By Kenneth Van Leeuwen, CFP
Everyone knows you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. That’s one of thereasons why the initial meeting with a potential client is so important for financial advisors. Whenever I sit down with a prospect for the first time, I want to make sure I put my best foot forward and come off as the competent and experienced professional that I am.
In some ways, that first meeting can set the tone for everything that comes after. Did the person show up on time for our meeting, or give me a heads up if they were going to be delayed? Do they value my time in the same way that I value theirs? Are they polite?
But the relationship between advisor and client should never be a one-way street. At the same time that I am auditioning for the role of trusted financial advisor, I’m also trying to assess if they are a person who we can work with and develop a partnership.
The reason this is so important is that I’m looking to build a long-term relationship and it starts with that initial meeting. We need to start with a solid foundation of trust and mutual respect so that the client and I can work together to develop a comprehensive and holistic life plan that will allow that person to pursue the life they have always envisioned. Once we’ve established those parameters we can move on to the strategy and tactics that can allow us to make the client’s vision a reality.
The first thing I want to ascertain is whether they even need to hire us and if we can realistically help them achieve their goals. This rarely happens, but if someone is referred to us and tells me they want to retire in two years with an annual income of $250K but so far, they’ve only managed to save $100,000, there’s really not much I can do to make that happen.
On the other hand, if it seems that they are in a position where we might be able to help them, it then comes down to a question of do they like us and do we like them. There are no quick fixes such as the potential client in the above scenario was seeking. Instead my goal, as I’m sure is true for other advisors as well, is to build a long-term relationship based on mutual respect and honest communication. In the more than two decades my firm has been in existence I’ve met with hundreds of individuals, couples and families. I don’t have a formal script for these encounters, but I do know what to look for and what questions to ask to give me a sense if this is a potential relationship that will work for both parties.
Once the meeting begins, I look at nonverbal cues that can tell me about the person . Are they acting nervous? Are they truly engaged, honest and transparent? Are they listening to what I’m saying or are they trying to control the meeting? It’s a bad sign if they don’t want to answer certain questions or share important information.
As with any new relationship , early part of the meeting will involve me asking the “getting to know you” questions—how many kids do you have, where do you work, what are your aspirations, tell me how you look at money, do you have life insurance, do you have a will, and other things like that.
But at the same time as I’m trying to get enough information to make my decision, I want to make sure that the session is more of a conversation than an interrogation, so I pause often and ask if they have any questions for me. They might be too polite to say what’s on their mind, or they may not even be sure what they should be asking about, so I prompt them.
I tell them they should be asking how I get paid, have I worked with any people in their situation, what has the outcome been, what kind of licenses and certifications I have, and whether or not I’ve ever been subject to any disciplinary actions. And then I answer those questions. I also point out that they should be comfortable asking those kinds of questions with any professionals they hire.
One other way that meeting with a prospective client is like a blind date, is that it doesn’t always work out. As an advisor, I have never had a second meeting with someone I did not think I could help or that I would not be comfortable working with. But at the same time, as with a date that didn’t work out, I try very hard not to hurt the other person’s feeling. Usually I’ll wait a couple of days and then call up and say, “After giving this a lot of thought, I think you’d be better off working with someone else. I appreciate the time and hope I provided you with some value in our initial meeting, but I think you would be better served working with another advisor or type of advisor.”
And sometimes after “dating” for a while, an advisor has to break up with a client. It’s something I do rarely, but with a client who constantly ignores my recommendations, is argumentative, or doesn’t appreciate the value that we provide for what we charge, it’s often best for both parties since neither of us is happy with the arrangement.
As an advisor, my goal is always to work with people who understand what we do, appreciate our expertise, and treat us with respect. It’s only with that kind of foundation that we can do our best work as advisors. Managing a comprehensive financial plan means that we focus on the big picture and all details included in that plan in pursuit of working towards your life goals.