Why Clients Fire Financial Advisors

Financial advisors get fired all the time. When it happens to you, it can sting, but understanding why you were dumped will help you succeed in the future.

First, you should know that advisors are not just fired because their clients lost money in the market. Important social and relational factors are key to maintaining a positive and long-lasting rapport with your clients. Most of all, it's about communicating effectively with your clients.

Key Takeaways

  • High fees or even poor market performance are not always the reasons why clients dump their advisors.
  • Communication is a big issue: miscommunication, not listening to clients, or not communicating with them.
  • Setting unrealistic expectations at the outset of the relationship is another big mistake.

Communication Breakdown

Failure to communicate with clients is frequently the cause when investors fire their financial advisors, according to experts in the field. "Clients don't necessarily fire advisors only because of poor performance, but rather because the advisor never communicates with them," said Bill Hammer, Jr., a principal founder of the Hammer Wealth Group, a Melville, N.Y. wealth management firm.

Poor communication makes clients conclude that the advisor is "asleep at the wheel."

Hammer adds that during the inevitable disappointing periods, it is crucial for advisors to communicate with their clients. Some can't face that difficult conversation.

Rita Gunther McGrath, a professor at Columbia Business School, knows a thing or two about numbers. When she didn't like the numbers she was seeing in her statements, she fired her advisor.

"It was really all about poor performance," McGrath said. "I was with them for seven years and ended up with less money than I had sent to them. Honestly, I'd have been better off leaving it sitting in a bank account."

Misreading Client Needs

McGrath said her advisor had a poor understanding of her needs. "I'd go to these meetings with them and it was all pie charts and mumbo-jumbo about portfolio diversification, investment horizons, and technical stuff."

She added that ultimately what caused the dissatisfaction was her advisor's lack of communication. "After years of losses, do you think they would call me and have a conversation?" she asked. "No, it was radio silence for years. I decided enough already. And when I finally pulled my account and cited the poor performance, the response was 'but your husband's account did well …' instead of acknowledging the under-performance in my account and being forthright about it."

When interviewing financial advisors to assist with your retirement planning, be sure you ask them the top 10 questions that will help you decide on the best advisor to meet your specific needs.

Other Deal Breakers for Investors

Kalen Holliday, director of marketing and communications at Interactive Advisors, a service that matches investors and financial advisors, said she hears from dissatisfied financial advisory clients all the time—mostly after they just fired their advisor. "We hear it all," she said. "People complain about opening an account and then never hearing from the advisor, or feeling like they were overlooked for 'only' having $500,000 in investment funds."

Interactive Advisors offers a list of deal-breakers that cause investors to pull the plug on their advisors. Among them:

  • Performance: Clients are sick of paying high fees for lousy performance, and they aren't going to take it anymore.
  • Lack of Attention: Advisors don't call, they don't write—they pretty much evaporate when the Dow is down.
  • Fees: When clients are getting high returns, high fees won't make them wince. When they're not, they look to cut costs. Firing an advisor who isn't providing what was promised is an obvious choice.

Jason Laux, owner and retirement advisor of Synergy Financial Group, a Pittsburgh-based investment advisory firm, agrees that lack of human interaction is a big reason why clients take a walk. "Clients can tolerate the ups and downs of the market, changing economic whirlwinds, and an erratic interest rate environment if, and only if, they feel that their advisor is monitoring the situation and keeping them informed," explained Laux. 

He added that nobody wants to be in the dark when it comes to their money, especially in troubling times. "Just knowing a plan is in place and that they are being cared for will provide the reassurance needed to maintain and build a strong working financial relationship," he said.


The year financial advisers became regulated by federal law under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.

The Importance of Realistic Expectations

Gregory Gallo, the co-founder of The Opus Group, a Red Bank, N.J., advisory company, says advisors who get fired sometimes are guilty of overselling at the outset. "Over-promise and under-deliver—that's a big one," he offered.

"In my 16 years in the business, I have heard many advisors in an effort to win business make statements to prospective clients that ultimately prove too good to be true." The obvious example is performance—telling prospects that they will outperform the 'market' is just setting the client up for disappointment. "When a client feels like they have paid good money for that underperformance, they simply leave," he says.

Other investment experts agree with that sentiment, adding that setting unrealistic expectations is linked to poor communication skills among advisors. "Promising investors returns that are way above market, and then not delivering on them, is a surefire way to lose clients," said Hammer.

What Are the Best Reasons for Firing a Financial Advisor?

  • If your advisor doesn't keep in touch with you on a fairly regular basis, it may be time for you to move on. If the advisor ignores your emails or phone calls, it's definitely time to move on.

Some other common reasons for reasonable dissatisfaction with an advisor:

  • Poor listening skills. The advisor needs to understand your financial situation, your prospects, and your goals. If those questions aren't addressed, the advisor cannot represent your interests.
  • Too much jargon. Is your head spinning after a talk with your advisor? It's not your fault.
  • High fees. The average advisory fee is about 1% of assets under management per year. If it's higher than that, ask why, and if the answer doesn't suffice, move on.

I'm an Advisor. How Can I Improve My Client Relationships?

Learn to communicate better. Excellent communication ability is at the top of the list of the skills needed to get and keep a job in any field. That means learning to really listen. Think before you speak. Avoid jargon. Never condescend to your clients. Those are good tips in any field but there's one extra for financial advisors: Keep in touch regularly, in good times and bad.

How Can I Compete Effectively as a Financial Advisor?

Keep in mind that you're competing against bots, stock chat rooms, and automated trading platforms. Being human is your biggest advantage. If you can communicate effectively one on one with a client, you've got something no bot can emulate (yet).

Article Sources
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  1. Interactive Advisors. "Five questions to ask before hiring a financial advisor."

  2. Wiley Online Library. "The History of Financial Planning Timeline."

  3. Manpower Group. "10 Ways to Improve Your Communication Skills."

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