Practice Development | PLANADVISER November/December 2016

Minimizing the Loss When Someone Leaves

How to retain clients’ trust—and business


By Karen Wittwer | November/December 2016
Art by Dan Page

When a retirement plan adviser leaves your practice—whether moving on, going back to school or, himself, retiring—his clients may consider leaving as well. To ease the transition, and help ensure clients remain happily with your firm, experts suggest the following.

Kathleen Kelly, managing partner at Compass Financial Partners in Greensboro, North Carolina, believes in “a preventive approach” to keeping plan sponsors onboard. From the start, “we make sure the client understands its relationship is with our firm,” she says. This means the client is shown that a team services its needs. “If the client truly feels there’s an organization behind that one [adviser] that looks out for [its] needs, there’s an easier transition,” she says.

ProCourse Fiduciary Advisers LLC in Carmel, Indiana, goes a step further in providing continuity. From the get-go, two advisers attend each client meeting, says Doug Prince, CEO and a principal at the firm, “so if someone did leave, it’s not a brand new face coming in and saying, ‘Hey, we’re brand new—we’re going to take care of you.’” No adviser has left his firm, he says, but if one did, one of the principals would meet with each client and the replacing adviser. “We’d go through a history—talk about what the client valued the most out of the relationship with the other [person],” he says.

Continuity in service delivery is also important, Prince and Kelly agree. Each of their firms has developed a consistent process to help advisers give all clients the same level of service. This way, if a team member does leave, Kelly says, “a new person can step in and quite seamlessly have everything in place, at his fingertips, to know historically what has been done with the client.”

Client history, for any adviser taking over an account, is a vital tool. So is a good mechanism to access and study it, says Sean Patton, a senior consultant and founding partner at Westminster Consulting in Rochester, New York. “Here, I can go into our system and see all of the notes; it gives me a sense of that 10-year relationship so I can carry on,” he says.

Patton believes replacing any successful advisers depends on re-establishing trust, which inevitably will be shaken when the person leaves. “I think that’s probably the biggest concern from the plan committee and plan sponsor,” he says. “‘Will that new person have that same expertise, and will I have that same chemistry and trust with him?’” For that reason, some plan committees perform a request for proposal (RFP)—especially if the adviser firm is smaller, “when there’s not depth of the bench behind them,” he says.

Not surprisingly, good communication is critical throughout the changeover. Kelly says her firm informs clients in advance when an adviser plans to leave. Then it follows up with them directly, afterward, to make sure they are happy. Ultimately, she says, “people want to know everything is fine, that they’re being looked after, and their participants are being taken care of and that they won’t feel the impact of a change.”