Financial adviser Kurt Rozman was buying flowers for his family one Valentine's Day, when he thought of a widowed client who probably wouldn't be getting a present.
That gave him the idea to buy a rose for each of the several dozen widows he worked with and deliver them personally on February 14. It's a tradition that Rozman, president of Brookfield, Wisconsin-based Rozman Wealth Management, has kept up in the nearly two decades since - although his staff now helps with the deliveries.
"It's easily the most emotional client gift that we've come across," Rozman said. The effort wasn't meant to be a marketing tool, but Rozman says it built up good buzz about his firm, which has $200 million in assets under management.
Client appreciation gifts can take a lot of time to plan and don't always bring direct returns. But advisers who practice gift-giving say it's an important investment because it can deepen bonds with clients.
The key to a good gift is customization.
Use customer-relationship management software to keep a list of clients' hobbies and milestones. Following clients on social media can also spark ideas for personalized gifts.
Advisers and consultants recommend keeping the value of gifts to $100 or less to avoid getting in trouble with regulators over gifts that could exert outsized influence.
Here are six gift-giving ideas - and corresponding situations - that advisers have found successful:
- If your client enjoys wine, send them a crystal wine glass for every referral they send your way. Once you've given them a full set, send a nice bottle of wine for each referral, suggested Matt Matrisian, director of practice management at Pleasant Hill, California-based Genworth Financial Wealth Management, an investment management and consulting company that provides practice management tips to 6,000 advisers.
Send the gift, even if the referral doesn't bring new business to reward the behavior of making referrals, he said.
- When Dean Catino, co-founder of Alexandria, Virginia-based Monument Wealth Management, hears that one of his golf-loving clients hits a hole-in-one, he sends him a crystal golf ball from Tiffany's at a cost of about $100 each. Monument sends a similarly priced porcelain piggy bank to a client who had a baby.
Since these gifts are pricey, Catino said the firm, which manages about $250 million in client assets, only sends them to top clients. Overall Monument spends about $4,000 per year on client gifts.
- Make a gift to your client's favorite charity or pick one you like and work with the group to create a personalized acknowledgement for the client. For instance, if it's a charity benefiting children, the kids can draw postcards informing your client about the donation, said Mike Byrnes, a practice management coach and president of Boston-based Byrnes Consulting LLC.
- Michael Fein, managing partner at Gaithersburg, Maryland-based CIC Wealth Management Group, was frustrated that one of his most satisfied clients wasn't sending him referrals, even after years of delicate and frequent reminders.
The client had mentioned needing a new phone gadget, so Fein sent him a Best Buy gift card with a note saying "Thanks for all the referrals." The client, missing the note's sarcasm, called Fein and asked, "What referrals?"
"Exactly," Fein replied. It was a risky move, but Fein said the client sent him a good referral the next week. In a more normal circumstance, send a gift card for a store that appeals to your client as a thank you for a referral.
- Buy clients a magazine subscription related to a hobby. That way they'll be reminded of you every time an issue arrives. Another way to stay on the client's mind is to send a decoration they'll hang on their wall.
CIC Wealth sometimes gives clients celebrating birthdays a framed copy of The New York Times' front page from the day they were born.
- Practical gifts can also be attractive. For clients who have trouble keeping track of their vital documents, consider a water- and fire-proof safe, Byrnes suggested. If you have a client who just moved to the area, give him a book about top tourist attractions restaurants in the region.
If don't have time to implement a full client-gifting strategy at your firm, start with your top clients or the ones who send the most referrals, said Rozman.
"You have to give to receive," he said.
(Reporting By Jennifer Hoyt Cummings; Editing by Jennifer Merritt and Jeffrey Benkoe; Twitter @jenhoytcummings)