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Process and people

Matt Pais

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Balaneski's adjustments free up time for better client service.

Whether you’ve purchased a package or a pizza, you can probably track the order and know how close the process is to completion.

Can your clients do the same thing with your services?

This question is part of the reason Meagan S. Balaneski, CFP, RFP, spent a year searching for a program that could help automatically distribute information and updates to clients about their portfolios or policies. In addition to the efficiency of this technology-driven process, the idea was also to minimize the interruptions that come from emails or calls seeking status updates.

“I have a lot of guilt for not getting back to people right away,” said the eight-year MDRT member from Vermilion, Alberta, Canada. “Now I’m able to focus on projects that I’m working on and not hear ‘ding ding ding’ in the background and stress about that. My mindset is a lot better.”

Saving time through automation

By using the Zoho Office Suite, Balaneski’s practice — which works with about 350 households and specializes in financial planning for survivors of loss — no longer needs a person to tell clients, “You’re next on the list for that to be done.” The templated milestones and processes in the system define what has been updated and identify if the client has anything they still need to do. Balaneski is now seeking to create a no-reply email address so that time isn’t taken up dealing with clients’ “OK, thank you” responses to the automated messages.

“When clients have experience with your office, they’re not comparing it to all other financial advisors they’ve had. They’re comparing us to every other service they’ve had, including Amazon,” she said. “We need to make our services comparable to their favorite service that’s non-financial as well.”

Balaneski is also working toward upgrading to a portfolio manager license, which will cost $1,000 per month but allow her to balance portfolios according to a model rather than managing each one individually. That means two hours of work instead of several months.

In addition, she is using automated marketing ($250/month) that can be customized with her practice’s branding to avoid the four hours it used to take her to write 1,200 words on a topic others have covered. Instead, Balaneski can complement this outsourced material with her words that are now delivered via video blogs.

“It’s saying, ‘Let me entertain you,’ not, ‘Please read this and challenge yourself to understand a technical point of view,’” she said.

That said, people are still the focus of her practice, not technology. To alleviate client concerns about their portfolios at any time, Balaneski uses “fire drills” to help role-play possible scenarios for investments and other asset allocations. By calculating potential outcomes within two standard deviations and templated numbers within Excel, Balaneski aims to prepare clients for what could happen, so if it does, they will already know about the planned next steps.

“So when markets are down, they’re expecting our calls,” she said. “They’re like, ‘Yep, yep, we’ve covered it. We know what the plan is, we trust you and we just have to go ahead and do it.’ They can live through the emotions of it in a safe environment because things are not actually happening, so when it does happen, they already know the path they’re going to take and what the results are going to be.”

A lesson, however, has been that this level of preparation may mean clients get so involved that they are reluctant to take action when the time comes, instead trying to predict a different outcome. One client came into the office every three days for an update and was reluctant to follow Balaneski’s advice because he was sure markets would go down even more.

“When things started coming back up, it was soul-crushing for him to have had the opportunity to take action and not do it,” she said. The solution, she added, is to talk more specifically in advance about how much will be moved and be specific about all the numbers rather than just general strategies.

Focus on empathy

Of course, Balaneski’s particular clientele is defined by adaptation to extreme situations. Now, with additional processes set up to manage client expectations, Balaneski is more able to focus on the empathy and care of helping clients through difficult, family-related situations. Like a woman who just lost her husband and seems so tired that Balaneski asks if she is sleeping.

No, the client says.

“Is the house making too much noise?” Balaneski follows up, noting the client’s new awareness of the absence in her room. The client says yes, and Balaneski suggests getting a puppy.

The client begins to cry. “I always wanted a puppy,” she says.

Now she has three.

“Her issue wasn’t that she needed help with the finances,” Balaneski said. “It was that she’s destroyed and needs something warm to cuddle and cry with. If you understand the person, the money’s a side effect.”

Contact: Meagan Balaneski


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