If there were ever a time when a branch manager earned his keep, it is during times like these.
With investors convinced the Fed will ease next week, the stock market has settled down. But this summer (particularly July and August) was a volatile one. Since no one knows if this credit crisis is going to bleed into the general economy, many financial advisors are getting calls from clients with itchy fingers (sell!).

Now is the time, experts say, for BOMs to really flex their coaching muscles and help their advisors with some much-needed damage control.

Rob Brown, president of Encore Partners, a financial services industry consulting and coaching firm based in Williamsburg, Va., says now is not the time to hide from nervous clients—even if they’ve taken a net-worth body blow. “This is the time to be what a BOM is supposed to be—a coach,” he says. “Advisors want their managers to be proactive and offer up ideas.”

Brown says the first step is to write a template letter advisors can send to their clients. “I had [my financial advisor clients] reiterate—in writing—their own personal investment process, and use it to remind their clients that that’s why they do business with them.” The letter should stress several important factors, such as, “We know it’s your money, and we don’t treat it like a statistic;” “We expect, and are prepared for, market tumult from time to time;” and, “You needn’t worry about it as it relates to a long-term investment plan.”

“More than a few advisors said they got thank you calls from clients after sending these letters,” Brown says.

He has some additional advice for BOMs during this volatile market. It’s time to get out of the office chair and sit in with each of their advisors to see what their concerns are, and what they’re doing about them. “These days, far too much management is done by email, or by waiting for an advisor to come to you—even in tiny branches,” he says. “If you don’t hear from a rep, it’s easy to assume that he’s got everything under control. But making that assumption can wind up being very costly.”

Now more than ever, Brown says, BOMs need to reinforce some key concepts:

1. Make sure each advisor knows and conveys the unique value he can provide both his existing clients and his prospects.
2. Make sure each advisor has a written daily plan for success—a list of proactive things to do. “Many advisors have no daily plan at all,” he says.
3. Ask: What are you doing each day to prospect? Are you contacting your existing clients? Work with each of them to create a 90-day roadmap to get him in front of more clients and prospects.
4. Make sure reps have a solid client management process for people who are of different means and in different stages of their financial lives.
5. Help them be their clients’ conscience. “In bad times, some clients want to run and hide,” he says. For some, this may be a good time to re-evaluate their investment plans, he says.

The role of a branch manager is really that of a coach, Brown says. “Unfortunately, increased compliance issues have turned many into administrators.” He admits the job of BOM is probably the toughest in the industry from a risk/reward perspective, adding, “Their licenses are put on the line every day.” But, now is the time to get back to your coaching roots, he says. “Working in this business for so many years, I’ve learned that a) advisors really want their managers to be coaches, and b) managers who saw themselves as coaches first said they enjoyed their jobs the most.”

Tend To The Young

BOMs need to stress that today’s market difficulty is not just about today, says Stewart Lee, president of Lee Training, a financial services industry coaching and consulting firm based in Wellston, Okla. “Bad news and uncertainty is something we experience from time to time in this business,” Lee says. “But, there are a lot of younger brokers out there who’ve never experienced anything like this.”

This, says Lee—whose firm developed SIFMA’s branch management training program—is an opportunity for managers to evaluate how well they’ve trained younger brokers for flat or down markets, and to make changes if necessary. “Hold classes for those who may not have experienced this,” he says. “Stress the importance of reading and understanding what’s going on. Gather a panel of experienced brokers to speak with them and answer questions.”

Another important thing to bear in mind, Lee says, is that this can be a great time to prospect, to knock on doors of clients whose brokers are keeping low profiles, and put yourself and your firm in the limelight. It starts by being “willing and able” to discuss the bad news, he says. “Clients are being bombarded by so much discouraging media, and most would love to have a real-life expert to talk to and ask questions.” Address their emotional and financial concerns, he says. Such discussions really help foster your relationship with existing clients. “It shows them you’re much more than a fair-weather advisor.”

Advisors can break down their clients into different groups—based on similarities such as age or occupation, and invite each group in to address their special needs and concerns, Lee says. By doing so, you’re not only saving yourself time, but you’re posing yourself as an expert in different peer groups, which can definitely generate referral business, he says.

BOMs should offer their reps incentives at times like this. Lee suggests, “Create a contest. Offer an expensive dinner for two to the rep who contacts the most clients this week, or to the one who courts the most prospects.”

Lee also says that precarious markets give reps the opportunity to present themselves, and their firm, as entities that are willing to step up in the face of adversity. “If brokers did this half as often as they boasted to clients when things are going well, I think they’d have a much higher client retention rate.”