Kitces & Carl Ep 10: Transitioning Long-Standing Clients To Create Room To Grow



The perennial problem facing financial advisors throughout their careers (and especially at the beginning) is simply getting in front of prospective clients… and then convincing them to actually hire you and pay for your great advice. However, for those advisors who eventually reach the point where their business is sustainable, and have clients who understand the value that a “real” financial advisor brings to the table, the problem can easily morph from not having enough clients to keep the lights on… to having too many clients to be able to serve effectively (and no remaining capacity to add more and grow further).
Because the reality is that we can only do so much before our calendars (and our brains) reach their limits. It’s at that point where the most obvious answer is to start hiring some team members to help. But that solution can create all sorts of new challenges, and there are plenty of advisors aren’t interested in all the other stuff that comes along with hiring and managing employees… and find that they’re stuck as a result. They don’t have room for more clients, and they’re not interested in hiring and managing employees to create more capacity. And so the question then becomes: how can you, as a financial advisor, create room in your practice to be able to start growing again, especially if you do not want to increase your staff headcount (and management responsibilities) in the process?
In our tenth episode of “Kitces & Carl”, Michael Kitces and financial advisor communication expert Carl Richards sit down to discuss some reasons you may need to start transitioning long-standing clients (some of whom may have given you a shot early on when no one else would, but consequently pay you far less than what it takes to service them) to make room so you can help others, some practical steps for communicating such a transition to those clients, and why arguably it’s your duty to do so… in order to ensure that all of your clients are getting the level of service they deserve.
As a starting point, it’s important to recognize that creating more capacity in your firm by transitioning away some long-standing clients isn’t about just booting those clients to the curb for the sole purpose of finding other, more profitable clients. But the reality is that the clients who you’ve “outgrown” would probably be better served somewhere else anyway. Or put more simply, your “C” clients are almost always someone else’s “A” clients. Which means transitioning them can be win-win-win for you (creating capacity), for the client (receiving better service as an A client), and for the other advisor (who may be thrilled to grow with the clients that aren’t a good fit for you anyway now!).
That still doesn’t solve the problem, though, of communicating this to your clients, some of whom might well have their feelings hurt by your decision. Practical ways of effecting this transition include: raising your minimum fees (in order to serve your clients well, and do all the things you do for them through the year) and letting the client decide for themselves if they value your (higher-fee) advice enough to continue on as your client, sitting down and simply telling them that you’re changing the direction of the firm and (with their blessing) would like to facilitate their transition to another advisor who’ll be a great fit for them, or simply telling them that you’ve been examining all of the relationships in your practice and feel that you’re simply not a good fit for them at this point in their lives.
Because at the end of the day, you are running an advisory business, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Taking on the responsibility of advising clients on the best way for them to manage, grow, and use their life savings is the very mission of that business, and ultimately you have to ensure that the direction of your practice is aligned with what your clients need… and if it’s not, it’s your job to tell them.
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