Are you struggling to make the breakthrough with accountants?

Many financial planning firms today are seeking to build long-term, valuable relationships with SME business owners. A problem you may face is accessing these people, and one route that offers great potential when carried out successfully is by building links with accountants.

However building these relationships is often a tough nut to crack! So here are a few thoughts on how you can build profitable accountant relationships, with accountants referring clients to you regularly.


Treat accountants themselves as a specific target market

You may have done all of the work developing your client value proposition (CVP), but this is aimed at your end clients – there’s no point simply sending this on to accountants in the hope that they will see the value in it. You now need to be able to communicate the value experienced by accountants in dealing with you. Your CVP starts with understanding your clients and in a similar vein, your accountant proposition starts with understanding accountants; their challenges, the partnerships that they value, where you can provide services that they will truly value etc. If you can help them to solve the problems that they face every day, well then they will place enormous value on your services! So first of all, really understand their business, identify the areas within it where you can add value, and then show them how the way that you propose working with their clients will seriously enhance their own client relationships.


This is not a once-off exercise

You then need to get in front of the accountancy partners time and time again to remind them of the value that you can add, and to ensure you get regular client referrals. There are many ways you can do this; here are a few examples,

  • Add the partners to your own communication programme: Connect with the partners on LinkedIn and also get their permission to be added to your newsletter subscriber list. Let them see the expertise and thought leadership that you have to offer.
  • Develop bespoke presentations: These are for the initial meeting with the partners throughout the practice and should focus very much on the role of the accountant and how you can assist them in their own role. Personalise each presentation to the role of the particular partner’s area of specialism – for example the presentation to the tax partner should focus on pension reliefs, tax efficient protection products and other tax angles that you can bring to the table. This shows knowledge, understanding and willingness to engage in their areas of challenge with their clients.
  • Case Studies: Prepare a number of case studies of innovative solutions that you’ve implemented and know are relevant to challenges that are typically faced by the accountant. Don’t leave them guessing as to how you can help, join the dots for them!
  • Briefings for partners: Keep the accountants briefed on issues within the life and pensions industry that they need to be aware of, but may not be that knowledgeable. This can be through email contacts, lunchtime meetings or other such channels.


Develop joint marketing activities

And then you need to also promote the accountancy firm and help their bottom line! First of all, refer clients to them whenever possible. If you give them new clients, they are certainly going to try harder to reciprocate. Then offer the accountant the opportunity to include guest posts in your newsletter. This gives the accountant welcome exposure to your clients. You can then look at hosting joint events to which you both bring clients, take a speaking slot to impress the guests, all of this with a view to both you and the accountant meeting the other’s clients and building new relationships.


Prove your value with clients

Of course the biggest barrier to accountants referring clients to you is fear. Fear that you will somehow mess up and as a result cause difficulties for the accountant with their client. So when they do take the leap and finally refer a client to you, it’s imperative that you do a good job (as you do!) and then make sure the accountant is aware of it. How do you do this? You might seek a testimonial from the client, which you then share with the accountant. Alternatively you can email the client a few weeks after the end of your work with a short client satisfaction survey – again you will share the results with the accountant.


These are just a few thoughts on building profitable relationships with accountants. Build their trust, remove their fears, align yourself to their proposition and demonstrate your value time and time again. And then you will be well on the way to breaking the back of that search for new clients!

What is a Client Value Proposition?

OK, let’s start by stating that there’s no science behind the answer to this question, there’s no right or wrong answer. What I’m going to set out is my view of what an effective Client Value Proposition is and what it should contain. So let’s start at the beginning.

What is a Client Value Proposition (CVP)?

The best answer I’ve seen to this question is a definition that I found online which states that “A client value proposition is a clear, concise and compelling articulation of how the factors that are important to the client are satisfied by the company.” The key words in this are “important to the client” because this is where the CVP begins and ends. If you don’t place the client at the very core of your thinking, unfortunately you’re going to miss the mark. Yes, what you do, and in particular what you do well are important. But unless these activities are going to positively impact the client experience, they don’t belong in your CVP.

I’m also a strong believer that a CVP is not a glossy document. Instead I see it strictly as an internal document and not for client eyes at all. If developed fully and successfully however, it is the single document that will guide everything that you do with your clients – how you speak to them, how you write to them, the content you write for your client presentation, website, brochure and newsletters and the services that you provide to clients. It can certainly be classed as one of the most, if not the most important documents that you develop for your business.

This document then becomes the guidebook for you, your staff and your future staff. If a team member cannot or is not willing to deliver this proposition to clients, you need to seriously consider their place on your team…

What should your Client Value Proposition contain?

It certainly is not a wishy-washy statement of how good a financial planner you are. Remember it’s all about the value as experienced by the client. I think an effective CVP contains the following – if you can articulate all of these points, you will have a very powerful document to guide you.

Why you’re a financial adviser / planner: This is really important as it articulates your values and whether your set of values are important to a client or not. If a client recognises that they share the same values as you, this is a really compelling magnet to pull them in your direction.
Who your target markets are: These are important, as your clients need to know whether you have the required expertise and experience to meet their specific needs,
What makes you different: This is where you identify the points that you believe make you different to other financial advisers & planners, and how these points of difference translate into an enhanced experience for your clients.
The outcomes and benefits that a client will experience: Clients want to understand what the end results will look like when dealing with your business. It’s important to think about both the emotional benefits that a client will experience from having you as their financial planner, along with the rational / tangible outcomes they will experience from being a client of yours.
What you don’t do: Some clients may come to you with pre-conceived and unrealistic or indeed incorrect expectations of what you do. As far as you can, it’s very useful to set out for clients what you don’t do in order to manage those expectations.
How you work with clients: This sets out how you actually deliver your advice to clients, what the actual steps that you go through with clients, the reason for each step and how it will positively impact your clients. This is a really important piece as this is the nub of how you work with clients and allows you to demonstrate what they can expect and how it will help them to achieve their desired outcomes. Get this piece right and it offers you a further opportunity to really stand apart from your competitors.
The ongoing services that clients can expect: The previous point will most likely focus on the initial engagements with people as they become a client of your business. This section then sets out what a client can expect from you year after year, the importance of your ongoing service proposition and how it will help them on their financial journey.
Your review meeting process: As this is the most important ongoing interaction you’ll have with your clients, you need to spend time thinking through how you add value to clients at these important junctures each year. Mapping out these important meetings is a crucial step.
What it all costs: You can argue whether this belongs in your CVP or not, but from experience this piece becomes far more straightforward after all of the above is done. If the CVP is strong enough, clients will see the value and will then want and expect clarity of what it’s going to cost them. You can also now communicate your pricing transparently and with confidence.

Developing your CVP is not easy. It requires time out of the business, deep internal reflection, time and concentration. However if done well, it will be the single most valuable piece of work you do in developing long-term relationships with your clients.

Pleased to meet you…

Networking is a very traditional, but still a very effective and important marketing activity. It’s also one that fills a lot of people with dread… They think of standing around in crowded rooms with no one to talk to, or being pinned in the corner making small talk with someone who they frankly have little interest in meeting. And so while most people recognise the importance of networking, very few people do enough of it. In fact, I find it’s the one activity that causes the most discomfort when it ends up on the marketing plan for a financial adviser!

So what can you do to make it easier and more effective? After all, if it actually works and helps you generate new clients, you are much more likely to continue to do it.


Recognise that it isn’t easy

Networking isn’t easy and doesn’t come naturally to lots of people… but it isn’t easy for anyone. So while you might think that it’s so easy for certain people, that tends to be because they’ve worked really hard at becoming good at networking.  However, while some people might appear to find it easier than others, everyone at least has a common purpose  – they are there to build connections. So approach it from the point of view that at least everyone has the same goal and are open to talking to you.


You must have a strategy

At the end of the day, you’ve got to be standing in the traffic if you want to get knocked down! But it’s not enough to wander blindly into a networking event without a clue of how you’re about to approach it. This starts before the event where you try and get a handle on who is likely to be there. Are there lists of attendees available in advance? Can you check out who members of the business group / conference attendees are? Once you’ve an idea of who will be there, you can start thinking about who your preferred “targets” are. And then you can start doing some quick research on them through their website and LinkedIn profile. And this research will hopefully come in very handy later…


Be a first mover

Don’t just head for your pals and spend your day in deep conversation with them! By all means, if they are in a group of people that you want to meet, take the opportunity to get introduced into the group. But be active and make the first move to start conversations. Others will thank you for this and it also gives you the opportunity to guide the conversation.


Be interested

And this is where your research comes in really useful! If you can show a level of interest in the people you meet – some knowledge of their business, some connections you have in common, it might even be that you know about some quirky interest of theirs, this will ease them into the conversation as you are opening the door for them to talk about themselves. And then be interested because your interest in them will come back in spades. Remember you’ve two ears and one mouth for a reason! People will naturally want to reciprocate and turn the conversation towards you, which of course is then your opening…


Hone your own pitch

When you get over the initial chit-chat and move on to talking about your reason for being at the event and what you have to offer, this simply must be interesting and must grab their attention. At the end of the day, they will be talking to many people that day so you must be in some way memorable. If you are pitching your wares, paint pictures of solutions, not saying why you’re such a great financial planner. Let people see how you can solve problems for them and enrich their lives in some way.


Follow up brilliantly!

Then when all the hard work is done, make sure you take the final step. Contact people after the event saying how it was great to meet them and thanking them for their time. Connect with them on LinkedIn and if you send out a company newsletter, suggest that they be added to the circulation list. Send them information if this makes sense. If there’s a favour you can do for them, maybe there’s someone else you can introduce them to – well then this is even better.


So yes, networking is not easy. But hopefully these few thoughts might make the task a little less daunting for you!

Get set for a strong finish

Most advisers that I talk to are having a good year in 2017. Most are somewhere on the journey to building a business around your advice proposition, and this in turn is driving higher levels of assets under management and more protection product sales. But most also recognise the need to not take the foot off the gas in terms of new client acquisition.

So here are a few ideas that you can work on over the next 4 months that will set you up for an ever better year in 2018.


Set activity targets

Activities drive sales, so set yourself clear activity targets. Set monthly or even weekly targets for the activities that work best for you. These might include;

  • Prospect / potential client calls made
  • Sales emails / newsletters to prospects sent
  • LinkedIn connections made
  • Networking events attended
  • Client meetings arranged
  • Client reviews carried out etc etc.

And then track these targets carefully and measure your progress against them. We all know that “what gets measured, gets done”…


Get to work on your pipeline

credible pipeline is a really important asset of your business. It’s no use if this is just a list of names of people that you’ve spoken to over the last few years. So it is well worth spending a few hours going through your pipeline from top to bottom. Here are some suggestions as to how you might improve the quality of your pipeline

  • Remove the dead wood – get rid of all those old prospects that you know in your heart are going nowhere. Don’t waste any more time on them.
  • Review recent additions to the pipeline that you added in 2017. Are there people here that may have simply been delaying action until later in the year? Are they now worth a call?
  • Qualify your pipeline prospects. Prioritise them by their likelihood to become clients or transact business with you.
  • Understand and capture the stage you are at with each prospect, exactly where they are within your sales funnel. This will help you to ensure your next activity / approach is the right one.

Review your marketing supports

I know this one regularly raises its ugly head… But it really is so important, as old (even worse if it is actually out of date) marketing collateral can be pretty damaging. It can show you as out of touch, or even worse, not caring about your business. The main supports to review and update include,

  • Your client value proposition – have you updated this, your process, your service supports and your remuneration structures in line with your changing business model?
  • Your website – does this really reflect your proposition? Also make sure you read through every page and remove / amend any time sensitive information.
  • Your LinkedIn profile – is it fully up to date in relation to your skills. Remember that when someone Googles your name, your LinkedIn profile is often the first search result that they will click on.
  • Your sales presentation and reports – many advisers use templated reports. These make a lot of sense, but need to be reviewed regularly. Make sure that the information in these is bang up to date.


Get updated testimonials & LinkedIn recommendations

Research has shown that approx. 80% of people trust peer recommendations, while only about 14% trust advertisements. So talk to your satisfied clients about providing you with a testimonial that you can show on your website and in sales presentations. The key here is getting their permission to use their full names to make the testimonials fully credible. Better still, if your client is a connection on LinkedIn, ask them to make the recommendation through LinkedIn, with you also displaying it on your website. That way it gets even more visibility.


Work hard on referrals

All advisers know the value of referrals, however some don’t have a clear process for getting them. Develop a process, make it a part of every review meeting with clients and use the likes of LinkedIn to help you identify the people that you want your clients to refer you to.


Put extra effort into networking

Some advisers really struggle with networking; they really don’t enjoy it at all! However it is a very necessary marketing activity – the old adage springs to mind that if you want to get knocked down, you must stand out in the traffic! Identify relevant networking groups and then set yourself clear objectives – these might simply be the number of meetings you attend and the number of people you make the effort to meet at these events. Again you’ll get out of them what you put into them!


Work out what your introducers need

Introducers are also identified as a very rich source of potential clients. However the days of ringing a local accountant, agreeing to split commission and then sitting back and waiting for the clients to roll in are long gone… Introducers today need to be crystal clear themselves about what you do and the value that you offer, both to them and to their clients. So spend time developing your proposition for introducers and then develop marketing activities to stay top of mind with them.

Working your way through this list will help you to achieve a strong finish and will set you up nicely for 2018.

6 Years On..

StepChange is just coming up to its 6th birthday. It’s a business that was born in the teeth of the recession, but we’ve also seen the great growth years of recent times too. We’ve been really fortunate to spend this time almost exclusively among financial advisers and other players in the life, pensions and investment community. So what’s changed in the last six years?


The market is really evolving now

Six years ago, the term financial planner didn’t exist. Then it became a fashionable title for people to use. But today it perfectly describes what so many within the advice community do every day. So many firms have actively shifted their business model from one centred on product sales, to one where the financial plan developed by the planner sits at the core of the client proposition. And this has resulted in a whole new breed of advisers; those who are adding significant value to their clients and are now confidently in control of their business, not dependant on product sales and not exposed to the whims of the market and the changes in product strategies by providers.

Other advisers are still operating in a more traditional way, their business model based upon selling products. I worry that they face a difficult future with legislation and regulations making their lives more difficult and commission levels under pressure. They also face the emergence of low cost robo-advisers squeezing their margins, and it becoming ever more difficult to demonstrate real value to clients and to justify their income.


Technology is playing a key role

A lot of the potential threats for advisers lie in technology… but so do the opportunities. Robo-advisers pose a real threat in the next few years, offering advice solutions and low cost funds to consumers. Just see what Vanguard are doing in other markets – offering rock bottom fund fees, admin fees of 0.15% and CFP level financial advice for 0.30%. How can the traditional adviser compete with that?

But the opportunity also lies in technology. I was chatting to a financial planner recently about his client proposition and he said to me, “You can chop off my arm but don’t take Voyant away!” Now I’m not sure how important his arm is in the equation, but his message was clear. Future cashflow planning has been the key to helping him deliver a valued lifetime planning service to his clients and helps him build engaged relationships with clients that centre around the advice given, and not the products sold.


Many struggle to communicate the value added

You know somewhere in the back of your mind the value of what you do and know that you are delivering value to your clients. The problem for many of you is that your clients are just not seeing it. This often stems from not having the time to actually articulate what you do and the value that that you add, and as a result not actually documenting your proposition. As a result, there are lots of “chats” happening with prospective clients, instead of structured conversations with relevant marketing supports that set out your proposition in a compelling and engaging way.


Having a clear target market makes your life so easy

If you can easily identify and reach your target market, you can then focus your client value proposition, your sales activities, your marketing messages and indeed your whole support infrastructure around meeting the needs of these specific groups. Some only see the risks involved in this – narrow groups of people to target, missing broader opportunities etc. As a result, many advisers continue to try to appeal to everyone. And as a result, they don’t really connect with anyone. Yes, your target market must be big enough to sustain you. But if you then focus your efforts on them, you gain the opportunity of creating a real standout positioning for yourself.


Pricing is an ongoing challenge

The most common questions I’m asked are about charging; the calculation basis used by other advisers, how much they charge and how they actually get paid. As more and more financial advisers move from transaction based pricing to advice based pricing models, the big question that you are confronted with is how much to charge. This first of all comes back to your actual proposition, then how good you are at actually communicating it to your clients.

Even then, there is a certain amount of trial and error. Certainly I know from working with many advisers in this area (and from my own work), you need to initially work out sensible pricing levels and then keep them under review going forwards. For those advisers with well thought out propositions, experience suggests that they tend to initially set their pricing levels too low and end up reviewing them upwards as they gain more confidence in their pricing. And yes, in many or most cases, the fees are ultimately collected through the commission system.



So in summary, what’s my view six years later? For advisers who haven’t changed as the market evolves, I see a rocky road ahead. But for financial planners who are using technology, putting the time or getting the help (there’s a hint if ever you got one!) to developing a clear proposition for an identifiable market and communicating it effectively, their future is so much brighter than ever before.

Segmentation of clients is no longer optional

Thankfully there are very few financial advice firms remaining who see segmentation as one of those tasks to be done “when they find the time”. Which in other words is never.  There are now so many compelling reasons for segmentation of clients to be seen as one of the most important tasks a broker needs to do on an ongoing basis. Why?

Because at the end of the day, are you able to (and should you) provide a top-drawer service to every one of your clients? The answer to this most often is no. After all, you derive hugely varying levels of income from each of those clients so surely the clients that are driving very high levels of income to your business deserve a higher level of service?

Of course this is not at all a novel concept! Every time you step on a long haul flight, it’s immediately obvious. Turn right for the cheap seats in Economy or turn left to be pampered in Business Class or 1st Class. And then when you book a hotel, you can pay less for a standard room or pay more for a suite with all of the bells and whistles that come with that.

Now let’s take this concept into the financial advice space where many Financial Brokers see their future remuneration model as centred around trail commission. If I come to you with €100,000 to invest, your trail commission might be €750 p.a. (assuming you charge 0.75% of assets). All sounds good.

But what happens if I’m singing your praises and my sister rocks up to your door with €500,000 to invest? Now your earnings are €3,750 p.a. from her. This is perfectly justifiable if your proposition stacks up. But she is also justified in asking what she is getting for this €3,750 and you need to be able to demonstrate additional value to her. And if there is no difference between the services offered in each of these situations, I suggest you’ve got a challenge on your hands… Simply adding trail commission to policies without thinking through your various client propositions is fraught with danger.

And not completing a robust segmentation of your clients is also very dangerous. Even without doing a segmentation exercise, I’ve no doubt that a small number of your high value clients get your best service at all times. But inevitably what happens is that there are other high value clients that slip off your radar. Either you don’t realise that they are high value or they just aren’t demanding. And then some low value clients who are constantly on the phone get a huge amount of attention. That’s hardly fair, is it?

So what do you do?


Segment your clients

For starters, do a proper segmentation exercise. Know who is valuable to your business and who is not. Don’t be put off from doing this work with the excuse of “it doesn’t capture the full picture”. Yes, there will always be exceptions within your segmentation – for example a client with very little business with you, but who constantly refers other clients to you is actually a high value client to you and should be treated as such. But don’t start with the exceptions; work out how to deal with them later on a case-by-case basis.


Develop your service packages

Develop service packages for your business that reward clients depending on their value to your business. Make your high value clients feel really special, reward them for trusting you with their money by giving them a truly rewarding client experience. Build a moat around them and pull up the drawbridge from your competitors by providing a second to none service.

Let your mid-tier clients feel valued by your business, while at the same time making them aware that there is lots more you can do for them (if they are willing to pay for it).

And of course your no/low value clients will begin to realise that it’s a business you are running and that they don’t have 24/7 access to you. If they want access to superior service (ongoing advice from you), they pay. The same as when they book a flight or a hotel room.


Don’t be afraid to say no

Yes, your lower value clients may want a better service possibly than you are offering and might try to demand it from you, without paying for it. Don’t be afraid to say no or insist they move to a higher value service package with greater remuneration for you. You’ll only be doing this with your no/low value clients… And they are not of much value to your business. Put your time into those clients that are of value to you – this is what your clients deserve and what your capacity allows.

The days of a “one size fits all” approach are over. Give your clients a service that they want and deserve.