To put this in perspective, research by Cerulli Associates in Boston found that in down markets 17% of clients indicate they’re thinking of switching, and that percentage rises in the $2 million-plus crowd.

“[This] suggests that even in down times, most clients are sticking with their provider, particularly if they’ve had a long relationship with them already,” said Scott Smith, Cerulli’s director of advice relationships, by email.

However, he said, the changed market conditions mask the true reason for the dissatisfaction, which is more likely to originate in a client’s changing needs. The down market only illuminates the gap.

When clients do look for another provider, the top three attributes they value are the new account’s attractive and unique products (28%), as well as expertise (27%) and responsiveness of service (25%), Cerulli found.

“These suggest a greater desire for more services than what [clients] are currently receiving, as well as better quality of service that is more high touch than the likely basic services they are currently receiving,” Smith said.

Now that the U.S. is 10 months into a bear market that’s showing no signs of abating, there’s never been a better time for advisors to reflect on whether they’re doing all they can to keep their clients. 

Communicate Often. Repeat
“If there’s one piece of advice I can give RIAs in how to be successful during a market like this, it’s to reach out proactively to your clients,” said Peter Nesveld, a partner at Republic Capital Group in New York, which makes investments in advisory firms. “People are nervous, and in some cases people are scared. You don’t have to have all the answers, but you do need to take an active interest in their planning, check in with them. Because if you don’t call them, someone else will.”

Bryce Sanders, president of Perceptive Business Solutions in New Hope, Pa., and a specialist in training advisors for high-net-worth client relationships, likened those relationships during turbulent economic times to being in a pressure cooker.

“If I don’t put the valve on top how and when I’m supposed to, it explodes,” he said. “If the market is down and you don’t call your client, the lid blows off. The advisor has got to call the client on a regular basis to essentially be taking the pressure off.”

Firms like Sandbox Financial Partners in Bethesda, Md., are in great shape to ramp up those touchpoints with clients. In the last two years, the firm has built out internally, hiring more general staff and investment specialists so the client-facing advisors would have more time to talk to existing clients and meet with prospective clients.