Partners can make or break your relationship with clients. “How do we manage relationships so it is a win-win-win relationship? The stage needs to be set by us,” Kurt Hettel, Managing Director of RSI Financial Services said, speaking on a panel last week at the PLANADVISER National Conference in Orlando, Florida.
“We try hard to cultivate relationships with our partners,” said John Mott, SVP Investments Corp Client Group Director of Smith Barney, explaining that when members of his practice refer to recordkeeping firms or investment-only shops, such firms are not referred to as vendors or providers. “We are all in this game together,”Mott said; “there is no reason to be adversarial.”
This type of mentality is what providers love to hear, according to Jamie Axford, Vice President, Key Account Management at MassMutual Retirement Services, because the providers work with advisers to set expectations. Axford said he tries to understand what an adviser’s role is in his practice and what his plans and goals are for the upcoming year.
Choosing With Whom to Work
When deciding who to work with, an adviser needs to find the best group of providers, and stick with them; it is not important or necessary to work with the most, Hettel commented. It is important to make supportive relationships with providers that are as strong as those you have with your with clients, said Hettel.
William Beale, Retirement Plan Consultant of Henderson Brothers, Inc, said his firm uses filters – and screens – to know how each provider works for various types of plan. “When I started, we had 15 to 20 vendors,”said Beale, “and we didn’t have many more clients than that. So, we went through due diligence to boil down the list [of providers].”
Beale said that since his firm works with the same group of providers, and tries to maintain a certain block of business with each firm, he believes that the volume with each vendor allows him to fit plans to each and also anticipate potential problems based on what each provider’s strengths and weaknesses are.
“Setting expectations is a big part of our job,” Beale said; but it is as important to make sure that your plan sponsor client is delivering what he is supposed to as it is to ensure the provider is doing the same. Beale said that his firm has turned down business from potential clients who weren’t going to be able to fulfill their obligations.
When working with vendors, Hettel said his practice employs a blameless problem solving strategy to resolve issues. Instead of assigning blame, each party works to rectify whatever they can on their end. “When you have unequal partnerships, it is not a partnership,” he said; “you want vendors to be your fans too, because then they will be more helpful to you.”
Mott said his group begins each relationship with a conference call that includes everyone associated with the retirement plan during which each party lays out their expectations. He also tells his partners that his firm needs to be included on every form of communication with the client, so that he and his team can keep up with what is going on with the client. Axford suggested that advisers should get to know not just the wholesaler at a provider, but also the transition or conversion manager, and anyone else who will be working on a client’s plan.
“We are big advocates for having our clients constantly involved in some sort of continuous improvement to their plan,” Beale said. At the end of the year his firm gives stewardship reports to each client reflecting all the work done and services performed for that plan, including records of participant sign in sheets for education meetings.
Reports such as that helps to remind clients of the services advisers provide to clients, Axford said.