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When the market turns volatile, financial professionals can become inundated with calls from anxious clients. Assuming it’s simply part of the job, many try to calm their clients’ fears as expected: with facts about past market recoveries and assuring clients that things will be fine in the long run. While this response isn’t necessarily wrong, it can frustrate clients who are particularly anxious.

Richard Hill of Compass Financial Group in Raleigh, NC, used this approach during periods of volatility for years. But each time the market became choppy, he found himself in the same position of putting out fires. It was exhausting. “There has to be a better way,” he thought. This inspired him to develop a proactive client-communication plan for down markets. Now, he gets fewer calls from panicked clients because he addresses their concerns before their anxiety escalates.

First, Segment Your Market-Sensitive Clients

When volatility strikes, communicating with clients is imperative. But the task can be daunting, especially when we’re fielding calls from anxious clients.

Rather than reacting to inbound calls, it’s better to call anxious clients first. But with so many clients in your book, where do you start? Richard found that the answer lies in segmentation.

Richard started by generating a list of his market-sensitive clients. He made this step simple by using his firm’s customer relationship management (CRM) tool to note which clients are reactive when markets fall and by indicating their level of sensitivity: none, moderate, and high. When the market starts getting bumpy or there’s a significant market event, Richard calls those clients first, beginning with clients in the “high” category and working his way down.

Based on experience, you should have a general sense of who your market-sensitive clients are—but having a reference list will ensure no one’s overlooked. Ideally, this step should be completed before a major market shift so you’re not left scrambling.


Second, What to Say to These Clients

Now you have your anxious-client list and you’re ready to make calls. Despite our good intentions, it’s tempting to procrastinate when we’re anticipating uncomfortable conversation. But if you don’t call these clients, there’s a good chance they’ll call you. Reaching out to clients before their emotions escalate can set a different tone, allowing for a more productive conversation.

When making proactive calls to this group, resist leading with market talk or addressing panic. Even though these clients are anxiety-prone, they may not be anxious in this instance—and you want to avoid planting seeds of worry. At this point, you’re simply calling to check in and ask how they’re doing.


The Outbound Call Approach

As you’re speaking to these clients, you could encounter two different scenarios:

  1. The client isn’t concerned.

    If they don’t express worry or mention market conditions in this instance, you don’t need to either.

  2. The client is anxious.

    You’ll probably know fairly quickly if a client is anxious. Before addressing their concerns, find out more.

  1. ASK
    • How are you feeling?
    • Why do you feel that way?
    • What are you worried about?

    Understanding what’s driving your client’s concerns, and why, will help you address those concerns directly.


    Let the client vent if they need to; don’t minimize their feelings. Clients usually feel better afterward, even before hearing a response.

    This isn’t the time to immediately give clients historical examples of market recoveries. In other words, don’t rush to “fix it with facts.” While this may be helpful later, it’s unlikely to change how an anxious client feels in the moment.


    Say to the client, “I understand why you feel this way. I might too if I was hearing lots of bad news.” Or “Other clients I’ve talked to have similar concerns.”

  4. ASK

    “Would you be open to hearing my thoughts on the situation?”

    You might wonder why you’d ask if a client is open to hearing your thoughts. You’re the expert after all. But this simple question can have a big impact on how a client receives your message.

    It lets the client know you heard them and respect their viewpoint, which lowers their resistance. When they say yes, you know they’re ready to hear you out. Once you have their attention, you can share your perspective on the situation.

  5. SHARE

    This frequently includes intriguing examples of past downturns and recoveries to help clients avoid making decisions that could have long-term consequences based on a short-term situation. Hartford Funds’ Volatility Resource Center (hartfordfunds.com/volatility) offers engaging client-facing material that can help. Additionally, you can remind clients about behind-the-scenes work you do. Richard often tells his clients, “We’ve stress-tested your financial plan by putting it through several hypothetical market scenarios. We have market corrections and recessions baked in, meaning your portfolio was designed to withstand them.”


Lose the Platitudes

When sharing your point of view on the current volatility, avoid platitudes such as “Don’t worry. You’re a long-term investor. Just stay the course, and it’ll be fine.” While many financial professionals think this is reassuring, it can be quite aggravating for clients to hear. The statement may be true, but it’s important to meet anxious clients where they are.


If a Client Calls You Before You Call Them, Use a Similar Approach

If you call your clients first, you’re finding out whether they’re concerned. If a client calls you first, you know they’re concerned. In this situation, start with the listening step—but the other steps still apply. Richard finds it helpful to apologize to the client who called him by saying, “I try to be very proactive in communicating with you and other clients when I think you need to hear from me. I didn’t anticipate your need as I should have, and I’ll get better at that. Let’s confirm that if we go through periods like this in the future, you can expect me to call you instead of waiting for you to call me.”


Third, How to Handle a Client Who Resists Your Recommendations

Even after having this conversation, a client may continue to panic and say, “I’m tired of my statements being down. I’m not going to recoup my losses!” and insist that you do something—even if it goes against your professional guidance.

On the rare occasion that a client demands a significant portfolio change, Richard uses the Goldilocks approach. In other words, he offers a middle-ground option. This may involve moving a small portion of a client’s assets to cash without totally jeopardizing their investment goals. He discovered that if you give only one recommendation, the client can only say yes or no, which can sound combative and put you at odds.


You Might Be Wondering,“What if a Client Continually Challenges My Professional Guidance?”

If this is the case, you may need to evaluate the relationship and decide whether it’s worthwhile to continue working together. But rather than doing this during a crisis, it’s better to navigate the crisis with the client and evaluate the relationship afterward. Explain to the client, “I don’t think this relationship is working for either of us for this reason: You’re paying me to advise you, but you’re not following my advice and I feel ineffective as your financial professional. I recommend that we find someone who’s a better fit for you.”

This can help you solve the issue without abandoning the client in a tough time.


When Proactively Calling Anxiety-Prone Clients, Remember These Three Things

First, when volatility strikes, it’s important to know who to call. Second, rather than leading with market talk, ask these clients how they’re doing. If they’re anxious, listen and then ask if they’d like to hear your perspective. Third, it’s possible that a client will demand changes to their portfolio regardless of your recommendation. The Goldilocks approach can help you reach a compromise.


Having a Process in Place Makes Communicating with Anxious Clients Much Easier

If you cringe at the thought of calling your clients the next time volatility strikes, having your focus list with talking points ready makes the process more manageable. Being prepared and reaching out to clients first not only puts you in a better position, it shows that you care and can increase clients’ trust and confidence in you.


Next Steps

  1. Consider which of your clients are sensitive to market volatility. Segment them and generate a list.
  2. Prepare your talking points
  3. Put this plan in place now so you’re ready for the next market-moving event
Author Headshot

Richard is the founder and president of Compass Financial Group in Raleigh, NC, a wealth management firm that specializes in helping professionals navigate the financial, emotional, and lifestyle challenges that come with retirement. 

Richard Hill is not affiliated with Hartford Funds. Compass Financial Group is not an affiliate or subsidiary of Hartford Funds. No particular endorsement of any product or service is being made.


Get ahead of anxious-client calls by planning for the next market-moving event.





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