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How Top Financial Advisors Identify, and Save, At-Risk Clients

By ClientWise | September 12, 2012

Financial advisor-client relationships are more likely to end with a whimper than a bang. That’s because most disgruntled clients leave their financial advisor quietly. These departures are usually a result of a benign neglect that can affect the advisor-client relationship through the years, with clients becoming more and more dissatisfied as time passes. 

Most often, clients withdraw from their advisor by first entering a period of inactivity, before they get to the point of actually leaving for good. The good news is that this means that clients can leave plenty of clues as to their unhappiness.  Savvy financial advisors should be ever watchful for early hints of restlessness -- which allows them to stop the snowball from rolling down the hill and becoming an avalanche.

Looking For Warning Signs

Not many clients are directly confrontational about their dissatisfaction. In fact, clients who make their dissatisfaction known are doing the financial advisor a favor, and giving them a "head's-up" with respect to cautionary, warning signs. On the other hand, the silent, unreceptive client presents the greater hazard.

Looking for passive indicators that your client is unhappy? The following seven “at-risk” forewarning behaviors are a start:

  1. Has the client stopped returning your phone calls?
  2. Has the client refused to commit to a date for a quarterly/annual review?
  3. Have they continually cancelled appointments at the last minute?
  4. Are they consistently ignoring, or disputing, your investment judgment and advice -- especially as compared to how they acted previously in the relationship?
  5. Has the client gone “inactive” or increasingly hard to reach?
  6. Has a third party (e.g. spouse, son/daughter, etc.) been introduced to the relationship in a way that gives you the feeling of being “watched”?
  7. Is the client becoming more argumentative, e.g. questioning fees, or complaining about performance, or mentioning other investments that have outperformed theirs?

Salvaging the Relationship

If you detect one, or all, of the above signs, and you wish to protect the relationship, it may be time to change your approach. Here are some steps that may help:

  • Change the focus of your client communication. This is especially true if you have fallen into the habit of only calling the client when you want to “sell” them something.
  • Re-focus client communications by sending educational material, relevant news articles with personal notes attached, strategy reports, etc.
  • Cross-Sell. Although cross-selling doesn’t respond to client concerns directly, it is a way to diminish client turnover. Clients who have multiple products, services and touch-points with their advisor are “stickier” than clients with one or two products, and are much less likely to leave.
  • Plan an “intervention”. Meet your client face-to-face. In some cases, a “neutral” location may be best. Begin the conversation by volunteering a statement that gives the client permission to speak candidly, e.g. “I know that things haven’t been going well with us lately.” Then…let the client talk. Listen…listen intently. Clarify, if you aren’t clear. Don’t get defensive or argumentative. Allow the client to get it all out in the open. When the client is done, ask, “What can we do to move forward?”

Don't Forget the Spouse

An additionally important point is that the advisor should have a strong relationship with all of the decision-makers in the household. For example, if the account is a joint account, are you paying equal attention to both spouses? Is it possible that you have neglected a spouse/partner, intentionally or not? In this case, the remedy is to make a concerted effort to build a relationship with both spouses. [Some ideas: Invite both spouses to a meal, breakfast, lunch or dinner…depending upon the level of formality you want. Alternatively, you might invite both spouses to a social event with the focus on building a personal relationship. Whatever you do, be as creative as you can be to create an inviting atmosphere that will appeal to both parties.)


You will always have clients who think that the grass is greener elsewhere.  In some cases, there is little that can be done to prevent their departure. However, it is much easier to salvage an existing relationship, than to find a completely new one.

We trust this helps.


For additional ideas and insights into how you might better engage your clients, please feel free to download the complimentary ClientWise Learning Tool below:


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