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Building a successful practice

Chris Leach, Dip PFS

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Advisors know there is an enormous difference between a practice based on constant selling compared to one in which income is more predictable and consistent. While both can be very prosperous, the latter lends itself to lower stress and higher stability. Leach explains how she built her practice, offering tips on how to structure businesses, how to use regulatory change to your advantage and how to develop client relationships where you never need to ask for referrals again. She also discusses the role of an investment process and how to use humor with clients.

Click here to find more from the 2018 Annual Meeting

At the end of my session, you will know what to do and, equally as important, what not to do. Because, you see, I’ve got a successful business. But you can get it too. It is not difficult. But it does take is patience, focus, and hard work. You have to have the three: patience, focus, and hard work. Without those three, you cannot be successful long-term.

At the end of my session, you’ll know the steps you need to take to structure or to restructure your businesses and to ensure that you survive any regulation or compliance that is thrown at you. You’ll know if you need to build an investment process or if you can do it outsourced. You’ll know how to build a client loyalty to the extent that you will never lose clients, and you’ll have more referrals than you can cope with so that you will never need to worry about where your future business comes from. Does that sound good? Let’s get started.

I’m successful now, but it wasn’t always the case. I started in the industry when I was age 20. And I was very shy, which is hard to believe now but is true. I was. When I joined the life insurance company, there were only two women in the industry then. This company I joined as an agent had a system where—this was years ago, don’t forget, in the 1970s—they would advertise in the local press and in the national press. And when they advertised, there was a slip at the end of the advertisement for people to fill in if they wanted any information about this product. But, of course, when people filled it in and sent it off, they didn’t get the brochure through the post that they had expected. They actually had an agent.

Now, we called these “office leads.” One week, this lead came in, and nobody wanted it because it was in the roughest area in Cardiff where I lived. So my manager said, “Chris, I want you to go and do this.” Now, it was wintertime. I don’t know if anybody here has been to Wales. Wales is very green. But the reason that Wales is very green is because we have so much rain. So it’s evening. I couldn’t find a telephone number for this person, so I just ventured out. It’s evening. It’s dark. It’s winter. It’s cold. It’s raining. I find the street. It’s hard to find the actual house because all the streetlights are smashed, so there’s no light. It’s a very rough area. Eventually, I find it, and they’re all houses in a row with just a little path coming up to the door.

So I go up. I’ve got my umbrella. I’m hunched over, and I go up the path to the door. As I do, this really mangy dog is running along by the side of me. Anyway, I knock on the door; a man comes to the door. I explain who I am, and he says to come in. He takes me into the kitchen. There’s a kitchen table, chairs, and a two-bar electric fire at the side and a mat in front of it. The dog, a very long-haired dog, shakes himself so all the water comes over both of us. The dog goes and lies down on the mat in front of the fire. I start my presentation. Halfway through the presentation, the dog gets up off the mat, comes across to the kitchen table, cocks his leg up, and wees against the leg of the kitchen table.

I look at the man; he looks at me. Neither of us says anything. But I think that the last thing I want as a client is a man who lets his dog wee against his kitchen table leg. So I finish my presentation as quickly as I can, and I say, “I’m sure you want to think about this. Here’s my card. Just ring me if you want to go ahead,” hoping he never, ever rings me.

I go to the door and pick up my umbrella. He opens the door for me. He hasn’t said a word, by the way. I’m starting to go down the path, and I hear, “Aye, you forgot your dog.” He thought he was my dog. I thought he was his dog. Whose dog was it? Who knows. That was the low point in my career. It didn’t get any lower than that, I have to tell you. So if anybody here is looking and thinking, It’s all right for someone like her; she’s got that business. I can’t get to that level, let me tell you, I doubt you ever got as low as I got, so you can raise to where I am with no problem.

Well, I stayed with that company for 12 years, but when I had sold a client 12 different policies from the same company, I decided it was time to become an independent advisor. And that’s what I did. The first thing I learned when I set up on my own was the importance of having a different mindset. Because you have to be prepared to challenge your mindset.

You are no longer a salesperson; you’re a business owner. You’re building something outside of yourself, and whatever you spend in your first year, the time you take, the money you spend will actually come back 20 times if you get it right. But most salespeople, good salespeople, are impatient; they don’t want to wait. And when you’re building a business, you need persistency and you need patience. You’re building relationships; you are no longer transactional.

But alongside that, you need to structure it correctly. And I would say to go and talk to other advisors you know who have a good business. If they live a distance away, then you’re no competition for them, so they can share ideas with you. They will tell you what they’ve done right, but, more importantly, they can tell you what they’ve done wrong and save you a lot of heartache.

There are some questions I want you to ask yourself as this Focus Session progresses. What is your USP, your Unique Selling Proposition? What is it? What differentiates you from other advisors? Do you know? What can you do better than your competitors? Do you want to specialize, or do you want to have a financial services market in general? What do you want your business to look like? And why are you building it? Are you building to eventually sell it? Are you building it to pass on to family? To pass it on to management? You have to know why you’re doing something. You can’t just go through the motions. You have to know why you’re building something, what you want to achieve, because until you do that, you can’t put your own stepping-stones in place.


Do any of you ever feel a bit like this? [visual] We certainly have in the UK. Many countries are now experiencing a level of compliance and regulation never known before. Nobody likes to be out of their comfort zone. And if you have a sales mentality, then the regulatory hoops that we have to jump through can make us feel frustrated and impatient. The trick is to turn it on itself. Rather than letting the rules get to you and disrupt your focus, try to see how you can use them to advantage. There’s no point in being negative about regulation. It’s coming; there’s nothing you can do about it, but if you change your mindset about it, you can actually stand out from the crowd and be better. And I’ll be able to show you how.

For those of you who haven’t got much regulation, I thought it might be interesting if I tell you very briefly what we have in the UK for two reasons. One, at least you’ll be very grateful for where you are at the moment. And, second, it will mean that you can be starting to think if that came to your country, how would you actually cope with it, and what would you do?

We’ve had regulation now for a long time. First, back in the 1990s, we had commission disclosure, where we had to actually let the clients know how much commission we were earning at the point of sale. So when we signed them up, we had to tell them how much we were earning. And if we forgot to do so, the insurance company would write to the clients a few days afterward to let them know.

We’ve now had the retail distribution review, which is called RDR, and that bans commissions. Unless you were selling term insurance, which has no investment content, then you have to charge a fee. So if any policy has an investment content or a surrender value, then you have to charge a fee. You could not be paid commission. This changed things considerably.

As of January 1 this year, we have to, after 12 months, so that it will start at the end of this year, give our clients a statement showing exactly how much they have paid us in fees and how much has been the cost of their policy or their investment. That is mandatory; that is the law. So I think some of you will be thinking, Thank goodness we don’t live in the UK.

So, how come my business is managed not just to survive but to thrive? Well, actually my business has progressed in ways that I could never before have imagined. It now looks totally different compared to how it did 10 years ago. Seventy percent of my income is recurring income rather than new business. And this is made up mostly from management fees that we have on investment.

The important point is that the changes in legislation and regulation meant that we needed to change the way we worked. It was not comfortable. We would have not chosen to do this and to change. But by actually being ready before our competitors and by building great client relationships, we were able to not just survive but flourish. That is the key. We always did build good client relationships. If you build those, then whatever regulation comes in, you will keep your clients because they won’t want to lose you.

We run our own investment process in-house. We’ve got a proven system, and I’ll talk to you about this a bit later. But clients love our investment portfolios, and they talk to their friends about them and that is great for referrals.

We can still take a fee from a product rather than the clients having to sign a check in order to pay us, but we have to have the client’s agreement, and the client has to sign to say that he or she wants the fee taken from the product.

So the transition for us, because of the way we built our client relationships, although uncomfortable at times, hasn’t been overly difficult because of the way we built these relationships and because we’ve always gone the extra mile for clients. Clients don’t object to paying a fee if they can see that they get value. If they don’t get value, then they won’t want to pay a fee. But if they think that they are getting value, clients’ perception becomes their reality. And there’s no point in us thinking that value is the same for every client. It isn’t. We have to look at each client to see what he or she perceives as value. We have some clients who perceive value in the fact that they don’t have to do anything; they see us once a year for 20 minutes, and that’s it. They’ll pay a lot of money for that. There are others who want to have much more contact and in-depth help. You need to find out what clients want, what their needs are, and then actually fulfill those needs.

The Investment Process

Actually, I must thank Tony Gordon for this. Some of you, I’m sure, know him. For those of you who don’t know him, you know of him. He’s an actual legend, I know. And in 2008, he highlighted how dependent my business was on my continuing to make sales. The only way I could write more and more business was to write bigger and bigger cases or to see more people. And he emphasized the importance of building a business that had recurring income of a size that not only covered all the operating costs but made up most of the profit as well.

This is what we did. I talked to other advisors who were running portfolios to see how they were doing things, what they would do if they were starting again now, and what they would do differently. And that’s how we started to build up our portfolios. So what should you do? Do you need an investment portfolio? Only you know your sort of business, the markets that you’re in, the country that you’re in. But there are two things to think about. Do you do it in-house or do you outsource it? If you do it in-house, then you need to have a really good knowledge of investments and actually enjoy it; otherwise, it won’t work because you have to do your skill set. If you do something that is not your skill set, all it will do is weaken your existing skill set and actually not help your business at all. If you’re going to outsource, you’ll have to find somebody you trust so that he or she doesn’t cross-sell. So find somebody you trust, or do it in-house.

We decided to do it in-house. There are four of us who make up the investment committee. We meet quarterly. We choose the funds. We drill down into all these funds. Our meetings tend to take two or three days once a quarter. And then we write to the clients every quarter after that meeting. But these letters are not like the letters they would get from normal investment companies or any other advisors I know. They’re as if we’re sitting and talking to them. There’s no bump in there; there’s no sort of rigmarole that they won’t understand. Basically, it’s just like sitting and talking to us. We put some humor in as well. Because humor is so important. When people laugh, it releases endorphins and makes them feel better. We all feel better when we laugh.

When the chap on the Main Platform is doing his stuff, we’re laughing. Don’t we feel good? Of course we do. And clients are the same. We need them to feel good about their meetings with us. You see, as a firm we don’t sell products; we don’t sell investment portfolios—we sell peace of mind for a job well done. But when clients have that peace of mind and feel very comfortable about leaving things to us, they need to also have a smile because they need to have enjoyed the journey. That’s really very important.

For those of you looking at regulation coming soon or somewhere on the horizon, what action should you take? Accept it. Accept that change is inevitable. Don’t whine about it; don’t complain about it. Be positive about it. There will be enough advisors moaning and complaining. And whatever you do, don’t moan and complain to your clients. They don’t want to know. They don’t care what regulatory hoops you’ve got to jump through. All they care about is that they get their needs met. So whatever you do, don’t complain to clients about it.

But don’t wait until regulations come in. Do something first. Look at what you can do to be ahead of the curve. And, yes, it’s scary. Change is scary. Making changes when you don’t have to is even scarier. But if you do it, you’ll be ahead of your competitors, and you’ll stand out from the crowd.

Make sure that what you do is a value to your clients. But don’t do so much that they get the impression that you’re desperate to do more business with them or desperate to keep them. Clients need to respect you for your expertise and rely on you because you deliver what you say you’re going to deliver.

I’ve learned many lessons over the years, and I want to share some of those with you now. The most important lesson that I have learned overall is to really listen to my clients. So often we’re keen to tell people what we want to tell them. We want them to hear our presentation. We want to finish the presentation. So when they talk to us, we’re not really listening. We’re waiting for them to stop so we can talk. That is a big mistake. Because really listening to clients and watching their body language can reap benefits for us. Clients can sense if we’re really interested in them or if we’re just trying to get to the sale. And it is the latter they will switch off.

File Notes

Early in my career, I made detailed file notes. And I hate doing this. It’s a real pain. I make file notes of the conversations that the client and I had—telephone conversations, conversations in meetings—mostly it’s the soft facts not the hard facts. Because people buy with emotion and justify with logic. If you want to build a strong relationship with clients, you have to understand them. You’ve got to understand how they think, how they feel, and, very importantly, where they could be vulnerable. If you understand your client, then you won’t ever lose that client.

Also, I always read the file notes before I go into a meeting, and I read the ones going back a couple of years to remind me of everything. Clients don’t think that you’ve actually got this on a file because it’s not hard facts. And so they’re really impressed at the fact that you’ve remembered so much about them and you build that close relationship so much more easily and quicker because they feel closer to you. If clients feel you understand them and you have their best interests at heart, they won’t ever move to another advisor. The other thing is, if you do your file notes properly, you’ll always be able to see where your next bit of investment business or protection business will come from.

Building Client Loyalty

Go the extra mile. One way of building client loyalty is going the extra mile and doing the things that other advisors are not prepared to do. I’ve got two really good examples of this just slightly later in the presentation.

Client Appreciation Events

My company is Chris Leach & Associates, and we always reduce it down to CLA. I work at engendering a feeling of being part of the CLA family. I’ll be referring to this when I talk about staff. But also, it’s equally important with clients. People enjoy feeling part of something. It is human nature. And this is where our client appreciation event comes in. We’ve had the event now for the last eight years where we invite our top 120 clients. And it has nothing to do with business. It’s held in a venue that is just a little bit different, normally from 6:00 to 9:00 in the evening. It’s an annual thing now. It starts with a champagne reception, and I just take a few minutes to welcome everyone and say how much we enjoy working with them as clients and how they make the jobs of everyone at CLA worthwhile. And then it’s into the fun.

We always have entertainment. We’ve had a magic show, and we’ve had opera singers who performed short excerpts from seduction scenes in operas, and this is the most fun. Let me tell you, they’re really good-looking opera singers who drape themselves around a male client’s shoulders and sing to him. It is so funny because he’s pretending he’s not really enjoying this, and his wife sitting next to him is laughing because she knows he’s absolutely loving it, but he’s pretending so hard to be nonchalant as if he isn’t enjoying this at all. And everybody just erupts in laughter. It is just such fun.

We put on a good buffet, and clients have plenty of opportunity to mingle with other clients and also to spend time socially with the staff. This is important because not all clients come to our office. We like going out to see them. If they haven’t met the staff, then they’re speaking to a faceless person on the phone. Once they come to these events, they can start putting a face to a voice and actually building a relationship with the staff.

Think about it. If you’ve got two clients who don’t know each other and are sitting next to each other, what is the one common thread? It’s us. And there’s nothing better for your business than two people talking to each other about what you do for them and how good you are. Try it; it works so well.

We’ve even had referrals ringing up and saying, “So and so has been talking about your wonderful client appreciation event. How can I become a client of yours?”

Build a Strong Team

Don’t just employ staff. Work at building a strong team of people who have the same ethos as you, which is that the client comes first. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having the right staff. They are not an expense; they are an investment. And you need to train them well. I’ve had people say to me, “Well, what if I train them well, and then they leave?” The alternative is, you don’t train them well and they stay. What does that do to your business? Don’t forget, we’re building a team. T-E-A-M. Together Everyone Achieves More. Work at building staff loyalty, and they won’t leave you. This sends a really strong message to clients that your business is about stability and your staff are there for the long haul. Incentivize them. Make them feel special.

I picked up an idea from Bhupinder Anand. I’m sure many of you have heard him speak here. I picked this idea up from him, and we used it this year. What we did was, we told the staff that we were closing the office and were going to take them out for the day. It was a surprise trip. We didn’t tell them where we were going. We just said to be at the railway station at 9:15 in the morning, to wear smart but casual clothes, and to wear comfortable shoes that they could walk in.

My practice manager got the train tickets, but she didn’t give them to them because we didn’t want them to know where they were going. We just put it through, and they walked through. When we got on the train, they could see the end destination, but they didn’t know if they were going that far or stopping along the way. Twenty minutes into the trip, I told them where we were going and what the rules were.

We were going to a new shopping area in a well-known part of England. They each had the equivalent of $330 in cash to spend and three hours in which to do it. We would then meet for drinks and a late lunch. However, there were rules. The money had to be spent on themselves. It couldn’t be spent on a spouse or a child—nobody other than themselves. They had to spend the full amount. They had to produce their receipts so that we could see that they had spent it on themselves. And any money that was left over had to be given back.

To say the day was a success is an understatement. They had a ball. You see, for the people with big family commitments or big mortgage commitments, there’s no spare money to spend on nonessentials. And women, in particular, can feel really, really guilty about spending money on something that isn’t family oriented. But now they could spend the money without any guilt because they knew that if they didn’t spend it, it had to be given back. They absolutely loved it. How do you think they feel about my company now? They love it. They can’t wait to tell their friends about it. And their friends just wish they worked for a company like ours. Your staff will be your most valuable asset. Maximize them. It is really important.

I work hard at making our clients feel part of the CLA family, and one way is humor. Humor is so important. We produce our own Christmas card. That was our first one. [visual] I write a poem inside just to get over whatever message we want to get across. Now, that was when there were five of us. We’re now nine. But just in case you think that the one sole man there was scared for life with the experience, in actual fact he’s a Top of the Table member for the first time this year, and he’s here at the meeting. Anthony, take a bow. You made a great angel, and you make an even better advisor.

When clients have these, what do they do with them? They’re quite large cards. They put them on their mantelpiece or somewhere that is very easy to see in their homes at Christmastime. So what happens when people come in? They pick it up because it stands out. “Oh, this is interesting. Who’s this from?” It’s a great way of marketing.

It’s very important to know and understand your clients. To listen to them. To watch their body language and try to understand their mind-set. This is a picture that a client sent me of a particularly nice scene in Iceland. [visual] Nice scenery. Who saw what was in the right-hand corner? What did you see? Two people. How many people saw the two people there? I bet some of you missed them. And that’s very often what happens because we see the picture, but we miss the detail. We can be like this with clients. We miss their body language, and we miss their signs. It’s not the things they say; it’s the things they don’t say that matter. So you need to listen. You need to watch. You need to look at more than the picture.

Do clients understand your explanations or is their perception of what you deliver for them different from what you will deliver? My daughter is now 23, and when she was 15, for some reason she wanted an old-fashioned typewriter. Some of you are so young that you probably don’t even know what a typewriter is. That’s it. [visual] I happened to see this in a museum in Canada when I was traveling. I sent her this picture, and I said, “Is this the sort of thing you want?” She rang me up and said, “Oh, Momma, great. It’s absolutely perfect. It’s just what I want.” And then there was a silence, and she said, “Mom?” “Yes?” “Where do you plug in the printer?” Make sure your clients understand what you’re trying to get across. Don’t just assume that they understand.

I said I had two examples of going the extra mile for clients. And these are the two examples. Some of you who were here at the 2013 Annual Meeting may have heard Scott Stratten. He spoke at Top of the Table in 2012 and then at the Annual Meeting the following year. He told a story that is the best example of “superb customer” I think I have ever heard.

A family was on holiday in Florida at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Unfortunately, when they got on the plane to come home, they found that their young son, who was 5, had left behind his favorite stuffed toy, Joshie. Their son was inconsolable. So the father then said, because he’s quite a quick-thinking sort of guy, “Don’t worry. Joshie loved the holiday so much he’s decided to stay for an extra few days.” Then, as soon as he could, he rang the hotel in a panic to see if they had found Joshie. Luckily, yes, they said they found him in the laundry and they would be very happy to return him. Which they did at no charge. However, they didn’t just return him. To help the father with his story that Joshie had been enjoying his holiday, they took pictures of him sunbathing with his sunglasses on. Enjoying the evening entertainment, having a drink, helping out with security. And accompanied by a little note saying what he was doing and how much he was enjoying it. They also decked him out in holiday clothes for each of the pictures. And not only did they have the holiday clothes in the pictures, but when they returned him, they returned the holiday clothes as well.

As you can imagine, the father could not stop talking about the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. He had quite a large social media exposure, and all the followers that he had because of the business he was in—there were probably a million people—got to hear about the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and the story of Joshie.

Now, I’m sure you’re quite familiar with the logo of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel—the lion to the one side with his tongue out. I imagine that the Board of Directors spent a long time studying that. What should they do with the logo? Should they have the tongue in? Left or right for the positioning? Should the tongue be in or out? Who cares? What people care about is the experience. They care about how they feel. Standing out from the crowd. It is always the experience that matters. The way you make people feel. Never forget that.

One of my biggest clients had bought a puppy, which the whole family adored. Now, the puppy was quite naughty. It chewed everything, and it jumped up all the time. My client was aware of the fact that I always dress up for my business meetings. I always have nice clothes and high heels, and she was aware of this. And so she was thinking, I’ve got to be careful. She emailed me and said, because she’s got a great sense of humor, that the rubber boots—we call them Wellington boots, but I think you call them rubber boots—might be more appropriate to protect my legs than the heels I normally wear.

I thought about this, and I thought, How can I do something that is different? So I dressed up in a onesie—I think you call them bodysuits for adults—of a Dalmatian dog. And I showed up at their front door in my onesie. She absolutely loved it. She thought it was terrific. She took photos. She spoke to friends about it. One friend was so impressed, he rang up because he wanted to become a client. Just be different. Stand out from the crowd.

I always remember the 1983 Annual Meeting. A speaker there was blind, Tom Sullivan, and although he was blind, he didn’t let that stop him from doing things. He skied. He climbed mountains. He did all sorts of things. And he said, “People buy difference. They sure as hell don’t buy similarity.” Stand out from the crowd. Go the extra mile.

So where do we go from here? There are three frogs on a log. One decides to jump off. How many are left? Simple math. Three on a log. One decides to jump off. How many are left? Three. Most people say two, but it’s three because deciding to jump off and actually jumping off are two different things. We have to take action. Deciding is no good.

But we also, when we’re either restructuring a business or setting it up for the first time, need to pick our clients carefully. We need to decide whom we want and whom we don’t want. We can’t build a successful business by taking on everyone who comes along as a potential client.

A story is told of the scorpion who wanted to cross a river. Now, scorpions can’t swim. And so he’s working out how he’s going to cross this river when he sees a duck by the side of the water getting ready to cross the river. He quickly scrambles over to the duck and says, “Please, can you take me across the river?” And the duck says, “No, I can’t take you across the river because you’ll sting me, and then I’ll die.” And the scorpion says, “I won’t. I promise. Please take me across the river.” “No,” says the duck. “You’ll sting me.”

The scorpion says, “I promise. Really, I have to get across the river. I promise you I will not sting you.” So the duck lets him crawl on his back. They go across the river. They just get to the bank, and the scorpion turns around and stings the duck. The duck knows it’s dying, and he cries out to the scorpion, “Why did you do it? You promised me you would not sting me. Why did you do it?” And the scorpion says, “You knew what I was when you picked me up.”

Don’t we often have clients, or potential clients, who we know are going to be a pain, but if we can sell them the big life policy, they’ve got a lump of money to invest and so we go along with it because we want their business, but we know they’re going to be a pain. Don’t do it. Life is too short. Pick your clients carefully, and if you know somebody is going to be a pain, walk away.

So what do you need to be looking at today? They say that in 10 years everybody will be getting their advice from the internet. That’s not true. They won’t. The value of personalized expert advice has never been more important, and it will continue to be so.

As I come to the end of my session, what are the important points for you to bear in mind and the steps you need to take? You may want to write this down. There are five of them:

  1. Decide how you want your business to look in five years’ time and what type of clients you want to deal with.
  2. Work out what you need to do now to make the change you want to see.
  3. Look at your business processes and how you can use technology and great staff to deliver the type of service that clients will happily pay for. And I emphasize happily.
  4. Build strong business relationships with your clients by spending the time to really get to know them.
  5. Be the enthusiastic professional advisor that clients can’t stop talking about.

I hope the ideas that I have given you will go a long way in helping you to achieve your goals with regard to your business, whatever those goals may be.

Questions and Answers

Question: I want to have more client appreciation events or an engagement event, but how do I budget it? Where is the money coming from?

Answer: They don’t have to cost very much at all. You just put on some food. Very often, venues don’t have to cost all that much. But you have to look at this in terms of an investment. When you’re actually investing, you’re spending money to build your business. You can’t build your business without actually spending some money on doing so. So you don’t have to do it to a high extent. The first time we did this, it was by accident, really. A client came up to us; his son was exhibiting in Cardiff. He’s an artist, and he was exhibiting some of his charcoal paintings and drawings. And he said, “Can you find some way of actually supporting this?” So we just invited some clients along. And it was very cheap. It was just a bit of buffet, and we had a few clients along. And it started from that. So start small, and then build it. But, initially, you have to spend the money in order to actually make the money.

Question: My question is about the file notes. I know it’s very important. How do you process and manage your file notes, and how much can you gain from it?

Answer: Well, I always dictate the file notes. I don’t type them up myself. I dictate them. And I actually do it with regard to what we discussed at the meeting and the things that are important to them because they’ve talked to me perhaps about their family situations. I’ll have asked them where they’ve been recently. Where they’re going on holiday. What’s happening with the family. And these things are really important for the file notes because they might have no bearing on the business that you’re talking about at that particular time. But they will become vitally important in the future when maybe there’s a problem with someone in the family or something happens, and you can say, “Oh yes, I remember you saying about so and so and the situation at the time. Didn’t you go to wherever?” And you know all about it. Because it’s in your file notes. So there may be things that have no bearing on what you’re doing at the moment, but it does have a bearing on the relationship you’re building. I look at it just as if you were going to build a relationship with a new person, a friend whom you’ve met, and you want to know about him. Do the same with clients. Get into their lives, into what they do, how they feel.

It takes time to do these file notes, and I hate doing them. I really do. I’m kind of like the guy on the Main Platform yesterday. He’s 90, and he said that he hates getting up at 5:00 in the morning to exercise, but he likes the results. I’m exactly the same with file notes. I hate doing them, but I like the results.

Question: You mentioned earlier that you have a four-person investment committee. Can you tell me about their roles or the division of labor among the four people on the committee?

Answer: The four people we have are me; Anthony, my advisor; Martin who is also an advisor; and Jason, who is our technical person. Jason does all the research for us into all the various funds. We pick our own funds. We have 22 funds in a portfolio, and we drill down into those every quarter to see if any changes need to be made. Jason is the technical man, and it’s his job to do the research, to do the notes of the meeting, and to table any actions we need. It’s the three advisors’ job to look at the different funds, knowing our clients and knowing what we want to achieve, and we talk it through. And we’ll sometimes disagree. In fact, we often disagree. So we work on the basis that if it’s two to one, if the two advisors agree on something and I don’t, then I’ll go with that because I’ve been outvoted. But, on the other hand, when we look at it in the next quarter, if it wasn’t the right decision, then we’ll go back on that perhaps. So we talk it all through. It’s very much a concerted effort rather than different people doing specifically different jobs. But because we are different personalities, that works really well. We all look at things from a different standpoint, and that’s quite good to get a good focus and a good view of what is right to do.


Chris Leach, Dip PFS, is a 39-year MDRT member with 12 Court of the Table and 13 Top of the Table qualifications. In 1983, she founded Chris Leach and Associates Ltd., now a leading independent financial planning firm in Cardiff, Wales, and in 2016, she set up her own legal firm. Leach was the first woman to sit on the Life Insurance Association’s executive committee, and she was elected president in 1986. A well-known industry speaker, she has addressed audiences throughout the world and appeared on radio and television.


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