says Lord. “We have never experienced ‘chemistry’ issues but we have had instances where people are unsure of what it is they want and in those cases we ask them to return to us when they can be more forthcoming.”
Discussing your dreams, hopes and aspirations for the future can not only be unfamiliar territory for many, but requires the client to feel completely comfortable in the company of the adviser.
Budd says he only takes light notes during the course of the meeting to ensure that his focus is completely upon his client.
“We ask open questions, then we sit back and listen – that really is the best way to learn about someone,” says Budd.
Budd, who is a qualified business coach, says he relies on his coaching skills to help clients feel at ease and forge a relationship.
“Quality advisers should know to ask open questions and listen. As an adviser, you have to realise that you’re not the most important person in the room and that the focus must be solely upon the client.
“Clients can read all about your experience and qualifications on the website and generally people aren’t interested in hearing you reel off everything you have achieved. You need to show that you understand them, their values and you will be committed to helping them achieve their goals.”
Budd says clients who aren’t willing to be challenged, or want to focus on specific investments rather than discuss their future are not right for Ovation Finance. However, he says that due to the “right marketing”, this is rarely the case as most prospective clients have an understanding of how the firm works.
Lord relies on clever questioning to make clients feel comfortable and says friendliness and empathy play an important role in building trust.
She says: “We operate on the basis of three elements: absolute credibility – that clients know we have the knowledge and experience to do this for them; reliability – if we say we will do something, we will do it; creating empathy – finding subjects they’re interested in and sharing that passion and interest with them. Ultimately, the relationship is all about them.”
Lord believes it’s important that the prospective client is made to feel welcome by the entire team when they visit the offices.
“It’s nice for the client to be asked personalised questions, such as how their trip was. It’s critical for the business to have a process in place whereby staff are aware of who is coming in, but that it does not feel like that to the client. For them, it must feel very personal and bespoke,” she explains.
According to Gavin Kingsley, financial planner at Niche IFA, in addition to creating a friendly and open atmosphere during the meeting, firms must also work to ensure clients trust the name.
He says: “Trust has a lot to do with perception and how a firm presents itself. It helps to have a good online presence and feature on websites such as Vouchedfor where they can read reviews. We are a chartered firm, which I believes offers extra credibility. Also, having an active online presence means clients can learn a lot about you before they approach you, and will have a good idea of what you can do for them.”
Since the first meeting will hopefully be the start of a long-term relationship between client and adviser, advisers are careful not to let time lapse between the meeting and the next stage of the process.
Niche IFA will follow up within a day of the first meeting, confirming what was discussed and what the next steps are. They will also send out forms, including a risk assessment and income and expenditure form, of which the latter is completed online and fed straight into the firm’s own software system.
Kingsley says: “Around 80 per cent of all the work we do is pensions-related so we write to the relevant providers requesting more information which we can then analyse. Once we have that, we can go back to the client with our recommendations.”
Clients are charged £250 for a report, and only once they have agreed to those recommendations would they go on to become a client.
Lord takes a slightly different approach and says most clients agree to engage the firm’s services during the first meeting.
“Following on, we will send a letter confirming the responsibilities of both parties. We are quite strict in what we ask of the client because we believe that if they’re paying us, we need to make sure they help us to help them,” explains Lord.
The firm will then provide the client with various forms to fill in and schedule a second meeting for a couple of weeks thereafter.
Ovation Finance will follow up within two days of meeting the client, producing a brief summary of what was discussed during the meeting and a separate request for fact-finding information.
Budd says: “We charge a monthly retainer fee of £25 and only once an individual has agreed to that fee and signed the terms of business would they become a client and further action taken. It helps distinguish between those are really interested in financial planning and those who are unsure. Most people agree within that first meeting to engage us.”
He adds: “We want people to go away from that first meeting full of thoughts and ideas and feeling enthused for the future and fortunately, the feedback we receive is always very positive.”