Going beyond the investment portfolio to provide peace of mind for the client will reflect favorably back on you and often produces additional business opportunities. In some instances, this is easier said than done. Any seasoned financial advisor will tell you that getting a client to take action on estate planning issues can be extremely challenging, even after the client has agreed to do so.
So, how can advisors effectively and efficiently position themselves to drive results after the client says "yes"? You may be surprised to know that you have more influence over the situation than you think. It starts with looking at how you make referrals to estate attorneys.
I recently sat down with two well known and highly experienced practitioners -- one a successful financial advisor and the other an estate planning attorney. We talked about their respective roles in working with clients. They identified several best practices that will help advisors be more efficient and successful in working with estate attorneys.
Optimizing your professional referral network
When it comes to estate planning issues, every client situation is different. A financial advisor's referral network should not be one-size-fits-all. If you only have one estate attorney to whom you refer business, consider expanding your network. Develop three to five relationships with estate planning professionals in your area. Commit to taking the time to do the up front due diligence, otherwise you may not know which professional is most appropriate for your client's personality and needs.
Look online, talk to your local chamber of commerce, or ask the professionals with whom you work (e.g., a certified public accountant, a business attorney) "Whom do you think is among the best estate planning attorneys in town?" Once you create a short list, schedule a time to meet with each attorney in person.
Don't be shy about scheduling the appointment. Many estate attorneys are actively seeking new professional referral sources, as referrals tend to be primary drivers of their practice.
Conducting the due diligence
An in-person meeting with each attorney will give you the opportunity to learn about how they operate, how their processes work, and the typical fee ranges associated with their services. The following is an initial list of questions to consider asking:
- What are the major services you provide?
- Are you a sole practitioner or part of a larger firm? What support resources are available? What is the division of labor, how is work delegated, and who is primarily responsible for client relationship management?
- Are you a general estate planning practitioner or do you have an area of specialty or focus (e.g., trusts and more advanced estate planning issues, experience with special needs, elder care issues, experience with family businesses)?
- What techniques and instruments do you prefer (e.g., simple wills, living trusts)?
- What is your background, education and experience?
- Describe your desired client profile.
- Do you charge by the hour, for a package of legal documents, or some combination of the two? What are your fees, on average?
- What is the process for periodic review and update of legal documents? Are there any ongoing maintenance programs available to clients? What are associated fees, on average?
As your meeting unfolds, you'll get a feel for the attorney's personality, style and preferences. Make sure you take notes, as this will help you later to guide your clients to the proper attorney.
Making the referral -- do's and don'ts
Your client has just told you that getting a will or trust in place is a goal that he wants to accomplish. Now it's your job to help him get it done. You know your client best, so it's time to play matchmaker.
Consider your client's location, situational needs (e.g., family business issues), personality, style (e.g., fact-driven and business-like versus not), preference for age or working with a male versus female practitioner. All of these considerations are important in producing a working environment that will result in motivation, engagement and success for your client.
When giving the referral, don't just provide a name. Rather, share the following:
- Name, firm name, and contact information, including phone number and e-mail address of the estate planning professional
- Why you think the professional would be a good fit, given the client's situational needs and preferences
- A general idea of the expected costs. On this issue, try to stay around the higher end of the fee range. Remember, you are engaging in expectation setting. Only the estate attorney professional can provide an official price estimate.
It's also important to ask your client, "Are you giving me permission to follow up with you on this to ensure that you accomplish your goal?" Tell the client that you will be contacting the estate attorney to advise him of the expected phone call. Offer to help your client get prepared for the meeting by getting an inventory of total assets, liabilities, and other important information and preferences together.
Lastly, make sure that you remain active in managing your professional network. Consider setting up annual referral review meetings with your network of attorneys. This provides the opportunity for them to update you on any new focus areas, fee schedules, or other relevant information, as well as to discuss how to make your professional relationship more efficient and productive for both you and your clients.
Incorporating some of these best practices should bolster your referral network, and make it much easier for you to achieve tangible results for your client after you hear his "yes".
*For further information, or to contact this author, please leave a comment and your e-mail address in the forum below.