When I started working with individuals and families over 20 years ago, the experience for clients and our team of advisors was, in many ways, quite different than it is today. I remember having lunch in the executive dining room — picture white tablecloths and three-piece suits. Fine china and attentive servers providing a high-end experience over lunch with a great view of downtown. What an experience, right?
There was significant formality surrounding the experience — from the routine of the meeting, the time for building rapport, and the actual review of information. Meetings were often centered around “the book.” The book was the investment review. The meeting was a formal presentation of the current “review” in the economy, the markets, and of our clients’ portfolios. Meetings were very often one-sided; not much talking by clients and a lot of talking from advisors.
Advisors were the experts and they spoke about equities, fixed income, currencies, interest rates, inflation, yield curves, correlation, alternatives, betas, and Sharpe ratios. Meanwhile clients tried to remain engaged but often just did what they felt they had to do as part of the process. Clients were taught to look at benchmarks as performance measures. Outperformance was celebrated and underperformance was defended or acted upon.
The Client Experience Today
The industry and many firms like First Business Bank have evolved since those days. Investment performance is still very important, but even more important is a discussion of what really matters to clients: their hopes, their dreams, and their priorities.
Financial planning is used as a tool to help guide conversations and determine the big questions like:
- When can I retire?
- Am I spending too much or too little?
- Will we have enough money to do what we want to do?
- Will I be able to leave the money I want to leave to my family and my preferred charity?
Information is now readily available, as every smartphone and tablet are computers capable of searching almost anything. Account balances are available 24/7 for all of us to view. Statements and tax information are available and sent electronically. Gone are the days of going to that investment review to see how things are doing as clients can access information whenever they want it.
What we find now is that clients are looking for insight. They have data and information, but they are looking for perspective and collaboration. They trust advisors, like our Private Wealth team at First Business Bank, and they want strategies and verification that they are going to be okay.
How the Pandemic Affected the Client Experience
With the volatility that came with the pandemic, our clients were initially shocked by the drop in their portfolios in such a short period of time. We found them anxious and concerned. We approached these conversations with thoughtful questions, trying to get to the heart of what was important to them. Clients wanted a sense of security during this volatile time.
Our team got together and came up with a list of three simple questions to quickly assess whether our clients were going to be okay and help them feel comfortable.
First we asked, “Where are you now?” What does your portfolio and mix of assets look like compared to your goals and priorities?
How did the recent volatility impact this? We wanted to understand the current state, how they felt, was there reason for long-term concern, and was there more to the story than we were aware of previously?
Next we asked, “Are you on track?” This requires having an end goal identified. In many situations, we could reference previous financial planning we had done, which outlined goals, future cash flows, savings rates, and expected rates of return. In other cases, we had to plan on the fly to determine how our clients were doing relative to their goals, especially when stress tested with a significant drop in their account values. This was a valuable and often reassuring exercise, as a large majority of our clients were on track to meet their goals. The process of understanding long-term goals and priorities and progress towards those priorities was enlightening and comforting, as the common reaction was a sigh of relief upon realizing they were still well positioned.
The third and final question we asked as a part of these rapid planning discussions was, “What should we do?” After we understood and discussed the current state and determined whether our clients were still on track, together we had a choice to make:
- Make changes to the way we are invested
- Modify the risk level we are comfortable taking, or
- Change our future view of goals in terms of cash flow or expected time frame. This process was often comforting because we knew we had a foundation to stay the course or it prompted discussion about the best way to move forward.
These collaborative discussions are now a part of our daily routine with our clients. They are more authentic and impactful, as we try to fully understand our clients and make a difference for them and their families. By comparison, this is very different from going through the book in the fancy dining room years ago.
The Future of the Client Experience
We are seeing more frequent, less formal interactions with our clients. We’ve all adopted video meeting platforms as efficient ways to communicate. In my opinion, nothing beats in-person interaction, but video seems to be a better option than talking on the phone or sending an email for most interactions. These tools have enabled us all to stay connected in a personal way. We can share relevant confidential information on the screen and make decisions that make a difference in our clients’ financial lives. By doing this, we have bridged the gap of travel time and distance to make decisions and make progress.
As we continue to evolve — listening, asking great questions, and really trying to understand our clients’ financial lives better than anyone else on the planet is still our top priority. Coming out of the pandemic, we are setting our sights on different issues. Our clients are often struggling with the meaning and the responsibility of wealth and we want to be there to help guide them. This is an ongoing discussion. Often it is not just maximizing return and maximizing the risk it takes to get there, but rather maximizing the impact resulting from this wealth. Impact means different things to every client. It can be living richly through experiences like time spent together, while still healthy and able, traveling, volunteering, or spending high-quality time with children or grandchildren doing the things you always wanted to do.
How can we help you live richly on your own terms? It starts with understanding what it is important and developing a plan to make sure you get there.
Our team continues to evolve, adapt, and innovate as the landscape changes. One thing remains constant — our commitment to get it right for our clients. We are dedicated to our clients’ success and that will continue to be our number one priority.