A Client Advisory Board – bringing your clients closer to your business

This is part of a series of blog posts in which Mark Bradley (as my co-author) and I will attempt to examine and unpack some of the common areas of practice management which financial advisers, who are often also business owners, need to act upon on as they strive to build and run a world class financial advice practice and deliver a superior client experience.

Few advisers would argue that they are not focused on delivering value to their clients in a manner that maximises client satisfaction. Happy clients are loyal and loyal clients mean a greater chance of retaining them and a greater likelihood of referrals. Their perceptions of and experiences with a firm’s brand are valuable sources of information that are helpful in guiding a business to meet its needs with greater satisfaction. There are several ways of gathering client feedback. In this blog post the focus will be the Client Advisory Board.

What is a Client Advisory Board (CAB)? In short, it is a group of existing clients that are brought together from time to time (perhaps annually or twice a year) to discuss their experiences of a firm, mostly through its people and services, and to share their views on the priorities and goals of that firm. A CAB that is well run will contribute significantly to gaining a meaningful understanding of what clients truly care about and allow for an alignment of priorities between a firm and its clients. Key strategic decisions that consider client input are more likely to be received in a positive manner by clients while also providing an environment in which ideas can be tested before potentially wasting time and money. A CAB is of benefit to both a firm and its clients:

  • It’s an opportunity to further inform clients about the business.
  • Advisers may gain a greater understanding of their clients’ needs.
  • Members act as sounding boards and mentors.
  • There is undeniable value in business owners being accountable to their clients beyond simply the services provided.
  • It enhances the relationships with a firm’s most important clients.

Practically how does it work? While there is not necessarily a single approach to a CAB, the pointers below may provide a useful guide to approaching a first one. However, before we delve into that, it may be worth mentioning that from personal experience advisers are apprehensive, perhaps even fearful of following this route. The vulnerability of facing clients and calling for in-person feedback and guidance seems often to be the paralysing factor. Thankfully I can provide the assurance that for those whom I have assisted with forming a CAB, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from advisers and clients alike. One favourite story I have from a CAB meeting I chaired was overhearing two new friends chatting at the post meeting drinks and snacks. One of them said to the other: “We have to help them.”

While not necessarily critical to the process, I would strongly advise that the starting point is a brief and well-positioned (tell them you need their help!) online client survey. It will provide the necessary framework for a first CAB. The following questions would form a worthwhile basis for such a survey:

  • What is the ONE thing we do without which you wouldn’t be a client of ours?
  • What is the ONE thing we don’t do that you wish we would?
  • With which attributes / characteristics do you associate our firm?

Back to the CAB. If you have segmented your client base, focus on your top segment for the next step. Approach 8 to 12 of your top clients to join. Explain to them what you are hoping to achieve. The group should be diverse across age, background, career, gender, etc. Include a business owner, a widow, someone young, a corporate executive, a retired person, an entrepreneur. And avoid big egos. This will all help contribute to balanced views.

Meetings should follow a set agenda that is distributed prior to the meeting and a duration agreed (nothing shorter than an hour; 90 minutes may be ideal), and provide guidelines for the CAB that include its purpose. You need to be be clear on this one: the more specific the purpose of the CAB, the more it will benefit your business. Be explicit about what ‘improving’ or ‘growing’ your business means for your firm so that input and feedback is aligned with the business objectives. It’s important to share the business goals and business plan. Yes, it means having a business plan, however brief it may be (the one-page business plan is perhaps a topic for another blog post). You may even want to think about an independent, third party that has little or no association with your firm to chair the meeting. It may result in a more open and honest discussion. It is also important to consider that suggestions may be made during the meeting that you don’t wish to follow and how you would deal with that.

During the meeting:

  • Allow for no more than two or three attendees from the advice firm, ideally key role players.
  • Ask CAB members for a two-minute introduction of themselves.
  • Introduce yourself and your business / services briefly.
  • Share your ideal client profile.
  • Ask members what they expect from your firm.
  • Identify quick wins that can be implemented easily and swiftly (it creates momentum and adds credibility).
  • Take 15 minutes at the end of the meeting to summarise what was discussed.
  • Confirm the development of an action plan that will be shared with members (and progress communicated).

Remember to take minutes and circulate them amongst the CAB members. Importantly, allow CAB members to get to know each other and interact with the firm’s attendees after the meeting in whatever format is deemed appropriate.

Convening CAB meetings has been a key driver in many firms’ progress towards developing the type of advice business that their clients want, and a valuable by-product has been greater client referrals. Although initially an intimidating concept for many, I have yet to see an advice firm that has regretted implementing them in their business.


If you are interested in participating in a series of idea sharing calls where we will discuss the topics contained in this blog post in more detail, where you can share your experiences with peers who are on different stages of their journey as a business, then please register your interest by emailing mark.bradley@portfoliometrix.com