The fine art of networking is all about meeting the right people while doing what you love. Reeling in clients can be a great secondary benefit to the activity itself, according to experts. Sports, philanthropic groups, neighborhood parties and award ceremonies present natural opportunities for prospecting, since attendees will associate the financial advisor they met there with a positive experience. Just be likable and avoid the hard sell.
Golf outings at the local country club have worked wonders for FT 400 advisor Steve Hudson of Ameriprise, whose team manages $450 million in Birmingham, Ala. The lifelong golfer invites clients to compete or receive training, depending on their skill level. The clients in turn can bring a few friends for a day on the course. “I try not to let them win,” Hudson said Wednesday evening, during the celebration for this year’s FT 400 advisors at the New York Yacht Club in midtown Manhattan. “Even if I win, some of them become clients later on.”
But not every client who shares an advisor’s passion should get an invite, warns Brad Johnson of the consultancy Advisors Excel in Topeka, Kan. Less affluent clients are likely to bring along less affluent prospects, unless they are particularly well-connected.
Brian Power of Gateway Advisory has gained five clients from coaching children’s football and lacrosse during the past decade. His Westfield, N.J., firm oversees $330 million. Power started coaching when his own kids began playing. He never brings up financial discussions at the games, but other coaches and league officials have sought his professional help.
Even more low-key is Daniel Lash’s approach at neighborhood parties and the local parent-teacher association. Lash works at VLP Financial Advisors, which manages $500 million in Vienna, Va. Since the party guests and fellow PTA members often are his friends, he refers them to another advisor in his office if they ask about becoming clients. The other advisor does the same for Lash. “These are people I genuinely want to be around,” he says. “I don’t want clients asking me account questions at the local pool.”
Rotary Club members are known for their philanthropy. Years before becoming an advisor, Ken Waltzer of KCS Wealth Advisory joined his Los Angeles chapter to add more charitable activity to his life. Years later, he started picking up clients through the club. Waltzer also belongs to the City Club of Los Angeles, whose purpose is business networking. In addition, he meets prospects through his bicycling group and his status as a Harvard alumnus. All told, Waltzer spends over 15% of his time networking. “It’s all about making friends and sharing experiences, whether work- or leisure-related,” says Waltzer, whose firm manages over $140 million. “As soon as you try to sell, it’s a turnoff.”
Public service has helped the practice of FT 400 advisor Todd Moll and his colleague Lee Hediger. They work at Provenance Wealth Advisors, which manages $1.8 billion from headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Hediger, a veteran, started The Veterans Trust a couple years ago as a grant-making nonprofit to help able-bodied people find jobs and schooling when they leave the military. Contacts he has met while researching veteran-friendly organizations and universities worthy of grants have asked to become clients.
Michael Wall has twice thrown an award ceremony for a local business leader of his choosing and reaped clients as a result. The advisor runs three companies — the Wall Financial Group; Retire Well; and accounting firm Wall, Lassiter & Company, which together oversee $125 million in Pennsylvania and Florida. Wall tries to make sure neither his honoree nor his dozens of guests are already clients. But they are entrepreneurs — the type of people he wants as clients. He holds the ceremonies at country clubs, where he gives a speech about the honorees, hands them an expensive-looking plaque and gets his picture taken with them.
For networking in its purest form, Winnie Sun of Sun Group Wealth Partners may take the prize. The Irvine, Calif.-based advisor routinely introduces friends and acquaintances with similar interests or careers. Many work in the arts and entertainment. Her network includes musicians, actors, directors, producers, techies and celebrity chefs. She matches people only when she sees a clear benefit for each party. Likewise, her connections have introduced her to people who have become clients.
“They might not necessarily need my services at the time we meet, but at some point they will,” says Sun, whose firm manages $160 million. “I’m often the first person they call for that.”