Clients tell it like it is, and that's a good thing

Advisory councils can be tough but help advisers improve their business

May 11, 2013 @ 12:01 am

By Andrew Osterland

At the first meeting of his firm's advisory council, retirement planning specialist Kyle Schiffler was surprised by what he heard from his best clients.

“I thought they might say they were upset at having to work with some of my assistants, but instead they told me I needed to get more staff,” said Mr. Schiffler, an adviser with Canopy Financial Group. “One client said he was infuriated that I answered the phone once on a Saturday. I like to work hard.”

In a roundtable discussion among top advisers at the Excell Peak Advisor Alliance conference in Phoenix, Mr. Schiffler called his recent organization of an advisory council of top clients his best success story of the past year. “I get input on what I'm doing well and what I can improve on directly from my best clients,” said Mr. Schiffler, who started his practice in Minneapolis in 2002.

Advisory councils that give clients a regular chance to criticize their financial adviser may sound like a daunting prospect, but it pays off, said Ron Carson, chief executive of Carson Wealth Management Group LLC and founder of the Peak Advisor Alliance, a coaching and resource program for financial advisers. “They'll be brutally honest with you and they'll respect you for it,” said Mr. Carson, who organized his first client advisory council in the late 1990s. “It can be uncomfortable, but if you genuinely say to your clients that you want to improve your business, it will help you grow.”

Mr. Carson said that feedback from council meetings helped him improve communications with all his clients. He became more effective in shifting client relationships to associates and disclosing compensation for his now predominantly fee-based practice. He also credits his council with pushing him to change the name of his firm — formerly the Carson Retirement Planning Group.

“I had clients tell me that people they tried to refer to me were put off because they weren't retired. They told me, “You're a wealth manager,'” Mr. Carson said.

Mayur Dalal, chief executive of The Legacy Planning Group LLC, started his first advisory council 25 years ago and credits the meetings with being a major reason for his success.

“The councils and my clients created the brand equity of my firm,” said Mr. Dalal, who now manages $300 million in assets and only takes on new clients referred to him by existing ones. “We meet twice a year and the agenda is customized, but the question I always ask is, what should I do differently to be a better leader and a better adviser?”

Mr. Schiffler and Mr. Carson say their councils have been a major source of referral business for them. “A lot of financial advisers are afraid of doing it because they worry about criticism snowballing,” Mr. Carson said. “You stand a better chance of keeping [clients] if you do this.”


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