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The Evolution of the Client Meeting

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Some of the client advisory boards I have facilitated lately, along with an article in Financial Advisor by Dan Jamieson, have had me thinking about the changing nature of the client review meeting. Client preferences are changing and keeping your clients satisfied and loyal means you need to be making some changes along with them.

Among the forces driving the evolution of client meetings are:

  • The busy lives of clients
  • Better access to information
  • Changing expectations
  • Increasing numbers of clients who retire and move
  • And, perhaps most significant, improving technology
     

When I was a new advisor, financial plans and account statements were all words and numbers – no graphs. You got statements quarterly and you got a plan update we met. And there was a pretty good chance you had statements coming from three or four places: some from mutual fund families, some from insurance companies, and some from brokerage account custodians. When I met with clients for a review, it was up to me to put the whole picture together for them and let them know what had gone on in their portfolio over the past few months.

Now clients can get a consolidated view of their portfolio on demand that includes performance statistics, pie charts, and line graphs. On their smart phone. They no longer need an advisor to tell them what they have or how it’s done.

The purpose of the meeting has evolved. Clients are less interested in being walked through an economic review. An effective meeting is used to highlight, to discuss, and to decide.

At one firm’s advisory board meeting last year, the clients gave the firm a clear message that they wanted less of the meeting devoted to a review of the portfolio so that more of the time could be spent discussing financial planning issues and answering their planning questions. They deeply value the expertise of the advisor and wanted less presentation and more interaction and strategizing. That same group asked the firm for the reports a week before the meeting to give them an opportunity to review them and formulate questions.

At another meeting, one participant clarified the point. “Don’t explain to us what happened in every category” he said. “Tell us what things you see changing, how you think that will affect our portfolio, and what you intend to do if it happens.” Many clients have expressed the desire to talk in more depth about the parts of the portfolio that had exceptional or surprising results rather than a comprehensive review. The consistent message appears to be “Don’t tell me everything, tell me what’s important.”

The frequency and nature of meetings has been another popular topic at advisory board meetings. Some advisors I speak with pride themselves on having a “high touch” approach that may include in-person client meetings as frequently as quarterly. But the most popular answer we get to the question of how frequently clients would you like to meet their advisor in person is one or two per year.

Driving down that number is the ability to meet virtually. Whether it be technology that both the advisor and client can log into, like eMoney Advisor or MoneyGuide Pro, screen sharing technology like GoToMeeting, Webex, or Join.me, or simply a web cam and Skype, there is less and less necessity to get together in person. One firm did a demonstration of the eMoney Advisor Decision Center at a meeting last fall and asked its board members if they would like to use the technology for some of their review meetings. One client, president of a large group medical practice, said without hesitation “Where do I sign up?” The consensus of that board was that a single in person meeting per year would be fine with additional meetings conducted with alternative, remote options. One stipulation was that in person meetings were still necessary when establishing a client relationship.

So what should you do to respond to this changing environment? Start by asking your clients about their preferences.

Framing is important. Like most issues in financial advice, getting a meaningful outcome depends mostly on the quality of the questions. The most productive path would not be to simply ask your clients “would you like to meet remotely?” Put together a demonstration of the technology you are considering and lead your advisory board or a group of top clients through a sample meeting. Show them what’s possible and ask them their evaluation of it. What would you say were the pros and cons of meeting this way? How does it compare to coming into the office to meet with us? Would you want some of your meetings to be conducted this way?

Many firms have benefited from engaging their advisory boards in a systematic evaluation of their review meeting process. Step through the standard review meeting agenda and materials. Ask what they find most valuable in those meetings. Ask how they can be improved. What needs to be added? What needs to be dropped? What is the optimal number of meetings per year and how many should be in person, by telephone, or virtual?

Have you used remote technology to conduct a client review meeting? What has been your experience? How has it changed the way you work with clients or run your practice?

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