For much of the second half of 2015 and into the first half of 2016, the equity markets were characterized by a level of uncertainty not witnessed in a long while. Investors continue to grapple with a host of headwinds, from concerns over the global impact of China’s economic slowdown, to uncertainties about the current presidential elections, to a domestic economic recovery that, while still in progress, feels bumpy to many in spite of a relatively strong labor environment.
So while nobody has a crystal ball to show precisely where the markets will land by the end of this year, the potential for renewed market uncertainty lingers. With this in mind, a top priority for advisors may increasingly be on how best to communicate market uncertainty to clients — a task made more difficult in the wake of one of the longest, most enduring bull markets in history.
In hindsight, when stocks first started to decline in late August of last year, many advisors were slow in touching base with their clients for fear they would be held responsible after years of rising valuations. Then as 2016 kicked off with even greater levels of volatility and fears of a further downturn, even more advisors may not have been very eager to discuss the rocky landscape with their clients on a proactive basis.
However, those are precisely the times when most clients want — or, better, need — to hear from their advisor. After all, doing some hand holding and acting as a sounding board to anxious clients is a vital part of the job.
Beyond that, market downturns also provide an opportunity because it’s a chance to deepen client relationships, re-affirm your value proposition and reposition your firm for future success. That’s why advisors should take a proactive approach instead of giving in to fear. Here are three steps to do that effectively in the future:
1. Communicate early and often. Though the natural instinct may be to step back when the markets take a downturn or remain volatile, it’s actually the perfect opportunity to dial up the frequency of your communications. This includes engaging clients with personalized email messages, reaching out via approved social media platforms or holding small events at the office. While it’s important at this time to speak frankly to clients about ongoing market, economic and investment conditions, as well as address any fears or apprehensions they may have, it’s equally important to re-emphasize that short-term volatility is unlikely to impact their long-term retirement goals. This accomplishes two key objectives at once: demonstrating you are highly attentive to your clients’ immediate needs and underscoring the value of the long-term, goal-based nature of your advice.
2. Dig deeper. If the first step is to increase the level of communication with clients, the second is to leverage such efforts effectively so they bear more fruit in the future. More than acting as a sounding board, use this opportunity to learn as much about each one of your clients as possible — especially those with whom, for whatever reason, contact has been sporadic. In essence, this is a second chance to remake your firm’s customer relationship management processes. Fill CRM files with a wealth of personal information about clients, no matter how seemingly insignificant, including their hobbies, any planned vacations, wedding anniversaries or family birthdays.