Is your firm ready to engage the next generation of clients? If not, now is the time to focus on this goal. As you may be aware, the great wealth transfer from the baby boomers to their heirs has begun. Over the next two decades, an estimated $70 trillion will move from one generation to the next, according to a 2021 study by Cerulli Associates. But the same study suggests that many of those heirs are unlikely to keep the same advisors as their parents.
What can you do to engage the next generation of clients and keep these assets with your firm? One effective strategy could be to promote the family meeting. The benefits of these meetings are plentiful. You’ll not only strengthen your bond with current clients, but you’ll also gain a starting point for developing relationships with your clients’ heirs. Getting these meetings going and ensuring that they’re effective can become a crucial part of the value you deliver to your clients.
4 Steps to an Effective Family Meeting
To ensure a smooth process, where every member of the family feels heard, follow these steps:
1) Develop a mission statement. Estate planning typically centers on which assets will be passed on, but many other important matters deserve to be handed down from generation to generation. Wisdom, traditions, philanthropic goals, and investment principles (to name a few) are all things an estate plan can’t adequately convey on paper.
A family mission statement would memorialize these goals by helping clients articulate the philosophies they want to instill in future generations. You could start by providing a list of questions that prompts the family to think about its goals as well as any lingering uncertainties. This process will lay the groundwork for fruitful meetings in the future.
2) Decide who should attend. To get started, you may want to suggest a kick-off meeting with just your primary clients. You can spend the time helping them explore and develop language around the values they want to instill in their family across generations. Once you’ve laid the foundation for effective meetings, ask your clients to consider which family members should attend the next session. The list will likely include children, grandchildren, and even in-laws. You may also want to invite other experts who are closely involved, such as the family attorney and accountant.
Given how communications have evolved over the past couple of years, the logistics of setting up a physical meeting with multiple individuals spread across the world are no longer a major concern. Virtual meetings have become ubiquitous, and even the most technology-averse clients are learning to navigate digital meeting tools, such as Zoom.
3) Encourage honesty. Everyone, including advisors, benefits when these family discussions are rooted in honesty. The truth is, family wealth often deteriorates after three generations; the first generation creates it, the second protects it, and the third consumes it, often because they aren’t prepared to be good wealth stewards.
Structure the conversation so family members understand how the family achieved its wealth and the level of effort required to maintain it. Miscommunication of needs and goals can end up being a reason that an inheritance fails to endure through successive generations.
Some clients, however, may have considerable privacy concerns, even when it comes to their families. To ensure a productive meeting, prepare your clients by having them consider what is already common knowledge in the family, which topics are off-limits, and what is essential information.
There is also a possibility that a discussion could open a door not previously considered. For example, after hearing their children’s charitable intent, clients may find it more beneficial to leave assets to a donor-advised fund rather than making bequests directly to individual charities. Once the family’s charitable goals are uncovered, you’ll want to reiterate the importance of access to ongoing professional guidance in order to keep the financial plans updated.
4) Make the family meeting recurring. A one-and-done talk won’t be enough to nurture relationships and encourage good financial behavior. Setting a specific frequency for these conversations to continue over time will make room for them on everyone’s calendar. Of course, everyone should keep in mind that the timing might need to change. Life events, such as deaths, births, and employment changes, can shift a family’s timeline and alter goals, so it’s essential to stay current with your clients’ status. It may sometimes be necessary to call an impromptu meeting.
Protecting Your Clients’ Legacy
Family bonds, though often the strongest, can be fractured by miscommunication over financial matters. Providing a setting for families to express their aspirations and concerns to one another can help you develop a financial plan that sustains through multiple generations. Just as important, it can also help provide clients with peace of mind that their personal and financial legacies are safe and secure. Last but not least, the family meeting can lead the way toward helping your firm engage the next generation of clients.