A prospective client reaches out with some questions or issues that they want help with but they have an acute need to complete this work quickly. However, you know nothing about them yet, and based on their timeline, you won’t have time to complete your normal onboarding process. How should you handle it?
This can be a very common problem, especially during certain times of the year. Every financial advisor has dealt with this conundrum at some point in their career and it pays to have a plan for how you want to handle it.
Tax season or the end of the calendar year can be common times of year for this problem to present itself. You may find prospects are in a bind trying to figure out how to handle a tax or retirement issue that needs solving quickly. They have reached out to you based on a referral, recommendation, or simply through research of advisors in your area. Figuring out how to handle this prospect’s issue depends on a few factors.
Understanding the Situation
Step #1 is understanding what exactly the prospect is looking to accomplish and by the deadline. While this is important in any financial planning engagement, it is especially important here. Below we walk through a few topics that you should consider before committing to work with the prospect
Is this a topic you have expertise in and can provide guidance on?
Is there enough availability in your schedule to meet with the prospect to discuss the situation in detail?
Is there enough time to do the necessary research and work to provide an acceptable solution?
Is the prospect looking for additional financial planning/wealth management in addition to this particular issue or is this a one-off request?
How is the client willing to compensate you for your work? If applicable, are you or your firm willing to complete requests for work outside of the scope of your typical fee model (hourly, flat fee, etc)?
These are questions you need to consider yourself, but also address with the client to measure their flexibility with how the issue needs to be handled and how willing they will be to pay the cost of service.
Assuming you have the knowledge and expertise to provide advice on this topic (i.e. tax filings, equity compensation, bankruptcy, trust/estate planning, etc.), it is vital to align with this prospect on how much of your time they will need and whether there is enough time to complete the work ahead of the deadline.
You will likely need to schedule a dedicated meeting to understand more about this particular issue and also collect information about the client and their broader financial situation. All of the normal KYC responsibilities will need to be satisfied. Can this be done in one meeting or two? How will this be balanced among your other client responsibilities during this time?
In order to help this prospective client, you may need to accelerate or condense your typical process. If you are not comfortable with how that may impact your work, you may need to turn this client down or refer them to another adequately qualified professional.
If you do take on the client, you will undoubtedly need to set certain expectations about time, preparation, and process as table stakes to work with you or your firm. One such condition may be that they will need to sign on as a full client and complete an onboarding process as a part of this engagement. Will the client accept these terms and conditions? Both parties need to be in agreement about what will be done, by whom, and over what time period to make this successful and productive.
How will you measure success for this particular client work? How will the client measure success?
It will be important to set guidelines for how the engagement will be structured, and how success will be measured. Before doing any work for a client, make sure their expectations are grounded in reality. The trickier the problem and the shorter the time to solve it means it may not be fully resolved. Accepting such a project may not be prudent.
If you are an hourly advisor, this may be par for the course. However, for many advisors who work for AUM or a flat fee, this might be trickier to accomplish if the prospective client is unwilling to sign on as a new client. Ultimately, it may mean you cannot work together.
How tenured you are in your career may be one of the most important factors here. If you have an established practice, a new client with a rushed timeline might not be a good fit for you. If you are new to building an advisory business, however, you may jump at the chance to prove your worth. Only you can decide the worth of a new client but be forewarned that a rushed request can be indicative of the type of client this prospect may be. Being a good judge of character is essential in a situation like this.
In the case of a referral, this may be something you take on as more of a favor to your existing client and less for the benefit of taking on a new client. This is a very situational determination only you or your firm can make correctly.
Regardless of whether you take on this prospect or not, it is an important opportunity to confirm the type of work you do (or don’t do) and make sure your practice reflects that. If clients are coming to you for services you don’t offer, you may need to update your marketing or website. If your clients are referring friends or family to you for services you aren’t willing or able to help with, you may need to better explain how you work and what you do.