Gatekeepers and Financial Advisors: Developing Trust


It is often the case that between wealthy investors and a financial advisor is a “gatekeeper,” a professional such as an attorney or an accountant who is assisting the investor with matters outside their own areas of expertise. When they identify that their clients would benefit from the services of a financial planner, they will make a referral to their clients.

How are these connections made? How are referral relationships between these gatekeepers and financial advisors forged? Our newest research study, Gatekeepers: Their Influence on Referrals and Wealth Transfer includes interviews with accountants and attorneys who reflect on their criteria for recommending advisors, networking, and monitoring to ensure that their clients are being well-served.

Gatekeepers refer clients to financial advisors as a service to their clients. But it is incumbent on them to find the ideal match between client and advisor. Financial professionals work hard to earn and maintain their clients’ trust, so when it comes to recommending a financial advisor, they want to be certain that advisor will not betray that trust.

“I am not a financial advisor,” one accountant told us. “I understand finances, but I’m not licensed for that type of service, so I don’t provide it.” Said another, “I want (the advisor) to take care of (my clients). Because whatever they say to my clients reflects on me.”

Trust is built, first, through a gatekeeper’s personal knowledge of an advisor. “I always meet with them,” one told us. “I will never refer someone to someone I haven’t met. That’s why I continue to refer to the same individuals…If something happens in the market, they reach out to my clients. My clients are never having to call them; they…keep them in the loop.”

Trust between gatekeeper and financial advisor is also built through a dovetailing of investment philosophy. “I work with high net worth clients,” one accountant observed. “If I refer them to a financial advisor, it is based on my own investment philosophy (which is) based on asset allocation done properly so you have investments across the board…So the ones that I have worked with and I have referred to are in that long-term approach to investments.”

To ensure that trust isn’t broken, most accountants to whom we spoke indicated that they continue to monitor the relationship between their client and the financial advisor, although often times is is on an informal basis. “We do check-in, typically on an annual basis when we’re working with their tax preparation for their business assets,” one told us. “I will (monitor) at least in the beginning just to make sure that (the client is) happy,” responded another. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to hear back if they’re not happy, and then after a certain period of time, you just kind of hopefully just accept it and everybody’s happy.”