Keep Your Clients Happy During Market Crisis: 3 Steps to Authentic Check-Ins

7 min read
October 17, 2022

Global capital markets, including the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average, are performing poorly, and many clients of ours are anxiously looking for expert guidance. Once again, advisors are facing an opportunity now to prove their value, build stronger relationships, and—most importantly—make sure clients are faring well despite the current economic situation.

Most of the readership of our XYPN writings are focused primarily on financial planning, and that means that a meaningful percentage of you address investments as a component of the larger plan rather than the primary deliverable in your client engagements. If you lead primarily with investment management, odds are that you are already in communication with your clients when markets go awry to: 

  1. Provide updates on your investment strategy,
  2. Answer questions about your outlook,
  3. Anticipate outcomes and lessons from the financial crisis.

If you are an advisor who puts financial planning first, on the other hand, you don’t always have perfectly clear accountabilities on the investment management side. You might have a little more trouble figuring out how relevant current market conditions are to each client’s financial plan–and how to communicate with your clients. That’s especially true if investment management isn’t a service that you offer to clients. And those of you who outsource investment management to a third party sometimes struggle to believe that clients do want to hear from you rather than the submanager or third party responsible for trading. In every case, I want you to believe that you, as a fiduciary for your clients (and as an owner of the client relationship), are in the perfect position to communicate and provide priceless advice and reassurance to your clients amidst market volatility.

Pause for a minute, and think about a time you had a friend reach out to you because they knew you needed support for something going on in your life. One of your emotions was likely gratitude for their willingness to express their concern. You may have also felt surprised that they prioritized you over whatever is going on in their own life. And, almost certainly, you might have had a renewed interest in tending to that friendship. Each and every moment in which we engage with our friends, family, and acquaintances, we are choosing to share our time and attention (whether proactively or not), and moments like that validate our decision to continue doing so with that person.

Our relationships with clients can be viewed through a similar lens. Although there’s a more formal engagement by way of contracts and fees, everything else operates with some amount of emotional influence just like with our friends. Our clients (when we find the right ones) are just as grateful for our time, equally likely to delight in the surprise of being top of mind, and most certainly renewing their interest and deepening their engagement with you with every chance you provide them that opportunity.

So, where to begin? Let’s first look at a template for effective e-mail communications during market crises. I’ve presented a simple list of 3 bullets here for your consideration when checking in with clients over e-mail:

  1. Share a data point or resource of interest.
  2. Confirm if any goals might need to be reviewed or adjusted.
  3. Ask how they are feeling.

The first thing I’ll point out is that none of the bullets, after fully extrapolated, are going to be lengthy. The idea is that you would be using this template to proactively connect with a client to encourage and invite a conversation. It’s not an opportunity to present a written lecture on capital market assumptions. Despite its location at the bottom of the list and how it might seem to pale in comparison to numbers 1 and 2, the 3rd item is the most important. It’s the whole point.

Let’s break it down:

#1: Share a data point or resource of interest

This sets the stage for your emotional inquiry by creating some context. Most importantly, this signals to the client that your state of mind is calm and collected. You have enough poise and composure during the market crisis to share something helpful. And ideally, it connects to their personal situation. Maybe you’ve found a newspaper article that speaks to some planning issue that’s especially relevant to this client. Connect the dots for them so they know what you’re thinking. 

For example, “This article on retiring to a beach made me think of you because we always joke about you being a contrarian and retiring to a cold climate.” 

#2: Confirm if any goals might need to be reviewed or adjusted 

Clients can often calm their doubts and fears related to market downturns when they acknowledge the fact that their goals are still right on point. This part of the message reasserts what we CAN control (our goals and plans) and what we CAN’T (capital markets). If you have been in regular communication with your clients and have maintained a consistent cadence with reviewing and amending your financial plans, this question is mostly rhetorical. If not, it should then be a genuine invitation to get caught up and review the plan in detail. Both are OK because the focus remains on what is under our control.

Clients often know the conclusion here and quickly assert that nothing needs to be amended.

#3: Ask how they are feeling

Remember that this is the whole point of the message. You might say, “I’m sure you’re watching the markets daily, so I wanted to check in and see how you’re doing.” Our clients are running through a range of emotions at different times and on different days, so DO NOT assume you know what the answer might be. Our assumptions about their experience are dangerous because they limit the clients' ability to express in their own words where they might be.

The purest and most unbiased version of their insights here are going to be the most helpful. If you get a brief response, don’t be afraid to invite more explanation or schedule some time together to explore deeper.

And next, let’s discuss a few additional points of clarification to make sure you really execute this like a pro:

  1. Be genuine. Mean something if you type it. Don’t carelessly use words to influence or manipulate certain responses out of your clients. This is especially easy if you limit your response and keep it short. 
  2. Reference an old comment or conversation you had with them if you want to really make them feel uniquely cared for. I always say that the best information we get from clients is when they're coming or going or we have a chance encounter outside of the office. Those moments are when they’re more likely to share a funny tidbit or piece of priceless information. Keep that handy to reference at times like this so that your clients know a.) they occupy some permanent space in your memory and b.) you value when they share with you beyond what’s just required for the plan.
  3. Finish up quickly and start listening deeply. Keep your message brief because the whole point of this exchange is to spark a conversation and invite them to share their feelings. You might have a chance later to express a thorough and detailed response, but only after you’ve discerned what specific concerns your client is having.
  4. Take time to customize your messages. If you send this out as a template to all clients at the same time, you’re going to come off like you valued your own efficiency above all else. While there certainly are going to be reusable components of the message, you’ll want to prove to clients that you’ve got something helpful that is truly unique to them.

Repeating the same process in meetings.

Believe it or not, most of the same advice applies when it comes time to meet face-to-face or over screens. Let’s lay out the agenda for your meeting and identify some of the notable differences.

For your meeting, you’ll have much more to accomplish than what you can cover over e-mail. So, you’re going to first map out a high-level meeting agenda like what I’ve shown below:

  1. Financial Planning (Things we can control)
  2. Investments or Market Commentary (Things we cannot control)

Inside of each section, you might add your specific components for that conversation like “Roth Conversion” as an item to address under Financial Planning. The Financial Planning section is critical to set the stage because the focus is on things we can control and actions we can take to further our progress towards goals. I acknowledge that many financial planning conversations have emotional components, so be careful about anticipating how your meeting might play out. If your financial planning conversation is going to be heavy, you might not be able to delay getting into the emotional part. 

If the financial planning and goals conversation is positive, the investments section might have a completely different tone. The focus here is obviously on things outside of our control. And it might lead to more emotions if the first part did not.

But, ultimately, you’ll proceed with the same 3 components as we outlined for your check-in e-mail:

  1. Share a data point or resource of interest.
  2. Confirm if any goals might need to be reviewed or adjusted.
  3. Ask how they are feeling.

The most notable difference here is that instead of sharing a resource (like the news article described above in our sample e-mail), now is the time to share a data point on the markets. Use the XYIS monthly or quarterly commentary or the JPMorgan Weekly Market Recap, or the vast amount of information shared by DFA, Avantis, and other fund managers. Highlight one small bit of information and avoid going into a full-length lecture on the topic. Use this opportunity to signal calm to your clients and show them where your mind is at. They are often going to ignore the point itself and focus more on your body language and word choice. Use it wisely and you’re sure to reassure and encourage clients to stick with their plan and avoid any drastic changes that might reduce their odds of succeeding.

And if all else fails, remember that listening is the best tool you have available to learn what your clients might need. Remind them that you’re available to hear their concerns, and you’ll be headed in the right direction.

XYPN Jeff Snodgrass Headshot

About the Author

Jeff Snodgrass is the Managing Director of XYPN Invest, which provides turn-key investment management solutions for time-savvy advisors ready to streamline their investment process. Jeff's favorite part about his job is connecting with the advisors XYPN Invest serves and hearing stories of the success and achievements of their clients. When he's not optimizing the XYPN Invest client experience or sharing his vast wealth of Orion knowledge, Jeff steeps himself in music—he's played the piano for 25 years and enjoys listening to live music. He also stays busy being the "best dad ever" to his four young kids.

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