It takes two
It’s standard advice for building an advisory business: establish relationships with centers-of-influence such as accountants and attorneys. Of course, when every other advisor in town is pursuing the same strategy you’re likely to find it difficult to get the business you seek. To help improve your networking efforts, we asked four successful advisors who derive much of their business from other professionals’ referrals for their insights on building professional alliances.
R. Patricia Grenier, CFP
BRP/Grenier Financial Services
Pat Grenier has been in financial services for 28 years. The experience has given her some valuable insights into working with other professionals. That’s evidenced by her alliance with a local CPA and his firm that generated over $100,000 of revenue last year for Grenier’s business.
About 10 years ago the junior partner in a CPA firm with whom Grenier and her husband worked decided to start his own accounting practice. At that time, Grenier’s broker-dealer had a focus on building alliances with centers of influence. Grenier and the CPA got along well and both wanted to grow their businesses, so it seemed like a natural fit for them to work together. “I broached the subject with him and his partner about perhaps setting up an alliance where if he sent me the referrals and he was licensed then we could share in the revenue,” Grenier explains.
The arrangement worked well but over time a complication developed. Grenier and the accountant were still sharing commissions on the clients he referred. But after several years those mutual clients started referring new clients to Grenier. She was now sharing fees on those “second generation” accounts and realized it was time to review the original referral agreement.
The alliance survived that stage and Grenier says they still have a “great relationship.” She and the accountant continue to share clients and often consult each other. It continues to be an exclusive arrangement as well. Although Grenier has marketed to other CPA,s she does not have formal alliances with them. “If he has any clients then obviously he refers them to me and if I have anybody that needs tax or accounting advice, I would refer them to him. It wouldn’t be right if I’m working with another CPA,” she says.
John P. Napolitano CFP, CPA, PFS, MST
U. S. Wealth Management, LLC
Forming professional relationships takes time, John Napolitano believes. Advisors need to learn about the other professionals’ current client base, their sweet spot in terms of ability, their favorite types of clients and the depth of their resources or staff. “I prefer to have one or two at most within each area of expertise,” he explains. “This is helpful toward building a better working relationship and enhances the possibility that you may begin a reciprocal relationship for business development. You must, of course, make sure that your alliances will be stylistically compatible with your clients and able to deliver the type of expertise that you need to properly serve your clients.”
Napolitano believes these relationships offer multiple benefits:
- The advisor gets to build an extended bench of expertise. This is mandatory for anyone attempting to deliver true comprehensive wealth management and better service for the client. It is also a cost effective way of getting the expertise needed for smaller practitioners.
- It positions the advisor in a place to be of greater value to clients.
- It assists with making sure that all factors are considered and coordinated for the client–helping to achieve clarity for every financial decision they must make.
He also cautions against some common mistakes:
- Simply referring clients to your professional alliance rather than inviting your alliance to become a part of the process by attending meetings with you also present.
- Moving too quickly with an alliance before you’ve had an opportunity to truly discover each other’s talents, strengths and weaknesses.
- Not agreeing up front how each other would like to be communicated with in order to stay informed and remain a useful member of the client’s advisory team.
Lora J. Hoff, CFP
Investment Planners, Inc.
In 2006 Lora Hoff was looking to go out on her own as a financial planner and was seeking new office space. At about the same time she was introduced to a local CPA/attorney who was sub-leasing space in his office suite to other professionals. He wanted to have an in-house financial planner but didn’t have enough work to support someone full-time. That created an opening for Hoff to lease space from him on a cost-sharing basis.
The business relationships among the officemates go beyond just sharing space and expenses, however. Although they don’t share fees, Hoff and the other professionals in the office regularly cross-refer clients. “It is informal but we explain it to clients and it has worked out really well,” she explains. “Today I was at a luncheon with a client that’s going to end up having a financial arrangement with both of us. He understands that we’ll be able to work together and we can share files if we need to. We can look at things and have a unified approach to the client’s financial situation where we both do our pieces. He’s going to have a contract with both of us but it just works out really nicely.”
Hoff also works with other professionals and typically will offer clients several names when they need a referral. She’s found that patience is required when building these other alliances. “It is just a really slow process of them learning to really trust you to where they’ll be comfortable referring a client back to you because they have finally gotten some level of comfort that you’re really going to do what’s best for the client,” she says.
See also: Interview with a CPA
Edward A. Wacks, CPA, CFP
After a successful career in public accounting, Edward Wacks transitioned to financial planning with Ameriprise Financial. CPAs comprise the majority of professionals with whom he networks and he approaches them systematically. The problem most advisors have in developing alliances with CPAs is that they don’t understand the mentality of the CPA, Wacks believes. “The CPA is very possessive of his clients,” says Wacks. “He’s always concerned with referring and they’re much more conservative than advisors are overall.”
The solution, Wacks says, is to learn about the CPA and his or her firm. Instead of talking exclusively about his qualifications, Wacks learns about the CPAs’ background and their clients. He gives them some basic information on his advisory services but doesn’t discuss referrals in the first meeting. He then adds the account to his contact list and invites them to educational sessions.
“I have high quality events where I invite professionals, CPAs, clients, and prospects,” says Wacks. “We just had one on Obamacare and I probably had about 10 CPAs, attorneys and tax preparers (in the audience) and they really liked it. That helps give the impression of the professionalism.”
Wacks asks to schedule a second meeting at which he discusses his value proposition and how he works with clients. By explaining his work and not pressuring for referrals, Wacks hopes the CPA will understand how Wacks runs his practice and communicates with clients. In addition, Wacks keeps in touch with clients’ accountants and attorneys. “I’ll try to reach out to them during the year,” he explains. “Do they need information for doing their tax returns or do they need anything for tax planning? I try to reach out to them when I have a good excuse to call and get together.”
This approach works but it takes considerable time, says Wacks, and that can be a problem for many advisors trying to work with CPAs and accountants. “Most advisors don’t have the patience,” he says. “It’s not where you go and meet a client and they sign up and they give you money. It’s a long sales process.”
For more on partnering with centers of influence, see: