How growing adviser businesses are finding new clients
ABR talks to adviser firms with defined growth strategies about how they market and expand their client bases
Every adviser looking to grow their business faces the tough task of bringing on new clients. But when it comes to expanding your client bank, is there one approach that stands out?
Stuart Anderson, head of marketing and communications at Cheshire-based Clarion Wealth Planning (below), says the first step for an adviser firm is to narrow down its target client and understand what appeals to that segment of the market, which can often mean a process of trial and error.
Defining Clarion’s ideal client, he says, was important in making the firm stand out in the market and showing prospective clients its dedication and commitment to their particular needs.
“We offer lifelong financial planning to the high net worth client, so we are not your typical high-street IFA. Our ideal client is either a first or second-generation business owner, thinking of exiting the business, and has somewhere close to £1 million investable assets.
Clarion targets between one and two new clients a month and says it works hard to set itself apart from the traditional, generalist IFA, and views its biggest competitors as private banks and big name wealth managers.
Midlands-based Cooper Parry Wealth also targets high-end clients, with minimum assets of £500,000, and has spent recent years overhauling its brand to ensure it attracts the right type of client and can compete head on with the private banks.
The company, which has trebled its assets under management in three years, says knowing exactly whom it wanted to serve and communicating that to its professional network was vital in growing the business.
Taking a similar approach is London-based First Wealth, which has hired a marketing company to carry out client research.
Anthony Villis, managing partner, says: “We’ve spent a lot of money looking at our client base – the average age, investable assets, location and so forth. We are a small firm so we’re not targeting masses of new clients but we want to ensure that the quality of client we receive is right for us. The research will enable us to create a very targeted strategy for 2016.”
First Wealth currently relies heavily upon professional introducers as its main source of new business.
The firm has a network of 10 professional introducers, three of which, Villis says, deliver consistently, and looks to add its connections as personal clients, in order for them to experience the financial planning process first hand.
He says: “We receive around eight referrals a month and between six or seven join us. We have a high conversion rate because it’s a confident referral; we’ve come with a good recommendation, often they know what to expect of us and there are no nasty surprises.”
Going forward, First Wealth is looking at advertising among the accountancy and legal trade press in a bid to expand its introducer network.
Clarion keeps a “dynamic” list of 10 introducers, which it regularly reassesses, and is looking beyond “traditional introducers” to explore opportunities within corporate finance and law, says Anderson (left).
“Given our target market, it’s about reinforcing the message of how important the whole financial planning process is and how we can help. What appeals to professional connections will also work for clients.”
Cooper Parry Wealth, part of a leading accountancy firm, also receives the majority of its new business through referrals, and works with five other accountancy firms, two of which are formal agreements. In addition, the company says existing client recommendations are also a valuable source of new business.
Chief executive Stephen Jones (main picture) says: “We do a lot of work around client feedback. We have a client advocacy tracker and I run a client advisory board. We really value what our clients think.”
A glowing recommendation from existing clients can carry a lot of weight, as First Wealth knows all too well. The firm actively encourages current clients to recommend their services.
Villis says: “It’s ingrained in all parts of our processes and we include it as a final agenda item during our reviews. It’s important to us that our clients’ networks hear about us.”
Direct to client
As technology and consumer expectations develop, so too have advisers’ methods of attracting business.
Websites such as Vouchedfor and Unbiased are proving popular in allowing prospective clients to research firms.
Jones says: “It’s important to create an online presence. We use Vouchedfor and Unbiased, as well as a combination of social media, e-shots, PR and award strategies. While it’s difficult to measure the exact impact of online activity, it’s necessary to be active because you never quite know where people will look for you or go to research you.”
The firm has also embraced advertising but says it picks its opportunities carefully.
“We only do advertising to support certain ventures. We are expanding into the West Midlands and we will advertise locally to communicate that to prospective clients,” says Jones.
“London is a huge market and we have a lot of competitors,” Villis says, “so in order to stay ahead, we need to focus on our differentiator. Our visuals and messages need to create an emotional attachment within prospective clients.”
Villis is also looking at ways to communicate its award wins to prospective clients, as testament to its hands-on approach.
Advisers agree that any marketing campaign must be a sustained and combined effort if it’s to successfully attract new clients.
Anderson says: “In the past we’ve done the odd bits and pieces, such as sponsorship, which have felt great at the time but don’t do much in terms of drawing in new business. I think you need a comprehensive plan, where all parts of marketing complement each other, to really work.”
One area Anderson does not believe works for Clarion is seminars.
He says: “It would be tough to get a seminar absolutely spot on. I do think selling a differentiator is difficult to encapsulate and unless someone has seen you or the business in action, seminars can be an extremely tough sell.”
Villis echoes the sentiment: “The key is to have subtle marketing specifically targeted at the right people. I don’t believe seminars and conference stands would work for us – I’ve done those in the past and they have been very painful and not at all effective in drawing in business.”
Rise of robo-advice
But as well as competing against fellow financial planning firms for clients, advisers are also cognisant of the rise of robo-advice.
Anderson says that while robo-advice is developing, it does not yet pose a threat to firms like Clarion as it isn’t a viable competitor for their target market.
“The bigger issue for us is getting the functionality from our providers to ensure that we have a website that appeals to our client base and differentiates us in the market place,” he says.
Jones agrees that developments in technology should be seen as an opportunity by advisers.
“You can’t rule out robo-advice as a threat, because you never know where technology will go or what clients will come to expect. However, we see it as an opportunity to buy in some great technology which will help the overall advice market,” he says
Visit the Clarion Wealth Planning website
Visit the Cooper Parry Wealth website
Visit the First Wealth website