Most advisors know they should probably touch base with clients more often than they do, but when those discussions are too frequent, the dialogue may end up sounding like all previous conversations.
Clients may be less likely to pick up the phone or respond to emails if they suspect the only topic of discussion will be an obligatory portfolio review or performance evaluation. With online access to account information, many clients can now obtain that information on their own.
So, how else can you connect? Consider these conversation starters as a way to engage with clients on a deeper level.
1. The Economy
The stock market has rebounded along with the economy since those dark days over a decade ago, but may not always reflect underlying strength. The labor shortage is placing skilled workers in high demand, leading to higher wages in many cases. Some businesses are adding on or building new facilities to keep up with market demand, and new homes are popping up in many communities. How does your client feel about the economy on a local and national scale? Optimistic? Leery? Talking about their perceptions can give you further insights into any actions they may need to take when it comes to their personal economic status.
2. In the News
Just because the economy may be doing well doesn’t mean the market won’t have its ups and downs. Not a day seems to go by that some newsworthy event causes pundits and analysts to speculate about its impact on investment funds. Market volatility can occur overnight and put some investors in panic mode. Whether it’s a new worldwide epidemic like the Coronavirus, political upheaval, or a local plant shutdown, current events may impact a portfolio’s performance or an individual’s personal perspectives about their financial wellbeing. Help to calm fears and bring a sense of reason during times of uncertainty.
3. Tax Time
Spring is a great time to reconnect with your clients, especially before the April 15 tax-filing date. Some clients may be uncertain about the paperwork they need to provide to their tax preparer or accountant, particularly when it comes to tax-deferred accounts and other investments. Checking in to ask whether clients have questions about paperwork may be a welcome conversation, especially if they do their own taxes. Likewise, a follow up soon after returns are completed can help to address any concerns ahead of next year. You can take the opportunity to discuss retirement plan contributions as well, helping to ensure they’ve covered all the bases.
4. Family Matters
Asking about a client’s family is a natural way to start a conversation, and expressing genuine care and concern is perhaps the best way to build trust. Most everyone enjoys talking about their families, and it gives you an opportunity to share about yours. Also look for ways to connect with spouses and children to build relationships with beneficiaries early on. If a family crisis occurs, your hand-written note or call during that time will more likely be viewed as the compassionate gesture that it really is rather than opportunistic. Granted, you’re a financial professional, but that doesn’t mean that every conversation must center around portfolios and projections.
5. Retirement Goals
How long has it been since you’ve discussed your client’s dreams for retirement? If it’s been a while, chances are those goals may have shifted. Have they changed their outlook on when to leave the workforce or whether to downsize their home? What about any new health concerns or dreams of spending more time traveling or visiting grandchildren? Clients may welcome your insights into how to achieve their vision of what retirement may look like now that it’s closer on the horizon. But you may never know if you don’t ask.
Clients expect their advisors to emphasize savings strategies and increasing contributions to their retirement accounts. Yes, those conversations need to take place, but imagine their surprise when you encourage them to spend some of those hard-earned dollars instead. An investment strategy can include enjoying a portion of the harvest they’ve sown over time, within reason. It may be as simple as a vacation with family, a landscaping project or restoring that old car that’s been parked in the shed for years. Discussing the pursuit of hobbies and passions outside typical financial conversations can be a refreshing change of pace and build trust and understanding.
For some, spending on personal hobbies or activities isn’t a priority, but contributing to causes they care about brings a thrill. Asking about their involvement in non-profit organizations or volunteer activities may spark a heartfelt conversation about the things that matter most when it comes to social justice, personal values, religious views, environmental issues and more. Knowing clients on this deeper level can help guide your future interactions, identify mutual interests and, just as importantly, inform you about potential hot-button topics that should probably be avoided.
8. Interest Rates
It’s well known that traditional bank accounts aren’t paying out big earnings when it comes to interest rates. While those that are insured by FDIC have some protections against loss, some accounts end up barely breaking even once bank fees and inflation are factored in. Interest rates may inch up in coming years, but there are no guarantees. Share your perspectives on current rates in comparison to other average portfolio returns over time. Engage your client in a conversation about what they think will happen with interest rates and any accounts they may have in traditional savings. It may help open their eyes to consider whether they should shift their savings strategy.
9. Life Goals
It’s easy for advisors to become laser focused on financial goals for retirement and overlook other major milestones along the way. You likely have clientele in varying demographics, and retirement may be 20 years down the road for some. A lot can happen in that time: a new house, vacations, marriage, children, a career change, etc. Gaining insights into how they want to live their lives between now and then shows you’re not only concerned with helping them create the life they want in the future, but in the here and now, too.
10. Potential Market Bubble
There’s been a lot of speculation about whether the market can sustain its record highs or whether another crash is imminent. Has the bubble burst already? Has the market completed a correction? Your clients may be silently contemplating these scenarios with much angst, and they may welcome your advice on how to mitigate future risks. Discussions about managing risk through portfolio diversification and guarantees may be in order. Offering guaranteed products such as risk control annuities can help put your clients minds at ease by providing a limit on loss during down markets and growth potential when markets climb.
Those who come through your door want to know that they’re more than just a client and that you’re interested in them as a person. By engaging in conversations that include both financial and personal matters, you can show you care and help them prepare for the future.
Want more tips for helping clients achieve satisfaction in retirement? Access our guide below outlining seven strategic steps that can help you guide your clients toward financial security.
Written by: Marshall Heitzman, CFP®, ChFC, FLMI, CPCU, BFA™
Marshall is CUNA Mutual Group's Advanced Planning Expert and has more than 25 years experience in the insurance and financial services industry. He consults Financial Advisors on advanced retirement planning concepts for retirement and wealth management clients.