By Steve Plewes
Are you truly committed to serving your clients for the long run? You may care deeply about your clients and their financial interests, but if you don’t have a great relationship with their spouses or adult children, how can you assure their financial interests will survive well into the future?
At some point in your career, you’ll likely experience the unfortunate passing of a client. At this point, your client’s next of kin will contact you for brief guidance and to collect on their policy. But how far your relationship continues into the future may already be cemented by how nurtured the relationship while your client was alive.
What Did We Get Wrong?
I once had a great client named Jack, who frequently invited me to his house to review his insurance and investment status. Though our relationship was strong, I had only minimal, but friendly, interaction with his wife, Trish. Sadly, Jack passed away from cancer, and Trish reached out to me to secure Jack’s insurance coverage. I thought I had effortlessly inherited her as a client, but after our first meeting, Trish balked and decided to move forward with a different advisor.
Years later, I’m hearing this story repeated countless times among the pool of advisors that I currently coach. I began to wonder, what did we do wrong? What caused our loyal clients’ next of kin to move on to other advisors?
Looking back, the answer is clear: we failed to care for the fundamental relationships behind our primary client relationships – including our clients’ spouses, adult children and other significant advisors in their life, such as attorneys.
It’s hard enough to emotionally grapple with the loss of a client. Having experienced it firsthand, I can also attest to the difficulty of losing the relationship with their family. Fortunately, there are some warning signs that can signal that a client’s survivor may be looking to move on without you by their side, including:
• You see money moving without prior discussion.
• You have engaging conversations together, but follow-ups are routinely delayed.
• The survivor frequently misses meetings and doesn’t return your phone calls.
If you witness these signals, there is likely still time save the relationship. After all, while your client’s survivor may be moving on without you, they may also just be taking their time to make critical financial decisions.
While actions like filing an insurance claim are a top priority, others like paying off a mortgage or revisiting investments can be put on the back burner until the survivor is ready to act. Remember, they are grieving; a good rule of thumb is to allow up to a year before acting upon any significant financial decisions.
The best way to avoid this uncomfortable situation is to take proactive steps to ensure you build comprehensive relationships with both your primary clients and their survivors. As much as possible, I abide by the following best practices to ensure my relationships are strong:
1. Insist that both spouses attend meetings together as much as possible.
This allows you to engage with the secondary client and integrate them into the financial planning process. You will also want to ensure both parties understand the why behind their financial decisions and how they will impact them both.
2. Connect with both clients on a personal level to build trust.
A great way to do this is by seeking opportunities for socialization to deepen the bond. This can be as simple as offering the secondary clients their favorite drink at your office or inviting them to review their annual plans over dinner.
3. Network with clients’ other professional advisors.
It’s essential for all parties involved in your clients’ affairs to work in concert. If a client’s will is drafted by an attorney that you don’t know and you don’t understand it, how can you assure that your client’s best financial interest has been considered?
These steps can yield significant benefits for you and your clients – ensuring their bases are covered and their financial plans remain intact. Additionally, by growing an extended relationship of trust, you’ll be better able to be there for your clients’ survivors when they need you the most.
About the Author
Steve Plewes, CLU, ChFC, CPC, ELI-MP, is a 33-year qualifying and life MDRT member with 13 Court of the Table and 11 Top of the Table qualifications. As a former independent firm owner, Steve honed his communication, problem-solving and sales skills to build a nearly 40-year career in financial services. He now works as a professional coach, combining his experience, wisdom and insights with his passion for helping people move forward in life. He is the author of the book The High Altitude View; Gaining Perspective to Grow your Practice.