One of the most important parts of a financial advisor’s value proposition is time spent meeting with their clients. These meetings allow advisors to listen to their clients’ concerns, make planning recommendations, and chart a course for the coming months. And while advisors recognize the importance of holding regular client meetings, there is no consensus about the ‘best’ cadence for them. For instance, some firms spread these meetings out throughout the year while others bunch them into a limited number of months, or even weeks.
This latter approach, sometimes called Surge meetings, has gained increasing popularity among advisory firms in the past few years. Advisors who have implemented a Surge meeting approach have cited a range of benefits from doing so, including boosted productivity, a more systematic client experience, increased efficiency of client reviews and onboarding, and an overall smoother financial planning process for advisors and clients. At the same time, implementing a Surge approach can come with a range of challenges, such as the high level of endurance required of advisors to hold several client meetings every day for prolonged periods, the scheduling logistics needed to accommodate both the advisor’s agenda as well as the items on a client’s mind, and the capacity to preserve a meaningful and personal client experience throughout the process.
In this guest post, Meg Bartelt, Founder and Lead Planner at Flow Financial Planning, discusses how her firm implemented a Surge meeting schedule, and ultimately decided to use a different approach for their client meetings after 3 Surge seasons.
There were several issues with implementing Surge seasons for the firm, including challenges around many of their clients needing to reschedule meetings (resulting in a need to extend Surge seasons). Advisors often had insufficient time during the meetings to cover items on both the firm’s proposed agenda as well as those that the clients brought up, and there was an overall level of exhaustion from holding a concentrated set of meetings while maintaining the high level of personal connection and quick turnaround that the firm’s clients expect (and that the advisors enjoy providing!). Even after making some adjustments (from lengthening the time of meetings to 75 minutes to reducing the scope of technical work on the agenda), the need to meet with clients throughout the year to address high-stakes life changes as they arose (a common theme for many of the firm’s clients), and the desire to go deeper and broader with clients in a more freely structured format led the firm to transition away from the surge approach.
Now, the firm holds 2-hour Annual Renewal Meetings with clients while scheduling additional meetings as needed during the year. Though notably, non-emergency meetings are limited to certain days of the week and weeks of the month, and there are certain months of the year when no meetings are formally scheduled. The firm has also implemented a limited client service calendar, supporting clients on key issues when they occur during the year (e.g., tax letters in January and open enrollment period support in the Fall).
Ultimately, the key point is that just as no single planning strategy is applicable for every client, no single practice management technique is appropriate for every financial planning firm. And regardless of how successfully advisors may claim their particular meeting approach has worked for them, it’s far more important for advisors to experiment with what works best for their firm and how they choose to do business. As while all firms have unique needs and unique clients, finding the right balance between the desire for flexibility to focus holistically on each client and the need to streamline processes and procedures can be the key to identifying the best approach for the firm!
We have heard the manifold, almost magical, benefits for financial advisors of implementing Surge meetings with their clients. They have been credited with boosting advisor productivity while systematizing client value, making client reviews and onboarding more efficient, and even increasing the efficiency of the financial planning process as a whole. As I understand them, Surge meetings are a vastly more efficient process for scheduling, preparing for, conducting, and following up on client meetings, thereby giving advisors bigger chunks of time outside of meetings to do what they want. Time blocking on steroids, as it were.
I have yet to hear much about how Surge meetings do not work for other financial planning firms. My firm is one such firm that tried and ultimately abandoned Surge meetings. I want to share our story in the hope that it helps planners grappling with the idea of Surge meetings understand that, while they can be very effective for some planners and firms, they don’t work –and don’t need to work – for all of us.
I founded my firm, Flow Financial Planning, in May 2016. Our current team of 4 includes me and Maddie (Lead Advisors), Janice (Operations), and Yerim (Associate Planner). Maddie and I are Registered Life Planners and our firm specializes in providing Life Planning to our clients, who are generally women in their early-to-mid careers in the tech industry, especially in pre-IPO companies or companies going public (fie on thee, 2022!).
More important than any technique or designation is our belief that we serve our clients as their advocate and thinking partner. That – plus well-honed listening skills and empathy – is what makes a good life planner, in my estimation.
While we don’t draw a hard line of requiring our clients to be women (we welcome all breeds!), we do draw a hard line about the career stage, industry, and even an attitude about money (if you’re singularly focused on optimizing spreadsheets, we’re not a good fit). As a result, our client base may seem pretty homogenous… at least by demographic and industry standards. Yet, once we account for the uniqueness of our clients’ thoughts, feelings, and experiences, our client base is actually incredibly heterogeneous!
Why We Adopted Surge Meetings
Before we implemented Surge meetings, we held Annual Renewal Meetings, where we reflected back on the past year, reviewed the client’s entire financial picture, and looked forward to the next year and beyond. That one annual meeting worked fine, but the weakness was what happened during the rest of the year. We dealt with a non-stop drumbeat of clients needing additional support for stuff that was happening throughout the year, and I didn’t think we had enough structure for that part of the work.
I wanted more structure outside of those Annual Renewal Meetings. I was sick of the incessant worry about “When was the last time I talked to Client Christine? Have I met with her recently enough?”.
A former marriage therapist once told me, “There is freedom in structure”. The desire for structure-supported freedom from that worry was one big reason we decided to try Surge meetings. I didn’t necessarily expect Surge meetings to be the structure to solve all our problems, but it was a structure that could help address that problem, and I’m all for experimentation.
So, we spent months, the better part of a year, pretty intensely preparing to institute Surge meetings: figuring out what the schedule would be, when we would do various parts of the process, what the agenda would be, how we would prepare for and follow-up on the meetings, and what everyone’s roles and tasks would be.
Finally, in the Spring of 2021, we officially started.
What Our Surge Meetings Looked Like
People use the word “Surge” to describe a variety of things. So that my story makes sense, let me tell you how I define Surge Meetings.
It is not just time-blocking. It’s a fairly extreme and specific form of time blocking that involves intensely scheduled meetings lumped into just a few weeks twice a year, often in the Spring and Fall (for many Surge meeting proponents) and consisting of anywhere from 3–7 meetings each day, Tuesday through Thursday, for roughly a month in each season.
For example, advisors may schedule Surges so that they see all their clients in May during the Spring Surge period, and meet with them a second time that year in October during the Fall Surge period. They cover a short list of technical topics for each agenda; for example, withdrawal rates in the Spring and end-of-year tax-planning topics in the Fall.
The same agenda topics are covered for every meeting so that preparation and follow-up are almost identical for each client.
The specific timing of our Surge meeting experiment heavily influenced our experience, so let me walk you through some of the highlights of each of the 3 Surge meeting seasons we held.
Spring 2021 Surge
Our first Surge meeting attempt went on for 2 months. We worked intensely every single week, and we were exhausted at the end. Several clients had asked to reschedule meetings, requiring us to extend our Surge period by at least a week. And several other clients wanted to talk about big things which – surprise! – weren’t on the agenda we had laid out (guess who won?).
We had prepared much more technical analysis than we ever had the chance to fully go through during the meetings, especially for clients who had other things on their minds. Our bad – we had bit off more than we could chew. But I expected that might have ended up being the case and didn’t get too upset about it. It was our first Surge, and I wanted us to be prepared.
To compound the situation, we had committed to complete client tasks during the Surge meetings that had turned into a backlog that had been languishing up to 2 months after we finished holding all of the Surge meetings. So we didn’t have much of a break before we had to dive back into intense client work.
Other problems we ran into included the unexpected extension of the 2020 income tax filing deadline by the CARES Act (Remember that insanity?!), which necessitated a bunch of delayed tax return reviews and urgent last-minute work with clients and their CPAs (on top of our originally scheduled Surge meetings that we’d ‘cleverly’ scheduled to start after Tax Day).
Furthermore, many of our clients were dealing with recent IPOs and navigating lockup periods that were ending in May. While we had done a lot of work beforehand to prepare clients for these issues in advance, clients actually going through these events wanted even more communication, guidance, and reassurance (e.g., help clicking buttons on the Fidelity website and last-minute reevaluation of the strategy), because… Scary!
Let’s tweak it and try again in Fall!
Fall 2021 Surge
For our next Surge in Fall 2021, we reduced our scope to focus on only the most essential technical work and lengthened the meeting time from 60 to 75 minutes to see if we could fit whatever issues the client wanted to bring to the table into the agenda.
While our second season went more smoothly than our first, we still had some major challenges. Remember the Giant Freaking Tax Proposal (aka, the American Families Plan) that was going to radically change capital gains tax rates, crypto taxation, and backdoor Roth contributions? Well, there was a flurry of before-the-tax-year-ends analyses with activity to set clients up for the tax changes that…didn’t actually come to pass. We had to do that extra analysis on top of things we had to do to prepare for the ‘normal’ Fall Surge meetings.
And because many clients requested to reschedule their meetings (as they did in Season 1), many of the meetings ended up bleeding into December. This crammed the tax moves needed by year-end into just a few frantic weeks in December.
Additionally, we failed to include open enrollment as an agenda item. And since open enrollment happens for most of our clients in October and November, we had to fit in a lot of work to answer urgent, important questions about open enrollment choices for clients around their Surge meetings.
However, even though there was a repeat of the “we spend most of the time talking about what the client wants to talk about because their needs are a better use of this face-to-face time” phenomenon, the impact was muted a bit by having an extra 15 minutes in the schedule.
Onward to Spring Surge!
Spring 2022 Surge
This was our second time doing a Spring Surge meeting, which meant we could iterate on last year’s Surge instead of creating it from whole cloth, as we had a year ago. The reduced effort and uncertainty leading into Spring Surge 2022 was a palpable relief.
We made yet another attempt to shorten our agenda for the Spring meeting, removing a review of 401(k) plans (which didn’t really click the first time around, not to mention that we rarely got updated 401(k) Summary Plan Descriptions from clients anyways), the tax return review (thinking we could simply handle that asynchronously via email), and only adding in debt management when there was something obvious for the client to do. We thought we’d focus just on how much they were saving to their various accounts, total savings rate, and whether they had a big enough cash cushion.
We also shortened the meetings back to 60 minutes. I don't have a good explanation for this change; we were starting to throw things at the wall to make it work.
Thankfully, nothing unexpected – like a bunch of IPOs – happened this time.
That said, we still couldn’t get through our agenda for most clients. Or they didn’t provide the data ahead of time for us to do the short analysis for the meeting, so our prepared agenda was often useless. It was largely just a repeat of the experience we’d had in the Fall and previous Spring. Great chance to catch up with clients! Great opportunity to commit to doing work – after the Surge season was done – to help them with whatever is going on in their lives now. But none of that Surge efficiency goodness.
Why We Abandoned Surge Meetings
During each Surge season, we debriefed weekly about our challenges and successes. And while our experiment with Surge meetings did have some meaningful benefits – there is efficiency in preparing for and following up on identical meetings; there is value in ensuring that you’re seeing your clients twice a year – it was nonetheless apparent that there were some persistent, strong themes that compelled us to abandon the Surge meeting model.
While we recognize that Surge meetings work great for some advisors, they simply did not work for us for several reasons. To riff on my marriage therapist’s quote, we found that there was definitely a thing as ‘too much structure’.
Surge Meetings Left Us Exhausted
I was assured by Surge advocates that Surge meetings require both the advisory team and the clients to adjust to the approach. And that while it would initially be a lot of work, it would eventually get much easier, leaving plenty of time between Surge sessions to get so much more accomplished!
However, after 1.5 years of almost non-stop intensity for our team, I hadn’t seen any meaningful movement in that direction. I couldn’t take the idea of doing another Surge in Fall 2022. It felt physically awful – actual, literal physical discomfort! – to even consider it.
We could never reduce the scope of the meetings enough to get through the material we prepared in addition to what the client wanted to talk about.
We could never reduce the scope of the work coming out of meetings enough such that it didn’t pile up absurdly as Surge weeks unfolded. Spring Surges took place around tax time, and Fall Surges during end-of-year tax shenanigans and open enrollment.
Closely coupled with exhaustion was a lack of spaciousness, both in my calendar and in my brain. For the way we like to show up in our work with clients, we need a welcoming, nimble, responsive mind and heart. And when I’ve been meeting and cranking non-stop for months, I just can’t do that.
Our Clients’ Lives Didn’t Align With Our Meeting Schedule
Our clients always have so much going on in their lives that can’t tidily wait until the next Surge meeting.
A Surge proponent might tell me, “Meg, doing Surge meetings doesn’t mean you can’t meet with clients outside of the Surge schedule!”. And while that is true, it seemed that we were constantly meeting with clients outside of the already rigidly scheduled Surge seasons. Which meant that it felt like we never. stopped. meeting. with. clients.
Some of the reasons clients needed to meet with us outside of Surge meetings included the following:
- Getting laid off
- Getting pregnant
- Going back to work after parental leave
- Starting a new job
- Being offered a new job
- Finding a house they want to buy
- Desperately wanting a sabbatical
- Having their company go public or having their lockup period expire
- Going back to school
- Moving cross-country
While some of these reasons to meet could have been anticipated, planned for, and discussed during a Surge meeting, the reality was that our clients needed real-time reassurance from us while they were facing these challenging situations – regardless of when their Surge meeting might have been scheduled.
They wanted their trusted advisor to walk through those events with them. When events like these actually come up, many of our clients aren’t content to simply stick to their plans that may have been written a few months ago – they want to revisit the things going on with them right now, with a fresh take on their new circumstances, and they don’t necessarily want to focus on what might be in their Surge meeting agenda.
Additionally, many of our clients would need to reschedule every Surge cycle. And I couldn’t blame ‘em. They’ve got busy, complicated lives with a lot of unexpected things that have a significant impact on their personal and financial situations. Which meant that in addition to scheduling a lot of meetings outside of the Surge period, it also meant that we had to schedule Surge meetings further and further into the future to accommodate clients, turning an already long Surge cycle even longer.
We Couldn’t Go Deep (Or Broad) Enough with Clients
Life Planning cannot be rushed. The actual time we spend with clients is a hugely influential factor in the value we provide. No, I’m not saying time is the core component of value to the client, but it is a core component of value.
Sure, sometimes you just want to hop on Zoom for 15 minutes to help a client sell their RSUs and move the cash to their bank account.
Oftentimes, however, I need to focus on a particular topic with a client for a while to make sure we have fully plumbed its depths. How do I fit a client question like, “Should I quit my job and go back to school?” into a Surge meeting? When, in the Surge structure, am I supposed to ask my client why she hasn’t made any move to use fertility treatments when she’s told me for 2 years straight that her highest priority is becoming a mother? I couldn’t figure it out.
I also need the opportunity to review the totality of a client’s life – including their financial life – not just this or that individual topic. I need time with the client to have the discussion, whether it involves just talking to the client to better understand their situation or real-time modeling in financial planning software to explore the details of their possibilities.
45 minutes in a meeting is not enough to do justice to complex problems that require comprehensive solutions. Nor is 60 minutes. 75 minutes is getting closer. But, for the sake of comprehensiveness and establishing a true connection with the client, I find 2 hours is closer to the mark.
When we were using Surge meetings, there was an inescapable tension between “meetings should be long enough to be able to go deep with clients” (which, at a maximum of 75 minutes, they almost never were) and “meetings need to be short enough so I can have enough meetings in a day/week so this Surge cycle ends before I go nuts”.
My team and I need time not only for the meeting itself but also to prepare for the meeting. Being able to think about the totality of a client’s life requires us to understand the totality of a client’s life… which requires meaningful time and nuanced focus before a client’s meeting. This requirement simply strikes me as antithetical to Surge meetings.
I never felt satisfied with the choice to implement Surge meetings, as I always found that they squeezed out my ability to look at my clients’ lives holistically.
Our Clients Don’t Need The Same Work Done At The Same Time
The allure of the Surge meetings is the efficiency of the ‘factory work’ part of it. So much of the prep and follow-up can be standardized and essentially put on autopilot.
We found this to be true, and we really enjoyed that part of it!
But we found time and again that the agenda topics we chose for the Surge meeting simply weren’t what many clients really needed to review. For example, Spring meetings focused on cash flow. While some clients (e.g., those with new jobs or a raise) definitely needed cash flow work, many clients (especially those who were settled in their income, savings, and spending patterns) did not.
So, yes, we were being efficient! Just not… useful. At least for many of the clients who didn’t need to address the agenda topics we were ready to review with them.
This is where the heterogeneity of a client base comes into play. If all my clients were the same, then maybe my experience with Surge meetings would have been much better. But as I mentioned earlier, our client base may be incredibly homogenous from a demographic perspective, but when you take into consideration the human behind the money and the job title, boy howdy are they not! As such, their planning is very different.
We Couldn’t Onboard New Clients During Many Months Of The Year
If 2 months are dedicated to Spring meetings and 2 months to Fall meetings, and each of those stretches is preceded by at least a month of intense preparation and followed by 1 to 2 months of intense follow-up… there were precious few months of the year when I felt I could reasonably start with a new client.
When I start with a new client, I like to meet with them frequently for the first 3 months or so. But during the Surge seasons, I didn’t feel I could do the requisite foundational work with a new client (otherwise, I would have been defeating the purpose of the single-minded focus of Surge). So I needed to finish that 3 months-ish of work before the Surge season started, which left very few months of the year when I could start with a new client.
We experimented with moving a new client straight into the Surge schedule before they’d finished all their foundational meetings with us, but we discovered that if we hadn’t yet done sufficient foundational work with the client in the first place, then the technical specificity of the Surge meeting agenda was pretty useless… as was the meeting.
Our new-client onboarding really slowed down during our experiment with Surge. That was partly by choice – we had many clients going through many big life events and wanted to preserve time to support them – and partly by what we perceived to be the Surge constraints.
How We Transitioned Back To Annual Renewal Meetings
When I realized that I felt physically pained by the idea of continuing the Surge meeting experiment, I made an instinctive and strong decision to stop doing them, despite some resistance from my team. Yes, they too were feeling exhausted. But as a team, we had already spent so much time and effort figuring out how to ‘do Surge’ in our firm: plotting it out ahead of time, transitioning to it, improving it constantly as we went. And now…I was proposing we abandon all that work and go back to the drawing board for an entirely new approach? Additionally, there really was a benefit to being able to prepare for each Surge meeting so easily (the same agenda every time), and we’d be potentially abandoning that efficiency that some members of the team had experienced.
Regardless of the methods or strategies we choose to carry out our work, it’s important to us that clients receive the support they need from us when they need it. Surge meetings, though, struck me as the clients being there for me when I needed them.
But what to do instead? I still wanted some structure that would allow us to serve clients when and however they needed us without needing to worry about whether clients were falling through the cracks.
With the help of my business coach, Elizabeth Jetton, who spent time talking with my team about transitioning away from Surge and towards a new approach, we returned to an enhanced version of our old Annual Renewal Meetings approach to ongoing care.
Here is how we are currently providing ongoing care to our clients. (Catch me in a year and I’m sure it’ll be meaningfully different in some way.)
The Annual Renewal Meeting
We think of the Annual Renewal Meeting as the one ‘rock’ in our work with a client throughout the year. This is the one non-negotiable of our relationship. This is the same as in our original Annual Renewal Meeting approach. Everything else waxes and wanes with client needs. For example, if a client’s company goes public, that client will likely need a lot of guidance – meetings, emails, analysis, etc. – for a year or two. Three years later, maybe their lives are quiescent, and they don’t need anything from us but that one meeting.
What does our Annual Renewal Meeting (ARM) look like?
- It’s 2 hours long. It could even be longer in the future. That gives us adequate time to address not only what the client brings up but also the most pressing technical topics we prepared for. The non-Surge-iness of the schedule also means we have more time after the meeting to follow up on anything we didn’t have time to address during the meeting. We schedule ARMs evenly(ish) throughout the year. If each Lead Advisor serves 50 clients (our target, not yet our reality), then we have roughly 5 ARMs each month, not 25–30 Surge meetings a month. Consequently, we have ample time before and especially after meetings, and we don’t end up stockpiling tasks.
- It looks at the core CFP Board principal knowledge domains and topics and makes sure that we’re addressing those topics relevant to our clients at least once a year so that they never fall too far off track. We now choose topics for the agenda based on what we know matters most to the client.
- It reflects back on the last year, examining what we did with or on behalf of the client, and also what the client did. We ask our clients 2 explicit questions about this: 1) “What did you spend money on in the last year that brought you joy?” and 2) “What did you accomplish in the last year that you’re proud of?”.
- It looks forward and considers the client’s future (which is why it’s called a “Renewal” meeting, not a “Review” meeting). What is coming up in the client’s life over the next year that the client knows about? What can we, as experienced planners, anticipate for the client that the client themselves might not know to think of?
- And, of course! It includes anything that the client brings to the table, which, by the way, still takes up most of the time.
Additional Meetings As Necessary
Before our experiment with Surge, we were using Annual Renewal Meetings (ARMs), but I was stressed out by our lack of structure for what happened during the other 11 months of the year. One of the ways we’re addressing that is by having meetings outside of the ARM. These meetings arise in two ways:
- We identify the need for additional meetings while we prepare for our Annual Renewal Meeting (ARM). We look at everything for ARMs, but we know we can only get so much done during that one meeting. So, we identify work that we can do with clients throughout the year after the ARM, and schedule that coming out of the ARM (sometime in the meeting itself).
For example, in an Annual Renewal Meeting, I might say to the client, “Alright, you need to update your estate planning documents. Let’s find a time in March to discuss that.”. I might also say, “I know you’ll be returning to work after maternity leave in January. Would it be helpful to meet about a month after that to see how it’s going? Figure out what adjustments need to be made?”.
- Our clients tell us that something has happened in their lives. It has taken me a while (a journey of confidence, you could say) to learn and be comfortable with the fact that our clients’ needs wax and wane, and we will get plenty of opportunities to demonstrate our value to the clients, even if we can’t schedule it. In my experience, most clients need to meet at least once during the year in addition to any meetings that we proactively schedule with them. They are at a stage of their lives where there is simply a lot going on.
With half as many proactively scheduled meetings (1 Annual Renewal Meeting instead of 2 Surge meetings), we have more time and space to meet with clients ‘off-cycle’ and give the clients what they truly need during those times.
Limited Client Service Calendar
In addition to meetings and the work we need to do to prepare for them, there are other things that need to happen throughout the year. Enter the Client Service Calendar.
We previously tried using a robust Client Service Calendar similar to the annual client service calendar for Genx and Gen Y monthly retainer clientele with Surge meetings, which had us conducting specific reviews in certain months throughout the year (e.g., insurance reviews in January, tax return reviews beginning March, investment reviews in July, etc.). Our attempt – and persistent failure – to actually deliver that amount of analysis throughout the year was overwhelming and depressing. Why didn’t it work? A couple of reasons: it felt disconnected from the individual client’s needs and therefore wasn’t particularly motivating, and those projects require big chunks of time that we couldn’t easily fit it into our already busy calendars.
With the return to the Annual Renewal Meeting, we review CFP Board principal knowledge domains that are relevant for the client during that single annual comprehensive client meeting; we’re no longer trying to ‘batch’ them across the entire client base throughout the year.
But there still remains some client work that is calendar-dependent and that can’t reasonably wait for a client’s Annual Renewal Meeting. So, in addition to the comprehensive analysis we do for our clients to prepare for their Annual Renewal Meeting, we also work on these additional tasks on our own version of an Annual Service Calendar throughout the year:
- January: Tax letters.
We send out tax letters (holla, Holistiplan!) to clients and CPAs for the just-ended tax year. We add to these tax letters throughout the year as we communicate with clients and learn things that will affect their taxes, but that they might not remember or think to tell their CPAs.
- February: IRA contributions in managed accounts.
Making IRA contributions in February helps us ensure that last year’s contribution was made, if appropriate, and to make a plan for this year’s contribution.
- March and April (and through October): Tax return review.
Tax return reviews have historically had a well-defined time period in March and April, but this is stretching further out as more clients extend their filing.
- October and November: Open enrollment. Many of our clients want help choosing their benefits, especially health insurance, during their open enrollment periods in the Fall. Employee benefits packages these days go far beyond health insurance, and while assessing employee benefits can be complicated, the analysis is often very helpful and meaningful for clients.
- November: Charitable donations.
We help clients to accomplish their giving goals before year-end by establishing Donor Advised Funds (DAFs), guiding them through the process of donating appreciated securities from managed accounts to charities, and helping them determine how much they can donate.
- Recurring: Estimated tax help for RSU income and, to a lesser extent, bonus income.
Thankfully this is slowly becoming a smaller problem as more big tech companies allow clients to withhold sufficient federal taxes, but it’s still a stressful problem for many of our clients.
Honestly, that’s still a long and exhausting list to behold. I’m sure it’ll look different in future years as our clients’ needs and concerns change and grow.
How We’re Implementing
While the Surge meeting approach wasn’t our cup of tea, we will continue to use a less extreme approach to time blocking to manage our energy level and to do our work efficiently. Currently, we’re experimenting with a schedule that doesn’t allow client meetings (other than emergencies):
- On Mondays or Fridays;
- In certain months of the year (probably August, because that’s vacation-y, and December, because we try to close the office for the last 2 weeks of the year, and before that there’s always a ton of work tied to end-of-year deadlines); and
- During the first and third full weeks of each month.
Those specific weeks are arbitrary, but I am intentional about trying to have 2 full weeks each month with no client meetings. One lesson I learned from our Surge experiment is that bunching meetings together gives me permission to not do any work other than meetings in meeting weeks, and makes me far more effective at doing work in non-meeting weeks.We are not using any special tech tools to implement this: We have a CRM (Wealthbox), financial planning software (RightCapital), file management/documents/spreadsheets (Google Workspace), and calendaring software (OnceHub, formerly ScheduleOnce).
In my professional bubble (which I believe is more tech obsessed than the larger industry), I tend to be an anti-technology grump. Maybe someday someone on my team will take charge of technology implementation and make us efficiency beasts. For now, however, I think of it as “technology and process get us 80% of the way there, and humans get us the remaining 20%”. There is still too much churn in our processes to dedicate a lot of resources to building a tech infrastructure to support its specifics.
I consider myself a fairly confident person, but there’s nothing like starting your own business to make you feel insecure. In retrospect, one of the appeals of Surge meetings was that having meetings with clients twice a year made me feel that I was surely demonstrating my value as a financial planner! They wouldn’t wonder why they were paying me throughout the year because they would always be in a position of, “Oh, I just met with her recently!” or “Oh, I’ll be meeting with them soon!”.
What I have realized is that our clients’ lives are complicated enough – we already meet with most clients more than once a year because… life. Making them conform to an inflexible meeting structure doesn’t do anything to add to their reasons for needing us.
I am hopeful that a single core Annual Renewal Meeting will allow us plenty of spaciousness to provide us with the time and energy to focus holistically on each client and to respond quickly and with proper care when they need us outside of that meeting. Because our clients do need us. And they will continue to, regardless of how we choose to meet with them.