Financial advisers, Valentine's Day and the power of chocolate

Chocolate as bond? Chocolate as net-asset gauge? Surprisingly, the answer to both may be yes

Feb 12, 2010 @ 2:06 pm

By Lisa Shidler

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Most financial advisers don't devote all that much thought to chocolate. Then there's Linda Boss and Todd Ganos.

The two advisers have discovered the power of chocolate, both in what the confection means to clients and what it says about those clients.

Ms. Boss sends heart-shaped chocolate boxes to her 52 widowed clients for Valentine's Day, but the small gesture makes a huge difference to them.

She sent the little boxes of Russell Stover assorted chocolates adorned with a red rose on the top of the box this week. She said she has already gotten calls from clients who appreciate the gesture.

Ms. Boss, an adviser and one of four owners at Compass Wealth Advisors LLC, which manages about $150 million in assets, began sending the chocolates because Valentine's Day can be a tough day for widows.

“They really appreciate that you thought of them when no one else might be thinking of them, but their husbands did in the past, and that part of their life is gone now,” she said.

She started to buy chocolates for widows about four years ago when she realized these clients are generally forgotten on Valentine's Day. Clients confided in her that the holiday is the loneliest time of year for many of them. She doesn't send chocolates to widowers.

“It's the women who don't get the attention that they used to, and they no longer have that romance in their life,” she said. “They line up and give me hugs because it's more about being remembered than the actual candy.”

This is the perfect type of client appreciation gift because it is tailored to a specific group of clients, said Mark Schoenbeck, chief marketing officer and director of practice management for Genworth Financial Wealth Management Inc.

“You need to be listening to your clients,” he said. “What creates a ‘wow' experience is when a client articulates something that is important to them, and the adviser hears that and takes note of it and demonstrates they were listening.”

Mr. Ganos also sends clients a candy bar – custom-made chocolate bars delivered during the Christmas holidays. But what's really interesting is that the principal at Doolittle & Ganos Investment Counsel LLC, said he can tell a client's net worth by their preference for dark or milk chocolate.

It's no joke — in a survey of clients, Mr. Ganos offered choices of dark chocolate, milk chocolate or white chocolate. Clients didn't have an overwhelming favorite, but Mr. Ganos was surprised to discover that their preferences almost always aligned with their wealth.

Mr. Ganos, whose firm manages $180 million, found that clients with $3 million or more in assets prefer dark chocolate, and clients with under $3 million in assets favor milk chocolate. Only one of the 60 clients his firm surveyed likes white chocolate — a true outlier.

Mr. Ganos readily admitted that there's no real proof that people who eat dark chocolate are more likely to have greater wealth than people who eat other kinds of chocolate.

Still, he's not taking any chances. Come next December, he's sending all his clients dark chocolate.

“We're hoping it'll wear off on the folks with lower net worth,” he said. “Maybe if they eat the dark chocolate, it'll bring their assets north of $3 million.”

Shop Talk is a regular column detailing how financial advisers run their businesses. The column focuses on unusual or innovative ways to attract more clients. Suggestions or tips for Shop Talk? E-mail Lisa Shidler at lshidler@investmentnews.com or visit the Shop Talk page at InvestmentNews/shoptalk

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