Communication has never been more essential than it is today – and that includes connecting with your clients. However, it can be daunting to know what to say or how to position your messages. Here, our client Brad Amlin, CFP shares his thoughts on how to approach the client conversation. We hope you find these updates helpful, and encourage you to check our COVID-19 resource centre regularly where we'll share more insights like this.
Communicating With Your Clients Amidst a Pandemic
Market volatility, and most recently “whipsawing,” is never pleasant, but is, unfortunately, part of the collateral effect when society faces shocking world events, such as 9/11, The Great Recession of 2008, and most recently, a global pandemic. Although the underlying causes of the market downturn today are different from those that caused the market downturn of The Great Recession as an example, client reactions are the same. Fear, anxiety, and even anger can hijack client emotions, and during these trying times, financial advisors are looked to for leadership, and to help revive client confidence in the market.
Now is not the time to hide your head in the sand and deal with clients on a reactive basis. Conversations will be difficult, and losses in monetary terms are a lot more impactful than dealing in percentages. Case in point, for a million-dollar investor, it sounds a lot more ominous to say that you have lost $250,000 than it is to say that you are down around 25%. Having survived both 9/11 and the Great Recession as an advisor, here are some pointers on how to navigate these turbulent times.
Stay Steadfast In Displaying Confidence - even if you aren’t
I remember it being extraordinarily difficult to be confident in relaying the words “everything is going to be all right,” or “stay the course” when I had self-doubt. Banks were collapsing, the market was in free-fall, and no one had any idea where and when the bottom would arrive. Despite my doubt in the information relayed to me from wholesalers, and portfolio managers, I held steadfast in putting on an air of confidence. I would assimilate a list of the most applicable, and easy to understand sound bites from the flood of information that was washing across my desk and would present these to my client base. At times I felt like a broken record, repeating the same information several times a day to several different clients. I had to remind myself that this was the first time a client was hearing what I may have told ten other clients earlier that day.
You're An Investor, Too
It is crucial during these times to humanize yourself and be relatable to your clients. Remind your clients that you are also personally impacted by the downturn, and you, too, are an investor. This can be a touchy subject, so approach the delivery tactfully. That tact is even that much more vital if there is a significant age gap between you and the client. You may have another 30 years before you have to start drawing on your portfolio, where the client that you are trying to reassure may already be doing so. I even went as far as to show some clients my portfolio statement, which illustrated a few things:
1. You own many of the same investments validating the age-old question, “Would you put your own money in this fund?”
2. You did not reallocate as markets started to erode - effectively staying the course.
3. You are both in this together and have the same vested interest in the rebound of markets.
Considering this approach may feel uncomfortable, but it did work for me in some of the more difficult discussions.
Choose Your Words Wisely
There are many clichés in this industry; one of the most common is “these are only paper losses.” I used this expression until I received the response from one client “they may be paper losses, but I had already spent the paper gains.” Such a telling reaction because it’s only natural for a client to bench-mark the highest value of their portfolio, and compare all performance after that to that highest valuation. Is this a fair comparison? No, but its how many clients think, despite attempts at trying to change their thought process.
This Too Shall Pass
Amid the 2008/2009 downturn, it seemed like every day was Groundhog Day. Get up, contact clients, and each day hope that we might see some positive returns in the market. From the time the downturn began sometime in October 2008, to what is now the identifiable bottom March 9, 2009, time seemed to creep along. However, in looking back, the downturn was only about six months long - a mere blip on the radar of time. Like all unpleasant things, a speech that you are required to do, or a dental procedure that you are undergoing, time can seem to stand still during those moments. When we look back, however, we realize how relatively short these moments of unpleasantness are. There will come the point, in the not so distant future that we will look back at this market drop, and realize that it was only a small moment in time.
Your Leadership Will Be Rewarded
Just as the world leader’s performances are measured during times of crisis, financial advisors are also being measured by their performance during a market crisis. Most clients know that you have no control over market performance, but you do have control over the quality and frequency of communication. Social distancing has people talking with friends and families more than ever. Without question the topic of the markets and portfolio performances will be part of many of these conversations. People will be sharing their experiences that have taken place with their financial advisors. During the 2008/2009 downturn, I didn’t realize it at the time, but my clients measured my response to the crisis. Not only did this result in 100% client retention, but it also resulted in acquiring several more disgruntled clients, who’s financial advisors went MIA at the time that their clients most needed their guidance. As the old saying goes, “With every problem comes opportunity.” Although not abundantly clear today, this is your audition for new clients, the question is, are you going to get the role or lose it to someone else that has performed better than you in this, your moment to lead?
Brad Amlin, CFP has been in the Financial Services industry since 1997. For more information or should you have any questions connect with us at firstname.lastname@example.org