Communicating effectively with clients

With Scott West, head of Invesco Consulting.

Find out why the words that you use matter as Scott West, head of Invesco Consulting, joins the show to share simple communication tips that can enhance the relationships with your clients.

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Matt Heine: Hi and welcome to this episode of Between Meetings. My name is Matt Heine and I'm your host today.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce our next international guest. He's a well-known and well sought after keynote speaker and a co-author of five books. I'm going to leave the introduction to him today because he probably tells his story a lot better than I do. Welcome, Scott West.

Scott West: Thanks, Matt. Appreciate it, yeah.

MH: We were just talking before, I guess, about your career and how you've ended up doing what you're doing, which is a really interesting area in itself, but don't you just tell us a bit of your backstory and then, we'll get onto where you're focused.

SW: Sure, yeah. I started my career selling soap for Procter & Gamble in Chicago and then joined the industry, the financial service industry. The guy that hired me said, "You can make a lot more money on a mutual fund than you can a bar of soap." That got me into the mutual fund industry in the mid 80s. I've had, really, almost every job you're going to have at one mutual fund company asset manager, which ended up being Invesco. now 35 years into it.

MH: Were you running money back then or it was always in the sales area?

SW: No. I was always in the sales area. I've had every kind of position in terms of retail sales, wholesaling, heads of marketing, national sales manager. None of it ever worked out. Now, I'm in the spot I'm supposed to be in, I guess.

MH: Which is running, if I get this correct, one of the largest if not the largest consulting firm within an asset management business focused on communication and how advisors can effectively sell better.

SW: Yeah. We kind of stumbled into this. The vision has been around for about 22 years and basically what it is, is it looks and feels like an independent consulting firm, housed in an asset manager, designed really to create access and opportunity for our sales people to get in front of the right advisors.

MH: Does Invesco in the States have their own advisors? Is that part of what you're doing or is it working with independent or sales forces or distribution [crosstalk 00:01:46]?

SW: All external. No proprietary sales force, whatsoever.

MH: Which is quite novel. I would afford to have a business like that set-up in a large asset manager. Are other firms in the States doing similar things?

SW: That's a great question, and I always wonder every year whether they're going to renew and keep us because here's a world class asset manager in Invesco with every strategy and product you can imagine, and they make a very big commitment to this Invesco consulting operation. It's one of a kind.

Most asset managers have somebody, an economist or someone on staff that talks about something beyond product, but here's an organisation that has a global footprint that has close to 20, 25 people dedicated to just building programmes, specific around communication.


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MH: We're very fortunate to hear you speak this morning around communications. In many ways, it was a one-on-one about the dos and don'ts of communication and some of the examples that you put up there were absolutely fantastic advantages that the subtle choice of words that can make a big difference to an advisor's, I guess, initial meeting but also the ongoing review meeting.

I think you also explained some of the science behind what you're doing, which is also equally interesting around the scope of the research, the tools that you were using to do the research and also make the findings.

SW: Yeah. I think what separates us is the ability to do primary research. We've been fortunate with Invesco that they've sponsored us to do several research studies. When I say research study, they're focus groups with the end investor. I think that's what really separates us is we've got the opinions, not just of advisors or intermediaries, but we're actually hearing from investors.

The one thing I've learned since starting doing this in 2007 is that words really do matter and that there is a chasm of difference many times between what we say and what people unfortunately hear. Why that's so important is because if you confuse clients or they don't understand, and by the way, that happens all the time. Not necessarily at the advisor's fault. He or she has been given a language that is foreign. It was cooked up in institutional boardrooms and manufacturing plants and it's a language that we don't really know how to handle and translate in front of the investor. But if an investor gets confused, then they get maybe sceptical and there's a short row there between scepticism and pessimism and that's a deal killer for any sale or persuasive conversation.

MH: I think one of the interesting stories that you told was you researched a whole lot of investors around what institutional asset management meant. Can you tell that story?

SW: We've done a bunch of these dial sessions where investors give us their response. One of the things we've been really studious to do was ask, continually as investors what their reaction is to some of the words we like to use in our industry. We have this whole lexicon that we have synthetic freezes like best of breed and wholistic and I remember in Denver, Colorado, asking this group of investors, "What do you hear when you hear institutional money management?" I kid you not, Matt. There were two people that believe when we said institutional money management, that we were using rehabilitated felons to manage money.

The good news was they thought that was incredibly admirable. Invesco was involved with that, but it had nothing to do with reality.

MH: Ethical investing.

SW: Exactly.

MH: Just before we jump into, I guess, the real meat of it. Can you just give me an update on what's happening over in the States from an advice market perspective? We're obviously going through a huge amount of change in Australia. We've started to see parts of it replicating what was happening over in the States as far as the breakaway from The White House as an institution to our IAs or independence. What was the current state of play?

SW: Yeah. Well, that's a good question and I certainly can't give you an overall, all the details, but I will tell you near the end of the Obama administration, we were really close to seeing the introduction of DOL, the Department of Labour. A huge piece of legislation that would've really materially changed a lot of what goes on between advisors and clients in terms of fee disclosure and best practises.

With the Trump administration, that was put on hold. A lot of firms, however, were sort of half-baked to begin, so they started moving down the road anyways. What it's really caused is, I think, an even more massive shift from brokerage to fee-based assets. Although I will tell you that there are still major firms, still wrestling with how to have that conversation, moving a client from a fixed price or commission-based to a fee-based relationship.

MH: Without getting into a political conversation here asking you if you support Trump or not, what was the reason that Trump actually stopped the DOL going ahead? Was it to support his mates on Wall Street or what was the thinking behind trying to suggest that it wasn't a good thing for the country?

SW: I don't think he suggested it wasn't a good thing. I think he thought it was overreach. Again, I'm way over my skis when I'm giving you this kind of political commentary, but not only was there overreach, I think it was going to bring an unnecessary amount of burden on an industry that quite frankly, was already burdened with a lot of regulations and whatnot. Certainly, the intention of DOL, I think was good, which is to act in the best interest of clients at all times, but I think Trump just saw an opportunity to sort of scale it back and maybe try to accomplish it without such overreaching regulation.

MH: Does the advice community generally feel positive over there or is there still a lot of concern around what technology might mean for them, how they describe their value proposition and some of those basic things?

SW: Oh, they're happy with the market returns. I mean, we continue to have great returns [crosstalk 00:07:23].

MH: Thank Trump for that too.

SW: Yeah, exactly. There's been some choppy moves here or there, but I think by and large, investors are happy, so therefore, advisors are happy. You're right though. There are definitely headwinds. Technology is one.

SW: We, by the way, have been testing a lot of responses from investors on the use of technology going forward and found some interesting things.

MH: We might unpack that a little bit later on if you like.

SW: Sure.

MH: Because certainly, our listeners are interested in technology and the impact it my have on Australia.

SW: But, I think there are always going to be headwinds. I think there's a constant push to justify their fees, which is really the whole programme price list that we've delivered here. I think the other challenge is well, just to make sure that clients understand the service proposition that advisors have. It's amazing to me that still, at the biggest most impressive firms with some of the most successful advisors, that they are still struggling to justify their value.

Part of it's their fault because they defaulted their comfort zone and being "investment managers," but part of it is also the inability for them to communicate what clients really want to hear.

MH: That's certainly a change that's happening slowly in Australia. For a long time, value proposition, as you said, in America was around picking the right stocks and we went through the JFC and no longer was that a particularly good value proposition, so that think long and hard.

One of the things though that happened and, I think, we're now reversing is idea of being a specialist. [inaudible 00:08:54] analogy, you wouldn't get any doctor operating on your heart, whereas now, the environment that we're seeing, you have to be to use your bandwidth before wholistic. Is that the same in America?

SW: Absolutely. I mean, we actually tested that very strategy, whether clients want to work with someone who's a generalist or a specialist. What we found is that they do want that specialty.

Now, they hope that they're the right client for that specialty, but assuming that's the case, they want to know that their advisor specialises in clients just like them.

MH: Okay. As opposed to investments or insurance, it's actually clients like them, similar employment or salary bracket.

SW: Yeah. I'm not so sure they need to be specialists in the products they offer, but I'm talking about their specialty whether it would be in tax efficiency or whatever the service might be that they have an expertise, because quite frankly, people, most top advisors do have something that they generally have as a most important or most similar type of client that they work with.

MH: You mentioned technology before. What was the, I guess, the general attitude from any investors around technology? Did they say that it is a complete solution or did they say it more as an enabler for their actual advisor?

SW: It's really interesting. You start first with the boomer age, which I'm at now. I think that you find that there's a reticence to accept this term robo advisor. We throw it around and it's actually quite toxic at the investor level. What they would prefer to hear is it's advisor assisted technology.

What's also interesting about that if you go down the age curve to the millennials, they also are not the techno only generation that you expect. They also want to know that they have access to an advisor, particularly as they gain in wealth. Yes, they are absolutely conversant and very comfortable using technology. But in all age groups, they want to believe that along the way and this is the real challenge for firms that are using this type of technology. It isn't all about just self-directed cars for example and the beauty of not having any human involvement, whatsoever. There needs to be, at least, we hear from our investors, some sense that an advisor is there if we need them.

MH: I'm not sure if you're familiar with it. One of my personal favourites over in the States is personal capital and I think it plays into that theme very, very well, where it's a great technology solution that allows them to go in and manage their finance themselves, but more importantly, there's a big button on the side that always says, "Speak to an advisor," for when they get stuck or if they want to speak through a plan with a real person.

SW: It's a real challenge. I mean, this whole advisor assisted technology and how firms are going to use it, who are they trying to attract. You see multiple different strategies being used with that.

MH: If we get back to the core of it and some of the work that you're doing. You're obviously speaking to a lot of advisors in the industry on a regular basis. If there are three things now that you can change in a practise or the three things that you stumble across most often that you think can easily be changed, what would that be?

SW: Oh, it's a good question. I guess, I'd start with the way that they acquire clients, the acquisition process. For example, we really believe in a completely unique approach to gaining referrals. We have a programme actually called preferrals and like to pride ourselves on our creative titles.

We think the referral process is broken. We did some research that suggested that 87% of advisors get their referrals from existing clients, which seems logical.

MH: Seemingly, yeah.

SW: Then, we ask them the question, "Okay, if that's true, how many solicitations have you done? How many asks have you had in the last two years?" An amazing statistic.

Think about this for example. 87% of people said I get my referrals from existing clients. What percent do you think actually, physically, verbally ask?

MH: I think the number is going to be very similar to Australia and I'm going to go with less than 5%. Probably, zero.

SW: Yeah. Well, it's actually a little higher than that. It's 11%, but it's still meaningless. What you've got now is a liar's box. You've got people telling you they do something, but when you check their behaviour, they don't do it.

Here's the reason why, Matt. Because when we ask for referrals, not in every case, we're upsetting the equilibrium of our relationship. We are shifting a burden of obligation. If you were my client, Matt, and I had you for a number of years as a very successful client, it would be sometimes toxic for me to say to you, Matt, "Now, you know, you've been a client for years. As you know, I build my practise on referrals. Do you know anybody rich like you that I could work with?"

All of a sudden, you sit back and you say, "Wait a second. I thought this was a relationship where you supply the value and the services and I'm the consumer and I pay good money for it. When did I become your marketing department?"

MH: Interesting.

SW: We believe in a process that is totally different. We don't have to ask.

Now, there are advisors who have been in this business a long time, who are very comfortable asking for referrals. Keep doing it. But we believe in a process that requires you to really think through, are you putting at risk some of your most valued relationships by asking them to become your marketing department.

MH: Have you actually done any research on those that have asked and lost clients as a result?

SW: Haven't done that, but I'll tell you, when I give this presentation and I ask advisors, have you had some negative situations, they're able to tell me. Here's what happens. What ends up happening is they maybe ask and the advisor, the client they ask is now in a situation where they are put on the spot to come up with a name. Right? They bring a name. Then, what ends up happening is that person they bring to the advisor, the potential client, doesn't have enough money or they have a problem that although the advisor could probably fix it, doesn't want to have too many of these cases.

Now, Matt, you've got two problems. Now, you've got to disappoint two people. You disappoint the prospect, because they're the wrong one and you have to disappoint the very client that you asked to represent you.

At the core of what the problem is, is that we have no quality control over what our client will say about us in front of a prospect. We believe the system is broken and we think the way to change it is first of all, establish with your clients the equilibrium that I will not ask you again for referrals. If I have in the past, I've stopped. Then, secondly, articulate your concerns. What do you see out there? How are investors being underserved? What that's actually doing is actually creating a pipeline and causing you to think about people that you know that are suffering from these problems. Then lastly, I say, "If there's anybody you care about who would benefit from a second pair of eyes, I'd be glad to help." No question mark. No pause where I wait for you to give me some names of rich people you know. It's about people that you care about.

What's happening in this, I believe, better solution is that we're changing the paradigm from you being obligated to you being empowered to help people you love and care about.

MH: Hmm, it becomes offer rather than a request.

SW: Exactly, right.

MH: It's a very subtle difference and I think, certainly, many of the examples you went through this morning, they're not big shifts. They're very small tweaks to the language that we use.

SW: They're very obvious too. I mean, I had a gentleman come up to me after our lunch this afternoon. He said, "I've been in business 34 years. My practise is not broken." He literally just told me this half an hour ago. "But," he said, "it's really great to be refreshed on what makes the little things so big in communication that either succeed or fail in high stakes persuasive conversations."

MH: Referrals is one area. What are another two that you can think of, off the top of your head?

SW: The irony is we struggle with having good conversationalists. I really think we've lost the art of a good conversation in many cases. We're not curious.

Forget about just our industry. Forget about the paradigm between an advisor and a client. Just think about your own life. When was the last time you had a conversation with someone you just met for the first time and you realise that they had an insatiable appetite to ask questions about you and it wasn't weird, they weren't stalking you? I mean, it doesn't happen very often. Right? Because we ask questions generally to set ourselves up for our own monologue or we ask questions that are masquerading as statements is what they really are. Like when we grew up as a kid and our mother said to us, "You know, I think it might be time to clean your room?" That's not a question. There's no curiosity. It's a statement. You will clean your room.

I think we suffer from that in our industry. We believe that if we can query a client enough about what they have, we'll get the relationship and the fact of the matter is unfortunately is if I was to become one of your clients and you're an advisor, Matt, I could actually bucket or categorise each of the questions you ask me in the two categories, who is Scott West and what does Scott West have. Anybody that can fog a mirror in our industry can find out what Scott West has. We've got whole software packages that can do that. Anybody can do that. But it takes real skill to be curious enough, to ask questions about who Scott West is.

I'm not suggesting all the questions have to be who I am. It's not a therapy session. We got to raise assets at some point. But I'm going to be more interested in working with an advisor who truly knows who I am, not just what I have.

I believe curiosity is really held in low regard and we have a programme called fanatical curiosity where we really challenge advisors in a couple of ways. One, how to understand the value of commonality. Just simple things that we have in common. Create confidence. Commonality creates confidence.

Then, maybe understanding a little bit more about the natural order of curiosity. Our industry teaches you one thing. It says, "Learn where someone's come from and then, talk about their goals. Then, try to get them to part with their money." That's, I guess, I kind of crude but you could look at it that way. We believe, in any relationship, there are four sort of touchstones you have to go to as you move through the relationship. If you and I were to become really good friends over time, we would really hit four different areas. Where are you from, where are you now, how did you get here and where you going. Those are the four cornerstones of a great relationship. Right?

I think, if advisors became more intentional and studious about having great conversations, they would get more high value clients and keep them. It's really important.

MH: Absolutely. Spot on. That's what we're seeing in Australia now, so if you look at the traditional industry, it's come from all these sales background. Not sure I've met others that started selling soap but it's, by definition, you've started with the soft skills and you learned the technical aspect, where as now, we're seeing a lot of people coming into the industry that technically are absolutely brilliant but they not necessarily got the soft skills and some of the things that are happening over in the States is just that combination of psychology, economics and advice. It's a very nice round package but there's no real formal education around the soft skills or to your point, how to have a conversation.

That's obviously, your role is out there, working with advisors. What else can people do to refine-

SW: Let me build on one more thing you said when you said soft skills because another way to call that is the small talk part of it, right? What I found is there's no such thing as small talk and if an advisor would realise that the so-called small talk of the conversation is really everything, it's the big talk part of it. Right? The small talk is quite frankly the commoditized part about the investments. Small talk is big talk. But to get to your third point, I think again, as I look across the industry, the acquisition of clients is really important. I think, the conversations we have are important. Then, I think, particularly as we might be going through some choppy markets here, I hope not on a prolonged basis, but we're in the tail end of a long bull run, I think retention's going to become really important or clients, really important.

There, we have a programme also... We have a programme for everything, Matt. A programme called, The Golden Hour, which really speaks to that period of time that you have to identify clients at risk. Now, The Golden Hour actually is a medical term and The Golden Hour was something I experienced unbelievably in 2012. Went to the office at 8:00 AM, was leading a staff meeting. As I was getting ready to start, my colleague next to me said, "You look terrible." I said, "You look great too." Then, went on to say, "You look pale and you're sweating," and quite frankly, the truth be known, my hands were numb from about 24 hours before.

Make a long story short, I said I was going to go and lie down in my office and my assistant said, "No, you're not. We're going to the hospital." Within three or four hours, I found out that I had a 96% blockage of the left anterior descending artery, also referred to as the widow-maker and that I really had a short period of time to get that fixed.

The good news is I'm sitting here with you today. I had a stent put in, but the golden hour, in medical terms is that period of time when you identify what's wrong and fix it.

In retention, the problem is advisors lose a core client every year. What makes that interesting is if you're only adding one new client, which is about average among top advisors, there are some that do much better, you've got a net zero growth pattern, which is not good. You either have a choice. You either open up the front door and become more aggressive on prospecting, which I think is really important, but you also got to mind the backdoor. You better stop people from escaping. Put a plug in the drain if you will.

That's, I think a skill in identifying, first of all, who your top clients. I think there's nobody who's been in the business a long time who couldn't tell you who their top 10 clients are. But if I asked them, who's the number 43 client on your list or 40 or 39, they wouldn't know. The reason that's not just an arbitrary number is that we believe your core list is way beyond your top 10. It extends almost to 40, 45 clients. That becomes really difficult.

Then, the other thing that's interesting and this is no fault of the advisor, is that we often times get pulled into tyranny of the urgent. We end up spending a disproportion of time with those clients that don't warrant it. It's not our fault. The phone rings, we answer it. The phone rings, it's almost Pavlovian. It doesn't really matter who's on the phone, what will fix any problem. Problem is we end up under serving those very people that puts our franchise at risk.

MH: We call it, that loss, refer to it as taken the first class trolley down to economy. It's great. 45 is an interesting number. I think that is that an advisor can service and have a high touch relationship with 150 clients.

SW: Yeah.

MH: I think that we need to look at ways that, that can actually be extended in different ways, but it doesn't necessarily become easy, particularly if your suggestion is what I think it is that you can only hold a very deep and close relationship of 45.

SW: Good point. In our research, I think the number is somewhere between 150 and 200. We found that the average advisor has 189 households and that 80% of their revenue is driven by roughly 20%. The 80-20 rule is fully in existence in this regard. If you say we take 20% of 189, we get to around 40, 43 families. The issue becomes, how do I service 43 families in a high touch way. You can't do it.

But the good news about retention is it only takes four interactive contacts per year, to waterproof your practise. By interactive, I mean, not a newsletter, not a text or even a letter, but some kind of engagement that's two-way. Just that type of contact will ensure you won't lose those anchor clients if you will.

MH: Personal contact. It could be an email of an article, for example, that I thought YouTube be relevant to you. Or it's an actual phone call and-

SW: If it was that, it would have to be a dialogue going back and forth. Tell me what you think of it. It has to be interactive. A lot of advisors use newsletters and they just don't. They hold no traction. It doesn't have to be also an involved hour and a half dinner four times a year. It can be a phone call, but as long as it's two-way and interactive, at least four will waterproof your practise.

MH: Based on 40, you're looking at about 160 interactions a year, which you should be able to do pretty comfortably.

SW: But if I told you that that's all you have to do or else, if you lose one of your anchor clients, on average, you'll lose 15,000 of revenue, you'd do it.

MH: Absolutely.

SW: You'd be able to systemize this easily.

MH: Yeah. As an advisor I would heed Jenny Brown. She actually calls I Love You calls and she's got in her CRM. I guess twice year, her or one of staff have to make an I Love You call-

SW: That's great.

MH: About something that's relevant to them.

SW: That's great. Being off schedule is important too. Everybody does the anniversaries, the birthdays, but the I Love You calls, as you will, that come out of the blue are so important.

MH: Yeah. That's an absolutely brilliant tip.


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I'd mentioned earlier in the podcast that you've co-authored a number of books and I believe one of them has been listed as a must read. What are the books that you would suggest to our listeners that they must read?

SW: Get a copy of Storyselling. It was written with my co-author, Mitch Anthony back in 1999. We actually just revisited it and that's actually the title of the new book called Storyselling Revisited.

MH: Is it on Kindle, by any chance?

SW: Yes, it is.

MH: Excellent.

SW: Basically what that talks about is the power of using stories and analogy to connect with people and I know what you're going to say. What if you're not articulate? What if you're not a story seller? But everybody can be one. It's about taking the unknown and making it known by using the familiar. That's all it simply is.

Use the example just a minute ago. You used an analogy very quick, you said, "It's like going from first class," what did you say?

MH: Taking the first class trolley down to economy.

SW: I mean, when you said that, I'd never heard that before but immediately, my mind got the visual image of what that meant. We laugh about that, but in our business, when we use analogy and metaphors, what we create in the mind of the investor is a cognitive shortcut. I might not understand what you're talking to me about, about an ETF particularly or some strategy that makes no sense to me, but if you can use an analogy like it kind of reminds me off, it's a little light. Do you remember when? We love stories.

Here's why it's even more important. The older we get, the more our brain actually changes. I happen to be a really right brain thinker. I imagine you are as well. But the older we get, we're all going to become more right-brained, because the left side of our brain is going to begin to deteriorate. The left side has the processing capabilities. As we get older, we can't retain information as well, we can't process as well, but guess which side of the brain our industry spends all of its marketing efforts on. The left side.

MH: The left side.

SW: There's the disconnect. It's almost as if our clients, their memories are like a warehouse in their brain. You see it all the time when you talk to ageing parents or grandparents and you see their ability to recall images from four and five decades ago with unbelievable clarity but they can't tell you what they ate yesterday and they find it difficult to balance their check book.

We need to take advantage of that in a positive way when communicating to clients. They can't keep up with the processing necessary, but they can bring back images that if you can reference and tie what you're selling to their known accepted base, then you have a connection.

MH: Presume it also goes right back to our childhood, where we all start with storytelling. That's how we learn things.

SW: We love stories. We cling to them, because we want to hear... First, we love a good story to begin with, but the older we get, the more we begin to rely on stories to help us make sense of what's going on.

MH: I think that's incredibly valuable because as we know, most advisor's top clients whereas the 45 households all is are typically older. That's where the wealth's accumulated and that's where we can really make a difference as an industry.

SW: It really is true. I think, we just unfortunately get it wrong in a way that we put all of our assets and our resources into the left side of the brain at the very time when the right side is the one engaged.

MH: Scott, you mentioned a couple of times and I know you've got to get to the airport in a moment, that you're over here and you've talked about the name of the programmes that you have over in the States. Am I getting a hint that maybe this will be available in Australia soon?

SW: Absolutely. In fact, three of the programmes I mentioned are available here, Fanatical Curiosity, Storyselling and Preferrals are available right now, through my colleague, Elise William. But yeah, we are committed to be here for the long-term in Australia market and we have a great investment offering at Invesco, but we also want to believe that it's much more than that. We eat our own cookings. It's not just about the numbers, the investment. We believe it's really important to help advisors, like I said early on, get, keep and grow, often sceptical clients. Yes, we're here and we're going to stay here and there will be access to these programme going forward. There's more than two dozen. We got to go run left.

MH: What are the programmes? Are they workshops? What's the format?

SW: The programmes themselves are typically 45-minute keynotes that can be condensed down to 30 minutes for attention deficit disorder sales people. There's also follow-up workshops to really drive home and allow people to scrimmage with some of the topics.

MH: Fantastic. For anyone that gets the opportunity to see Scott in action, I highly recommend it. Thank you so much for your time today. It's been very generous and safe travels home.

SW: Great. Great talk to you, Matt. Thanks a lot.

More from Scott West: Redefining the client relationship through language



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