How Advisors Can Vet Clients’ Dissatisfied Friends

“I got a phone call this week from a great client. They’ve email-introduced me to a friend of theirs who is unhappy with their advisor. I’m going to be talking with them next week. I was just wondering, do you have any ideas about how this conversation should go?”

Yes, I do. The RIA I was working with had their greatest increase in new clients from the end of 2008 to the end of 2009. These were people who were introduced to them by existing clients — friends and family of existing clients who simply weren’t hearing from their advisors.

The same circumstances are happening right now.

When you receive an introduction to a prospect — to a potential new client — you need to ascertain very quickly if they’re going to be a good fit for you. So you do need to ask them what is it that they’ve found frustrating or concerning about working with their present advisor. You’re not looking to throw their present advisor under the bus. You do need to hear their thoughts and ideals about what makes a great advisor. If they’re used to having a phone call every week, chances are they’re not going to be a great fit for you either. This is one way to start weeding them out.

Advisors talk a lot about retirement. Talk more about choices:

“Five or ten years from now, what are some of the choices you’d like to be experiencing? What are the ‘like-to-haves’ more than the ‘need-to-haves’?”

“You might enjoy earning income right now from your job, and that might be a ‘like to have’, regardless of what you’re getting paid. But, right now, it might be more a ‘need to have’. Ten or fifteen years down the track, maybe it might be a ‘like to have’. We love working with clients towards their ‘like to haves’. What I mean by that is we want them to have more and more choices as they get older. So, that’s a little bit about how we like to work with clients.”

Another question I would be asking possible clients is this:

“Over the last eight years, with the market gains that we’ve been having, how much money of those gains has been removed from the risk components of the portfolio (i.e. out of the market) and invested in guaranteed income or some vehicle that’s going to be providing guaranteed interest, guaranteed return? How much of these returns have been allocated toward a vehicle like that?”

When you look at the market returns, we’ve had 28%, 19% in 2017. We had 29% in 2013. There have been lots of opportunities for advisors to take some of those gains off the table. I’m not just talking about rebalancing the portfolio if it’s like a 65-20-15 allocation, with stocks, bonds and cash and rebalancing it to get the stocks back in line with the proportion of how they should be. I’m talking about looking after your client and removing some of that profit, taking it out of the market, and allocating it to a safety vehicle for them.

That’s some of the language you want to work in when you’re talking to possible new clients. You’re clarifying for them, “We have the last lap of your financial well-being in mind. That’s where we start from. What are those aspirations that you want to achieve? And then we work back from there to present day, putting down a roadmap to make sure, as best as we can, we arrive at that spot with you totally happy — possibly not even changing much of your lifestyle, but having the maximum number of fun, cool options you can have.”


  1. When that prospect comes in, don’t throw the present advisor under the bus. Just ask the questions diplomatically, without mentioning names.
  2. Be listening to what it is that really has this person frustrated. You’ve got to decide, can you actually deliver on that? If not, just let them go and explain that it’s not going to be a great fit.
  3. Be ready to talk in the context of options, of choices. Not necessarily assuming that everybody wants to get to retirement and just stop working, but, “What kind of choices would you like to have — be it more travel, be it enjoying grandchildren, be it working less but still working?” All of those options are great choices that people can enjoy without just stopping their work-life cold.

So, [these are some] different ideas for ways to verbalize with prospects about moving from somebody and coming on board with you.

Related: How Advisors Can Recalibrate Now for Future Success