With the latest wave of Mifid II disclosure rules hitting, it's probably worth having a think about how we as planners demonstrate our value and communicate this to our clients.
The introduction of ever more detailed fees and charges disclosure may lead some clients to focus on the costs of the service we offer rather than the value, meaning anything that helps reassure them of the value we deliver should be welcome.
I'm not talking here about technically competent, professional advice, as that should be a given. It is more about the softer things that give clients a feeling of comfort and well-being, the things that demonstrate the value add over and above the advice.
As a business owner, I have long believed in basing my commercial activities around a framework which involves three value sets and how these interact.
These are: client value, cultural value and business value. For me, these form the three key values of any business.
I have found this particularly valuable within a smaller business. We often end up combining many roles such as adviser, marketer, public relations and social media manager, and more.
Having this framework helps me focus on what is important for the business and, crucially, for our clients.
Clearly, business value will be important to you as the owner manager as it deals with key metrics like productivity, margin growth and cost reductions.
But in terms of demonstrating value, it's the cultural value and client value aspects that are more relevant here.
First off, cultural value.
This is demonstrated to clients by showing in clear and unambiguous terms the relevance of your firm to their needs, your trustworthiness and your willingness to truly engage clients and to help them.
Cultural value is also demonstrated through having consistent branding, through regular client communication and your firm's social media presence, as well as an environment which fosters continued learning and showing a willingness to be critiqued.
This can be broken down into a set of activities which create an aura of competence, demonstrate integrity and trustworthiness and amplify your professionalism and credibility.
All the while, you want to be increasing the 'moments of relevance' for the client. Clients will then hopefully feel that time engaging with your business, whether in meetings or via client communications, is time well spent.
They can also see that progress is being made towards their financial planning goals.
Key aims should be identified and could include:
- Reducing the effort made by the client and the time spent in accomplishing their objectives
- Increasing the sense that clients are dealing with a trusted brand, within which every team member understands their needs
- Reducing communication and online friction
- Increasing clients' appetite for financial education and information
- Increasing clients' understanding of your company values and staff capabilities
- Promoting award wins, press exposure and conference appearances
- Aligning managers, advisers, paraplanners and support staff with clients' expectations.
Working through the above then feeds into client value.This focuses on the key client behaviours around brand choice, frequency of use and loyalty.
These are supported by another set of activities based around client and user experience, online capabilities, your distinctiveness, helpfulness and the overall brand experience.
All this aims to build client loyalty, advocacy and a willingness to refer potential new clients.
Key aims here which could be addressed might include:
- Improving clients' willingness to refer
- Increasing your business's net promoter score
- Improving or gathering LinkedIn reviews
- Increasing client understanding of the range of services you offer both in terms of advice and through different channels such as online and face-to-face
- Guiding the client journey and reducing frictions in the process
- An increase in the willingness of clients to follow, engage with and share social media content and communication.
By focusing on these areas and carrying out continued assessments of both your culture and your client offering, it should become easier to demonstrate the value of what we do for our clients over and above the financial planning or investment elements.
Of course, every business will be different. The same goes for every client, who will have different aims, objectives and will engage in your services in different ways.
If we take the example of a client contact and marketing plan, a framework built around cultural and client values might look like something like this:
- Establishing and maintaining a social media programme across your chosen channels
- Increasing your firm's interaction with the consumer financial press
- Entering awards and promoting the times you are shortlisted, and of course, any wins
- Reviewing your website for too much ‘we’ and not enough ‘you’
- Reviewing your brochures and client communications for how easy it is to read, the use of plain English (or not, as the case may be) and relevance to clients
- Refreshing all material regularly. This undoubtedly takes real effort, but is worth it
- Establishing a client education programme, either online, via conferences and events or both
- Establishing a regular way of communicating with clients to let them know about company news and noteworthy content. Again, this takes real effort.
You may also want to consider:
- Reminding clients what has been done for them and when. This could involve issuing a nil-cost invoice which shows what might have been charged should you take on a task for them for which you don’t want to charge
- Breaking down fees around advice and planning and charges relating to the platform, products and investments. Crucially, you need to ensure this actually does make sense as quite often these statements can be virtually unintelligible
- Publishing thought leadership material. It doesn’t have to be a white paper or a weighty report, but many clients are keen to see regular updates on important financial and sector issues
- Tailoring how you contact and communicate with clients in line with their preference. For example, how often do they want to hear from you? In what way? And so on
- Establishing a process for thanking clients for referring you on, commenting on your social media output or for any other way they've helped out you and your business.
As mentioned, your value framework will be individual to you, your firm and your clients. I hope you find my approach to this helpful in some way.
If reviewed regularly, and consistently enforced, this type of exercise should hopefully help you demonstrate the value you add. In turn, it should help clients feel even more reassured about working with you, and thus breed an increased sense of client loyalty.