YOUR PRACTICE-Financial advisers' events can make lasting client impression

Fri Jul 25, 2014 8:00am EDT

(The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)

By Hilary Johnson

July 25, 2014 - Social media and other online communication may be top of mind for financial advisers, but many find there is no substitute for old-fashioned, in-person client events.

Investing in events is a good way to help keep existing clients happy and find new ones, advisers say. Even in a Facebook world, there's no denying the power of a handshake.

Adviser-sponsored cocktail parties and outings matter to clients. In fact, clients ranked events close behind an advisers' knowledge and honesty, according to a survey this year by Advisor Impact, a wealth management research firm.

Most advisers tend to hold, on average, only one event per year, according to a May survey by the FPA Research and Practice Institute, a research unit of the Financial Planning Association in Denver, Colorado. Some advisers, however, acknowledged they have been remiss and wanted to beef up their plans.

Advisers who are new to events can start by planning something that they would personally enjoy, said Valerie Porter, director of the FPA Research and Practice Institute.

Wine-tasting evenings, for example, have been some of Porter's most successful events, garnering a "wonderful" response, she said.

PARTY PLANNING

A first step for advisers is making sure to follow company policies about client entertainment, said Cathy Vasilev, vice president of Red Oak Compliance Solutions LLC in Fredericksburg, Texas. The rules could impose a certain budget and require advisers to ask compliance officers to review handouts, Vasilev said.

Advisers then need to decide on a goal for the event, such as attracting new clients or showing appreciation for existing ones, said Maribeth Kuzmeski, president of Red Zone Marketing in Grayslake, Illinois.

It is possible to tackle both of those goals at one event, but advisers must come up with a can't-miss opportunity to succeed, Kuzmeski said.

"It's got to be something that's interesting enough so that clients feel comfortable suggesting it" to their own friends and colleagues, who might attend with them, Kuzmeski said. Examples might include golfing at an exclusive club, a special tour or cocktails at a unique venue, she said.

David Edwards, president of Heron Financial Group in New York, held a cocktail party for clients and prospective clients in January. The venue was a hotel roof greenhouse, exclusively set aside for his guests, with a breathtaking view of Manhattan in the falling snow.

"It was hospitable, gracious, really first class," Edwards said. The party was also fruitful because many clients wanted to bring friends. Edwards thanked clients during a short speech. Some then stepped up, unasked, to vouch for his good work.

The cocktail party cost about $3,000. That is a fraction of Edwards' overall $120,000 marketing budget for 2014, or roughly 12 percent of his revenue. He also pursues speaking opportunities and gives his clients gifts.

He has increased his assets under management by about 50 percent a year to $145 million. But there is another payoff, Edwards said.

"The amount of good will? Priceless!" (Editing by Suzanne Barlyn and Cynthia Osterman)

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