You can’t control the markets, but you can control your relationships with your clients. And it is those relationships that will determine whether you lose — or add — clients in this crazy market.

When times are turbulent, there is opportunity. Dissatisfied clients or those who have been merely content with their advisors will now find sufficient reason to move. And you want to be on the gaining side of that equation, not the side that’s losing clients.

So, there are two challenges for advisors in today’s markets. First, you have to make sure your clients have every reason to stay with you. And second, you want to be in a position to attract clients who are looking for new homes.

“You have to let clients know you are going the extra mile,” says Dan Richards, president of Strategic Imperatives Corp., a Toronto-based financial services consulting firm. “And the same is true of prospects. What are you doing above and beyond what their current advisors are doing?”

> Keeping Clients: Communication.

If there is one thing on which advisors who are standing out in today’s markets agree it is the importance of communicating with clients. Whether it is face-to-face meetings, conference calls, town hall-style meetings or emails, top advisors have significantly upped the volume of their communication with clients.

“More than ever,” says Julie Littlechild, president of Toronto-based Advisor Impact Inc., “advisors need to let their clients know that they are there for them.”

These top advisors have two goals in their communications: addressing clients’ fears by putting the downturn into an historical context, and reassuring clients that they are on track to meet their long-term goals. Sean Lenehan, an advisor and branch manager with TD Waterhouse Private Investment Advice in Windsor, Ont., calls it “peace of mind.”

Certainly, clients who have seen their real or paper losses mount may be overwhelmed by fear. The issues they are facing, says Littlechild, are very real and very human. As their advisor, you need to address those issues. “Not addressing the ‘elephant in the room’,” she adds, “will be very disconcerting for clients.”

On the other hand, talking with your clients about their feelings legitimizes their experience and lays the groundwork for moving forward.

Lenehan is doing just that. His “sole focus” now is meeting his clients face to face with the intention of countering the negativity in the media and the marketplace.

“I want to give my clients the peace of mind,” Lenehan says, “that their portfolios are set up for meeting their goals.”

Two days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., he meets with clients. In the first 15 minutes, he questions them about their fears and feelings. In the remaining 45 minutes, he provides perspective by referencing previous downturns and recessions. For Lenehan, it is all about reassuring clients they are on right track. (For more on Lenehan, see “Top Advisor Tips” on IE:TV on )

“Clients don’t want a fake bill of goods,” adds Andrew Pyle, an economist and investment advisor with ScotiaMcLeod Inc. in Peterborough, Ont. “Talk about the risks. Get the risks on the table.”

Wayne Baxter, a senior associate with Investment Planning Counsel in Mississauga, Ont., and his team tackled the problem of quickly and efficiently communicating with the 620 clients they serve by holding a conference call.

The call was scheduled for 12:30 p.m. with the intention that it would be convenient for as great a number of clients as possible. On the line were Baxter, senior associate Leigh Ann McGenerty, Counsel Wealth Management’s manager of portfolio analysis and a Counsel portfolio manager. Thirty minutes before the call, Baxter emailed a PowerPoint presentation to the clients who had signed up. The subject of the conference call: today’s events, how the portfolios are being managed, adjusting asset allocation and the experience and expertise of the portfolio management team.

“It gave clients reassurance,” says Baxter, who estimates the call cost $450-$500. The team now plans to make the conference call a quarterly event. (For more on Baxter, go to “Top Advisor Tips” on IE:TV.)

Financial planner Linda Cartier and husband John Lindsay, who operate Financial Decisions Inc. in Sudbury, Ont., turned to the popular YouTube website when they wanted to get “sensible” news to the 300 clients for whom they have email addresses. There are now five Financial Decisions “fireside chats,” the most recent of which consists of clips from a client lunch that featured Doug MacDougall, portfolio manager with AGF Funds Inc. The goal, says Lindsay, is to bring a realistic perspective to today’s situation.

@page_break@“The response has been very good,” says Lindsay, “with clients appreciating the extra contact and some even calling to make appointments.”

And don’t underestimate the power of email. In November alone, Adrian Mastracci, portfolio manager and president of Vancouver-based KCM Wealth Management Inc. , sent out 15 emails to clients and contacts, delivering pithy pearls of wisdom to reassure his clients. In fact, many advisors have found email to be an efficient way to deliver an immediate response to a particular event to their clients. A weekly email can quickly ramp up to twice a week, if events warrant it. And those advisors have found clients appreciate the contact.

But a word of caution comes from Dan Hallett, president of Windsor, Ont.-based Dan Hallett & Associates Inc.: don’t overwhelm clients with information. “It’s important to strike the right balance between keeping clients informed of what’s happening in the markets,” he says, “what’s happening with their portfolios, and sharing some insights.”

> Keeping Clients: Demonstrate Your Value.

Many advisors are knowledgeable about investment management, retirement planning, tax planning, estate planning, insurance planning and risk management, or work in environments in which they have access to such expertise. Incorporate all these aspects into a financial plan, says Hallett, and you will build stronger client relationships because you have to connect with the client on a deeper and more intimate level to understand his or her needs. As a result, the client comes to rely on you for multiple segments of his or her financial life and the level of engagement is higher.

Hallett also recommends putting advice on paper. This forces you to be more disciplined and accountable, he says, and it also keeps clients on track. An investment policy statement will remind clients of the fundamental reasons why their portfolios are structured the way they are. If a client wants to change his or her asset allocation, for example, he or she will be forced to re-examine and re-evaluate those earlier decisions. It forces both advisor and client, Hallett says, to make sure changes to the IPS are driven by fundamentals — not panic or fear.

Don’t be shy about mapping out a new financial plan for clients, Littlechild suggests. “Having a Plan ‘B’ helps people feel in control,” she says, “and reduces fear.”

“The plan may need to be tweaked,” adds Pyle. A client’s risk tolerance, for example, may have changed drastically now that he or she has been faced with uncertainty.

> Winning Clients: Be Referable.

The easiest and most likely source of new clients is unhappy clients of other advisors. “I have come across many people who are not happy,” says Hallett, “which is typical in a bear market. Some of it is just market related. But part of it is that inferior advisors tend to be exposed in tough times.”

Their clients are the low-hanging fruit — and, if you are running your business right, your clients are your greatest advocates. They will sing your praises to friends and associates who are voicing concerns about their present advisors.

But how do you make sure your clients are so happy that they will spontaneously recommend you to their friends and associates? Ask them.

Littlechild is an advocate of formalized client feedback surveys and Advisor Impact offers such a service. The advisors who are referable, she says, are “actively engaging” their clients — “and that begins with knowing what is important to clients.” You know what is important by asking them.

“Many advisors are taking the opportunity — and finding the courage — to ask clients for feedback during this turbulent market,” Littlechild says. “In so doing, they are demonstrating leadership, reassuring clients that they are there for them and, as important, uncovering additional revenue and referral opportunities.”

An effective client feedback process includes general questions on satisfaction, according to Littlechild. But it also digs into what clients really value, what they expect and if they are interested in learning more about other services offered by the advisor. Advisors are also including questions about how comfortable clients are about providing referrals.

This drives growth when advisors actually follow up on the feedback and dig deeper into the responses.

> Winning Clients: Network

One team at BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc. in Toronto has recently been reminding clients that portfolio losses can be applied retroactively to past tax returns. That isn’t so different on its own, but where these advisors shine is by offering to contact the client’s accountant to do the paperwork. It’s a win/win/win situation, the advisors say: the client gets a refund; the tax preparer gets part of the credit for the refund; and the investment advisor makes a new professional contact who could be a source of referrals.

Bryan Snelson and his Mississauga, Ont., branch of Raymond James Ltd. used a recent town hall-style meeting not only to reassure his current clients but also to prospect for new ones. Taking a page from U.S President Barack Obama’s book, Snelson’s branch invited some 200 clients and prospects to a meeting that saw an outside economist, a prominent fund manager and former Bank of Canada governor John Crow share the stage.

“There was no set agenda,” says Snelson, who moderated the event. “Each speaker gave a brief opening, then we opened it up to questions from the audience. The audience drove the agenda.” (For more on Snelson, see “Top Advisor Tips” on IE:TV.)

The branch got enthusiastic feedback on the event and deepened relationships. As well, says Snelson, “it was enlightening to hear questions from the audience, to know what was of concern to them.”

Pyle, too, makes use of seminars to meet prospects. When he holds an event, he asks each client to bring one friend who might be a qualified prospect.

> Winning Clients: Leverage Your Service Offering.

Advisors with a full-service offering can start working with a client in one area of the practice and leverage that relationship into a fuller offering.

One advisor, for example, tells of landing a $4-million account recently. The client came to the firm, which caters to high net-worth individuals, because he wanted to explore his estate-planning options.

Over the course of developing a plan and writing wills, the client developed a high level of intimacy and trust with the advisor and his team. As a result, the client soon moved his sizable investment account to the firm as well.

> Winning Clients: Second Opinions.

You may want to make it clear to your clients that you are happy to be referred to their friends and associates, and one way to do that, says Richards, is to tell them you’re always ready to help anyone who needs investment advice, either by meeting with them or offering a second opinion on an existing portfolio.

But be diplomatic; giving a second opinion on a portfolio is a delicate undertaking. “There’s a fine line there,” Pyle says.

If the portfolio is atrocious, that means the advisor probably was, too. But there is a good chance the client already recognizes that — and does not need to be reminded of it. It’s safer, Pyle says, to simply state: “This doesn’t seem to be quite appropriate for you.”

And be ready to explain how you would have managed the client’s portfolio differently, says Richards. Clients want to know how they would have been better off with you. So, you should have answers available.

> Winning Clients: Get On The Web.

Have a website that offers prospects a way to check you out at their leisure, says Pyle. Be sure to include photos, biographical information, credentials, hobbies and interests of you and your team, as well as contact information, your investment philosophy, and articles or newsletters you have written. Pyle’s website features links to video and radio clips and articles in which he’s been quoted. A good webmaster can help you design a site that will give you prominence in Internet search engine results, he adds. You can also add client testimonials.

Markets and the economy may be uncertain but even in downturns, there is opportunity. The reality is advisors who do right by their clients — by upping the amount of communication, by improving their service offering, by providing peace of mind — will not only keep clients but add clients.

“One of the enduring truths in this industry,” says Littlechild, “is that doing the right things for our clients ultimately drives growth.” IE