Practice Development | PLANADVISER July/August 2017

Creative Communication

For some advisers, it’s their tool of choice for building client relationships

By Karen Wittwer | July/August 2017
Art by Jackie Ferrentino

After you sign a new plan sponsor client, much of the service you provide will occur “out of sight.” To keep your clients onboard—not to mention well-served—you need to communicate that they aren’t “out of mind,” too.

But while sending quarterly reports and the yearly 408(B)(2) disclosure may seem good enough to many busy advisers, this is barely baseline to some. For this smaller group, communication informs how they do business and helps them get to know each client. They can then proactively use what they have learned to address the needs and goals of each one’s plan.

“We stay in constant communication with our clients,” notes Alex Assaley III, managing principal of AFS 401(k) Retirement Plan Services in Bethesda, Maryland. Almost monthly, AFS advisers review their clients’ retirement plans. They then send notifications as to “any outstanding action items or upcoming initiatives the client and/or we need to deliver or implement with respect to the plan,” Assaley says.

But they also reach out regularly by phone—a nicety fading from many customer-service businesses’ routines, Assaley says. “The traditional method of just calling and checking in on a client every four to six weeks, is something we remind ourselves of constantly.”

Similarly, according to Sean Patton, a partner and senior consultant at Westminster Consulting in Rochester, New York, keeping an open line to clients is part of his firm’s service model. “Clients know to reach out to us on almost anything,” he says. He points to a relatively new client, who has called several times with questions. Such back and forth results in clients that increasingly depend on the adviser, whose responses add further value, he says.

Firms seeking new ways to connect with clients might look to their own services. Westminster supplements each committee report it writes with a QDIA [qualified default investment alternative]—or safe harbor—checklist. If the client needs help achieving an item on the list, Westminster will reach out to assist via WebEx.

AFS, after helping a plan to restructure, will “measure the results and provide ongoing feedback and reporting to show the level of engagement, interaction and communication we’ve had with its employees,” Assaley says.

Further, sending proprietary publications is important, both firms feel. Westminster distributes three: its Weekly Flash report, a monthly newsletter and a glossy quarterly magazine. “People love the Flash report,” and, while the magazine gets “rave reviews, it’s not winning us business,” Patton acknowledges. Still, he believes this is the price to stay competitive.

Communicating just for visibility is not to be advised, though, Assaley says, citing a core tenet of personal branding phenom Sally Hogshead: “‘Every time you communicate, you’re either adding value or taking up space.’ We think about that every time. Let’s make sure we’re adding value,” he says.