Andrew Macintosh of National Australia Bank explains how advisers should approach client meetings to build lasting relationships and properly understand their needs – as well as to enhance the overall client experience.
Date: Mar 2010
Challenges in typical client meetings
A key challenge for the wealth management industry post-financial crisis is coming from the series of processes, steps and disclaimers required as part of the client interview process – making it feel to many advisers as if the regulator is also in the meeting room.
While such client protections are necessary and a good thing overall, they do have the unintended effect of sterilising client interviews, said Andrew Macintosh in an interview.
He said his advisers are finding that this situation is leading to a lower level of client engagement, with clients reporting lower levels of satisfaction and a feeling that they have been taken through a process rather than be understood.
It is critical, he said, to ensure that the format of the meeting can still be conversational, involving a lot of open-ended questions, to ensure client needs are understood and addressed.
Understanding a client’s needs
To better understand a client’s needs, therefore, relationship managers (RMs) need to ensure a meeting has an even balance, said Macintosh. This means letting the client tell his or her story.
Too many times, he said RMs want to talk about what they can offer and present clients with a range of choices.
According to Macintosh, it is better for advisers to understand what the client wants and what has brought them to this point in time. For example, he said, advisers should find out things like: has the client had an unhappy experience at a previous bank? Or did the client inherit the money? Or did the client have a liquidity event such as through the sale of a business?
Every answer provides a golden nugget of information to help shape the way an RM creates his or her pitch, said Macintosh, adding that getting a comprehensive client history with detailed background forms can come later in the process.
Initial meetings are about establishing a personal connection, he explained, and understanding what is going to be important to the client going forward – for example, speed of service, access or safety.
The more of these needs that RMs can understand early in the process, the better their chances of closing a sale and forming a lasting and more robust relationship with the client.
Some of the techniques which advisers can use to ensure a client meeting is effective include open-ended questions and trying to probe into why the client has made certain decisions in the past.
RMs should also prepare some good questions before the meeting, for example: what was the best financial decision you have ever made? Or how did you feel about any poor financial decisions made previously?
These types of questions can help bring out a client’s feelings about past experiences. According to Macintosh, finding out true feelings about their views on certain products or relationships is very valuable.
The outcome, he said, is that the client feels like he or she has been understood, rather than taken through a process. Also, the RM better understands about how the client feels towards the sales process and certain products.
Macintosh said RMs also need to be flexible in responding to client needs during the interview process.
He gave an example where a client said in a recent meeting that he was interested in investing, but was not sure whether to use a managed service or do it himself. At that point, explained Macintosh, the adviser cleverly changed the sales approach to talk about the benefits of a managed service versus a non-managed service, for example the reporting advantages and the access to advisers.
He said this shows how important it is for RMs to be able to take on board information that clients give them and listen for subtle clues, and then adapt the sales pitch in response.
Important to the advisory process by RMs is tailoring the approach depending on the type of client they are talking to.
Macintosh said that National Australia Bank classifies clients into different investor types – for example, accumulators, speculators, or family stewards.
For example, for a family steward, he said it is important to reinforce the security aspects of the institution by mentioning certain things like ratings and history. In contrast, a client with a more speculative approach to investments will be more interested in online access and service levels.
When advisers understand more about their clients’ attitudes and approaches, then they can address their needs, said Macintosh.