This week, Financial Advisor IQ presents a Special Report on RIA Best Practices. Each day we will take a close look at a different aspect of running an RIA, offering well-honed tactics from industry leaders. This is part three.

Advisors may only have one chance to make a first impression on new clients, but opportunities to impress their current roster come quarterly. So how do you make the most of face-to-face client interactions? And how do you anticipate the questions clients will bring to those meetings?

Here are the thoughts of veteran advisors about their best practices for successful client interactions:

How do you make the most of face-to-face client interactions?

Anand Sekhar, VP, practice management and consulting, Fidelity Investments: Clients want to feel like you know them intimately. You can help clients with family goals, peace of mind and fulfilment. You need to listen to learn and be curious about the clients — what we call FORM (family, occupation, recreation, money). Some firms might use formal forms, but a lot of times if you ask people what is going on in their lives, you can get to know them really well. You should know kids’ names, birthdays, pet names, etc. Collect information from their family tree — one generation up and down. You want to be able to do that so you can help deal with aging parents and you can help create family harmony.

“If possible, try to find out what the client wants to talk about ahead of the meeting so you can make the most out of your time together.”
C.J. Avarello
Fairway Wealth Management
C.J. Avarello, partner, Fairway Wealth Management: All in-person meetings are time well spent. Providing clients with meaningful information and recommendations about their finances, whether it be their investment portfolio, tax planning, estate planning, retirement planning, etc., is at the core of what we do. Face-to-face interactions with clients allow advisors to curtail their recommendations in real time if necessary, rather than waiting for a client to respond by phone or email. Face-to-face interactions with clients also help form that personal bond between advisors and clients — something that really can’t happen over a phone call.

How do you prepare?

Sekhar: Review notes from the last meeting and any interactions since that meeting. Look on LinkedIn to see if there have been any job changes. Cull as much information about the client ahead of time. Ask the client if there is any agenda topic they want to review, ask for any updates they might have and make sure the client is as adequately prepared as you are.

Avarello: If possible, try to find out what the client wants to talk about ahead of the meeting so you can make the most out of your time together. If having a preset agenda isn’t possible, the focus of the meeting should revolve around the time of the year it is taking place. For example, if the meeting is in the fourth quarter, you should likely be discussing tax and charitable planning in addition to a client’s portfolio returns.

Douglas Boneparth, president, Bone Fide Wealth: Before any client meeting, we have a meeting agenda which provides me with some key areas that we want to discuss in each meeting: [for example] Talk cash management, estate planning touchpoints. We’ll have notes from our previous meetings, and any information we’ve collected between the two meetings. The information on the pages is more valuable than the formatting on the page itself. Sometimes I print out Word documents and write notes on them, sometimes I have it all printed out.

What materials do you provide clients?

Sekhar: Historically, advisors have brought large packets with charts and graphs, and for some clients that’s appropriate. We’re seeing more advisors use computers for digital presentations with one-page snapshots of returns versus benchmarks, showing their overall portfolio composition and performance, and then showing how they’ve added value versus different metrics. The best advisors are engaging in collaborative discussions with their clients in the face-to-face meetings, but continuing conversations with technology on mobile devices, laptops, etc.

Boneparth: If they are investing clients, they are getting a breakdown of their account’s performance, holdings, allocation. Otherwise, we’ll have a copy of their financial plan in front of us. There is very little paper generated. We give clients this information — access to your files and information — through a client portal on our website. We partner with our former broker-dealer Commonwealth and have a technology relationship with them, so we still use their client portal.

How long should a client meeting last?

Sekhar: It varies. Some of our best advisors, their clients are like family to them. If it’s strictly transactional in nature, you’ll probably go for about an hour.

Avarello: There is no set length of time for meetings. It depends on what’s being covered and addressing your client’s needs and questions.

Chuck Bean
Boneparth: Our longest meeting is generally when we’re reviewing a financial plan. The first time we do this, it will be about 90 minutes. A regular service meeting would be 30 minutes to an hour -- about 45 minutes on average. I cater to a younger clientele — specifically folks in their early 30s and 40s — so this typically leads to shorter meetings because it’s a pretty hectic time in people’s lives with children and work commitments. It does put an emphasis on the need to be organized to respect people’s time. People might not need you all the time, but when they need you, they need you.

How often should you meet with a client — four times a year, more or less often?

Sekhar: It depends — we decide on a case-by-case basis. Some clients are very busy. From a minimum you should meet with a client once a year.

Chuck Bean, CEO, Heritage Financial Services: We meet with clients 3-4 times per year. We ask what is on their mind, what are they concerned about, and make sure they are getting maximum value. We review their portfolio and update their financial plan, going over what we’ve done, what we need to do and what is in their immediate future.

Boneparth: We run a quarterly service model, so we have an agenda in front of us four times a year. For investment-only clients (non-planning), it’s once a year.

Editor’s Note: Responses have been edited for readability and spatial considerations.

Next: How to Structure an RIA Around Your Strengths