Getting your client and a financial planner in the same room can yield serious dividends.
By Scott Charlton CPA
When I was in practice, some of my most enjoyable moments occurred during round table discussions – in front of a whiteboard, with a favourite client and a switched-on financial planner.
Quite simply, good things happened
Certainly, the clients were mightily pleased and highly engaged. And for me as a practitioner, not only did I end up with interesting non-compliance work, I found it refreshing to apply my knowledge of the clients’ affairs beyond a 12-month time frame.
Interestingly, the response of new clients was usually along the lines of “my old accountant never did this”, but their feedback was universally positive. From existing clients, I got the sense of “at last we seem to be getting somewhere”.
At a time when forward-thinking accountants are looking for ways to diversify their service offering, broaching the subject of performing additional engagements still remains on par with walking into a burning building. But, the entire aspect of increasing one’s role can be re-engineered to simply fall out of a great conversation. The secret lies in a small but significant change of approach.
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As a business coach, I see far too many accountants roll into meetings with minimal preparation, confident as they are to wing their way through the usual “tax stuff”. Job done, they hurriedly move on to the next compliance job on their schedule. It comes as a revelation that with appropriate preparation, perfunctory chats about documents can be turned into these profoundly important discussions.
Where is all this heading?
Well, for starters, by adopting this approach, what’s written on your website will be profoundly more interesting to prospective clients than bullet point lists of services offered.
However, there’s a bigger outcome at stake. I firmly believe that accountants can and should play an important role in shaping the financial future of their clients. Just think, if enough of these great conversations occur around the country, then collectively we can improve the wealth of the nation.
Scott Charlton CPA is a director of Fortnum Professional Strategies and the author of Partnering with Financial Planners – a guide to growth for accounting firms. Readers of INPRACTICE can download a complimentary chapter of his book from www.scottcharlton.com.au
Rather than leaving great conversations to chance, there are a few critical steps to implement prior to the meeting.
1. Capture the synergy
Find a financial planner who is technically proficient and compatible with how you like to work. Invest the time to map out a combined approach to the profiles of clients you typically work with. I like to call this the “1+1= 5 phase”, during which you unlock the synergies to be found by earnestly addressing the typical issues, aspirations and road blocks commonly associated with such clients.
2. The meeting before the meeting
With your client’s consent, meet with the planner ahead of time to pool ideas and canvass appropriate strategies for the meeting.
3. Set the scene
To foster creative thinking, avoid cramped offices and peering at clients over the top of your computer screen. A comfortable boardroom with interesting artwork and a view will be more conducive to creative thinking. Naturally, a large whiteboard will be the centre of attention.
4. Let the client know
While some clients love spontaneity, many others would rather be prepared. Sending out a brief agenda before the meeting is a helpful courtesy. Better yet, ask the client to bring their partner along. The matters you will be covering are so important in shaping the client’s financial future that this key stakeholder should be present.
5. Apply resources
If possible, have an assistant sit in on the meetings for note-taking and to photograph the whiteboard at key points during proceedings, so you can totally focus on the discussion. Also, these meetings are not the time to run out of whiteboard markers!
6. Set expectations
Ultimately, generating a great sense of expectation with the client is not enough. You and the financial adviser need to set some deadlines. In fact you may care to take up my “100-Day Challenge”. That is, accept a shared responsibility to dramatically improve the client’s financial circumstances within this time frame. I quite like 100 days, as it’s long enough to formulate advice, instruct lawyers, set up entities, attend to tax registrations and report back to the client on what has been achieved.
How accountants can build client engagement