Running a successful business can be a complex endeavor, but the principles behind it are refreshingly simple. Your clients depend on you for the service you provide, and you depend on them to keep you in business. So, what’s the key to client retention?
What it boils down to, according to Stephen Cunha, vice president and retirement plan coordinator with Baystate Financial in Wakefield, Massachusetts, is this: do what you say you’re going to do.
“I invite our clients to fire us,” Cunha said, “if a year goes by and we pull out our service agreement and we didn’t do what we said we would do, we didn’t deliver on our promise. Therefore, we don’t deserve your business.”
Becoming a financial advisor
Cunha came to advising in a roundabout way. During an internship at a bank, he quickly learned that while banking wasn’t his cup of tea, the broader financial services industry looked intriguing.
He went into the Army ROTC program at college before exploring that path, but after graduating and a year of active duty, he returned and reached out to a local branch office of American Express Financial Advisors.
“Recruiting is tough in this industry,” Cunha said, “so I caught the sales manager off guard calling for an interview. And I had little to no experience in the industry. But I had my army service, an economics degree, and the internship experience, and I had the personality where the manager thought I’d have a shot surviving in the industry.”
He spent four years at AmEx learning the basics of financial planning, investment, and insurance, and then started looking for something to grow into.
“I wanted to work more in the business market,” he said, “in addition to the personal market.” He’d started dabbling in retirement plans when a managing partner of Baystate Financial, a colleague from a previous job, reached out and convinced him to make a change.
“I was a regular producer like everyone else, but this managing partner was building out a team of go-to specialists to facilitate a premier firm to make sure advisors had great resources to work in their desired markets,” Cunha said. He signed on with the team and within a short time became the resident retirement plans specialist, building a block of business and promoting the design, selling, acquisition, and servicing of qualified retirement plans.
Variety, mutuality: the spice of business
“What I like about this position,” Cunha said, “is that I get to work with a variety of clients: several different industries and types of entities, big and small companies, high-paid employees, low-paid employees, and everyone in-between.”
Cunha also highlights the network of more than 50 co-advisers he does joint work with, and the fruits of having a mutual connection that strengthens everyone’s business. This interdependence is key to how Cunha does his work, because he’s a specialist.
“I bring the organizational expertise, compliance experience, and oversight process to the table. The co-advisors bring relationship management and good partnership. We’re each leveraging our strengths.”
He takes pride in leveraging those strengths to help companies and employees make the most out of their retirement plans. “I like being the go-to guy,” he said. “I like problem solving, fixing broken plans, and making clients happy when we can solve their problems and help minimize their risk.” This last is a big one, as Cunha noted that many small and mid-size companies especially don’t know what they don’t know, and often are not aware of the fiduciary risks they expose themselves to when they sponsor retirement plans.
Cunha enjoys educating plan sponsors and putting processes in place to help them minimize that risk, but he also enjoys educating employees and, as he puts it, improving the savings rate in America, one client at a time.
“From my army days, I like training and educating,” he said. “There’s a nuance to presenting to employees that’s part education and part motivation. America is so saturated with advertising, and it’s working. People want to spend, spend, spend…and if anything’s left over they might save it. It’s my job to get them to save systematically – pay yourself first, and let the advertisers fight over the rest.”