When two financial advisors meet for the first time, one of the first questions tends to be: “What’s your AUM?”
That question makes Jodi Vleck a bit uneasy. Not because she doesn’t have a lot of assets under management ($400 million), but because she thinks focusing too closely on AUM means you could be missing opportunities to truly help your clients. Not only that, you could be missing out on revenue opportunities for your firm.
Jodi Vleck is the founder and CEO of Beta Wealth Group, which she started in 2009 after leaving Hewlett-Packard’s in-house credit union. She started the firm for the same reason as many advisors: She believes in a client-first approach.
But, Vleck says, “A lot of advisors say they’re client first. Not all of them actually do it.”
What does “client first” mean to Vleck? To start, it means looking at the person first and their net worth second. After all, no matter how much money a client starts out with, there’s room for growth. She cautions advisors who are overly concerned about finding wealthy clients that they could be missing an opportunity.
If you wait until a client already has a high net worth, “you’ve missed foundational aspects of financial planning, and [the client] may have missed out on the time value of money or tax strategies that could have helped them in the interim to get to that $1 million threshold. They’re the ones who need the most financial planning — the ones that don’t quite have the money yet but need to figure out how to best mitigate risk and manage their finances.”
If a prospect has good financial habits, and you help improve on those habits, you won’t have to woo a high-net-worth client because you’ve just created one.
Vleck has two sayings in her office. The first is simple: Be patient. The second requires a bit of explaining: There’s always money in motion.
With money in motion, Vleck’s referring to helping clients with problems that may not be billable but are still the right thing to do. For instance, she helps clients select investments in their work 401(k)s, even though she can’t bill on that. Why? Because if they choose the wrong investments, it’s her problem down the road.
Her firm also has a policy to not charge clients for calling with questions. “We want them to engage with us on questions like, ‘Should I finance the car or pay cash?’ and ‘Should we refinance our house?’” Vleck says.
Even though she doesn’t make money on those calls, they still serve a purpose: Showing her clients she cares. That helps the relationship in the long run. “It can take them off course with their financial plan if they’re not engaging with us on those day-to-day financial decisions,” she says.
Plus, those sidebar conversations help her get to know her clients better: their lifestyle, spending habits, and financial goals. Learning as much as possible about her clients helped Vleck grow Beta Wealth Group from zero clients in 2009 to 400 households today.
Most advisors will tell you that a financial plan is central to any client relationship and the key to long-term success. But as central as they are, Vleck warns that financial plans aren’t always client first.
A lot of advisors, she says, “think a 48-page financial plan is them doing a good job. And that’s not always the case.” Often, clients don’t understand that plan and what it means for them in the long term. So Vleck will upload her 38-page financial plan to her client’s portal, but then she’ll get on the phone with them to give them a one-page summary explaining the big picture of where they’re at and answer any questions they might have.
Advyzon reports help her with these high-level summaries in a few ways. Internally, reports give her a quick snapshot of where things are. Then, with clients, she can quickly highlight what’s working and what’s not. This helps her create better investors, she says, because she’s engaging them on specifics as needed, without getting bogged down on the details.
Another thing Vleck emphasizes is that good financial advisors are always learning and growing. “It can be easy to get set in your ways that ‘this is what works,’” she says. But, she explains, clients pay advisors to be up to date on the most cutting-edge information.
And when it comes to improving the client experience, a lot of it is trial and error. Vleck makes a great analogy here: “You gotta throw spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks.” She tries a lot of things, and there’s a lot that doesn’t work, but in the process, she’ll discover a lot of things that do. And that’s part of growth. She explains, “We need to stay on top of new trends and not think that what worked the last 10 years is going to work for the next 10 years.”
When Vleck talks about being “client first,” she mentions that she’ll pick up the phone at 10 p.m. if a client needs to talk. But, for some advisors, that kind of service feels like a recipe for burnout. Vleck says that’s partially true … but it’s what advisors sign up for.
She does have some tricks for keeping boundaries in place, however, so she can be client first in a way that’s sustainable.
If you rush through consultations, your clients can tell. It helps to have an agenda but leave time to listen to clients. Be ready to throw out your agenda if your client has concerns. It’s worth noting that as much as Vleck encourages advisors to take their time in meetings, her Chief Operations and Compliance Officer Romy Brown says Vleck is very good at keeping the meetings under one hour. Brown emphasizes that this innate sense of timing is key to keeping the practice on track.
Vleck says it’s important to remember that you don’t know everything. Listen to your clients and ask follow-up questions. She found that when an advisor is open to learning, their client base grows. And you may be able to take what you learned with one client and use it with others. That helps you with efficiency in the long run.
This is one that Vleck and Brown tag team. Vleck says she keeps a lot of information in her head and sometimes struggles to write notes at the end of every meeting. Brown, on the other hand, tries to ensure everything is documented (and takes advantage of the Advyzon platform’s integrations to make this as easy as possible).
One of the reasons Vleck broke away to start her own firm was to be able to focus more on clients than on selling investment products. While it’s important for her to help clients reach their financial goals, it’s equally important for her to support them in their lives along the way.
She summarizes how those two things work together: “At the end of the day, I want to remember that a tree fell on my client’s house because, the next time they call me, I want to ask how the repairs are going.”
To learn more about how Advyzon helps Beta Wealth Group stay client first, read their testimonial. Or learn more about how we can help you prioritize clients at your firm: Book a consultation.
Read more about how Advyzon supports Beta Wealth Group: here.