Landing a new client for your financial advisory business is always exciting, but it can also be intimidating for both the new client and you. Your clients may not know what to expect -- or worse, have unrealistic expectations -- and you might have so many ideas you're not sure where to start. Having an established process for onboarding new clients can help ensure that your relationship gets off to a great start. Here's what you need to know to get started.

Why Develop a New Client Onboarding Process?

For starters, your onboarding process will set the tone for the entire relationship. For example, if you prioritize face-to-face interactions, setting an initial in-person meeting as part of the process will help establish just how important it is to you to meet in person periodically. On the other hand, if you feel that you can deliver just as much value by interacting via email, Skype, or similar tools, your process can incorporate those tools from the get-go.

Client onboarding is essential in setting expectations, clarifying any areas that may be fuzzy to the client, and laying out a communications plan. While your initial meeting may also include client-specific strategizing and risk assessments, consider onboarding to be an orientation.

It's also helpful to have a clearly defined, repeatable process to follow. Not only will you no longer need to wing it, you'll be more confident and better able to answer the "what's next" question.

Helpful Tools

No matter what your process looks like, you may find it helpful to use technology or checklists.

  • Task or Project Management Software -- Many free and inexpensive task managers allow you to create tasks with subtasks that you can use over and over -- and project management software is even more sophisticated. By creating a basic template with all of the tasks associated with client onboarding, you can ensure that each step, for each new client, is taken.
  • CRM Software -- Customer relationship management software helps you do just that, manage your customers. It's used to keep track of client information, interactions, sales data, and more. Many CRM applications include custom workflow or template features.
  • Email Marketing Software -- Even if you don't plan on sending a regular newsletter or special announcements out to your client base, consider signing up with an email marketing software provider that offers basic automation such as MailChimp. This is helpful when you have a series of informational documents to share, but don't want to overwhelm your clients with a huge packet. Instead, you can set up a series of "auto responder" emails to go out over a specific interval of time. For example, as part of your new client onboarding process, you may want to send a welcome letter first, followed by a request to connect via LinkedIn, and later a link to an informative video. You can set these up once and then later trigger the entire series for each new client as each client is added to your list.
  • PDF Software -- Most modern word processors can export documents to PDF format. It's better to send documents in PDF as no special software, other than the free Adobe Reader application, is needed in order to open the document. If you plan on sending sensitive information or contracts, you may want to upgrade to Adobe Acrobat Pro which is loaded with advanced security and digital signature features.

Suggested New Client Onboarding Steps

The suggestions below can be tailored to best meet your preferences. Use them as a springboard as you develop your own onboarding process.

  • Exchange Contact Information -- Whether in person or via email, it's important to exchange contact information. This can be as simple as exchanging business cards at a social event, jotting down the basics during a phone call, or sending an email. You may already have some preliminary contact information from your client from previous marketing interactions. However, you'll want to be sure you have the most current, preferred contact information. For example, if the client was referred to you from a friend who gave you a home phone number, he or she may actually prefer that you call using a mobile phone number -- or may prefer email or text messages. You'll also need to gather more information such as billing address, spouse's name, and so forth. Likewise, you'll want to make sure your new client has all of your contact details.
  • Add your new client to your email marketing mailing list specific to clients -- This should be one of the first steps you do, especially if you will be using email automation tools to send a series of messages.
  • Send a welcome letter and overview of what to expect -- A personal message letting your new client know you're excited to be of service is a nice touch, and it provides you with the opportunity to let the client know what to expect moving forward. For example, if your process is to send a questionnaire a few days before your formal meeting, let the client know to expect the questionnaire a few days prior to your meeting -- and why it's useful (i.e., allows us more time to focus on the most appropriate investment strategies). To avoid asking the client to do too much with each email, consider sending a series of messages, each with its own task. In this introductory email, you might suggest the client review an educational attachment or fill out a questionnaire (as noted below).
  • Send a questionnaire -- You'll need to gather quite a bit of information about your new client's financial situation, investment experiences, risk tolerances, assets and liabilities, insurance coverage, and goals. While you can certainly do this during your initial meeting, using a questionnaire beforehand gives the client time to think through the answers. At the same time, having most of this done in advance allows you to dig deeper during your meeting.
  • Enter the client information into your chosen CRM software -- Depending on the software you use, you may be able to link an electronic form to your database, eliminating the need to enter it manually. If the questionnaire isn't linked, enter the responses into your CRM software.
  • Send any disclosures or contracts for review -- If you have a standard set of disclosures to send, you could set up your autoresponder series to include disclosures as one of the messages. Customized contracts, on the other hand, will need to be sent manually.
  • Offer to connect on LinkedIn -- Many of your clients will prefer not to connect on Facebook as they reserve this network for family and personal friends, but would be interested in connecting via LinkedIn, which is focused on professional contacts.
  • Schedule your first meeting -- The timing on this is up to you. It may make sense to schedule the meeting right away when your prospect first indicates that he or she is ready to engage your services. If that wasn't practical at the time, it's time to reach out to schedule the meeting.
  • Create a meeting agenda -- Schedule everything you want to accomplish during this initial meeting in advance. Like this onboarding process, your initial meetings with new clients will likely follow the same repeatable steps from one client to the next, i.e., discuss financial objections, assess risk tolerances, review assets and liabilities, answer questions, etc. As you become more experienced with onboarding and discover topics that you need to cover during this initial meeting, update your meeting agenda template accordingly.
  • Send meeting details -- Once confirmed, send the meeting details including directions to your office for in-person meetings or call-in details for conference or video calls. Send the agenda, too, along with the estimated duration of the meeting.
  • Confirm the meeting or send a reminder -- The day before the meeting, call or email to confirm your appointment.
  • Attend the meeting -- Refer to your agenda periodically to make sure you're staying on track. Do your best to end the meeting on time, showing your new clients just how much you value their time.
  • Update your CRM software -- After the meeting, enter any pertinent information and notes into your CRM software.
  • Schedule follow up steps -- Using your task or project manager, schedule the next steps so that nothing is left to chance.
  • Send thank you message with meeting notes and any contracts -- Make sure to send a personal thank you message. This is a good opportunity to recap what was discussed. If you had indicated that you'd be sending additional information, notes from the meeting, or a contract, do so now. Another nice touch is to send a handwritten thank you card in the mail.

Again, feel free to modify the steps listed above to best suit your practice.

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Sources:

"15-Step Client Onboarding Checklist: Onboarding Process for Financial Services." 2017. Accessed August 18. http://www.theadvisorcoach.com/15-step-client-onboarding-checklist-onboarding-process-for-financial-services.html.

"Client Onboarding Tips and Tools | Smartsheet." 2017. Accessed August 18. https://www.smartsheet.com/definitive-guide-client-onboarding.

"How To Create Good Financial Advisor Workflows and Processes." 2017. Accessed August 18. https://www.kitces.com/blog/creating-financial-advisor-workflows-and-business-processes-from-teresa-riccobuono/.

"How to Use Microsoft Dynamics CRM Workflow Templates - Microsoft Dynamics CRM Community." 2017. Accessed August 18. https://community.dynamics.com/crm/b/crmpowerobjects/archive/2013/12/27/how-to-use-microsoft-dynamics-crm-workflow-templates.

"The Secret to Successful Customer Onboarding." 2017. Accessed August 18. http://sixteenventures.com/customer-onboarding.

"What Is Customer Relationship Management CRM? Webopedia Definition." 2017. Accessed August 18. http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/C/CRM.html.

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Disclaimer

The above article is meant for information purposes only and is not intended in any way to provide legal or other advice for any specific situation.  Readers always should consult their own tax, accounting and legal advisors before taking any action related to the above article or subject matter.

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