How Tightening Your Client Onboarding Process Can Boost Advisors’ Efficiency

Communicating with clients is always important. But financial advisors lavish special attention on new arrivals.


Freshly minted clients bring varying expectations to the relationship. For those signing on with an advisor for the first time, they may wonder how much service they’ll receive and how their investments will perform. Others seek help drafting and implementing a financial plan or saving for retirement.

The onboarding process puts advisors’ empathy to the test. By perceiving what new clients experience every step of the way — the impressions they form, the questions they have — advisors can plop down the welcome mat with confidence.

“We communicate clear expectations to our clients and tell them exactly what’s going to happen,” said Mark Mitamura, an advisor in Newport Beach, Calif. “We’ve got a documented system we use that works well.”

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Onboarding Packets For New Clients

Soon after a prospect becomes a client, Mitamura provides an onboarding packet that features an overview of timelines and milestones along with a few forms to complete. To simplify the paperwork, he may work with a newcomer to enter their data into a computer in his conference room.

“It’s one less step if they fill it out that way,” he said. “We’re continuously improving our onboarding. It’s ever-evolving.”

For example, he says the firm reduced its introductory packet from 12 pages to nine to make it easier to digest.

“We streamlined it,” he said. “Attention spans are short so we only include the most important stuff.”

Because new clients have little history working with you, every interaction counts. If you fail to listen closely during your initial meeting or forget to follow through, the impact is magnified.

To avoid snafus, some advisors create consistent, repeatable systems to gather and archive client information and explain the firm’s range of services. They may also distribute risk tolerance surveys and other exercises to identify a client’s history with money along with spending, saving and retirement goals.

Create Systems To Ensure A Consistent Client Experience

Conveying information in bite-size chunks helps facilitate understanding. Taking a less-is-more approach, advisors tend to highlight the big picture without overwhelming newcomers with technical details.

Mitamura’s onboarding packet has a photo of each staffer next to their contact info. It also incorporates images on every page to reinforce key points in the text.

“Less words and more graphics is better,” he said.

His onboarding material includes a “bill of rights” that stipulates both parties’ expectations — the client’s as well as the firm’s. For instance, it states that the firm expects clients to be honest and ask questions if they’re unclear or uncomfortable with the firm’s recommendations.

As more advisors aim for a paperless office, they are experimenting with digital onboarding tools. Electronic signatures, for instance, reduce the flow of paper documents back and forth. Online questionnaires streamline the “discovery” process and help advisors apply behavioral finance insights.

Increased use of digital platforms has increased some firms’ operational efficiency during the pandemic. Employees working remotely can track each step of the onboarding process — from processing account transfer forms to confirming client data — without a trip to the office.

Financial Advisors Map Out The Next 18 Months

For many advisors, successful onboarding is a balancing act. On one hand, they want to shower the new client with attention and create a customized experience. But too much customization can divert time and focus from other aspects of running a practice.

Early in his career, Fred Hubler would craft a unique agenda to fit each new client’s interests and needs.

“I was exhausted because I was spending so much energy trying to address what each client wanted to talk about,” recalled Hubler, an advisor in Valley Forge, Pa. “So I created a ‘fixed’ agenda with some flexibility built in.”

He shows newcomers a PDF slide — a map of the next 18 months and what will happen when — so that they can see at a glance how Hubler’s firm will deliver service. It describes quarterly milestone meetings as well as what activities will occur in between those meetings.

“It looks like a clock with boxes around a circle,” Hubler said. “We want new clients to know that we’ve been through this many times before. The map gives them peace of mind that we have a plan for them.”

Because many of Hubler’s clients pay by retainer, onboarding also involves setting up online billing. Customers get an email invitation to enter their credit card info for recurring fee billing. If they don’t reply within a few weeks, the firm’s customer relationship management software alerts Hubler’s office manager to follow up.


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