How will you justify your trail in future?

The time is fast approaching when it will be mandatory to display your commission levels on your website. It’s quite unclear at this stage how most firms will approach this, due to the bewildering number of options available in the market. But display them, you will have to.

Are you likely to get lots of questions about them? My expectation is probably not… but you might get some. The most likely area that you will be asked about is the level of ongoing trail that you charge, as this will apply to clients each year. While you should always be in a position to do this anyway, you now need to be able to justify your trail commission clearly and simply to your clients. So how might you do this?

Well in my book, sending out a 10-page report with a template economic summary and a schedule of current investment and pension values simply won’t cut it on its own. After all, where is the value that you add here? Clients will rightly expect more for the trail commission that is being deducted from their hard-earned funds.

There are also a few “hygiene factors” that clients simply expect these days – these will help you to justify the lowest levels of trail commission, but in reality, no more than that. These include the offer to clients of a review meeting once per year, and regular communications (usually in the form of a client newsletter) that from a distance helps them make better financial decisions and educates them in personal finance matters. Oh, and offering nice coffee to clients too – trust me, it helps!

But if you want to be able to comfortably justify higher levels of trail commission, you need to go a lot further. Yes, clients will want an update on their policies and regular communications etc., but they will expect more if they are paying more. Trail is much easier justified if the client feels and recognises that you are delivering a truly personal experience to them. What might this include?


  • Revisit life goals: This is all about the client. Have their circumstances changed and/or have their hopes, dreams and ambitions for the future changed? Are you and the client still looking in the same direction, focused on the same goals and destination to achieve?
  • Revisit cost of goals: How do their changed ambitions and goals affect the plan, if at all? Do they need to spend more, or less? Do they need to save more, or less? Can they retire earlier or is their wealth transfer plan affected? It is so important that you review the impacts of all changes to goals within your client’s future cashflow plan.
  • Demonstrate how their plan is still the right plan: You can give the client comfort that previous decisions still hold true, or they need to be tweaked to reflect changes in the client’s life or in relation to their future ambitions. As you know, doing nothing is very often the optimal strategy.
  • Review choices and assumptions made: Things change, outside of the lives of your client and outside of your control, whether it be in the economy, the personal finance market or the taxation environment etc. Sometimes action is needed, often it is not. Review and restate the choices and assumptions made.
  • Shut out the noise: Deal with your client’s concerns about what they read in the weekend papers or heard in the news that morning. Gently (but firmly) remind them of the long-term planning approach that you have taken together and the folly of them reacting to the news. Remind them of the dangers of attempting market timing, thinking short term and changing their investments based on fads or using the rear-view mirror.
  • Be a leader: This will follow from all of the above. If your client sees you as their voice of reason and valued guiding hand, they will seek out your advice at every turn in relation to their personal finances. And they will recognise that this is a highly valuable service and worth paying for.


Do all of these well and you will have no issues in justifying your trail commission. You won’t be looking to hide your commission levels away somewhere on your website, instead you will want to discuss them with your clients, proudly taking the opportunity to demonstrate to them the incredible value you deliver each year.

How do you stop your clients from blowing up their plans?

I hear the stories from advisers every day… the client who simply knows better, who knows that now is the time to enter / exit the markets or to switch asset allocations because of a stroke of genius that they have had. I’m not proud to admit it, but I have been that client too, thankfully not in the recent past.

All the research shows you, and you’ve seen on many occasions with your own eyes that more often than not this ends in failure. Clients are better off taking a long-term approach and sticking to the plan and the portfolio constructed to achieve their goals. However it’s not you that needs to be convinced, the question is how do you prevent your clients from blowing up their plans?

First of all, it’s useful to recognise and understand some of the behaviours that clients may display, that can result in significant damage.


The stroke of genius

Clients unfortunately are usually not as clever as they think they are when it comes to market timing and expected future investment trends. Experienced investors learn time and time again that time in the market is better than investment timing. So be awake to that client coming to you with a great investment idea or wanting to “tweak” their strategy where the reason is based on their instinct as opposed to the long-term objectives of their financial plan.


The herd mentality

People are influenced by their peers. We all learn a lot from them, some good, some not so good. Unfortunately when it comes to investments, your clients are better off shutting out the noise and staying focused on their own plan, listening to you as their financial expert. More often than not, you are going to prevent them from making mistakes. Listening to pals is how people ended up buying apartments in Bulgaria, borrowing to buy into already geared property funds etc. Remind them of this, bluntly if you have to. They’ll thank you later.


Recency bias

Another dangerous one for your clients. They give more weight to recent information and trends, as opposed to longer-term trends. However you know that markets work in cycles, they go up and down, but that over time stock markets climb inexorably upwards. Remind your clients of this, and just because markets have taken a bit of a dip, now is certainly not the time to sell up and run.


Loss aversion

This is a really interesting one – clients feel the pain of losing money more than twice as much as they experience the joy of gaining the equivalent amount of money. This makes your job harder – clients remember the bad days and forget the good and you bear the brunt of this aversion to loss. You need to constantly remind clients of the gains made and help them to maintain perspective of the overall picture, as opposed to the small blips along the way.


So these are a few ways in which client behaviours can result in them blowing up their plans. The question is how do you stop them from doing so? After all, this is where you can add enormous value to your clients…

First of all, you need to keep coming back to the plan and ensure your clients stay focused on their goals. Keep reminding them to shut out the noise that comes from the media, friends or wherever, attempting to drag them away from the plan. Changes in investment strategy should be driven by changes in their goals, not the other way around.

Of course it is critical to start with a well-constructed, diversified portfolio. But to most investment advisers, that is actually the more straightforward part. Whether you do this yourself or you have outsourced this to an expert 3rd party, it is important that you have a tested process that will help your clients to achieve the best results possible.

Finally, talk to your clients about behavioural finance and about the types of biases and negative behaviours as outlined above. Let them know that you’re not just making this up, that there is a real science sitting behind this! Introduce them to some of the leading experts in this field such as Daniel Kahneman, Robert Shiller and Richard Thaler. When clients understand the impact their behaviour can have, they will hopefully be less likely to succumb to displaying these negative traits. Your life then becomes a lot easier, and your clients grow their wealth without the frustration of suffering by their own mistakes.

Where else can you add value in Estate Planning?

Estate planning has become a routine and valued part of the advice offered by financial planners today. As you work with clients particularly on their post-retirement financial planning needs, the questions and attention inevitably turn to what happens with the balance of wealth at death.

Of course the strategies that you advise about don’t commence at that point in the client’s life – they begin now as you advise post retirement structures that enable easier and more tax efficient routes of wealth transfer, use of the Small Gift Exemption and suitable life assurance structures. Some financial planners are also well versed in the use of trusts etc. to further optimise wealth transfer strategies.

While accountants or solicitors may have knowledge in some aspects of these areas, it is the financial planner that really does the heavy lifting when it comes to personal wealth transfer and estate planning. You are the person that your client relies upon most to get the most effective and tax efficient structures in place.

Well-structured estate planning by financial planners used to be a point of differentiation belonging to some advisers. However this has now become more mainstream and expected by clients. So how do you stand out from the crowd now?

One route is to increase the areas that you advise upon or indeed have formal partnerships with other relevant professionals to advise on a broader range of areas around death and “having your affairs in order”. For each of these areas, it’s not enough for it to be a throwaway remark to your client, “Oh by the way you should consider putting XYZ in place”. Instead you should develop material around these areas that will really educate your clients and set out for them the importance of actively following through on your suggestions. The types of areas you might consider include,



It’s very easy to remind every client that they should have a will in place. Everyone knows this, but lots of people don’t know why! Set out for clients the importance of having a will and the actual implications of not having one in place. Potentially use case studies of the difficulties other clients have experienced where wills were not in place and some of the issues that arose. Be the expert that triggers action by your client – to go to their solicitor (or your partnership solicitor) to get a will in place.


Enduring Power of Attorney

Similar to the need for a will, an EPOA is needed in case your client should lose their mental capacity in the future to make sound decisions on their own behalf. Levels of dementia are increasing in line with our ageing population. A client losing their ability to make sound financial decisions could tie their money up and make life very difficult for family members trying to look after them. It also could undermine the execution of intended financial strategies. Again clearly setting out the reasons for effecting an EPOA and also potentially having case studies of where one was / was not in place could add a lot of value to clients. And then point them to a professional who will help them implement your advice.


Bank accounts

Do your client and their spouse / partner have separate bank accounts? Who can sign off on bank transactions for their business? What would happen in the event of the sudden death of the business owner / main bank account holder at home? Situations arise frequently where funds are frozen on death, causing immense hardship to a surviving spouse, family members or indeed difficulties for business partners.

Talk to your clients about how their bank accounts are structured, who has access to them and who can legally access funds in the event of death. Again, rather than this being a throwaway conversation, be in a position to offer structured, written advice to your clients. Again, this may guide them towards their accountant in relation to business bank accounts or to their bank branch to discuss their personal banking arrangements. But you can be the catalyst that gets them thinking about this important area.


Digital footprint

A relatively new area and not one I’m suggesting that you necessarily need to be an expert in, but it is an area that you can get your client thinking about. It may be a conversation that you are guiding them to have with their solicitor or even a trusted friend.

What will happen to their personal email account on their death? What about their Facebook / LinkedIn / Twitter / Instagram accounts – will these just remain there? Or will they be closed down and will there be a message posted before doing so? What about being able to access all their photographs and files that are in cloud storage? What about all those other online accounts – who doesn’t have an Amazon account or a Paypal account? Should someone be able to access your phone contacts and get access to your various devices? Where are all of your passwords stored and accessible if so?

Lots of questions that you cannot answer. But these are questions we all need to consider today. Your advice may be as simple as suggesting to clients that they identify a trusted family member / friends who can look after these affairs at the appropriate time.


Estate planning can mean a lot more than financial solutions. Are you ready to expand your conversations around end of life planning?

The Great 8 in 2020

As part of our series of “12 StepChanges to a Better Business”, we are delighted to announce a new programme that we have just launched called “The Great 8”.


Particularly with the recent announcement from CBOI demanding increased transparency in relation to commission, the justification of commission / fees will be an increasing challenge. A number of advice firms have now fully completed our comprehensive “Getting to 1%” programme, with 3 advice firms also currently in the middle of it. This programme will help those firms hugely in relation to the justification of commission. Some other advisers have requested a shorter programme, focused only on the customer facing marketing collateral. To meet this demand, we are delighted to launch The Great E8. This programme consists of 8 marketing supports to be delivered,
  1. Development of your Client Value Proposition: The value you add, how you advise at the initial advice stage, articulation of your on-going service packages, review meetings, how much it costs, how it is paid for (fee / commission) etc.
  2. Development, writing and delivery of a personalised bi-monthly email client newsletter for a period of 2 years
  3. Updating the newsletter content to your website and sharing on LinkedIn for 2 years
  4. Development and design of a client brochure to be used as a hand-out at all prospect meetings, at next meetings with all clients & supply to be given to introducers – 6 page A5.
  5. A workshop on the effective use of LinkedIn
  6. Development of a 6-10 slides credentials presentation (including development of PowerPoint template) for 1st meeting – covering Advice proposition, Investment philosophy, Service packages, Review meetings, credentials / endorsements etc.
  7. Re-writing of 10 pages of website content for provision to your web developer
  8. Development & design of 4 Service Overviews (Pensions / Investments / Protection / Review meetings) that set out the depth of your services and demonstrate the work involved (justifying both initial and ongoing remuneration).
If you would like more information about The Great 8, please contact Eamonn at or at 086 2519895. Our only constraint is our capacity, so contact us early to avoid disappointment.

Get active in your partnerships

Developing a strong partnership with a professional introducer requires skill, patience and most of all – a lot of proactive effort. Yes, some relationships with the likes of accountants begin with a couple of clients being introduced to you, but this usually peters out if that ongoing commitment to keeping the partnership alive quietly falls away. So what are the key steps for you to go through in order to build durable and strong introducer relationships?


Develop your accountant value proposition

You may have done all of the work developing your client value proposition (CVP), but you’re not finished yet! After all, your CVP is the articulation of the value experienced by your clients, however 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 demonstrate that the way you will work with their clients will seriously enhance their own client relationships.


Communicate your value time and time again

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 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 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 and lasting 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!


Clever generals win wars

…and clever financial planners achieve success for clients.

Wars are won and lost by clever generals. Irrespective of the external factors that actually caused the war, they never just wander into it and start fighting. Instead they carefully consider all of the external factors that will impact their success – the strength and condition of their enemies, the conditions and terrain on which the war will be fought as well as the weather and other factors that have the potential of impacting their success in the fight.

Of course the key factor that they consider is the strength and capability of their own forces; the size of their army, the weapons available to them and the different tactics that can be deployed. In short they take a very strategic approach to the battle. Generals also know that battle conditions are an ever-moving feast – things just don’t stay the same. The battle conditions change, the strength of their own army and that of their enemy change and of course progress towards their overall goals either improve or recede. As part of this, they consider the risk attaching to different tactical options open to them – do they risk lots of men and equipment for a particular short-term strategic objective, or do they wear down their enemy through sustained and slower-moving fighting?

This is where their real expertise comes to bear, adapting to changing conditions. This is also where disastrous mistakes are made – I’m showing my age here, but just consider the decision taken by the German generals in World War II who decided in the Battle of Britain to stop bombing airfields and instead to start bombing cities. This gave the Allies valuable time to rebuild their air force and fight back. And then as the German advance stalled later in the war, the Allies planned and executed D-Day, the ultimate turning point in the war. Clever generals achieve their country’s goals and win wars.

And clever financial advisers help their clients achieve their goals and achieve financial independence. You do this in the exact same way as generals go about their job. You first of all understand what the objectives are, what is the desired end state. You then consider risk and how much is appropriate for each individual client and situation. You then consider the current external conditions and most importantly the current financial strength of your client. All of this is then evaluated and captured in the financial (battle) plan to get your client to their final objective.

Of course your real strength, just like a general’s, is that you recognise that the battle has now only just begun. From the day you develop your client’s financial plan, conditions start to change – in the external environment, the client’s own circumstances or indeed the end objective. Your real value is in the ongoing evaluation of these changes, and the adaptations and tweaks that you make to your client’s plan and the tactics (products?) that you’ve deployed to achieve their end goals.

Sitting at the heart of this is the client’s future cashflow plan, as this clearly demonstrates the current and future financial firepower of your client to achieve their ultimate objective – a bit like winning the war… Your client will see whether they need to take more risk, strengthen their resources (save more money) or maybe rein back their ultimate objectives ( similar to seeking a peace deal)!


So if your clients are unclear about the value of a financial plan, it might be time to tell them a good war story!