YOUR PRACTICE-How to juggle clients' busy professional lives
NEW YORK Feb 21 (Reuters) - Carving out two hours during the workday to discuss financial planning - or anything else - has always been a challenge for Dr. Raza Pasha, a medical director who specializes in snoring and sinus-related disorders in Houston.
Doctors "start at 7:30 a.m. and then don't get home until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m.," said Pasha, who is also on call late at night and on weekends.
So when Texas-based wealth adviser Taseer Badar began working with the physician, it was not unusual for the two to arrange meetings at 2 a.m. outside of the hospital emergency room.
Badar, who is founder of wealth management company ZT Wealth Inc, counts many like Pasha among his clients - busy professionals whose occupations allow little time for the traditional in-office daytime meeting. These clients are often on-the-run and hard to reach, including pilots who are frequently in the air, diplomats in different time zones and deployed members of the military.
Finding ways to work around a client's busy schedule is key to maintaining relationships for advisers. Virtual meetings and online advising options help fill the scheduling gaps.
ADAPTING THE MEETING STYLE
Elizabeth Mannen, a Missouri-based adviser with Wells Fargo & Co's Wells Fargo Advisors, has taken a chameleon approach to working with her clients - modifying her meeting schedule to fit their hectic routines.
"It's about knowing your audience," said Mannen, who has been an adviser for more than 20 years and works with a number of physicians and pilots. "Catch them when it's convenient for them ... and then when you're with them, think like they think."
For example, when Mannen sees a client who is a trauma surgeon, she will conduct the meeting in a very brief, bullet-point format to mirror the way the surgeon receives updates from nurses or residents at the hospital. "I bring him up to speed about what we talked about at our last meeting, done briefly ... It's a really short, intensive meeting," she said.
For her clients who are pilots and typically work for ten days straight and then have ten days off, Mannen will make an effort to schedule meetings in the middle of their break period. Mannen likes to catch pilots when they are most well-rested and unlikely to be jetlagged.
Web-based technology and correspondence is key for advisers whose clients are abroad or in different time zones for most of the year and cannot have in-person encounters. Virtual meeting programs or cloud-based systems allow advisers to maintain regular interaction with clients whose professions keep them remote.
Kansas-based independent adviser Brad Stratton, of Concert Wealth Management, began using the Morningstar Office system to post documents to a password-protected site, which allows him to upload reports and lets clients download them for review. The system is a safer method than email for sending confidential information, Stratton said.
"I can now post these and they can pull it up at their leisure and we can set up a conference call and have a conversation," said Stratton, who began using the system with one of his "long distance" clients who works for a major international company based in Tokyo.
Stratton started working with the client locally in the United States 10 years ago and wanted to continue the relationship even after his job took him abroad.
"We have Saturday morning conversations," Stratton said. "That works well for his schedule and for mine with the time difference."
Missouri-based adviser Aaron Vickar, of Buckingham Asset Management, who counts many physicians among his clients, will often try to meet with them in person. But when he is unable to, he uses Skype to conduct evening video phone calls. "A normal working day no longer applies," Vickar said.
These off-hour Skype calls actually work to Vickar's advantage in some ways, allowing clients to see what his life is like outside of the office, he notes.
Vickar often schedules calls after his children go to bed or around 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. "Every once in a while, my kids will hop in behind me to see what daddy is doing ... and I think that's a great added human element," he said.
MOVING ADVICE ONLINE
Virginia-based independent adviser Ric Edelman, of Edelman Financial Services, recently created an online advising platform that allows clients to access the same investment advice resources entirely on the Web.
"It's designed partly to serve those people who need to deal with their investment management on their own terms, based on their own schedules," he said.
Edelman said he initially expected more engagement from smaller clients since one of the benefits of the online service is its lower account minimum. But among the first to sign up was one of his wealthier clients who is a doctor - an on-call surgeon who works in the emergency room.
"He never knows what his schedule is like, which makes it difficult for him to schedule appointments with any degree of confidence," Edelman said. "He just jumped at the chance to be able to open his account online. He did it at 2 a.m., on a Saturday night."
Clients who sign up for the Edelman program online also have the option of working with one of the firm's advisers.
Overall, flexibility is key to maintaining relationships with clients who have busy professional lives, advisers said.
While Badar and Pasha still have the occasional late-night talk, the two have come up with alternatives for maintaining their relationship - keeping in touch through texting or perhaps meeting briefly on Saturday morning before Pasha heads out for a bike ride.
"We're flexible - that's what makes both of us work well together," Badar said. "There are no egos involved. It's all about doing whatever we need to get the job done."