The Big Switch — How coaching helped a Financial Advisor bring his clients over to his new firm

“Did you ever have to make up your mind? You pick up on one and leave the other one behind. It’s not often easy and not often kind — did you ever have to finally decide?”  The Lovin’ Spoonful

Successful financial advisors are constantly being recruited to join a new firm. With promises of a big payday, better working environment and enhanced capabilities for serving clients, an offer can be hard to refuse.

Yet changing firms is never an easy decision. Even after careful consideration to make the leap, FA’s run into a myriad of both anticipated and unforeseen challenges: Getting told “no” by clients who you were sure would come along with you, having your name dragged through the dirt by former colleagues, feeling your head spin with unfamiliar people and processes. All this can lead one to ask, “What the heck was I thinking???”

Such was the case for Mike B,* a west coast transplant who moved to a major Midwestern market. He contacted me one December after joining a new organization the month before. Mike had built a nice-sized book of business over the prior decade but felt constrained by a partnership that had been deteriorating for several years. He was brought over by John C,* the manager of a large office, who negotiated a hefty up-front signing bonus with Mike that tied him to the new firm for the next nine years. (* Names changed to insure confidentiality.)

Doubt creeps in

After receiving a warm welcome and getting ushered in to a spacious office, the door closed, and Mike asked himself, “OK – now what?” He spent the first few weeks just getting acclimated to the new people and systems, not leaving much time for working on his business. And that’s when the small voice of panic began to creep into his head. “Everyone here seems to know what they’re doing – will I ever get it together? That first year asset level I need to hit here is HUGE – can I make it? How am I gonna get those clients of mine over here? Maybe I should have stayed put?” Etc.)

Mike floundered for the first 30 days or so. He contacted his “A” clients at his former firm but since he had never made a switch before, he was unsure about how to get them to move with him. He felt the pressure of bringing in a high level of assets within his first year to realize a six-figure year-end financial bonus. And it dawned on him that while his manager was a good guy, he wouldn’t have a lot of time to help Mike bring over the old clients or bring in new ones. (In fairness to John C, he was supportive and did help out as best he could in between administrating the office, attending management meetings, handling FA issues and recruiting new talent.) Feeling overwhelmed, anxious about the future and isolated, Mike reached out to me via Horsesmouth, a daily ezine for FA’s.

First things first

The question that started our coaching relationship was, “Where do you want to be in your business one year from today?” Mike knew already that he wanted to hit his year-end bonus number by the end of December the following year. With that starting point, the next step was to create a goal-based Mission Statement, which included the bonus level of assets as well as what he would need to execute to achieve it by the 12/31 deadline. Based on this, he set quarterly, and then monthly goals, so he knew his targets for the first three months of the year. No surprise to me, but having clear goals helped Mike feel a sense of relief – at least he knew where he needed to get to and had a “scorecard” to let him know if he was on track.

Trash talk

One issue that really bugged Mike was that fact that once he left, his former partner was suddenly “trash talking” about what a lousy FA Mike was for the clients they had shared. He couldn’t believe some of the things that were being said about him to the people he had personally brought to the team. But all’s fair in love and war, and in this case, it was a battle to retain relationships — he realized his former firm was NOT going to throw a goodbye party for the clients he wanted to take with him. I did tell Mike that once this was over, he would be able to look back and laugh at some of the mud that was being slung at him, but he wasn’t buying it at the time.

Client approach … “or not”

Once Mike’s goals were established, we developed an approach for bringing over the twenty-five “A” clients he wanted from his former firm by literally scripting specific things to say to engage them. Turns out that Mike, like most FA’s, never had any training on how to conduct a Consultative Interview, in which you ask questions to help people come to their own conclusion about why they’d want to use your services. Rather than just saying point blank, “You’re coming with me, right?” Mike set up a meeting with each of these clients in which they would have a discussion about whether it made sense for them to join him at the new firm, or not. Critical to the conversation were the words “or not” — Mike would be giving each client explicit permission to say no, which eliminates the resistance that would otherwise come from a hard sell approach.

He was coached to start off each meeting this way, then inquire about his clients’ financial goals, their relationship with the other partner (which turned out to be rather weak) and their decision making process, using questions to draw them out.

Let the games begin

Then it was time for Mike to make the rounds. Beginning a bit tentatively at first, he used the questions to move the process forward with each “A” client. Some were a slam dunk, but many were initially hesitant, adding to Mike’s exasperation, as these were the very clients he brought to the partnership in the first place. Fortunately, he knew that he could reach out to me in between our formal weekly sessions for some impromptu coaching to either prep for a client meeting or debrief after one. Although he never abused the privilege, we would sometimes speak three or four times a week and exchange emails about what was happening in his meetings. Each time he learned useful tactics to let him know what to address with each client to help them decide in his favor.

Results, and moving forward

Mike took great pleasure to report that after setting his goals, learning the proper approach and having the meetings, he was able to bring over all but two of his former “A” clients in relatively short order. He got on a roll, achieving his large bonus asset level by the end of June with a full six months to spare. Mike said in hindsight, “It was nice to have Jim as a ‘safe harbor’ in the storm of chaos surrounding the move. I was able to vent my frustration during our calls while staying focused on the task at hand. And I could be totally candid with him as I couldn’t be with others in my office.”

Would Mike have brought over all of these clients anyhow? Maybe, but maybe not – coaching gave him the best possible opportunity to maximize the odds for doing so. And when the process of transitioning clients was complete, he was free to begin detailing his plan to bring in new clients, knowing that he was well on his way to building a much bigger business at his new firm. And he’s even laughing again, or at least smiling about the positive prospects for the future of his business.

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