Wealthy investors most often have a loosely-tied team of professionals assisting them with matters outside their own area of expertise: areas such as the law, taxes and investment strategies.
These professionals usually do not coexist other than to provide assistant to the wealthy investor. However, attorneys, accountants and financial advisors often do speak to each other about their shared clients, and when those conversations go well, they often refer each other to new clients.
We wanted to determine just how attorneys and financial advisors begin their working relationship. As part of our newest research study, Gatekeepers: Their Influence on Referrals and Wealth Transfer, we interviewed attorneys, asking them how their relationship with a preferred financial advisor started, and what methods best work for financial advisors who want to have a relationship with an attorney that can benefit both parties?
For the study, similar questions were asked of accountants. Their responses appear in the study in qualitative form in a question-and-answer format.
“Networking” is a buzzword that has set the wheels of commerce in motion forever in the United States, and is certainly the most frequently noted manner in which attorneys find the advisors they work with. From seminars to meet-and-greets, the business of business is most often done through the art of face-to-face introductions.
“It’s an industry that works both ways when you are talking about financial advisors,’’ said one attorney. “’I’m in two networking groups currently and I also try to have lunch and coffees with a lot of financial advisors and a lot of CPAs and a lot of other attorneys specifically.”
“I meet a lot of financial planners through networking, whether through a bar association or through an estate planning council or just day to day,’’ another attorney said.
The networking includes gathering information from other attorneys. It is, as one attorney noted, an “I know a guy’’ kind of business.
“I will discuss it with other lawyers to see who they have used, if they had good results with that and the clients were satisfied,’’ an attorney said.
Often, attorneys and advisors meet and make arrangements to work together before the work shows up. Some know their preferred advisors through college and law school friendships, and agree to share clients when the opportunity arises.
Other times, attorneys get to know their preferred advisors as neighbors or parents first.
”You meet them at a social event and you find out what they do and you like the person, you have a few conversations and then you realize where is their niche, what they can help you with,’’ an attorney said.
Frequently, an attorney’s client already has a financial advisor, and the relationship begins with an introduction through the client.
“A lot of times, my clients will actually have a financial advisor, and usually then I will talk to their advisor,’’ said one attorney. “Depending on how confident they are, sometimes I keep their card and in the future if they ever refer anything my way, I consider referring back.”
Attorneys do not need to leave the office or pick up a phone to find a financial advisor. Often, advisor firms will offer to show off their skills in a presentation, and will do the traveling themselves.
Then there is cold-calling. The practice of picking up a phone and dialing a number with no prior contact is a hard way to sell, and harder today with the use of cellphones, voice mail and texting. But it still happens, and occasionally, it works. It can be a matter of making the call at just the right time (“I might take the call if I am in a down time,’’ one attorney stated) or it can be having a positive and inoffensive manner of presenting yourself.
“No one has ever really said ‘We want to sit down and talk to you about referring us to your clients’,’’ one attorney said. “I think I would like it to be more nuanced. If you are coming to me and saying ‘These are the services I offer and this is my background and experience and this is our track record’ you are obviously trying to tell me ‘Keep me in mind’. I don’t think I would react well if they said “Can you refer us some business?’”
Of course, there are some advisors who choose to ignore or quickly end cold calls immediately. When one attorney was asked “How do you respond to cold calls?” he replied “I’m sorry, but I’m busy.”