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Building the Business 101: How Other Planners Serve Clients

Advisors' client-service models vary widely and tend to reflect the philosophy and ideals of those who lead the firm.

Veena A. Kutler and Annette F. Simon, 09/27/2007

This monthly series of articles describe the many steps and occasional missteps we have taken in building our financial advisory business, Garnet Group LLC. Currently, Garnet has eight staff members, more than 90 clients, $300 million in client net worth under advisement, and offices in Bethesda, Md., and Boston. Veena Kutler, CFA, and Annette Simon, CFP, are the principals managing the Garnet office in Bethesda.

In last month's column, we discussed our client-service model and the differences between our approach in the Bethesda Garnet office and that of our colleagues in the Boston office. In the Bethesda office, the two of us meet jointly with clients and use a functional, team-based approach to handle client service. It permits us to work on a flexible work schedule since any client call can be fielded by either one of us. Moreover, we find that dividing client responsibility along functional lines makes the most of our individual expertise and provides an added benefit to our clients.

We asked other advisors to share their client-service methodologies with us and received a number of thoughtful and interesting responses.

Relationship Manager Models
As we expected, several advisors wrote to explain that their client-service model is very different from ours. Owen Malcolm, vice president and CFO of Sanders Financial Management in Norcross, Ga., explained their interpretation of the team approach:

"We have three "relationship managers" in the office. The advantage is that there are clear expectations about the client's main point of contact. As a firm like ours grows, it's also helpful for us to know where we need to focus--knowing that we can't be intimately involved in every detail of every client's life. Call it the "divide and conquer" approach, if you will. I think it is a logical, efficient approach to practice management. It's helped us grow immensely and legitimizes our approach as a multi-professional firm."

J. Patrick Collins Jr, a principal with Greenspring Wealth Management in Towson, Md., shared his reasons for choosing the relationship manager model over the team approach. Although originally the plan was to have a collaborative multiadvisor approach, he told us that they decided to implement a single-point of contact relationship for three reasons.

"1. Scalability: We felt like having one primary point of contact at the firm was a much more scalable model than having multiple advisors working with a client. While the client still has access to all the firm's resources and expertise, it would be coordinated through one person.

2. Delivery: We believe that one person responsible for delivering the firm's service model (at least the professional side of it) was more realistic than multiple advisors and would result in fewer errors.

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