Over the years I’ve had the great privilege of serving many affluent families. Many years ago at another financial institution when I was first promoted into senior management, I began to notice a disturbing trend. Certain clients, whom I knew we were serving well and for whom we had delivered excellent performance, began to leave. The conversations often went something like this:

“Bill we really like you and we like this company. But we’ve decided to move our accounts elsewhere.”

When I enquired why, they would usually say something like: “you’ve taken good care of us and we appreciate that. But as a family we’ve begun looking at the long haul and who we can know and trust over many years. We have a lot of important decisions coming up and we need someone who really knows our situation. The problem is that our last two financial advisors did such a great job that they were promoted and we feel like we have to start over again. We just can’t do that anymore. Isn’t our relationship important enough that the best people should be able to advance in their career and stay with us?”

Out of these difficult conversations, I learned the value of continuity. I’d like to tell you how we approach continuity at Whitnell.

profile picture for William E Thonn
"I'm really passionate about building an integrated plan for my clients. Taxes, retirement, investments, estate planning and so much more. I care about getting the details right."

 

More than just a tagline

If you’ve seen our tagline, you’ll notice that “continuity” is one of our key values. This statement arose directly out of statements from some of our clients. We recently conducted a poll of many of our top clients and asked them what they like and do not like about how we serve them.

They kept using a term that we found difficult to understand at first – “known.” They would say things like: “we like you because you know us so well. You know things about us that even our closest family members do not know.”

It stands to reason that we would know our clients well. After all, we’ve had relationships with some clients for over 30 years. Spending time with our clients allows us to get to know them pretty well. But this alone does not guarantee continuity.

I have come to believe that for financial services organizations to truly provide continuity to their clients, they have to make continuity a top priority. This is not an easy thing to do. As a person who has been a leader in more than one financial services organization, I can say with certainty that nearly everything seems to work against continuity.

 

The big challenges

Why is continuity so challenging for many financial services organizations? In large organizations your best people must get promoted to new roles or new departments to grow and advance professionally. That promotion usually takes them away from the clients with whom they’ve had regular contact.

Often times, people have to move laterally to other departments in order to advance in the organization. A person who has had the same job for five years or more yearns for a new challenge. This again can take them away from clients.

Talented people often get poached from their current employer. Or in other instances, people feel that they’ve hit a ceiling at their current employer and so seek greener grass elsewhere. This breaks the continuity cycle.

I knew, when I committed to being Whitnell’s CEO, that continuity would be a real challenge because I had lived it at other companies. This is why I began to build our continuity strategies from day one.

Here are several strategies we’ve put in place to ensure our people are always available to serve our clients over time and continue to grow and prosper professionally.

 

Make continuity a priority

We know continuity matters to our clients and it matters to us. Our structure and size allows us to make continuity a priority. But more than this, we have made it a business practice. When considering promotions or lateral movements inside our organization, we always look at the impact to existing clients relationships. Wherever possible, we seek to preserve these relationships.

 

Recruit the best people

We have actively recruited people who intend to make this the last place they will ever work. All of the senior people who’ve come to us in the last 5 years make this statement.

 

Integrate the next level of leaders into client relationships

We do this in two ways. First, we ensure our next generation of leaders participate in meetings and learn the client’s situation. This allows our next generation of people to take responsibility in accounts, based on their talents and capabilities, so they serve specific clients very well.

Second, we intentionally foster connections between our next generation of leaders and our client’s next generation – their children and grandchildren. This is how we continue to deliver on The Whitnell Way – our service commitment – to those who prefer not to work directly with their parent’s or grandparent’s advisors. The parents and grandparents take great comfort knowing that the same quality people who already know them will also be serving their loved ones.

 

Foster existing talent and give them opportunities

We pay for people to go to school and earn advanced certifications such as the CFA. We encourage our staff to commit to advanced learning and give them all the support they need to complete programs. We also give them opportunities to put what they’ve learned into practice by allowing them to apply their skills to real-world situations, under the guidance of our senior staff.

 

Promote from within while maintaining client relationships

Many organizations practice the “promote from within” philosophy. This is great. But there is something missing if “promote from within” has a negative impact on clients. At Whitnell, our approach is to look for candidates from inside for any positions that come open – but always with an eye toward preserving client contact.

 

A different client experience

As a CEO, I’m presented with the imperative to grow my organization, grow client acquisition and grow revenue and profits. But our service model and deep connections with our clients is the reason for our success. So while we want to grow, we are not willing to sacrifice our commitment to continuity and connectedness. This is just one of the ways, I believe, we deliver a different client experience than many other companies.

 

Whitnell is not a law firm and does not give legal advice. The information contained herein should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only, and you are urged to consult a lawyer concerning your own situation and any specific legal questions you may have.