As we start the year, I imagine many of you have either sent or are composing your year-end letter to clients. I can just see the words “difficult,” “challenging,” and even “unprecedented.” (Matt Potter particularly liked this one but might be having second thoughts, as you will see next week.) As we all know, the equity markets shed their February and March losses and turned out positive for the year, so I am sure that the letters will also reference the potential benefits of asset allocation and a diversified approach.  

My guess is that many of your clients will do exactly what I would do with that letter. Skim it and recycle the paper without giving it much thought (or quickly hit delete on the email never to think of it again). Clients are bored with the platitudes, exhausted with the news, and frankly can’t make sense of the economic destruction they see in their daily lives and in the highs of the markets. Another letter pointing it out won’t help them psychologically or emotionally. 

So if you are going to do a letter (or want to send another one) why not tell them about how well you are doing?

Why not give them a reason to feel good (again) about why they hired you?

Why shouldn’t you give them more confidence in their choice?

It’s not bragging when you back it up    

If your client wanted to know how the markets performed for 2020, they would Google it. They wouldn’t wait for your client letter a month into the first quarter. 

Instead of market performance, why not share advisor firm performance? Done right, it should give them confidence in their choice and trust in your firm.  

Think back to what seems like 1000 years ago; March 2020. The markets were tumbling, the news was taking about “flattening the curve” and many of us were sheltering in place by order of  our state governments. What happened between then and now?

  • We went from face-to-face meetings in our offices to Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams, etc., all in the blink of an eye. 
  • We used DocuSign and other systems to replace wet ink signatures on forms and applications.
  • Our workflows, built into our CRMs, allowed for seamless transactions and follow through even though the staff was working remotely.

On the client relationship front:

  • We pivoted to virtual client update meetings of their financial plans and portfolio holdings.
  • We held client (and prospect) education events discussing the markets, the economy, COVID-19, hearing from money managers and our staff to try to make sense of it all.
  • Our client appreciation events were even better attended virtually and we were able to meet and see the whole family.
  • Our “random acts” or gifts such as books, seeds and puzzles for families reflected the environment and went over big in times of stress.
  • We used social media to show our softer, non-business side to clients and prospects. They got to know us better.
  • We grew, meaning we were able to provide planning for more families in need and answering questions for people who needed help.

Ok, maybe you didn’t do all those things, but you should take pride in those that you did. It was a pretty amazing year and you showed your resilience as a firm. When I look at this list, it says people hired you as an advisor and you proved them right — you succeeded in overcoming obstacles to provide sound financial advice to those in need. 

Looking to the future

A look back at your firm’s year is the reason for the letter, but it also makes sense to look forward. We have to be realistic about how we will do business post-COVID-19, and set expectations for our clients. They should know they’ll have the choice on when/here/how they will meet with you; that your office has proven that you can meet and serve clients in person or virtually, so let them know it year end client letteris up to them if they want to shake hands in person, stay virtual or mix it up.

Back in March, we were scrambling to understand a new way of doing business. Over the summer and early fall, we kept thinking it was going to get better or at least normalize. Now in 2021, we have to realize that this is normal going forward. Our clients need to see progress in the way we do business. If you have written a year-end (or quarter-end) letter and didn’t mention how your firm has embraced the change, maybe it is time for an addendum. If you haven’t sent one or haven’t gotten yours out yet, maybe there is time for a change of theme. 

It is not about the things you can’t control. It is about what you did control — how well you serviced your clients. Start writing!

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