One of the many challenges a financial advisor faces at a bank is maximizing the referral potential from branch employees.

Each branch office is unique; different personalities, different customers and different motivations. The key is to "crack the code" for each branch.

Historically, I've observed bank marketing programs that left plenty to be desired. One bank marketing idea that was touted a few years back involved a life sized cut-out of the financial advisor which was set up by the teller line for customers to see. (How many ways can you say tacky?)

Larger banks have an advantage for the advisor in that cross-referring products is part of the normal process for their employees. Large banks typically own their own broker dealers and take the investment side of the balance sheet very seriously.

Community banks don't always require cross referrals, so creativity in the marketing process is a necessity.

Of course, marketing ideas are only limited by your imagination. So let me outline a few possibilities to consider for your branch.

THE BRANCH MANAGER:

Getting the branch manager to "buy in" on what you bring to the table for their customers makes the process much easier. Managers typically associate with the high-end customer and carry significant influence at the branch level.

If you don't get them engaged, the process becomes more difficult, although not impossible. A conscientious branch manager wants the same thing an advisors wants: to take care of the customer.

Put yourself in the branch managers shoes for a moment. They supervise numerous employees, many of whom are young and inexperienced, yet handle large amounts of money on a daily basis.

They have to balance the books daily, take care of the office building and any problems that arise with equipment, computers, employees who call in sick, vacation schedules and so on. They also handle complaints from customers, who are often unreasonable and demanding.

Is it any wonder that referring clients to the advisor often gets overlooked? Become an asset to this person in ways that will make his or her life easier.

Build trust with your branch manager and spend time getting to know each other. Engage in branch activities and take part in the holiday festivities. Remember, referrals are not just a one-way proposition, so refer business back.

Also, give the branch manager alternative ideas to today's low CD rates and update the information quickly as it changes. Become a reliable partner, not just another "to do" in their day.

ACCOUNT SERVICE REPRESENTATIVES:

The ASR is the next level under the branch manager and a wonderful source of referrals.

These folks are on the front lines with the customers and process multiple transactions daily. They open new accounts and transfer IRAs. Cultivate these branch employee relationships and you will succeed.

Provide training to the ASRs and educate them on financial opportunities. If opening a checking account for someone new to town, this is a perfect opportunity to ask about a 401(k) rollover from a previous employer.

Give them incentives and rewards for referrals (within regulatory guidelines, of course). And don't forget that your co-workers have financial goals of their own. Offer to help them or their family members review their own financial planning.

Also, get to know them on a more personal level. Take them to lunch. Invite them to your functions and client events. (Remember, this group has significant influence.)

I've never had more than one or two ASRs inside a branch who really "got it" in terms of referring the right kind of client. However, all you need is that one or two working with you to keep the pipeline moving. Cultivate these individuals.

TELLERS:

Typically, tellers don't have time to refer business, so use the teller area to display your marketing material (if that's allowed).

Keep your contact information handy in case something does come up and they need to contact you. Tellers usually have the highest turnover in the branch, so a consistent training program is a must if you expect referrals from this group.

Keep it basic and identify triggers for them that make it easy to refer. Give them tips on what to say to their customers, such as: "I noticed that you deposit checks from the ABC brokerage company, I just wanted to let you know that we have an investment advisor on site and customers often find it easier to have everything in one place."

Tellers can be an enjoyable group to work with. They are usually young, energetic and just beginning the journey into career and family. The good ones will be eager to learn.

CALL CENTER:

Does your bank have a central call center where calls are routed from customers to the various offices? If so, don't overlook the potential from this department.

These folks are a mix between tellers and account services representatives and have a broad knowledge about the bank and its services.

Find out where they currently route calls from customers asking about CD rates, IRA rollovers, or ways to earn more interest on their money? Call center employees are the behind-the-scenes champions who can link particular customers to your ability to solve their financial questions.

It can be a thankless job, so a little special attention from the investment advisor can go a long way to goodwill and referrals.

DO'S AND DON'TS FOR BRANCH:

  • Do include branch employees on information you send to clients; including brochures, email updates and newsletters.
  • Do invite them to seminars and client events; treat them as you would a customer.
  • Do earn their trust by communicating and following-up on referrals they have sent your way.
  • Do send them special occasion cards; birthday, anniversary, etc.
  • Do thank them in a timely manner for their referrals to show that you sincerely appreciate their efforts.
  • Don't show off personal purchases (which they may not be able to afford).
  • Don't assume they owe you referrals.
  • Don't make it difficult for their customers to see you. Referrals don't always come at the most opportune time, be flexible.

Last but not least, make yourself available for consultations and questions. Have an open door policy for bank employees and their customers. They may have general questions or concerns you can help with. You don't have to be the expert on everything, but being the "go to" person for financial questions could be just the key you were looking for.
John Brunett, CFP, is the Chief Trust and Investment Officer at Los Alamos National Bank in Santa Fe, N.M.

 

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