Ted Sarenski isn't shy about finding out whether his clients think he's been naughty or nice.
The Syracuse, New York-based financial adviser and CPA mails out a year-end survey to gauge overall satisfaction with his firm during the prior 12 months. The two-page document asks clients pointed questions about whether promises were fulfilled and the ways the firm's service can be improved.
"It seems a lot of advisers are reluctant to talk to their clients about that stuff," says Sarenski, whose staff of 10 has about $230 million under management.
Of course, like most advisers, he also uses the end of the year to sit down with clients face to face whenever possible for a big-picture account of their financial situation. Sarenski begins reaching out in mid-November to set up meetings, which start then and continue through the end of December.
This year, besides perennial topics such as capital gains, portfolio performance and overall investment strategy, Sarenski is discussing the implications of the Affordable Care Act, new Medicare rules and other changes in tax law that will affect clients' budgets in 2014.
"We (already) talked ... about some of the new taxes that cropped up. It gave us a talking point at mid-year," he says. "At year-end, we're going to remind everybody of those same things again."
Most financial advisers understand that year-end checkups - in person, over the phone, or even virtually with Skype and online meeting platforms - offer an important window to review investment performance, as well as a look at tax, retirement, savings and related strategies for the coming year.
But they're also a time to gather feedback, sometimes unflattering, on the firm's own performance, say experts, who note it is often difficult for analytically minded professionals to ask soft questions about how they're doing.
And given the reflective nature of the holidays, annual reviews also present a chance for advisers to gather broader intelligence about changes in their clients' lives such as milestones like the birth of a grandchild, a promotion or career setback, or plans for marriage or divorce.
"Make sure part of that annual review process is more than just about core advice," says Hannah Shaw Grove, a New York-based family office consultant and principal at HSGrove LLC. "It is an opportunity to take the temperature of the client. Where are they in their life? Earthquakes, hurricanes, super-storms - all those things can interrupt your life."