Prospecting anxiety is thebiggest challenge. It forces you to go outside your comfort zone as a bank advisor. It is much easier to wait for bank branch referrals to come. The problem is when they don't.
That write-in response pretty well sums up our recent survey on prospecting for high-net-worth clients. As part of our Top 50 Bank Reps program, which is sponsored by PrimeVest, we identify and profile 50 reps each December and then survey them on various topics throughout the year. Since this survey (our top 50 bank reps) tracks a limited universe, the results are best viewed as anecdotal evidence, rather than as scientific. The results, though, do illustrate some telling sentiments and approaches afoot in the industry.
For instance, Sophie Schmitt, a senior analyst at Aite Group, says a lot of bank-based advisors shy away from prospecting. Many believe they don't have the same opportunities as a wirehouse advisor. However, she maintains that they do indeed have many options if they simply recognize them.
Advisors may decide that enhancing their relationships with the bank manager, or the tellers, is a better use of their time. This technique is indeed worthwhile. But, she says, they could take a page from the private bankers' playbooks and spend more time outside the branch prospecting. Private bankers often are in the field looking for new business and wooing new prospects half the time, she says.
Indeed, Doug Leonzi, an advisor at National Penn Bank and one of our top-50 brokers, says the best strategy is simply to find out where prospective customers spend time and develop alliances with them. To that end, he says, getting involved in philanthropic work can help put advisors in touch with the right people. But an important lesson to remember in high-end prospecting, he says, is the virtue of patience.
So much has been said about playing golf to develop business, it sounds like a clichÃ©, says Leonzi. But it can parlay into business. Of course, membership in a gold club doesn't automatically mean you'll get new business. Rather, it's a beginning.
An advisor has to be very patient, Leonzi says, in that it's best, for example, to let other players break the ice by inquiring about your line of work. And even then, the soft sell is recommended: A casual mention and a business card are sufficient.
Leonzi describes a strategy of patience as being passive aggressive, which he means in a positive way. If an advisor is simply aggressive, it may cause prospective clients to retreat. If you're using this strategy properly, it can take time before someone becomes a client, he notes.
Experience also helps advisors be better prospectors, because seasoned professionals tend to be more discerning. Leonzi says that when he started out, he would worry about prospecting, whereas now he's able to put it in the larger context of his job, and his life. "I'm not worried that I'm sitting here doing paperwork. Before, I'd always be hustling. Now, if a C-client wants to talk, I can hand it off to a junior broker and still make it to my daughter's swim meet."
Both Leonzi and Schmitt say that prospecting requires a very different skill set than advisors use dealing with existing clients.
Schmitt says that prospecting is much more entrepreneurial. In fact, she says that banks have embraced the team strategy that allows advisors to focus on strengths, whether it's out prospecting or being in the branch talking with customers.
Indeed, one of our respondents said that he was a "better closer, than a hand holder," but acknowledged that to be successful, an advisor needs both skills. He added that a good licensed assistant can make the servicing aspect of the job much less taxing, which gives an advisor more time for business development.
The majority of our respondents (67%) agreed that prospecting calls for an approach distinct from dealing with existing clients. The remaining 33% answered that both tasks come down to good salesmanship.
Some of the more compelling responses from our survey came from advisors when they identified the biggest challenges in prospecting and gave their best advice on meeting them. "Credibility is an issue working in a bank when dealing with high-net-worth clients," wrote one advisor. "Even though we use a full-service broker dealer with great financial planning tools, many executives and other high-net-worth prospects think of bank advisors as ill-trained bankers pushing mutual funds or annuities." The advisor acknowledges that in many cases, that's true. The remedy, though, is to show (not just tell) prospects that the FA does, in fact, offer full-service financial planning, instead of only selling products.
Another responder said the biggest challenge to prospecting as a bank-based advisor is the fact that the banks themselves have little understanding of the advisors.
"As a result, many have a nonsensical approach to the business, in which they are wedded to the trust company approach which they have had forever even though the old-line trust approach is dying," writes the advisor. "This results in a highly inefficient structure with two or more operations competing for exactly the same clients on behalf of the same bank."
That advisor says he addresses the problem by "taking a totally independent approach and running our business as though we weren't even here. If any business shows up through the bank, that's a little extra gravy."