The economy has tanked. Your revenues-tied to assets under management-are down significantly. Employees are feeling tentative, clients are scared, and you now keep a family-sized bottle of Alka-Seltzer in your top desk drawer. What could possibly counteract this misfortune?

It seems counterintuitive, but there's a school of thought that says the prepared advisor should benefit from these unfortunate times. Why? Because clients are on the move. Do-it-yourselfers decide they're not the experts they thought they were. Wirehouse clients are tired of never hearing from their broker or, worse yet, having their broker call with hot tips for portfolios diminished by half. Even your more direct competitors' clients are looking for a new home. This is a period of dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Many advisors say their phones don't ring anymore. But that experience isn't universal, as the three veteran advisors we spoke to have been enjoying new client flows in record numbers. How is this possible and what might they have in common that attracts these new clients?

Michael Joyce of JoycePayne Partners, with offices in Richmond, Va., and Bethlehem, Pa., is seeing a surge in new-client activity. "I have two inquiry meetings today, had one yesterday and signed on a new large client last Friday," says Joyce. "Bad times always tend to be good for business development."

Continues Joyce, "We had a big surge in the third quarter of 2008, signing on eight new clients in that quarter alone and another six in the fourth quarter. In the early part of 2009, we saw a temporary drop-off in new inquiries, but over the past couple of months there's been a surge that's accelerating now. So far in 2009, we've signed on 12 new clients."

In the 2001-2002 period, the surge effect was even more pronounced, he says. "In the fourth quarter of 2001, we pulled in 21 new clients. This was driven by both September 11th and marketing efforts we'd been working on. In general, we just get a lot more people calling or inquiring during bad times, especially when the markets are dropping. We definitely saw this in 2001-2002 and 2008-2009."

I asked where these clients are coming from. "The vast majority are the usual referrals from other clients, friends, relations, co-workers, NAPFA ... a handful are referred by CPAs." How about wirehouses? "We're seeing a lot of people really freaked out about their longtime broker relationships." The firm has had a mixed track record landing these clients, he says. "They're always talking to other firms besides us, and in some cases they don't make any changes at all."

Do ex-wirehouse prospects have trouble adapting to the service mix of a wealth management firm after being accustomed to a typical broker-client relationship? "Yes," Joyce says, "they're really focused on investment management, so they give little thought to the other services we provide. They tend to be more performance-oriented, and that's a problem because we construct every client's IPS individually rather than using model portfolios, so it's difficult to generalize about performance for the entire firm and relate that to a new client."

Ex-wirehouse clients are desirable only to the extent they fit the attributes Joyce is looking for in any new client. "We're looking for clients who want to delegate, not validate. We expect to be our clients' chief financial strategist, so if the prospect wants to give us $1 million out of total assets of, say, $5 million, this isn't optimal for us. He's just going to compare our investment performance with that of his other managers."

It stands to reason that if advisors can expect surges in new clients-from wirehouses or otherwise-they have to have internal systems adequate to take in and serve these clients without causing havoc to existing client relationships. Says Joyce, "We continuously evaluate our technology platform and improve it. If you don't do this, you'll be at a disadvantage."

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