Of all the interactions an adviser has with his/her client throughout the year, there’s no doubt in my mind that the review is the most important. And before I get into it, the description of these meetings as ‘reviews’ suggests a ‘looking back into what’s happened’ approach. I much prefer to describe these meetings in a more positive sense – ‘progress to plan’ for example.

This is one of my favourite topics about which it seems I’ve written and presented on for ever. And yet, as I consider the most recent feedback we’ve received from clients, who have been surveyed through our confidential client survey ‘CATscan, I’m not too sure that much progress has been made in this area. The latest results continue to show that the ‘review experience’ for clients isn’t resonating. In fact, of the nine KPI’s we seek feedback on, reviews have been continually rated in the bottom two.

It’s so frustrating, because, in my view, the review is perhaps the only time during the year that the adviser is in complete control – it’s the perfect time to demonstrate the value they’re providing to their client for the fees the client is paying. Our client survey results tell us that the ‘better’ (as defined by the client) the review experience, the higher the level of overall client satisfaction.

By way of context, the major purpose of the review is for the adviser and client to discuss progress to the agreed financial plan while taking into account the client’s current circumstances. It can be conducted face to face, through a video/skype meeting or even over the phone – but it must occur. According to our latest HealthCheck analysis (consolidated in our soon to be released Future Ready VIII Report), 27% of Australian advisers meet with their “A” clients at least quarterly, while, at the other end of the review spectrum, 24% are meeting once a year with their ‘best’ clients. 85% of reviews last between 1 – 2 hours. Hopefully you know what your clients are looking for in terms of frequency and duration (and, if you’re not certain – why not ask them?).

In some ways reviewing the plan with your adviser is akin to going to the dentist – very few people really want to go, but they do, because they appreciate that it’s important (and their parents told them that prevention is better than cure!). If you go along with this analogy, there are a number of steps you can take to enhance your clients’ review experience:

A month out from the meeting, send the latest plan information (investment performance, risk schedules etc) together with a pre-review questionnaire to the client – prepopulated with the relevant info you’re holding and ask them to update accordingly. Also ask them if they have any specific issues they’d like to discuss. Include the various logistics info – likely duration, agenda, dial in/access codes and office directions (including parking info).

This will allow you to prepare upfront and to be able to engage in a meaningful discussion (much better than ‘I’ll come back to you on that’). This also shows the client that you’re respecting their views and want to discuss the matters that are important to them. You might even be surprised about the topics your clients want you to consider – for example, an analysis of over 1,000 clients who had used our Estate Planner diagnostic (courtesy of their adviser) revealed that one in four thought that they didn’t have sufficient levels of life cover!

Confirm (via your client service person, not yourself) the meeting a week before and ensure both partners will be attending. This may perhaps seem a trivial point to make, but, according to our CATScan analysis, one in three clients view themselves as a ‘couple’ – this becomes very important in the discussion. It seems too many advisers direct their conversation towards one partner only (mainly the male), subconsciously alienating the female partner.

Unless there are extenuating circumstances, we strongly suggest that these meetings are always held in your office. This will allow you to call in key staff as needed, leverage your technology and generally showcase your capability.

As a matter of interest, 55% of Australian practices conduct virtually all of their client meetings in their own premises. They are, according to our Future Ready analysis, achieving a significantly higher level of profitability when compared to those advisers who are still travelling to meetings.

During the meeting itself:

  • Interaction with the client should always be empathic. As the old adage goes – clients don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.
  • Stick to the agenda, ensuring it contains any specific issues the client wants to discuss – this provides a track for both client and adviser.
  • We strongly suggest that you take a few minutes to review what you’ve actually done for them since your last meeting (it’s very easy to gloss over the good work done).
  • Adhere to the ‘coffee test’ – ensure the client is doing most of the talking/asking etc during the meeting and the adviser is doing most of the listening (and therefore drinking more coffee).
  • If possible, have another person in attendance – a great way to educate key staff, and also introduce them to your clients (thereby addressing any possible dependency concerns). Only a third (31%) of practices report that they involve someone else other than the adviser in these meetings.
  • Conclude with the date for the next meeting.

Within a few days of the meeting:

  • Confirm outcomes of the meeting, the likely timeframes for the actions you’ve agreed to and date of the next meeting.
  • Implement changes as required.
  • Communicate progress of the agreed actions and confirm when completed.
  • Three weeks after the meeting:
  • Contact the client, ideally through a client service person, and ask for their feedback on the meeting (three or four questions, 5 minutes max.).
  • Listen to what your clients say, make any changes suggested.

The review meeting (and the process through which it is delivered), in my view has always been the keystone for successful longer-term relationships, has become even more critical in today’s ‘fee for service’ environment.

For your consideration.

Terry Bell