“Coach’s Forum” is a place in which you can ask your questions, tell your stories or give your opinions on any aspect of practice management. For each column, George selects the most interesting and relevant comments from readers and offers his advice. Our objective is to build a community of people with a common interest in making their financial advisory practices as effective as possible.

Advisor says: Recently, I did some “stocktaking” of my business and was a little surprised to learn that when I factor out market gains, I am losing clients and assets at a faster rate than I am adding them. It’s not that they are going to another advisor; instead, clients are drawing down on their investments to fund their pre-retirement adventures, transferring assets to their children who are far away, converting from growth to income-producing investments and, in more instances than I realized, dying and distributing assets through their wills to charities or family members with whom I have no relationship.

I would describe most of my clients as high net-worth (HNW) or very affluent. And, while I don’t add many new accounts each year, those that I do are almost always the result of unsolicited referrals from current clients. It appears now that I may have to get back to doing so proactively. Having not directly asked clients for referrals for so long, how do I approach them now without looking desperate?

Coach says: It is not uncommon to start to see a decline in assets in well-established practices as both advisors and their clients age, for the very reasons you describe. What you are facing now is actually the realization of what you undertook to deliver years ago. You grew your business through referrals, so it makes sense to leverage the “client capital” you have already accumulated among the people who trust and respect you.

However, you need to be aware that people in the HNW stratum do not generally react well to broad-based promotional efforts. HNW prospects prefer personal introductions from someone they trust and respect – like your current clients. Similarly, your current HNW clients may be reluctant to give you referrals when asked directly.

So, don’t start asking for referrals; instead, seek introductions. It is less intimidating for both the person making the referral and the prospective client.

spontaneous introduction. You bump into one of your best clients in a restaurant, where she is dining with a friend or associate whom you suspect might fit your preferred-client profile. Of course, you shouldn’t expect much more than a simple exchange of names and a handshake, but this fortuitous encounter will open the door for you to follow up with your client later.

Although we generally think of these occasions as coincidental, one successful advisor I know feels he significantly improves his chances for such spontaneous introductions by dining at least once a week at his social/athletic club.

shared-interest introduction. You’re at an event sponsored by a charity in which you and one of your best clients are both involved. You are aware there is another person in attendance who is known by your client, and you’d like to be introduced. Of course, you are involved in the charity because you want to support it. However, there is no dishonour in leveraging your charitable activities to meet new people. Clients normally will feel quite open to introducing you to someone they know who has mutual values and interests, so just ask.

common-activity introduction. You know that your client plays golf every Saturday morning in the same foursome. You enjoy golf as well, but can’t commit to being there every week. It is quite likely, however, that there will be times when one of the “regulars” can’t make it. You can offer to be the “first alternate,” which not only will give you four or five hours to make a favorable impression, but also put you in a position to receive more spontaneous introductions in the clubhouse after the round.

sponsored-activity introduction. This is the “bring a friend” event you sponsor. Remember that HNW people prefer to be part of an exclusive group rather than attend a large-scale, open-invitation event.

Some examples I have seen of high-end events, to which affluent clients feel comfortable inviting others along, include premium wine or scotch tastings, “chef’s table” dinners, high-performance car-handling lessons, special-access “close encounters” with celebrities and private movie screenings.

direct-invitation introduction. One of your best clients has a close personal relationship with someone you’d like to meet. This approach is a straightforward request for your client to invite his or her friend to join you for a drink, a meal or some other social activity. If your relationship is very strong and your client is comfortable, this can be one of the most powerful introductions you can receive.

All of the above approaches have two things in common. The requests for introductions include: the name of the person you’d like to meet and an event (determined by you) during which you hope that introduction could take place.

By being specific regarding whom you would like to meet and the circumstances under which you would like to be introduced, you will markedly improve your success rate.

So, as you are getting back into the habit of seeking new clients, consider following two or three of these suggested approaches, depending on your confidence and the depth of relationship with each client whose assistance you’d like to enlist. If you match the approach to the client, I doubt anyone will think you are desperate.

George Hartman is managing partner with Accretive Advisor Inc. and CEO of Market Logics Inc. in Toronto. Send your questions and comments to george@marketlogics.ca.

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