For those of us old enough to remember (and don’t mind admitting it), the concept of the ‘moment of truth’ was utilised by the newly appointed CEO of SAS (Scandinavian Airline System) Jan Carlzon, in the early ‘80s as he attempted to turn the airline around. At the time he became its CEO, SAS ranked 14 out of 17 airlines in Europe for punctuality and had a poor reputation for decision making.

The phrase described the time when an employee came into contact with a customer – it became his/her moment to prove their credentials so to speak.

Fast forward to today, and consider Australian financial advisers. Of all the interactions an adviser has with their client throughout the year, there’s no doubt in my mind that the review is the most important. And before I get into it, the description of these meetings as ‘reviews’ suggests a retrospective approach. I much prefer to describe these meetings in a more positive sense – ‘progress to plan’ for example.

Editor’s note: this is the fourth in a series of five columns Business Health founder Terry Bell will write exclusively for Professional Planner, leveraging insights from the consultancy’s Future Ready VIII report on the state of the advice industry which it will release in February.

This is one of my favourite topics. And yet, as I consider the most recent feedback we’ve received from clients – who have been surveyed through our confidential client survey ‘CATscan’ – I’m not too sure that much overall progress has been made in this area. The latest results continue to show that the review experience isn’t resonating for clients. In fact, of the nine KPIs we seek feedback on, reviews have been continually rated in the bottom two.

It’s frustrating, because the progress to plan meeting is perhaps the only time during the year that the adviser is in complete control. It’s the perfect time to demonstrate the value they’re providing. Our client survey results tell us that the better (as defined by the client) the review experience, the higher the level of overall client satisfaction.

By way of context, the major purpose of these meetings is for the adviser and client to discuss progress to the agreed financial plan while taking into account the client’s current circumstances. It can be conducted face to face, through a multimedia app or even over the phone – but it must occur.

According to our latest HealthCheck analysis, 27 per cent of Australian advisers meet with their ‘A’ clients at least quarterly, while at the other end of the review spectrum, 24 per cent are meeting once a year with their ‘best’ clients. 85 per cent of reviews last between 1 and 2 hours. Hopefully you know what your clients are looking for in terms of frequency and duration, but if you’re not certain just ask them.

In some ways reviewing the plan with your adviser is akin to going to the dentist – very few people really want to go, but they do because they appreciate that it’s important (and their parents told them that prevention is better than cure). If you go along with this analogy, there are a number of steps you can take to enhance your clients’ review experience:

  • A month out from the meeting, send the latest plan information (investment performance, risk schedules etc) and ask them to update accordingly. Also check if they have any specific issues they’d like to discuss. This will allow you to prepare upfront and engage in a meaningful discussion. It also shows the client that you’re respecting their views and want to discuss the matters that are important to them.
  • Confirm the meeting a week before and ensure both partners will be attending. This may perhaps seem a trivial point to make, but, according to our CATScan analysis, one in three clients view themselves as a ‘couple’ – this becomes very important in the discussion. It seems too many advisers direct their conversation towards one partner only (mainly the male), subconsciously alienating the female partner.
  • Unless there are extenuating circumstances, we strongly suggest that these meetings are held in your office. 55 per cent of practices conduct virtually all of their meetings on premise, which allows them to call in key staff as needed, leverage technology and better showcase their capability.
  • During the meeting itself:
  1. Interaction with the client should always be empathic. Clients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
  2. Stick to the agenda, ensuring it contains any specific issues the client wants to discuss. This provides a track for both client and adviser.
  3. Ensure the client is doing most of the talking during the meeting and the adviser is doing most of the listening.
  4. If possible, have another person in attendance; it’s a great way to educate key staff and introduce them to your clients.
  5. Conclude with the date for the next meeting.
  • Within a few days of the meeting:
  1. Confirm outcomes of the meeting and the likely timeframes for the actions you’ve agreed to.
  2. Implement changes as required.
  3. Communicate progress of the agreed actions and confirm when completed.
  • Three weeks after the meeting, contact the client and ask for their feedback on the meeting. Listen to what your clients say, make any changes suggested.

The progress to plan meeting has always been the keystone for successful longer-term relationships and has become even more critical in today’s ‘fee for service’ environment.

It is the adviser’s moment of truth and it’s my hope that, like Carlzon’s success with SAS – which became recognised as the world’s leading airline in 1983 – Australia’s advisers will grab the opportunity it offers.