Advisors Weigh Whether To Reply Promptly To Clients At All Hours
Many advisors love their work. But that doesn't mean they want to do it around the clock.
Depending on their relationship with clients, they may feel an obligation to be accessible 24/7. Whenever clients reach out with questions, concerns or requests, some advisors pride themselves on their readiness to respond.
While clients appreciate such dedication, it can come at a cost. Always-available advisors risk burnout. Their inability to turn off their work life can cause ongoing strain and fray their bonds with friends and family.
In weighing at what extent to remain accessible on evenings and weekends — and even while on vacation — advisors need to consider clients' needs and expectations. Many investors who sign on with a financial planner assume that they will communicate primarily during office hours.
For high-net-worth clients, particularly those facing complex and time-sensitive challenges, responsiveness becomes more important. If they're undergoing a stressful life event, such as a divorce or sale of a business, contacting their advisor at any hour can be a godsend.
To address such expectations, advisors might set the tone from the outset by explaining when and how to reach them at any time. By explicitly addressing their accessibility (and sometimes setting appropriate limits), they remove any mystery and create a comfort level for clients.
"I tell all my clients that I'm available not just Monday through Friday, but 24/7," said Neil Waxman, a certified financial planner in Shaker Heights, Ohio. "The vast majority of clients respect it and don't abuse it. And they apologize when it happens."
A Midnight Reply
An advisor's attitude about responding to client inquiries during off-hours offers a revealing window into their commitment to service. They may not pounce on routine requests on evenings and weekends, but in those rare instances when clients face genuine emergencies and need immediate counsel, advisors may make an exception.
For Waxman, it's simpler and more satisfying to let clients know he's never out of reach. Waxman, who has many high-net-worth clients, says he prefers "to never be off the clock."
"We have a sense of urgency to reply to our clients," he said. "This isn't a 9-to-5 job. Money is emotional and our clients have needs over 24 hours. We're not just investment advisors; we're financial social workers."
This approach impresses most clients, Waxman says. For example, a new client recently faced some critical financial issues that required fast action. After emailing Waxman, she noticed that he replied around midnight with the information she needed.
"She thought it was great," he said. "She said to me, 'Is this something I should get used to?' "
Responding to client emails over the weekend helps Waxman manage his workflow. He'll sift through messages and reply to the highest-priority ones soon after they come in.
"Some can wait and others can't," he said. "But this way, you don't come in on Monday with as many emails" in your inbox.
Advisors vary in their willingness to stay connected to the office during their vacations. Some clients feel uncomfortable or even embarrassed if they discover that they bothered their advisor during a leisure trip.
"We don't require that (all of our advisors) look at email while on vacation, although some do," Waxman said. "In any case, our auto-reply gives contact info for two other professionals" in the office.
Some advisors emphasize the value of enjoying a balanced life, putting money concerns in perspective while spending time with those dearest to us. This philosophy affects their approach to round-the-clock accessibility.
"We tell clients that family comes first," said Cecile Hult, a certified financial planner in McLean, Va. "They understand that. And that's why they want to work with us, because their values align with ours."
Hult's firm assigns two advisors per client, with one typically serving as a backup. Assembling a team to serve clients makes it easier for each advisor to take time off. That's especially important for Hult because she has two young children.
"I'm a pretty busy mom, so I have to have clear boundaries," she said. "Still, we're never too rigid to not respond to a client emergency."
Advisors undergo different stages as they progress in their career, which can in turn influence how they respond to clients during off-hours. Hult notes that as her life has changed, so has her view about remaining accessible.
"When I started over 10 years ago, I was very young and hungry," she said. "I didn't mind showing clients I was available 24/7. As I got married and had children, my priorities shifted. Now I value my family time as much as my work."
Investor's Business Daily, by MOREY STETTNER, 12/24/2018
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