What the Wealthy Want

https://cpatrendlines.com/2020/10/14/maximizing-wealthy-client-relationships/Remember:  When managing high-net-worth clients, it’s all about them, especially in the time of COVID-19.

By Anthony Glomski and Russ Alan Prince
Your $5-Million High-Net-Worth Practice

Take a moment to consider:

How hard is it to find and bring on a wealthy client?

What does it take to keep a wealthy client highly satisfied and doing more business with you?

MORE: The Four-Step Process for Client-Focused Business Development | Building a High-Net-Worth Practice During COVID-19 | The Essential Process for Building a High-Net-Worth Practice | What the Wealthy Need | Setting Financial and Practice Goals During COVID-19 | 4 Components of a High-Net-Worth Practice | Life Insurance as Part of Wealth Management | Mistresses, Mister-esses and Accountants | The Coming Boom in Tax Services for the Super-Rich
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It commonly takes a lot to win a wealthy individual or family as a client. It takes a lot of effort to keep the wealthy as clients, let alone do more business with you. Not only must you deliver top-quality expertise, but you often need to create a sensational experience. You must build a high level of rapport. Yet, a great many accountants are not maximizing their relationships with their wealthy clients.

Accountants and other professionals tend to be more reactive than proactive when it comes to their clientele. Instead of reaching out to clients in structured and supportive ways, they tend to wait for clients to contact them looking for services and products.

We regularly find that even when accountants are being more proactive and looking for opportunities to deliver additional value to their wealthy clients, they tend to think only in terms of what they or their firm can provide. Even then, they tend to think of only one, maybe two, or very rarely three additional types of services. What is very evident is that most accountants are approaching business development from their perspective as opposed to being client-focused.

If you approach the matter from the vantage point of what you want to see happen, you are not using the Everyone Wins Process. You will be much more effective if you uncover what is important to a wealthy client – their self-interests – and then deliver the expertise required to help them address their self-interests.

Remember: it is all about them, once you are clear about your self-interests and sure about yourself.

Your Self-Interests

At this point, it is likely impossible to know how to best maximize a particular wealthy client relationship. Based on previous conversations, you might think there are issues that you can probably address, but you may not be all that sure.

When it comes to maximizing wealthy client relationships and achieving your self-interests, you are well served by adopting a specific mindset that is all about your wealthy clients: Your predominant, overriding objective is to do what you can to help your clients achieve their self-interests.

We look at this as an absolute. Furthermore, we know that the vast majority of accountants feel the same way, but only a small percentage act accordingly.

Intending to build a $5 million high-net-worth practice, it is in your self-interest to deliver additional firm capabilities to your wealthy clients. To do so, you need to know …

  • Just what you can deliver
  • How you would provide the additional expertise
  • How you get compensated

Interestingly, most accountants have a somewhat limited ability to address these three issues comprehensively. They tend to know a lot about what their firm does, and they have relationships with outside experts, but there are gaps. There are also usually gaps in knowledge as to how it all works. You need to resolve those gaps.

One easy way to resolve this possible conundrum is to put together a resource grid. You identify all the resources you have access to, who you need to contact and the compensation arrangements. This information is then readily available to you when you identify the self-interests of your wealthy clients.

You are not cross-selling: What we are talking about is delivering desired and required expertise. It is not about selling other accountants’ services or other professionals you work with. As we noted, the Everyone Wins Process is not selling, persuasion or influence. On the contrary, it is all about helping someone achieve their self-interests.

By using the Everyone Wins Process, you find circumstances where a wealthy client needs or wants specific outcomes. You then determine if you can help him or her achieve those outcomes. In making that determination, you evaluate the resources and expertise at your firm as well as external experts (e.g., lawyers). If you find a way to help your wealthy client, you make the connections while explaining what you are doing to help your wealthy client achieve his or her intended outcomes.

Cross-selling, in contrast, is where you are thinking in terms of other accountants at your firm or some other professionals trying to convince your wealthy clients to use them. Cross-selling is firm-focused. When you use the Everyone Wins Process, you are client-focused.

Their Self-Interests

Very rarely are the diverse needs and wants of the wealthy or most other types of clients dealt with adequately. Pretenders are probably the main reason. But, there are also the Predators and Exploiters. Even when the wealthy are working with True Professionals, so many of them are firm-focused as opposed to client-focused. Even these well-intentioned experts may unintentionally be short-changing the wealthy.

Take a moment and think about your own life …

Are all of your financial plans up to date?

Are you taking advantage of all the substantial economic opportunities available to you?

We have found that a great many times, accountants – like most everyone else – fail to have current financial plans. Most people’s estate plans, for instance, have passed their expiration date. If, for example, the guardian cited in your estate plan of your 30-year-old child has passed away as have all your trustees, it is probably time to redo your estate plans.

It is also pretty common that most of the wealthy are not taking advantage of all the substantial opportunities available to them. They simply do not know what is available to them. In contrast, many accountants know what is possible, and yet they often do not take advantage of viable possibilities.

A considerable percentage of the wealthy would be well served by avoiding mistakes and benefiting from missed opportunities. By uncovering these possibilities, you can deliver value and will often be paid well at the same time. Therefore, you need to help them achieve their self-interests, which means you have to ascertain their self-interests.

While reaching out to wealthy clients can happen at any time, the COVID-19 crisis has made it a particularly good time to connect. Yes, many professionals have called or emailed or texted their clients. But, there is an enormous difference between connecting peripherally and making an effort to understand them deeply at this time. In many cases, it probably does not matter what you already knew about them, as the COVID-19 crisis has battered people around.

To learn the self-interest of other people, you use the Discovery process and are empathetic.

The role of Discovery: The Discovery process is how you learn about others. Generally, by using open-ended questions, you have them share what is going on in their worlds. In the case of many of your wealthy clients, the following types of open-ended questions at the beginning of a conversation tend to be very effective:

  • How are things going with you and your family?
  • How are things going with your business?
  • With all that’s happening, how is your business doing?
  • What’s the most important thing we should be discussing?
  • What are your most significant concerns?

At any time, these questions are very effective. Still, they are even more useful today because of the COVID-19 crisis. With many people having to deal with the financial and psychological strain brought on by the current crisis, your sincere interest in what is happening in their lives goes a long way to enhance your relationships. It will also regularly open the door to ways you can be helpful, and many times get compensated.

You also need to probe to get an in-depth, comprehensive understanding of what is occurring in their lives and what does and does not matter. Probes are just open-ended questions focused on a specific matter. Probably the most compelling question (including variations) to use as a probe is: Can you tell me more?

Probing is a way for you to directly and simply ask for more information. By prompting wealthy clients to go deeper, your knowledge of their worldview and their circumstances increases.

The following are a couple of examples of using probes:

Wealthy client: The business has really taken a hit. Revenues are off more than 20 percent, and I’m not sure what I can do to get things back to the way it was before.

You: What steps are you thinking about to revitalize your company?

Wealthy client: With all that’s going on, I’m seriously thinking of selling the business. The numbers are still good and likely to get better as the country gets better. I’ve been at this for decades, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t get any of the kids to take an interest in taking over.

You: What have you done so far to make sure you get the most for your business and put the most money possible in your family’s pockets?

When you probe, you are using open-ended questions to get a deeper and more expansive understanding of what your wealthy clients have done, are thinking, and what they want. During the Discovery process, it is wise to make ample use of probes.

What you are looking to learn during the Discovery process: First and foremost, you are not trying to find out what services and products your wealthy clients want. Most of the time, they will not know. For instance, a wealthy entrepreneur would like to not pay taxes on his growing investment portfolio. He will likely not know anything about how private placement life insurance can potentially work for him. He just does not want to pay taxes. It is your responsibility to understand what he wants and be able to show him his options.

When you are learning about their self-interests, your goal is not to deal with possible solutions. You do not jump into the conversation with answers. What you really want to do is understand …

  • Their goals and objectives: You need to know just what your wealthy clients want to accomplish – their immediate goals and objectives and their long-term goals and objectives. Without this information, you cannot show how your advice and solutions will help them achieve their agendas.
  • Their critical concerns: It is self-evident that what is most important to people are the matters they will most quickly address. Therefore, you are always looking for information that helps you understand what is highest on their priority list, and today that is usually their critical concern. Knowing what has their attention gives you insights into their current and future actions – and possibly provides you with insights into the ways you can help them most.
  • Their self-image: This is about how they see themselves and how they want to see themselves as well as how they want others to see them. People, for the most part, will rarely take actions that conflict with their self-image. Included here are their strengths and weaknesses as well as their anxieties and insecurities.
  • The logic of their key positions with supporting evidence: You want to know their thoughts and feelings and the basis of those perspectives and emotions. So you look to identify the facts and attitudes they are relying on and the experiences that underpin their viewpoints and actions. Included here are their unshakable beliefs.

Smart questioning will open the door to what your wealthy clients are all about. Getting these insights is not enough. Being empathetic plays a significant role in learning about someone’s self-interests.

The role of empathy: By being empathetic, you make sure you have heard and interpreted the information from your wealthy clients accurately. You are confirming that you are in tune with them and not misinterpreting anything. It is the way to verify your “read” on them. If you have misinterpreted something, by being empathetic, your wealthy clients will recognize your errors and correct you without any negative repercussions.

Empathy also is the way your wealthy clients know you do indeed understand them. It is not enough that you know you understand them, they have to know you understand them. Being empathetic often leads to your wealthy clients sharing more with you, thereby providing you with more opportunities to work with them in various ways.

Consider the following examples. We are taking the two cases we used to describe probing and adding an empathetic response (in bold) before the probe:

Wealthy client: The business has really taken a hit. Revenues are off more than 20 percent, and I’m not sure what I can do to get things back to the way it was before.

You: It sounds like you feel stressed because of what’s happening to your business. What steps are you thinking about to revitalize your company?

Wealthy client: With all that’s going on, I’m seriously thinking of selling the business. The numbers are still good and likely to get better as the country gets better. I’ve been at this for decades, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t get any of the kids to take an interest in taking over.

You: You sound anxious and unsure and a little bit disappointed about the future of your company. What have you done so far to make sure you get the most for your business and that you put the most money possible in your family’s pockets?

One very powerful approach to empathizing is delivering summaries. Summarizing is articulating the essence of what your wealthy client is saying and where you go from here. It is not a regurgitation but rather a distillation of what matters and what actions to take. Summaries can be used throughout the conversation but are especially useful at the end of the meeting. As part of the summary at the end of the conversation, you can specify what you and your wealthy client are going to do next.

By and large, ascertaining the self-interest of wealthy clients – or anyone for that matter – is habitually the most complex part of maximizing these relationships. To get to the most relevant facts and points of view takes time, persistence and artistry. Very often, you have to move beyond superficial answers. You have to dig deeper to determine what matters most. This approach takes conviction, but it is commonly the most effective way to build a $5 million high-net-worth practice.


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