Pro Tips

The Flub Many Financial Advisors Make with Affluent Referrals

by Tiffany Markarian

Referrals are the reward and hallmark of any good business. As such, there are many scripts and approaches financial advisors will use to get new referrals. The challenge, if you ask most advisors, is the referrals they are receiving do not always meet their ideal “A” client profile. There is an inherent flub many advisors are making with affluent referrals.

The Challenge with Affluent Referrals

Let’s acknowledge something first. Bravo if you are getting referrals, even if they are not your ideal client profile. That is certainly an accomplishment. The mere fact that you are discussing referrals or have clients introducing you is outstanding. The challenge is getting affluent referrals that meet your ideal client profile.

To go up-market, there are protocols, rules, and codes that must be followed. It takes tact. This requires you to hone your planning and listening skills. Let’s look at this more closely.

The Affluent Psyche

Many clients, in general, are often uncomfortable being asked to provide referrals on a solicited basis. They may not want to intrude in others’ financial affairs unless someone specifically asks them for a recommendation. This is particularly evident in the affluent circles. If affluent clients are going to refer a financial advisor or insurance professional, on an unsolicited basis, they often refer down. Meaning, they often refer you to someone who might not be fully established financially or people they believe might need help. They do not always refer up, or to others at their level, because many assume their peers are successful and happy or are already working with an advisor.

Getting affluent referrals requires you to exercise a different set of skills. It is not as simple as following a well-written script. You don’t want to make a social faux pas with affluent clients, particularly one that could backfire or make your client uncomfortable. For example, if you ask an affluent client, “Who else should I be speaking with? Do you know anyone who could benefit from comprehensive planning or someone like who you would value advice?” This says to your client, I’m not in charge…I’m kind of wandering around out here. I hope you can give me some direction.

It’s one thing if clients talk about you on their own to their peers. However, asking clients out of the blue to come up with names for you can be uncomfortable for them. They see that as your job to set the strategic direction for your business.

That Being Said….

Affluent clients will often talk about their personal or professional networks and affiliations. They tend to talk more openly about groups, clubs, special interests, philanthropic causes, or industry associations they are involved in. As such, they will often mention individuals who are part of their network.

Know Where You Want to Grow

If you want to gain traction with affluent referrals, you need to take stock and think about the specific types of clients that are ideal for your practice and where you want to grow in your business. You have a great opportunity if you want to penetrate specific sectors or niche markets. Focusing on a niche market allows you to communicate to clients the strategic direction you have for your business.

With affluent referrals, you want an introduction to the right people that YOU have prequalified. This requires you to know the specific niches that are right for your business and the people you want to meet. It could be influential people in a particular industry, corporation, or social circle you want to connect with.

The goal is to demonstrate to clients you have direction regarding who you want to meet. It can’t just be, who is successful like you?

In broaching the referral conversation with affluent clients or centers-of-influence, what you are really looking for is advice on how to meet individuals in their network and connect with them. As C. Richard Weylman, founder of The Weylman Center for Excellence in Practice Management states, you are asking for the best ways to get introduced. You are asking your clients for guidance and direction – not to refer names per se – at least not yet. You want to get them talking about people in their networks.

Step 1: Communicate Your Niche Focus

After a client has demonstrated appreciation for the work you do – perhaps during a review meeting – this is the right time to engage in a social conversation about their network. You start by communicating your shared focus on their industry, philanthropic causes, or special interests.

Let’s look at an example. Perhaps you are finishing up a client review and your client is a veterinarian. You can ask your client, “Do you have a few additional minutes? I want to share some research we’ve been doing on veterinarians in Phoenix and would like to get your feedback. We love working with veterinarians. They are wonderful people. We all have the same work ethic, we’re all trying to make it happen every day. It’s why we love working with you. With that, we’d like to expand our role with veterinarians and be a real resource for the industry.”

Step 2: Use a Feeder List 

Staying with the veterinary example above, you then want to use a carefully researched feeder list of veterinarians in Phoenix to help bring direction to the conversation. You can say to your client, “We’ve identified some local veterinarians here in Phoenix as well as leaders in the Arizona Veterinary Medical Association. These are individuals we researched and are hoping to connect with to learn more about what veterinarians are looking for. Would you mind taking a moment to review this list for me?”

At this point, you will provide your clients with a list of 10 to 15 veterinary specialists you have pre-qualified and want to meet, in this case in Phoenix. You can hand them the list or put it up on the screen during a virtual session. It is suggested not to include more than 10 to 15 names because it can be too overwhelming for the client.


“Who do you know on this list and who knows you well?”

Let them talk. Make sure the list includes people in their network they would likely know. For instance, you might include other veterinary specialists in their office. Or, you might include the names of top veterinarians at local emergency clinics. Not all veterinary practices are emergency clinics. As a result, your client may know all the specialists at local emergency clinics whom they refer patients to.

Once you hand your client the list, your client will scan the list for you. When they start to recognize names, this is your opportunity to discuss their feedback and insights. Take good mental notes during the discussion and probe about their relationships and experiences your clients have had. They may play golf with some of the people on your list, they may have served on committees or various animal rights causes, referred patients to each other, etc.


You will then ask your client, “Who have I left off this list? Are there other veterinarians I should know in Phoenix? Who else? And how do you know them? We are specifically looking to meet veterinarians who can give us deeper insights about the industry.

When clients see prominent names on your list, they see you as prominent. It creates awareness that you know and want to know people like them. It stimulates their thinking vertically to help them introduce you. If your client opens up about their network, you will start to hear their experiences with names on the list and how they know each other. It is a natural way of learning about their personal or professional relationships.

Once you learn about your client’s experiences with others in their network, it helps facilitate a conversation about introductions. When the pandemic is over, perhaps you could co-host a golf-foursome (your treat) or facilitate a virtual lunch-and-learn session for other veterinarians in their practice. Perhaps you could co-host (your treat) a small dinner for the specialists in their office.

A client’s network could also be the company or corporation they work for. In this case, you will want to include names on your list that the client would likely interact with at work. It could be peers in their department. If your client happens to be the CEO, you might put the names of different department heads who report to your client. You can then have a conversation with your client about doing a virtual educational meeting for their company or a luncheon / dinner outside of work.

Why This Process Works

Remember, affluent and ultra-affluent clients follow social codes and protocols in their personal and professional networks. It can be uncomfortable for them to be asked who would value financial advice or could benefit from your help. It is far more comfortable to ask them about their networks.

Using carefully researched feeder lists makes it easy for the client because they don’t have to think of names for you. You are giving them stimulation and ideas on how to meet people from their network. It is not asking for referrals, per se. It is turning a conversation into ideas for how to be introduced into their network. You are being proactive. Why does this work? Your clients only have to comment on the selected names you provide. It demonstrates that you have direction in your business.

You can then ask your client, “Who have I left off this list?”

When You Don’t Know Your Clients’ Networks 

If you’ve never inquired about your clients’ social networks or affiliations, this is a fantastic opportunity to get to know your clients on a more personal level. Keep in mind, most advisory meetings or insurance reviews are agenda-driven. There is never enough time to truly dive into a deep discussion on your clients’ social or special interests. You can have a conversation with clients about what they are connected to. You can ask them questions, such as:

  1. What SPECIFIC groups, clubs, associations or networks do you look forward to re-engaging with post-COVID?
  2. Who are the people you interact with most frequently through work, your industry, or recreational interests?

Make it clear you want to be a resource to like-minded people in their industry, group, company, or community. Not just when the market is in chaos, but someone who can be a sounding board.

One of the greatest honors you can attain is being accepted into your clients’ networks and circles. It is about being with them, thinking like them, supporting them, and serving them. This is your time to not only deepen relationships with existing clients, but begin conversations on how to connect with others in their social circles.

Tiffany MarkarianThe Flub Many Financial Advisors Make with Affluent Referrals

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