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Building the Business 101: Client Service Models

How you decide to manage client service and workflow will have a long-lasting effect on your firm's growth.

Veena A. Kutler and Annette F. Simon, 08/23/2007

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 our next two columns, we will discuss different approaches to serving clients in offices with more than one planner. The model that we most often see is the assignment of a client to a single planner. The planner may have been responsible for bringing the client into the firm and handles all contact and client service. Compensation of the planner may be tied to the revenues associated with his or her client pool. Other firms work in matrix fashion, with different professionals responsible for an aspect of each client's needs. Compensation in this case may depend on team work and functional expertise.

This month we discuss how we manage client service and workflow in Garnet's two offices; next month, we will see how other planners handle teams in their practices.

The Bethesda Office
When the two of us first began working together more than five years ago, our goals were to provide outstanding service to our clients while enjoying our lives, families, and free time. Given our different backgrounds and strengths--Annette's in financial planning and Veena's in investment management--deciding that all clients would belong to the firm and that we would service them together was a no-brainer. We each needed the other's expertise and quickly found that we made a good team with complementary skills and styles.
That initial decision has had continuing implications in our structure and work process, our growth, and our compensation and lifestyle.

Structure/Work Process
Over time, we have developed a matrix structure with functional responsibilities. Veena directs all investment management, and Annette does financial planning. We've also split operational tasks with Veena heading up compliance in our office and Annette handling financial management. Strategic planning and human resources are shared functions at this point.

Our two Bethesda staff members report to both of us. Mary, our paraplanner, completes data entry and report generation in support of the financial planning process. On the investment side, she is responsible for trading support and portfolio management record-keeping. Andrea, our client service manager, handles most administrative details of our office including account paperwork and scheduling client meetings.

Because no one person is solely responsible for a client, constant communication among the four of us is critical to the smooth and efficient operation of our office. We rely heavily on our CRM, which for almost a year now has been Redtail, an ASP system we share with the Boston office. We enter everything that goes on in our office in Redtail--every client-related phone call, action, and event. Redtail hosts our e-mail, capturing every incoming and outgoing message and linking them to client records that are stored permanently and securely. At our request, Redtail added a team activity notification function that allows us to notify other team members of newly assigned tasks (Andrea assigns tasks in our office) as well as updated and completed ones.

With everyone working together and handling different aspects of client service, we consider this level of communication and functionality from our CRM essential. Since we've chosen to keep our client base small and manageable, every client is important to us.  We can't afford to let any detail slip through the cracks, and Redtail keeps us all on top of the minutia.

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