Employees come first — not clients

If you want to build a great financial advisory firm that serves the needs of your clients, put your employees first.

When my partner and I began what is now Allworth Financial some 27 years ago, we made a list of our core values and one of those values was that the client always came first. For many years, we operated with this philosophy and communicated this to every one of our employees. 

I recall a couple of clients in our early days who were a real pain in the neck. They were rude to our staff and seemed to take a perverse pride in sucking the life out of whomever they dealt with.

As our organization grew, we got to the point where we began firing clients who were abrasive and unpleasant. There weren’t many of them, but once we jettisoned the few clients who were causing all the pain, we noticed morale immediately improved within the office. 

I remember the first client that I ever fired. When I asked him to take his business elsewhere, he was angry with me and told me he was going to file a complaint with the SEC if I didn’t keep working with him. I explained to him that we were not the Department of Motor Vehicles or some public utility, and that we had the freedom to choose those clients with whom we did business.

Isn’t it wonderful that we are in an industry where we don’t have to put up with people who are disruptive or abusive? 

As the years went by and our employee base grew, it dawned on me that our clients weren’t the single most important part of our organization: Our employees were. Don’t get me wrong, I love most of our clients, and we do everything in our power to provide them with the best service possible. But the high level of service we provide begins with our people. 

When we began communicating to our staff that they were more valuable than our clients, it did several things: First, it showed them how much we cared for and appreciated them. Second, it empowered them by illustrating that we trusted them to make the right decisions in their jobs. And third, it brought us all closer together and made us a more cohesive unit.

Today, one of our guiding principles is Associates First. Our associates are the lifeblood of our business and they know that we care deeply about them. As a result, not only have our associates named us the best place to work in a few different respected national and local surveys, but our clients continue to give us high customer service scores, as well.

Whether you have one employee or 100, my experience has taught me that if you put your employees first, you’ll not only have a happy workforce, you’ll also have loyal clients. 

[More: Building your team while working remotely]

Scott Hanson is co-founder of Allworth Financial, formerly Hanson McClain Advisors, a fee-based RIA with $8 billion in AUM.

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