By 1st Global
Client meetings give CPAs the opportunity to put all their tools to work. Done well, they are productive and rewarding, both monetarily and psychologically. Improperly done, they can be a disaster. Successfully conducting client meetings builds trust, nurtures relationships and creates a meaningful result for both the client and accountant.
The first meeting with clients – the discovery interview – is the most important meeting a CPA has with a client, as it sets the foundation for the entire relationship going forward. The discovery interview allows the accountant to explore the client’s situations, opportunities and concerns that may have motivated him to ask for the meeting. This interview is the place and time for fact finding and determining the client’s goals, whether it is from a tax or wealth management point of view. A lot of information will be exchanged.
The discovery meeting is appropriate for new clients, as well as existing tax clients who may need other financial services that you either provide or refer to another trusted professional. While these steps are specific to CPA firms that also work with wealth management clients, they are appropriate in other accountant/client situations as well.
- The discovery meeting sets the stage for all future interactions between the accountant and the client, and it initiates a course of action that moves the client toward his or her financial goals. There is tremendous power in a well-structured discovery interview. Properly done, it will be a firm foundation for a meaningful and productive relationship. Improperly handled, the relationship has the potential of being unstable and unproductive at best, and can become disappointing or even adversarial.
- Listen – The client should be talking 80 percent of the time and the CPA only 20 percent of the time. CPAs should never make the mistake of telling the client how much they know. Clients want to be the focus of the meeting and know that you are personally invested in their financial success. Ask questions and let the client respond fully.
- Agenda and time – The discovery meeting should follow a process with an agenda and last roughly one hour, unless there is a particular reason for it to go longer.
- All relevant parties must be present – If a couple, both must attend. All of the client's business partners must attend. Other relevant business or family members must attend if their presence is meaningful to the discussion. Meeting with only part of the decision-making group can result in incomplete information being shared, which can lead to uninformed decisions.
- Ask open-ended questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer. Remember the goal: to learn as much as possible about what is important to the client.
- It is appropriate at some point in the discovery interview to discuss the financial advisor's fees. Clients are always thinking, “What is this going to cost me?” Discuss your compensation early in the discovery process.
When a discovery meeting is done properly, the CPA or wealth management provider will know more about the client after an intense hour of exploration than one might have believed possible. There are now a few final steps that are very important. Close the discovery interview with the following steps:
1. Everyone must agree on action steps (at least three but no more than six). Everyone gets homework. Engage the client in the process so that the client understands and feels the action. Review the list of everyone's assignments.
2. Set the next appointment, complete with date, time, place and objective — even if it is months away. This sort of organization and planning is a statement that the CPA or financial advisor intends to have an ongoing relationship with the client.
3. Set the expectation that the CPA or advisor will keep the client on track and moving forward in the achievement of stated objectives. Agree on a timetable for future financial planning milestones. This is where a financial services provider adds value that differentiates the financial advisor from a mass marketer or Internet sales organization.
4. Personally walk the client from the office to the door, or to the client's car, if appropriate. Thank the client for his candor and trust, and reassure the client that he is doing the right thing.
An individual who masters the art of the discovery meeting will bond himself to his clients as someone who cares and can get things done. A CPA’s relationship with clients is all about trust, and that can be established and built through a meaningful discovery meeting.
This article and its content have been provided by 1st Global. With more than 450 firms affiliated with 1st Global, it is one of the largest wealth management services partners for the tax, accounting and legal professions. 1st Global delivers the required capabilities essential for wealth management excellence including progressive ongoing education, which places the firm in a unique position to offer wealth management knowledge.
1st Global was founded by CPAs on the belief that accounting, tax and estate planning firms are uniquely qualified to provide comprehensive wealth management services to their clients. Each affiliated firm is provided with education, technology, business-building framework and client solutions that make these firms leaders in their professions through dedicated professional client relationships built around wealth management.
1st Global Capital Corp. is a member of FINRA and SIPC and is headquartered at 8150 N. Central Expressway, Suite 500 in Dallas, Texas 75206. (214) 265-1201. Additional information about 1st Global is available via the Internet at www.1stGlobal.com.