It’s not unreasonable to suggest the financial services sector will again feature prominently in the mainstream media during 2018. If for no other reason than the impending Royal Commission into the alleged misconduct of Australia’s banking and financial services industry. The public is going to hear a lot about ‘best interest’, fiduciary responsibility, conflict of interest, vertical integration, independence, self-licensed advisers, soft dollar remuneration, commission vs fees, self-directed vs advised investing and so on.

For many members of the public (aka your clients) this is going to make as much sense as Abbott and Costello in their famous skit,“Who is on first base? Yes, that’s right! Who’s on second? No, Who’s on first!”.

How will clients react when they read the (inevitably negative) media commentary? What questions will financial advisers be facing from their own clients? I think it would be sensible for advisers to get on the front foot and ramp up their communication efforts early in 2018, to educate their clients and reinforce their value (what they do for the fees their clients are paying).

Communication between adviser and client is an essential part of business, and a successful communication program can be a key driver of profit. However, one statistic has remained surprisingly constant since our client surveys (CATScan) began over 15 years ago; the area of “client communication” is one of the poorest performing areas as seen through the eyes of the client.

Over the years, we have gathered a little insight and learned from many advisers. Here’s a list of Business Health’s top tips for effectively communicating with clients – I hope it will help you to not only survive the media storm, but make 2018 a great year!

 

1. You must have something to communicate

As Abbott and Costello so brilliantly parodied in their 1930s skit – both communicator and communicatee need to be on the same page for the communication to be truly successful. (Here’s modern take on the skit – just for fun!). In the world of client service, a Client Value Proposition is key – it is very hard to communicate effectively without one, yet according to Business Health’s database; only one in two Australian practices have a current, documented CVP!

 

2. Know where you stand today

Do you know how effective (or not) your client communication has been over the past year? Consider:

  • How many touch points does your practice currently have with its clients? Is there any differentiation between your ‘A’ and ‘Other’ clients?

  • Is your method of communication the best way for your clients? (Printed copy, email, phone calls, client events, seminars etc)?

  • Is your communication personalised to each client? (“Dear Valued Client” is not an option)

  • Have you asked your clients to rate your practice’s communication over the past year? And their feedback was…? Was any action required and, if so, did you take it?

 

3. Develop your own Communication Calendar & Program

A Communication Calendar – no rocket science here! Your responses to the above will help you to construct an appropriate communication program for your practice. The calendar should list communication method(s) for each month (newsletter, phone calls, seminars) and the intended audience (particular client segment etc).

  • Ensure the Communication Calendar & Program are agenda items for your next business planning workshop.

  • Once the Calendar has been finalised, allocate responsibility for implementation to one or two key staff. Part of this role should be to ensure your CRM is updated and potential issues are identified and acted upon before they turn into problems.

  • Appoint a ‘communication champion’ to provide regular updates to your management team. Updates should include:

– An evaluation of progress made against the objectives you have set for this year’s Program.

– A record of all communications actually delivered.

– Open/read rates – happy with them?

– Bounce-backs/returns – are they at an acceptable level?

– Client satisfaction levels (from your client survey) – how do they compare to industry benchmarks?

 

4. Variety is good, it’s all about the mix

Don’t just rely on one communication method alone. Your Communication Program should incorporate one-to-one, group functions, telephone calls, paper correspondence and email. It’s all about the ‘mix’ in your Communication Program and, we believe, the telephone still has an important role to play, especially for your ‘A’ and ‘B’ clients.

Face to face communication certainly seems to be falling out of favour – a victim perhaps of our fast-paced technology-driven world. Meetings and phone calls have, for many, been replaced by more impersonal emails and text messages. While there is nothing wrong with this per se, Business Health’s CATScan feedback indicates that clients still appreciate the opportunity to talk with their adviser. ‘How’s things’ calls are a great way to achieve this.

 

5. Meaningful, regular, personalised content… that’s a home run!

The best communicators understand what is important to their clients and tailor communication accordingly. The ‘reward’ is having clients who understand what is happening and what their adviser is doing about it (the value they are receiving for the fees they are paying). Jargon should be avoided at all cost!

By way of example, for your clients aged 60+, topics such as estate planning, aged care and philanthropy may very well be top of mind. And if their current adviser isn’t communicating about such topics… it is likely they will go looking for information elsewhere (competitors).

Similarly for clients who are approaching retirement, they will most likely have more pressing and immediate issues than many other clients. As such, a differentiated Communication Program may be appropriate (for example,  incorporation of more personal contact through say, a phone call).

 

While not exhaustive, I hope the above has prompted you to consider your approach to client communication during 2018. Proactive communication to clients is something we see many benefits in. In a down market (or an industry under public scrutiny) communication with clients can not only provide significant benefits, it can also help to reduce business risk and put clients’ minds more at ease. Similarly, when the market is up, there is good reason to communicate with your clients – to reinforce the value of the services you are delivering.

For your consideration.

Terry Bell.

 

 

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