Client perception is our reality.
As financial planners, we solve problems. But, you can only provide meaningful advice if your clients understand the correct problem.
I’ve talked in the past about how we have so much information available, we get paralyzed by indecision. And with so much information available, it can’t all be accurate. Just turn on cable news and you’ll see more speculation than factual reporting. People believe what they expose themselves to – and that messaging is constant. Our clients focus on the media at least as much as they focus on what we say. More, if we aren’t providing them with the information they need.
A client’s sentiment, right or wrong, affects their behavior. It’s also constantly changing – especially if you are only meeting with clients annually. So, it’s no wonder that it can seem almost impossible to keep up.
That’s where our alignment needs to change. We’re in a place of communication failure. Not about portfolio performance or basic information … we’re missing how a client’s changing emotional mindset can impact a far-reaching financial plan.
According to a recent survey, 65% of Americans believe there will likely be a recession in the next year, while most economists indicated that during the summer, those winds have subsided. The survey was conducted in early fall after economists changed their predictions. Yet our clients’ beliefs didn’t change. That tells me either we are not communicating properly, or clients have fallen behind in obtaining important economic data.
Either way, the burden falls on us to communicate clearly.
Preparing … Partially
The survey asked what Americans are doing if they believed a recession is imminent. Smartly, most respondents indicated they have begun building an emergency fund or paying down debt.
Unfortunately, only 13% of the survey participants have taken the time to reallocate their investments. This is in the backdrop of one of the largest increases in market value since the financial crisis.
Few are taking risk off the table. Probably because we are not advising them to do so.
Clients move. The market experiences poor performance. A friend enters the industry and your client transfers business to them.
Planning vs Reality
Most Americans are saving less money than our parents, but we are saving money for retirement. But our clients save based on the expectations (that we help set) they will reach their ideal retirement age before leaving the workforce. What’s on your clients’ plan? 65? 67? 70? For more than 40% of Americans, that won’t be the case. 4 in 10 will have to retire early due to health concerns or being forced to leave the workforce.
Will your client still be set up for success if they retire earlier than projected? Have you talked about it?
Overcoming Communication Failure
In a worse-case scenario, failing to help clients change their perception and understand the financial market can cost them security and wealth. Selfishly, it can also cost us the ability to gain new clients.
If we don’t prepare our clients for contingencies, they will fail to enjoy the lifestyle they have been envisioning. If that happens, we risk not only the client relationship but future relationships of generations to come.
We must be better at communicating the risks and solutions associated with retirement income planning. And, we need to do that in a way that is so simple, thematic and compelling that our clients tune out the noise of friends, family and media to use us as the trusted source.
As a StoryBrand Guide, we tell our advisors, “If you confuse, you’ll lose.” Getting your message clear is difficult, but leads to exponential gains in your business. When you correct how you communicate, you will impact your clients’ lives because you have a better chance at being aligned.
This is where High Performing Practice can help. In past blogs we’ve talked about some of the techniques: finding the right clients, building deeper relationships, automating your message, and most importantly keeping your message clear.
But it really comes down to you and your clients. Are you understanding their reality? And what are you doing to meet them where they are, then guide them to a place of security?
If you’re ready to have that conversation, we can help.
Improve your communication – and effectiveness — through simple and consistent messaging that connects with your clients.
We’ve all lost clients for one reason or another.
Clients move. The market experiences poor performance. A friend enters the industry and your client transfers business to them.
Often, the reason doesn’t seem to have anything to do with you personally — it’s just the way it is. Regardless of why, losing a client is painful and expensive. No one wants to get fired. Acquiring a new client is the most expensive business process in terms of capital, time and human effort.
But there is something you can do in most situations. And that’s to manage client expectations. Regardless of what they say, clients are really leaving because their tie to you – their relationship with you – isn’t deep enough to overcome missed expectations.
And there’s always the one emotion that can derail your client relationships: frustration.
Stop Frustration Before It Starts
Frustration is a powerful emotion. It generally turns things from good to bad and, if left unaddressed, from bad to worse. But setting realistic expectations can replace frustration with understanding and empathy.
Let’s look at a practical example. I was sitting at an airport recently during a delay. Delays happen frequently when I travel, so I try not to get upset at the prospect of waiting an extra 20 to 30 minutes sitting in the airport. But, for non-business travelers, their immediate frustration levels ramp up as they realize their flight isn’t on time. When the gate agent explains that the inbound aircraft is running a few minutes late and they will be able to make up the time in the air, everyone relaxes. They continue reading or watching their favorite YouTube video once they know what to expect.
But if the communication stops or becomes inaccurate, the frustration level increases. Now it’s higher than it was before. About 30 minutes after the initial announcement, the airline updated everyone of the decision to bring in a new plane which would delay us another two hours. You can see people begin pacing. They call loved ones and spew hatred for the airline over an uncontrollable situation. Now it’s not just a late aircraft. And, an hour and a half later, there is still no word of when the new plane will arrive, and we can take off. Frustration continues to build in the gate area, but it is met with radio silence. There are no notifications on the travelers’ phones. Customers seek out employees of the airline for answers.
Then the gate agent returns. He provides an update of another 30-minute delay but verifies the new plane has landed, is at the gate, and being serviced for food and beverages. Again, the relief is palpable. From there, the delay went as planned and everyone got to their destination.
Circumstance Isn’t the Biggest Problem. Frustration Is.
On this travel day, I missed my connection by more than two hours. My new flight arrived eight hours later than planned. Because of the delay, I missed the largest networking opportunity at my conference. All in all, it was a lost day. I’m sure other people lost time with their business trips or their families. That’s a problem, no question. But the larger problem was frustration levels. During times of communication, frustration was low, and customers understood the dilemma. During times of high frustration, people were angry and talking negatively about the airline. When frustration left again, it became, “That’s alright, I’m still getting to my destination safely.”
How to Overcome Problems Without Losing Clients
Although frustration can be managed, it’s even better when it can be avoided. Pretty basic, right? What we need to recognize, however, is that our business is very complex, confusing and intimidating to most customers. Just having to sign stacks of paperwork to transfer assets to our firm creates a bad customer experience off the bat. Then, when markets fluctuate, or specific goals don’t seem to be met, frustration can increase dramatically. We must manage the frustration level.
Fortunately, there are some simple strategies to help do that.
Ideas to Control Client Frustration Levels
If you can reduce frustration with any problem, you have a better chance of resolving conflict without damage to your practice.
Establish processes and communication strategies across your entire practice to mitigate frustration.
In every industry, there’s that one person, that expert, who’s willing to share knowledge for the good of others. For financial advisors working with middle-class Americans, that person is Professor Emeritus William Sharpe.
As he ages, he understands firsthand the concerns he has worked so diligently to help us solve. In fact, many of us still use the Sharpe ratio to gauge performance and risk.
Today, I want to highlight an article published on Barrons.com. It documents an interview Professor Sharpe gave about the importance of preparing for retirement, while acknowledging that we’re facing a big problem as we try to figure out how to do it. Understanding what Professor Sharpe has to say, and how to implement it, is an important step to transform to a High Performing Practice.
Let’s pull out some key points and relate them to our clients.
Why retirement income is a difficult problem
Professor Sharpe outlines two risks – investment and mortality. He points out that you can eliminate one but not the other. And, there are so many potential outcomes, especially when you have two people, that it’s extremely hard to know which scenario to plan for. These uncertainties create a problem that is difficult to solve without the use of an annuity portfolio.
Potential for employer involvement in the future
Like Professor Sharpe, I would love to see more programs, education and options in corporate benefit plans designed to help Americans retire more securely. There is currently a lot of talk around The Secure Act that would allow guaranteed income in some plans. And, even this partial step to a more secure retirement doesn’t come without costs in the planning process. The loss of stretch provisions above $400,000 takes away flexibility in the overall planning process. At the end of the day, the discussions around The Secure Act should at least provide additional validity to the proper use of guaranteed income in retirement income portfolios.
Oh boy — that’s a big issue
Yes, I’m talking about Social Security. But I’m less concerned about the funding of Social Security. Even with the rise in benefits and the lack of additional funding to date, there are alternatives to correct the trust fund’s balance and provide security to many Americans for decades to come. All it would take is a few tweaks. Urgency is important in the legislative process but unlikely due to the political nature of this subject.
The real issue of concern is the continued misuse of Social Security. Even with the immense amount of education over the last several years, the election rate for maximizing benefits at age 70 is very low. For those advisors wanting to provide value to their clients, leveraging Social Security’s guaranteed income with inflation protection is critical to the success of many middle-American retirement income portfolios.
Professor Sharpe points to a basic premise in investment management – diversification. This technique mitigates the investment risk by pooling it. Annuities pool the longevity risk. And, if you pool the investment risk during the accumulation phase, why wouldn’t you continue that practice during the income phase? The article states that longevity risk is at least as big a concern as investment risk.
Today, there continue to be specialists in insurance and investments that do not collaborate. Going forward, as our products merge, we must learn to collaborate or implement different products into our planning process. There are advantages to both. If the two biggest uncertainties are investment and longevity, there is a place for both.
But the answer to growth is not how. It’s why, and beyond.
Professor Sharpe states that he did all this research for free because it was of interest to him. As he ages, he likely faces the same risk most Americans do.
Remaining relevant with our clients is paramount to our long-term success as planners and business owners.
Making sure that we are aligned with the changing demographics and offering solutions to meet the future needs of Americans allows us to remain relevant with them and with the industry.
Read the original article. Think about how retirement income planning will be relevant in your practice over the next 10-20 years as your clients age.
Having solutions that mitigate more than investment risk will provide more opportunities to serve clients.
Change, even good change, can be daunting. And change usually comes with reservations. After all, if you are accustomed to doing things a certain way, and that way has worked all right, it’s hard to be enthusiastic. If it isn’t broke… right?
Today I want to talk about a new strategy to implement with your clients – The Income Alpha Strategy. If you give it a chance, you might just find that your old strategy might actually need some fixing.
It’s natural to have reservations about trying a new strategy. You’re probably wondering:
And, if you follow my blog, you might also be wondering why it’s worth making a change. Let’s walk through the Income Alpha strategy and discover how it produces more income with fewer assets while creating a legacy account for the family’s beneficiary. And those are just the obvious benefits.
Less obvious is the totality of the strategy. It enhances your client’s retirement income and builds your business. Are you ready? Let’s take a closer look at those less obvious benefits. Stick with me – it’s going to get a little technical so you can really understand the nuances of what makes this strategy so effective.
1. Increased Tax Efficiency
The Income Alpha Strategy uses guaranteed income which allows a planner to be more aggressive with the other assets. Guaranteed income allows for higher equity allocation which in turn creates embedded tax efficiencies due to the long-term capital gain structure. Since the entire portfolio is not dedicated to income generation, the allocation allows for income distributions from mid-cap and small-cap investments after longer holds. The capital gain taxation versus short-term gains in distributions reduces the tax load for the income portion later in life.
In addition, the overall wealth creation of Income Alpha means that this bucket of funds does not need to be distributed until the death of the income recipient. It’s worth noting that if it is needed before the death of the clients, this too will likely have long-term capital gain treatment. If held to death, the beneficiaries will receive a step up in basis to the fair market value of the stock portfolio on the date of death. Because these funds are not held and positioned for the systematic withdrawal for income, the portfolio can be more tax-efficient to the heirs.
2. Ability to Address Other Risks
Since we have developed income with fewer assets, this allows the client to do one of two things. They could place funds in a long-term account to grow as discussed above. Or, we can change the conversation and address some of the other risks that might negatively affect the retirement income stream. Namely, the potential risk of long-term care can be mitigated. Using an asset-based long-term care solution, the client places some of those non-income producing assets into a tax-deferred vehicle with additional benefits for a long-term care event. The care benefits are received income tax-free, even when it is distributed from the tax-deferred accumulation. That changes the growth in the account from tax-deferred to tax-free in the event of a qualifying event.
3. Minimize Both Investment AND Longevity Risk
In a recent article, Professor William Sharpe, economist and Noble Prize winner, discussed the two major risks for retirees – investment and longevity. With Income Alpha, the equity holding account is not subject to the sequence of return risks. This allows the lump sum to be more aggressive without the fear of sequence of returns.
In addition, the placement of guaranteed income increases the level of income that will not stop during the clients’ lifetime. While not completely eliminating both, you are addressing and minimizing both. Conventional portfolio indicates that you typically can only address one or the other. (Source: Barrons)
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What’s in it for me?
Using an Income Alpha strategy benefits your client in many ways. And even if that’s all it did, it would put you, as the planner, in a great position. There are, however, benefits to the practice as well. Let’s look at a few:
Think different; look deeper; plan better.
As we move to a new year, it’s important to think about how our business has changed. Consider your business. Think about the successes, and the areas that need improvement. But more than that, think about why you succeeded in some areas but not in others.
A lot of people want to grow their business. And if you’re interested in transforming your business to a High Performing Practice, you’re one of them. You no doubt have countless consultants and vendors lined up and ready to take your money to help you grow. These are people who claim to have new ideas, technology and data to help accelerate your revenue, make you more profitable and gain more clients.
But the answer to growth is not how. It’s why, and beyond.
Why is a powerful question, and one that we should be asking ourselves this time of year. As we review our successes and learning from 2019, we also need to be asking why they occurred. Too often we focus on what made us money or how we grew the business, but we fail to ask why we were able to achieve that growth.
Asking why can help us focus on the key elements of growth in 2020.
The other 50% comes from using that what you know, and what you’ve tracked to understand why — and then to understand your clients and your business. Think about a particularly successful post on your website — one that drove more traffic than the others. And now think about why. What was the subject? Which clients were looking? How did the viewers get to the post? Analyzing these aspects can help you understand why that content was successful and know more about what appeals to your audience. And how to offer them what they need to build a stronger relationship.
Unfortunately, even if we make it this far, and understand the need to ask why, this is about as far as we go. To find the why, though, requires more effort. If we are truly interested in growing our business and remaining relevant we need to identify the empowering questions that lead to thought, plans, execution and those specific actions that move us toward our own why – the why that will help us meet our goals. And that’s the challenge. Looking inward and soul searching is painful and emotional (especially for a numbers guy like me). But it’s not impossible.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked about gaining more exposure through marketing. How it’s difficult to commit the time, energy and effort needed to do all the right things. And how important it is to create content that adds value for your clients.
Here are a few examples of empowering questions that can help identify your why:
To grow, you don’t need a new database, email subscription service or a website that doesn’t attract quality prospects. Really, all you need is you … just you. You have everything you need to reach the level of success you have imagined for yourself. And that success all circles around you. You just need to find your why to unleash it.
Don’t be afraid to ask empowering questions that move you toward your why.
© 2018 Ash Brokerage LLC.