Just how good is your firm’s client agreement?

Gill Cardy

When planning a visit I ask firms to write to me to confirm our plans to meet as though I were a brand new client. This assumes the initial telephone conversation and discussion, and a verbal agreement to meet.

So, if I were a real client (and who is to say I am not?) my first point of contact with your firm has probably been a directory entry on one of the adviser search websites or a visit directly to your website if you have been recommended to me. The telephone call is the second point of contact, which might find me talking to a receptionist (who may not even work for you if you use serviced offices) or maybe I get to speak directly to you.

How does that conversation go? Straight down to business? Make the appointment? Tell the client about your firm, how you work, how you charge? Ask the client why they want to see you and what sort of needs they might want you to address? Do you have a plan in case they do not meet your criteria? Or do you just terminate the contact?

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So they go ahead and make the appointment. What do they get from you then, as their third point of contact? An email confirmation? Your brochure? A meeting agenda? Directions to your office, including availability and cost of parking? A preparation checklist? Risk profiling questionnaire? Information about you, your firm, your interests and specialisms? Menu of costs and services? Disclosure documentation? Client agreement?

Hold that thought.

The first standard of financial planning is to define and agree the scope of the financial planning engagement. And how does the document you have saved as “Client Agreement” match with that definition?

The documents I see are full of data protection, FSCS, Fos, complaints, instructions in writing, confidentiality. These are important – but in truth, they simply “are”, and are not subject to client agreement.

The client agreement should be precisely that: the agreement that I need help (specify what) and that you are going to provide it (specify how) and that it is going to cost something (specify how much).

Financial planning is about building long-term, trusted professional relationships, and starting by sending (potential) clients a document full of legalese doesn’t seem, to me at least, the best place to start.

Gill Cardy is network development director of ValidPath