Expert advice

Apr 16, 2014,16.46 IST

Planning: Clients control outcome

Suresh Sadagopan
Ladder7 Financial Advisories

The priority that a client assigns to planning actually impacts the results clients get out of their planning engagement!

In the course of our practice, we have found some pretty interesting stuff about clients. There are clients who don’t seem to have time for us. They are busy, travelling or somehow otherwise occupied. We find getting information from these clients a challenge and generally the planning process drags on for months.

Fortunately, there are other clients who have the time and who send information sought promptly, give clarifications as required, send documents/ scans when asked for and do not miss appointments.   

We have clients across age, socio economic status, managerial responsibility levels, income levels etc. Some are single, others married.  We did not find any specific demographic/ psychographic correlation regarding being engaged in the process or otherwise.

For instance, those at the top – MDs, directors etc.had time for this exercise. Someone at much lower levels did not.  There were others at lower levels who had time and some at the top who did not have time.

Again some who were loaded with responsibilities and had a packed schedule, still found time to interact with us. Others, whom we felt had ample free time, could not find the time to respond to us.

What is the reason?  We figured it out eventually.  It is a question of priorities that people assign to any activity that determines whether they had time or not.

Picture this. Someone is working on a very important project and had a deadline to be met by end of the day. He gets a call at noon that his son has fallen from a tree and probably has a fracture. He just finds out where his son is and rushes out of the office. The very important project did not stop him from attending to an injury suffered by his son.

Another situation… the same person gets an SMS saying that two units of his rare blood group is urgently required to save a person on the operating table. The hospital is just three kilometers away. He wants to help… but sighs, shrugs and gets on with work, hoping someone else will give the needed blood. After all, this same SMS must have gone to thousands of others too! Today, with the deadline hovering above his head, he does not have the time for this interruption!

Two dire situations – but two different responses! The difference is the priority we assign to people /events.

Why is that some assign high priority & others do not?  This is a difficult question to answer in our case, as most clients seek us out - for a plan/ advice. After coming to us some are very diligent and fully cooperate with us. The planning process completes fastest in these cases. These clients also get all required clarifications at the time of the final plan and do not linger on, regarding implementation of the recommendations. These are the ones who have accorded top priority to the planning they are doing.

There is another set, which takes it’s time to respond, gives us some & not all the information sought. The planning process in this case lingers on. We complete the plan eventually but for these clients, the cycle is much longer. Even implementation happens at a leisurely pace, over the next few months as opposed to a couple of weeks, for the first group. Probably, we come at 10, in their priority list.

The third group, fortunately a small minority for us, is the most difficult to handle. They are not responsive and communicate intermittently. With these clients, we may not hear for weeks, even months together. Suddenly one fine day, we may receive a mail giving us the reason why they have not been responding! Then we start off again, right from scratch -  as there are new updates as months have rolled by & we have forgotten what we had been doing with respect to that client and sometimes even the advisor assigned to the client would have moved. We dread this category, as these clients remain in suspended animation for a very long time. There is no closure. All these happen because we may not be there in the top 20, even 25, in their priority lists.

Their priorities impact what they get -  The first category is the ideal one. They are truly interested in sorting out their finances and want a blueprint to act on.  They make an effort to understand what we do, respond to our requests for information promptly & participate in meetings fully.  This category appreciates our services. We find that this category of clients benefit the most from our engagements. They are the ones who are very satisfied with our services, give us references & have written some glowing/ heartfelt testimonials about us. We cherish our relationship with this category.

The second is about fine, but not fully fine for us. The plan lingers on and we feel relieved when it finishes finally. This set is quite casual about the plan. They implement most of it but still leave out some. They do it over time, as and when they get time. This client set is satisfied about what they have got, but since their follow through on implementation is poor, they do not get the best results. This set is disappointing to us as we have put in more time than the norm here and they still get average results.

The third category is pure frustration. We are not even sure if the plan will get finished. When it eventually finishes, these people do not implement or implement some portions selectively. These are clients who would not get anything out of the planning process. It is a waste of time for them & for us. We lose money on this set as the time taken is much higher as opposed to a typical case.

We as advisors/planners are doing the same work for all our clients. But the first category is greatly benefitted and the third category is hardly benefitted. It was all due to the importance & priority they assigned to the planning/ advisory process.

Why some assign high and others, low priority?  We wanted to dig deeper about why some clients who come to us accord lot of importance to planning and others very low importance.  One reason we came up was that they were pushed to sort out their finances by their spouse, friend etc. The person concerned was not actually interested in the damn thing. Another reason is that the goals for which they are planning do not ring true. They have been put in – yes. But it does not have any real connect for them. Thirdly, they consider this as a nuisance that needs to be done but not important enough to occupy their prime time. That is the reason why it stays below their radar, most times.

Conclusion -  If, as a client, one wants to do planning, get  the money’s worth and get good results, then one needs to accord high priority to the process. Doing this half-heartedly will beget lukewarm results.

Importantly, the benefits derived and satisfaction levels have nothing to do with the planner. Category one gets the most benefit and category three the least.

What all this leads up to is that clients can actually control the outcome of an advisory engagement, in the way they engage with their advisors/consultants. It is the client who controls the outcome. They get the results in accordance with how they approach and engage in the planning process itself. Now, that’s a surprise, isn’t it?

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