The most important client meeting

Which is the most important client meeting?  The initial chat and goals exploration?  The plan presentation and implementation meeting?  Or the regular review?  Throughout a lifetime relationship, a planner might have many interactions with their clients. Still, I would argue that the review meeting stakes the claim as the most important.  

Why? Suppose we put this in the context of a romantic relationship, for example. In that case, you might ask why an anniversary dinner is more important than a wedding day, the day you got engaged, or the first date?  The reality, of course, is that they are all important.  Without a successful first date, you don’t get to a second date, a third and so on, leading ultimately to a long-term relationship.  

Building the connection

It’s the same with working with a new client.  Without a successful first meeting that leads to further engagements where financial plans are built and presented, resulting in the planner being hired, there wouldn’t be a client to begin with.  So why is the review meeting so important?

Planners should always be working to strengthen the connection with their clients, build enduring partnerships and demonstrate how they continue to add value to their lives. When you consider the lifetime value of a client relationship, as contrasted with the one-off value of a transaction, then the regular review meeting is essential to the ongoing health of the relationship, not least because there is so much going on.

Discussing what’s changed

You must cover all the ongoing planning issues.  Enquire into and incorporate any changes in the client’s circumstances into the plan.  You need to deal with all the queries and questions that might come up about issues ranging from fees and service to investment performance. When the world becomes scarier and more uncertain and markets are unsettled, you must deal with real fears and concerns.

Ultimately, you want your clients walking out of your office with peace of mind and feeling confident in their advisor.  Along the way, you will have continued to educate them on the value of an ongoing relationship with you and your firm. As a result, they are happy to continue paying your fees, and they are motivated to introduce new clients into your practice.  Therefore, it is no surprise that when I asked one of the UK’s leading planners which meeting he thought was the most important, he replied: “The review meeting is 95% of the work.”

A recipe for success?

What, then, are the ingredients for a successful review meeting? According to the leading UK planners I asked, there is no right way to do it. Still, a successful review meeting will typically blend some key ingredients, and the one thing they all emphasised was that preparation is key.

So, let’s start with the preparation or the “mise-en-place” as it’s called in a professional kitchen – meaning literally “to put in place”. Chefs spend most of their time on the preparation that goes into cooking a great dish.  That’s the same for an advisory practice. Next, you and your team will gather all the information together, the various reports and talking points you want to go through with the client. Then, you will update the cash flow report and maybe even prepare a fire drill or a few “what if” scenarios.

Directing the conversation

Secondly, there is an agenda for the meeting itself.  This may be a formal agenda sent in advance and inviting input from the clients or a more informal list of things that you want to get covered during the meeting.  However, if you choose to do it, a well-structured plan will keep everyone on track. In addition, it is an effective way to communicate your professionalism and the seriousness with which you take your responsibilities.

A progress update

Next up is the Financial Plan Progress Report.  When I was a financial planner working directly with clients, I used to think I could deconstruct almost all client questions in review meetings into just these two: “Are we going to be OK?”  and “How are we doing so far?”  This is where you can demonstrate a lot of value to clients by, for example, combining a series of powerful graphical reports to show them where they stand in respect of their personal balance sheet, cash management, protection, tax and estate planning.

Then we come to the investment update. This helps you answer their question, “How are we doing so far?”   Depending on where we are in the market cycle, this might be when clients have questions about fund performance.   Again, this is a great opportunity to reinforce client education on how capital markets work, how their portfolios are constructed for the long-term and the importance of maintaining discipline.  Many advisers I speak to comment that fund performance is always set in the context of what the various asset classes are doing, and the clients personalised benchmark.  In other words, what they need by way of annualised returns to achieve their goals.  

The definition of value

Sometimes, clients will raise questions about fees and service, but that is really a question of actual and perceived value. No matter what you charge your clients or in what form you charge it, it is a small fraction of the value you provide.  Sure, there will always be clients who are fixated on price. However, if they perceive that they are paying more than they believe your service to be worth, then clearly, there is either work to be done on your side to raise your game or perhaps a conversation to be had about whether you are a good fit for their needs.  

Ultimately, the key is to stand behind your fee and prove yourself worthy of your hire.  You got hired on the promise that you could help the client achieve their goals and deliver a great service.  You retain the client by fulfilling the promise, and there is no better place to demonstrate that than in the most important meeting.