In-person client meetings are in full swing now that the country has emerged from Covid-19 restrictions.

Though Zoom was a poor alternative to live meetings, it has become a superior alternative to phone calls and a convenient option for people still unable to connect in person. But nothing can take the place of getting together in a live space, where clients build relationships with you by taking non-verbal cues.

“On the meeting side, the silver lining of Covid was Zoom,” said Steve Hoglund, a senior financial advisor at Capstone Wealth Advisors, an RIA firm in Bellevue, Wash. “Phone calls have been moved to Zoom. I still do a lot of in-person meetings. I maintain an office. People schedule meetings and it’s up to them whether it’s in person or Zoom.”

For many advisors and their clients, these interactions are about more than just exchanging information. “When money is all online, it’s reduced to financial statements,” said Hoglund. “My clients and I both want that in-person interaction, shaking hands. It brings some reality and a personal touch when dealing with money.”

To break the ice, Capstone hosts client appreciation events in high-end settings such as a local athletic club where guests hear from different experts, such as an accountant, wholesaler or real estate attorney. The meetings are typically no longer than an hour, including company updates and networking.

“There is a valet service, and we make sure the event is very organized and easy to follow,” said Hoglund. “I’m the coordinator of our team, and there will be a couple of support staff. I start with introductions, give a brief update on the firm, and add quick housekeeping items. Then I introduce the speaker. We limit their time to 20 minutes or so, followed by questions. The rest of the hour is for everyone to interact freely.”

Guest speakers give clients access to somebody with expertise beyond the advisor’s. However, meetings don’t need to focus on financial issues to do the job of strengthening the advisor/client relationship. The main focus is building out the kind of trust that comes from the gut.

A Chance To Socialize
“We did online wine tastings during Covid, but they’re nowhere near as effective as in-person events,” said Marcos Segrera, a principal and wealth manager at Evensky & Katz in Miami. “The main goal of client events is to give clients connectivity with us.” The No. 1 reason advisors get fired is that they didn’t make time for clients to speak with them, he said. “So we go beyond and give them a chance to socialize.”

Segrera describes his ideal client as a delegator, someone who recognizes Segrera’s financial markets expertise and is therefore content to let him make independent decisions. This comes with a high trust factor that is facilitated through time spent in person.

Evensky & Katz, a firm with $2.7 billion in assets under management, hosts events ranging from wine and bourbon tastings to movie nights and luxury dinners. This month the firm is hosting a themed event called “Moments in Time,” where the guests can see historical items such as an autographed photo of Buzz Aldrin; Mark Twain’s pen, tie and pipe; and a handwritten note from Abraham Lincoln.

Unique events like these allow clients to bring friends—and so forge networking opportunities where new, like-minded clients can come into a firm’s fold. Such events also allow clients to identify as part of a group and feel more committed to their advisors.

“When good people meet good people you build up good will and reputation,” Segrera said. “Humans are memetic; they want to be like each other. When you see a high-value person at our event, you want to be more like them. People’s natural inclination to copy other humans naturally flows from that.”

While most advisors had to reduce the number of in-person interactions in 2020 and 2021, Covid restrictions weren’t uniform across the country. John Jacobson, a senior wealth manager at TL Private Wealth, in Southlake, Texas, was able to keep meeting clients in person throughout the difficult part of the pandemic.

“In Texas we had a totally different experience,” Jacobson said. “A lot of our clients are like-minded and didn’t mind getting together. We simply worked within the wonky framework of the Covid lockdown periods. We found things we could do with people who were willing to, and did Zoom calls with everyone else.”

Jacobson’s approach is to host current and prospective clients for an experience as a group, followed by in-person meetings.

“I try to find something that would be fun,” he said. “Maybe not specific to investments. We can have some time to eat and maybe a tour of the Dallas Cowboys’ headquarters. It’s a way of thanking our clients for giving us their business. Then they can speak to each other about who you are and why they work with you. That way it’s not selling yourself, it’s your clients. It’s a slower process, but I want to keep my clients for life. It’s the opposite [of] hooking people with sales.”

Not all client meetings are run by the advisors themselves. Bob Sullivan, a vice president and financial advisor at Allen & Company, in Lakeland, Fla., meets clients through organizations such as the town’s local business association and global networking companies such as Alignable. He says organizations like this bring together business owners of all kinds.

“I just try to get introductions to see if there is any need there,” Sullivan said. “This market has been rough; people have lost money. I ask if they’re using a financial advisor and what kind of principal protection strategies they use, and you talk from there.”