Looking for strong leads to grow your financial planning practice? Try scouring your tax clients.It may seem obvious, but internal marketing within your tax base is the best way to beef up your wealth management clientele, and is often a welcome service offering that can lead to referrals.

“You market to tax clients, once you get them as a wealth management client then you just service the heck out of them,” said George Jackson, a CPA and independent financial advisor affiliated with Raymond James Financial Services in Heathrow, Fla. “You want to provide a very high level of service, take very good care of them and I think that’s the best marketing. I think people overlook that and look for the new client.”

CPAs with thriving financial planning practices agreed that approaching existing clients was the first step in building a stronger planning practice, though their strategies on how to communicate the new offerings inside and outside of the tax practice differed slightly.

“Focus 100 percent of your marketing to your existing clients,” advised Raymond Sullivan, CPA, of Sullivan & Sullivan Ltd. in Crestwood, Ill., an independent representative with Genworth Financial. “You are getting the highest rate of return. [With] outside marketing I have found there is no return. I have learned the clients you already have are the ones that trust you, know you are offering quality services and products. You have to focus on your existing clients.”

Building upon the trust already gained from the CPA/client relationship, many CPAs who also provide financial planning say that offering to help clients manage their wealth allows that relationship to go even deeper, because of the scope of information shared, rather than just the annual fill-and-file process of completing a tax return.

“One of the greatest things about helping clients in the financial services area is that you become that much more involved with client relationships,” said Louie Rosalez, chief marketing officer at CPA firm Honkamp Kruger, in Dubuque, Iowa. Honkamp currently has more than $1 billion in assets under management. “CPAs traditionally have very strong relationships with their clients, and financial services planning strengthens them. This has proven very valuable in acquiring not only additional tax clients, but also additional financial services clients. Now when my clients discuss who helps them with consulting and tax issues, they are also including financial services issues, which is great for referrals.”

METHODS OF MARKETING

“It seems as though sometimes CPAs hang up a sign and expect their clients to be aware of how they can help them,” said Greg Burbach, a CPA at Honkamp. “The reality is that CPAs need to have a model they are comfortable with to know they are offering quality services to have the confidence to deliver.”

Letters are one method of choice for CPAs introducing their new financial planning services to their clients, while others prefer to talk with people face to face. Jackson, for instance, invites his tax clients to dinner, thanks them for their business and gives a presentation about his new service offerings — one that includes his investment strategy and the team assembled to make it happen — all while his guests eat.

“I think the CPA/financial advisor combination is terrific,” Jackson said. “The clients really want you to provide this service; the key is that they may look at you differently. They are looking at you as a CPA-type who may not be equipped to have the skill set for that. So you want to make sure that you have your ducks in order before you do the presentation. Make sure you’re prepared.”

One of the biggest mistakes CPAs make when launching their financial planning practice is the lack of a business plan and process, according to Jake Tomes, founding partner of Plano, Texas-based Level Four Group, a consulting firm that helps accounting professionals grow their financial planning practices. “We encourage and partner with them to focus on what they enjoy doing, the clients they like to work with and what type of services they like to offer,” Tomes said. “Once they have a plan and process, then they would want to apply techniques to communicate to their existing book of clients that they do offer those services.”

Not surprisingly, most financial planners take the traditional route, sending out letters and brochures and speaking at seminars to disseminate their expertise. Though CPAs tend to gravitate towards these methods to attract new clients, Tomes said that it’s not a necessary strategy, because CPA clients prefer to work with them, instead of seeking others for financial advice. In other words, proactively communicating to clients and explaining the new services works best for CPAs because they already have prospects at their fingertips.

“We feel like the best success is when CPAs are confident about the offering they have and are confident in their resources and feel comfortable in calling their clients,” Tomes explained. “If CPA financial advisors can effectively communicate to their client base, success is limitless. We want our clients to have a competitive advantage in the marketplace and we need to be proactive in avoiding problems, not reactive in solving them once they have already occurred.”

Sometimes opportunities to inform clients arise informally.

Peter Jaworski, a partner and shareholder at Vitale Caturano’s wealth management group in Boston, said that it’s important for partners in the firm to recognize an opening, which can happen naturally during a casual conversation.

Jaworski pointed out that partners don’t need to be the expert in the firm’s financial planning offerings, just refer the client to the particular person or group within the firm who manages the services. In this case, that person would be Jaworski.

“When a partner gives me a lead, I think it’s really important to have that partner come to that first introductory meeting and bridge it,” Jaworski said. “Now the client is not just with someone they don’t know, [so] there’s a softer approach.”

Steven Katzenstein, a financial advisor with HPG Wealthcare Advisors LLC in Raleigh, N.C., said that most of his clients have come from the existing client relationships that its CPA firm affiliate, Hughes Pittman Gupton LLP, referred to them. As the wealth management practice gained momentum, word of mouth from existing clients became much more prevalent as a means of being introduced to new clients. His firm hasn’t had the need for any direct marketing outside of their existing client base, although they have worked with New York-based Rochdale Investment Management to develop a marketing plan for the firm and a customized investment strategy for each client.

To engage clients, Hughes, Pittman Gupton LLP sends out invitations to clients who are handpicked by the firm’s CPAs for a financial planning review — 50 at a time.

“The CPAs will send so many out per month and would not blitz the whole customer base,” Katzenstein explained. “If everybody called and wanted to come in at the same time, then you’d have an issue of not being able to service the people who were interested. This would be very discouraging to the people who said, ‘Yes,’ but then couldn’t get an appointment for three months. The CPAs send our introductory piece out a few times, and later send a different mailer out with a more targeted planning topic. “

GO FOR THE BLITZ

Some financial planners send a letter out to all of the firm’s clients at the same time, with the intent of informing them about their new service offerings. Such is the case at Sparks, Md.-based SC&H Financial Advisors Inc., an affiliate of CPA and business advisory firm Stout, Causey & Horney PA.

“An initial letter should go out to every client,” said Greg Horning, CPA/PFS, co-founder and partner of SC&H Financial Services. “There’s a tendency to say, ‘I’m going to pick these 12 clients that I’m really comfortable with.’ The problem with that is there are things you don’t know about your client. I think we underestimate the loyalty of our clients and the level of trust we have in our relationship. You have to take this leap of faith, get the word out to everybody and then establish a plan to make contact with them via phone to sit down and talk.”

Horning also agreed that unless you are a brand-name firm, traditional print or radio advertising, for the most part, won’t snag you larger clients. He said that his firm’s clients can be broken down into three categories: clients referred from existing clients; referrals from other employees within the firm, but outside of the planning practice; and those from new contacts that one of the firm’s members made in the community.

Working with broker/dealer 1st Global, Horning created a marketing plan that keeps track of “touches,” or communications with clients.

“We want to be in touch with our clients at least monthly,” Horning said. “We would expect to be on the phone with them at least quarterly. We have a postcard mailing attached to a financial planning topic, inviting them to call us. We think that, even if it’s not a phone call, the fact that we are putting our name in front of our client will keep us front-of-mind. So when our client then runs into a friend, they are more likely to refer us.”

Taking it a step further, Horning categorized clients alphabetically — “A” clients would be contacted by phone at least quarterly, with a potential meeting, while “B” and “C” clients are contacted at least twice a year. The ranking is based on a variety of factors, including the size and complexity of the relationship, as well as the client’s needs.

“If I asked some clients to come in every quarter for a meeting, that would be irritating,” Horning said, adding that planning clients are invited to special events and seminars to intentionally create an elite atmosphere.

Regardless of how you choose to market financial planning services, the key is to be proactive. Don’t expect clients to know what you’re offering and think that they will automatically refer you to their friends.

“It was a lot tougher than I thought,” said Jackson, who became a planner after he sold his CPA practice. “There’s a lot to learn.”

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