Client Relationship & Service
24 MIN PODCAST
What does it mean to future-proof your practice? For Ben Wong of Mariner Wealth Advisors in Pleasanton, California, it’s been an evolution in service, a team transformation and a succession plan that’s a win for everyone involved. After recently selling his billion-dollar advisory firm, Viewpoint Financial Network, to Mariner (a large national firm), he’s already seeing the benefits of scale.
Ben had much to say, so we’ve broken the conversation into two parts. In part one, he describes how his team puts clients first with a unique level of service (or “over service”), simplifying the experience at every step. And he explains how a lack of client minimums helps his firm retain multiple generations of clients and attract more referrals.
Evolving to an ensemble practice
Over the past 15 years, Ben’s firm transitioned into an ensemble-style practice where everyone worked as a team, including the clients. He says this happened organically. “I always wanted the person picking up the phone to be able to answer most of the questions that I can answer,” he says. He hired licensed people, great advisors who were good at planning, tax and investments, if not necessarily good at sales. “Especially if you want to scale — there’s only one of me. So if I get people with the skills to do that, we would hire them.”
What he ended up with was an employee advisor model: Advisors were hired not necessarily to build a book of business, but to service clients. “If you really consider the practice as being a client-first type of practice, where decisions are made with the client in mind, then the team approach really makes sense,” Ben says.
Initially, he says, clients were a little hesitant to talk to someone other than him. “But as they build relationships with the advisors, I find that I have a lot of clients now that barely ask for me. They're typically very comfortable.” He has made it a priority to talk to clients about how the team works together and are all there to help. When clients call, they reach the right people. Over time, he’s found that clients will gravitate away from him and pick other advisors to reach out to instead.
“Over service” and life advice
Ben is particularly proud of his firm’s commitment to “over service,” which involves trying to reduce pain points in the process. Even filling out onboarding paperwork is made easier. Ben says he hates the clipboard full of forms that he encounters in professional offices and wanted to upend the process.
“We really tried to have somebody interview them or come up with some method to provide the information that's comfortable for them. And nowadays, a lot of people are comfortable just inputting into a PDF form. We actually have a question/answer-type fact-finder with video,” Wong says. “We tried to make it not painful.”
The level of service extends to every client need, from education funding choices, to car leases, to retirement packages from employers. “Call when you have a question. If we can help you with it, we’ll help you with it. It’s that simple,” he says. “Even loan applications, they just don't understand the terminology. We deal with it all day. Feel free to give us a call. Somebody will sit down with you and walk you through that.”
In fact, as the business transitions, Ben is increasingly focusing on life advice. “The softer skills become more and more important,” he says.
Building a multigenerational business
Ben’s firm has no client minimums and tends to work with what he calls “salt of the earth” folks with a desire to save. “I don’t have a client base of ultra-high net worth clients, you know, C-suite-type people. They're just people that are concerned, and they worked hard for their money, and they want to take care of it — pass it on and pass those things on to the children, too.”
This has helped the firm attract and retain multigenerational clients, working with families that span from great-grandparents to great-grandchildren. “I think part of it is just the client has been with us so long, and they want to impart that same experience on to their children. And so they bring the kids in,” he says. Because the firm doesn’t have client minimums, no one is turned away. Over time, these clients not only grow in assets, but also tend to refer others.
Being open to any and all clients also provides opportunities to allow less experienced advisors to hone their skills. “Having a younger client, somebody [whose] situation isn't maybe that difficult or complicated, is great for at-bats for a newer advisor,” he says.
Why he never prejudges a client
One of Ben’s mottos is: “Don’t prejudge.” And it has served him well when it comes to clients and the referrals they lead to over time. “There's so many clients we look back on. They weren't big profit centers. But they were serious about what they were doing. And they've blossomed into great clients.” Moreover, they brought in referrals that led to the growth of his business over time. The firm has been referral-only for more than 20 years.
For part two of this conversation, see A succession plan that creates wins for the team, with Ben Wong.