PEARLYN KOH, ChFC, requires prospects to have two things before they can become a client: the need and the means. “It’s a function of my time, and the number of people I need to see,” she explained. “Some have the need but not the means — they can’t afford the premiums or aren’t ready to take the next step.”
After more than 20 years of providing comprehensive financial planning, Koh has come a long way from working with anyone who would talk to her. She now focuses primarily on high-net-worth clients, usually business owners and multinational professionals, and has received intensive training from her company in products and solutions for this niche.
High-net-worth individuals often present problems that are more sophisticated and demanding, but ultimately more rewarding, said Koh, a 15-year MDRT member from Singapore. “Protecting a business owner’s business and assets is a different field altogether. There’s more complexity, but also larger premiums.”
Developing a niche market of high-net-worth business owners and professionals, especially multinational ones, is a process. “You don’t just suddenly become a specialist overnight,” Koh said. “You have to know your solutions, know your company’s products well, and understand the financial planning and social security in your own country first. Then you go out and build your clientele step-by-step.”
Creating solutions for this market requires a different skill set than Koh uses when working with her retail clients. “There is a lot of research,” Koh said, “and you have to do it yourself. It’s not something you can leave to a paraplanner.”
After the first discovery meeting with a new high-net-worth client, Koh spends three to five days researching, creating portfolios and putting together solutions. “It’s like a doctor — you have to have the diagnosis before you can prescribe the medicine,” she said. “We have to work with the underwriters, back-end support and compliance before we give a solution.”
Working with multinational clients means even more research to understand social security programs in other countries, as well as drawing on partnerships her company has with experts in international tax, legal and trust arrangements. She has a client who, besides Singapore, has also worked in France and the United States. “In this day of cross-border migration and employment, clients work in multiple jurisdictions during their lifetime,” she said. “I use my knowledge of Singapore to assist with his money here, and if I need more, I connect them with our strategic partners.”
She understands that although she is working with educated professionals, they’re not professionals in financial planning. She makes sure her recommendations are simplified, but not too simple.
Prospecting, the lifeblood of our business, is the only guarantee of remaining gainfully employed.
Although Koh has a solid client base, she is continually prospecting through referrals and networking. She visits her top clients five to 10 times a year, and asks to be connected to their families or employees. She joins associations and networking groups that high-net-worth individuals are likely to participate in.
“I’m always on the lookout for new ideas. If I see something in the Business Times that explains very clearly about the importance of financial planning, I’ll forward that to a client, and ask them to pass it on to someone who might be interested.”
When a biomedical company opened in Singapore, Koh added scientists and researchers to her client roster. She got to know one person at the institute and asked for a referral. One of the scientists was married to an Italian man. “The Italian man brought me into his office and introduced me to an Australian coworker; the Australian introduced me to a friend. It starts the ball rolling.
“You have to constantly fill the pipeline,” Koh said. “Some clients cease being clients due to migration, retirement, or claiming or maturity of insurance proceeds. Prospecting, the lifeblood of our business, is the only guarantee of remaining gainfully employed.”
And sometimes, when she identifies someone she would like to have as a client, Koh makes a “very bold attempt” and cold calls them. It takes courage, she said, to pick up the phone and ask for a meeting, especially with a business owner or affluent individual. “But I like to put myself in a new environment that challenges me, and I like to meet new people,” she said. “Luckily, courage is something I’ve been blessed with.”