If you’ve ever met with a financial professional, you know how nerve-wracking that first meeting can be. First, you’re unsure of the qualifications of the expert, you don’t know anything about their operation, but mostly, you’re not sure if you’ll like her.
Let’s give you some clues to look for when you have that first meeting. OG & I have visited plenty of financial advisory offices and can give you an insider’s look:
Financial Advisor Office: The Receptionist
Unless you’ve agreed to meet after hours, there are plenty of clues about an advisor in the reception area. First, there should be a welcoming, warm receptionist. This is a key role in an advisor’s office. Every good advisor knows that new and existing clients might come in with concerns and a case of “nerves.” While we had plenty of routine reviews with clients when I was practicing, there were times that people came in after a loved one died, when kids were headed to college, their company had made a retirement offer, our client had been fired, or a new baby was on the way. These are all nervous times.
The receptionist should welcome you. If he/she seems disgruntled or too busy to notice you, this is a warning sign. Sure, an advisory office is a busy place (I usually received between 25 and 75 emails a day on top of about 15 calls from clients and 6 hour-long meetings….do that math!), but the receptionist’s number one task is to make sure that clients feel welcome. I’ve seen plenty of disgruntled receptionists and can confirm that I’ve never met one that wasn’t unhappy for a reason (usually they hated their boss, the advisor).
A great receptionist is the eyes and ears of a great advisor. My receptionist would let me know if someone seemed especially anxious, so I was armed and ready when the client arrived at the meeting room.
Financial Advisor Office: Surroundings
The office reception area is the first view of the advisor’s office and says a ton about them. Some advisors prefer to fill the walls with professional accolades (I saved that for the actual meeting room). Others stack the area with financial magazines and CNBC on the television. Personally, I prefer anything that helps my clients feel confidence and calm.
The television: If there’s no tv, fantastic. However, there should be some soothing music if there is no television. Actually, if there is only soothing music, I think that’s preferable.
Who the hell wants to watch the market tank and people screaming on the trading floor before they meet with their advisor? Imagine if you’re meeting with your advisor on the day world news happens. Would that make you feel calm? Plus, there are so many pseudo-professionals on those channels who spend their few moments “on air” creating fear and doubt. I don’t want a jittery, nervous client in my office. I want them relaxed! We’d keep the television on either the Travel Channel or the Food Channel.
We hired a designer to tackle the reception area. Her job was to decorate the walls with relaxing images. Our chairs were big and firm, like the kind you’d find in a nice family room. We removed the overhead flourescent lights and used lamps instead. We’d lay out magazines such as Travel and Leisure, Golf, or high end fashion stuff.
Advisors playing CNBC, in my opinion, are big on timing the market, pretending they know what’s going to happen next, and playing “the game.” No thank you. And advisors playing political channels such as FOX News or MSNBC were complete morons. The clinic my wife works at has FOX News on the television and a big sign that says “Do Not Change the Station.” What does politics have to do with my flu shot (please don’t answer that in the comments….consider it rhetorical). Why do I want my left-leaning multi-millionaire prospects to hate me before they actually shake my hand because FOX News was on the television (or, swinging the other way, right-leaning clients while I’m playing MSNBC….). Politics don’t mix with good business (at least on the retail level).
Financial Advisor Office: Amenities
The receptionist should offer you drinks and possibly light hors d oeuvre’s. Let’s be clear: I want my advisors to be successful and spend a little money on my comfort without going over the top. I don’t want a cheap paper cup. Is the advisor broke? Are they one step from going out of business? On the other hand, if I’m being offered lattes or espresso out of an expensive machine, that’s too far. We offered soft drinks, bottled water, and a variety of Keurig coffees, served in nice recyclable cups with lids or mugs with our firm’s logo. That way, clients who wanted one for the road after the meeting could have another.
One time our receptionist, to cut costs, decided to buy these little tiny cups. We were serving clients these tiny drinks the size of Costco samplers. No thanks! Big cups for us!
Do I think this is important to notice? From a guy who’s been in hundreds of advisory offices: Absolutely! EVERYTHING is a hint about how the advisor values you, your money, and their own business. My gut instinct about advisors was usually right on after I looked at their reception area. I want an advisor who has pride in their operation and gives top customer service without being over-the-top. If they offer me a drink “to go,” I think they’ll definitely call me when I need to know about some new law that affects my goals or money.
Financial Advisor Office Clues: Take Away Tips
Here are clues to look for when you walk into an advisor’s office:
– How are you greeted? Is the receptionist worried most about you or are they focused on other tasks?
– What does the reception area look like? Is it worn out or overly expensive? Does it seem like someone thought about your comfort?
– How is the media offering? Are there magazines, television, music that are calming?
The reception area can give you huge clues about whether this is the advisor for you. Often, because I think we did such a great job on our reception, I had a real leg up on gaining a new client even before they met me for the first time.
You Can Do It Yourself
The reality is that a decent financial advisor will likely cost you – either a percent of your investment capital or a straight fee. Don’t forget. You can always go the DIY route. There are lots of solid software packages out there. All of which are going to be a lot cheaper than hiring a full-time advisor. Alternatively, you can check out our toolkit if you want free tools or books that will help you focus your money.
Do you have an advisor? Have you met with one before? Let’s share some more clues in the comment section!