What to Give Clients for the Holidays

Beverly Flaxington

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues.  To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

During the holidays we have always sent tasteful gifts to our clients. This year the other partners are encouraging me to abandon the tradition in favor of a donation to a favorite charity. It would be our choice of a charity and not the client’s choice. I am uneasy about this. We could send a gift that clients have come to expect or risk getting caught favoring one charity over another. Do you have any advice to quell the disagreement here?

Nick S., Las Vegas

Dear Nick,

Thank you for sending an easy question to answer! There are a few things you can do here to keep everyone happy and create a win-win.

If your clients have come to expect a certain gift and you have sent it every year, don’t remove it this year without warning. Send the gift you have sent in the past. If you decide next year that you don’t want to do the same thing, let clients know in advance.

It’s always important to set expectations. Some of us are old enough to remember “New Coke.” People typically don’t like things changed – especially without their consent. But if you often shake things up so that clients don’t know what to expect, it’s easier to simply make a change. If clients are not watching for a gift, you can basically do whatever you want without penalty.  Adopt the scenario that works for you.

For the second idea, I applaud giving a donation to the charity. We do this in our business every year. One way to gain engagement from your clients is to sponsor a “contest.” Have clients write what they like best about working with your firm and pick two or three winners. The winners then get to select their charity of choice. Or, provide a list of options and ask clients to rank order them. Or, if you are keeping good notes in your CRM, see what charities your clients might be involved with and select them and tell clients it is because there is a relationship within the firm. Use the opportunity to create a dialogue with clients, and gain engagement with them. Don’t just pick a charity and decide to inform them – rather use the change to involve them and gain their advocacy or support for what you are doing.

Every single time an advisor does anything for a client, it’s a chance to extend communication and reach.

Dear Bev,

With the looming economic changes, I have clients who are paralyzed with fear. Is there any way to get them off the proverbial ledge? I don’t think things are looking very good, so how do I calm them down without seeming insensitive?

Harry M., Boston

Dear Harry,

I received a similar question to this a couple of weeks ago. The fiscal cliff and all of its associated drama is taking a toll on investors and the advisors that serve them. This is a time of stress for everyone. Managing your own stress is key, but you have asked about calming down your clients so I will focus on that.

I can’t overstress proactive education enough. Don’t wait for clients to ask you what’s going on, instead communicate proactively with them. Send regular email updates, place phone calls where it makes sense to clients just to check in and update them about events, and/or write letters to clients talking about the economic conditions and the impact on their portfolios. Be sure to talk about what your firm is doing, proactively, to deal with the looming crisis and changes.

It’s actually a great opportunity to remind clients that your firm is watching what’s happening in Washington and thinking – every day – about impact on the investment strategy and client decisions. Times like this present a great chance for advisors to remind clients that without their help, the client would be trying to figure all of this out on their own (of course you want to say this in a more positive framework) Find ways to push out information – put links to articles on your blog or website that are pertinent to the topic. Be proactive! This isn’t a time to hunker down and say to clients, “You are a long term investor – focus on your goals.” Clients want to know that you are on top of what’s happening, that you are knowledgeable about the situation and that you are taking steps to ensure their portfolios are positioned well for whatever happens next. View times of actual and potential crisis as communication opportunities.

Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995; in 2008 she co-founded Advisors Trusted Advisor to offer dedicated practice management resources to advisors, planners and wealth managers.  She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate students Leadership & Social Responsibility. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).

She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.

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