Referrals Drive Practice Growth

Word of Mouth Endorsements Deemed Critical Asset

Referrals from satisfied clients continue to be the most effective method for financial advisors to find new prospects, add customers, and grow their business.

The 2020 Natixis Global Survey of Financial Professionals found that 85% of financial professionals rely on referrals from current clients and contacts. “They see this word of mouth endorsement as a critical asset and an important dimension,” Natixis stated. Forty-six percent also benefitted from referrals by other professionals such as accountants and attorneys, while 39% grew by building relationships across multiple generations of families, the study added. Advisors found more success using approaches that rely on reputation and trust over less personal platforms such as advertising, sponsorship, social media, and email marketing.

Referrals are particularly important for firms with a specific focus, or those that rely on a team approach deliver services. For instance, StoneKimbro in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, which specializes in retirement planning for organizations, operates as a team rather than working through one individual advisor.

bruce head“We don’t really prospect; we get referrals,” said Bruce Stone CLU® ChFC®, principal of StoneKimbro. “People are referred to us because they have a particular itch that needs to be scratched. For example, if somebody is unhappy with the service, they are getting on a retirement plan, and they contact somebody who is also one of our clients, they tell them to ‘call StoneKimbro’”.

The firm is structured around serving organizations, including both for-profit and non-profit entities. StoneKimbro focuses on retirement plans such as Defined Benefit, Profit Sharing, 401(k) plans, or 403(b) plans (tax sheltered annuities). They also are one of the few firms with expertise in all Non Qualified Retirement Plans.

The practice emphasizes the inter-related needs of employees, executives, and the owners of companies who sponsor these plans. Stone leverages his extensive background in estate and business succession planning to deal with sophisticated tax strategies for company owners.

“My job is to basically work with the top 20 clients of the firm,” Stone said. “I stay involved with the top talent, while the rest of my team works with the employees, providing education as well as financial consulting for retirement plan participants.”

He continued, “I know the business owners who run the company and who the key people are. I also know as much as I possibly can about the business. That allows me to be proactive and bring issues to their attention that I think need to be raised – opportunities and potential pitfalls that I see coming their way which should be addressed.”

Although StoneKimbro focuses on people associated with client organizations, the firm’s financial planners also work with individual clients, Stone said. “However, from the standpoint of looking for new sources of business, our eyes are primarily on organizations.”

Stone said the firm has a number of clients who have been with StoneKimbro for more than 50 years and span three generations of family members. He said his team is careful to take on the people who listen to their advice and who fit into the same type of working relationship that existing clients follow.

“We’re basically attending to people’s immediate needs when they first contact us,” he said. “That gives us the right to talk to them about all of the other needs that we can help with down the road. We’re looking to build long relationships. We’ve even done plans where we take a loss on the relationship for the first couple of years so we can develop a long-term client that we feel will go the distance.”

Bruce team
Education places
a central role in those efforts, particularly around retirement plans in the workplace. As financial planners train employees at the worksite, those efforts trickle up through the executives and even to the owner ranks. Stone said he recently learned that one of his business owner clients attends the employee meetings to learn more about retirement planning.

“We understand that it’s a jargon-rich industry and we’re sensitive to that,” he added. “We try to put things in very simple terms. We take very complex concepts and try to make them simple to understand.”

Stone noted an ongoing challenge for financial advisors across the country is dealing with the large number of people who are aging but have not addressed their retirement planning needs. He said many people simply cannot afford to retire, even though they may be attempting, either voluntarily or involuntarily, to do so.

“I speak to people when they’re young and try to get them thinking about putting as much money away as they possibly can,” he said. “After 46 years in the industry, I have yet to hear a client tell me that they had saved too much money for retirement. Further, I’ve yet to hear from a widow that her husband left the family with too much life insurance.”

Stone said there are multiple unique financial challenges with planning for retirement. Those components include having enough monthly income; inflation; health insurance costs; long-term care factors; and retirees trying to help their children financially. The planning process takes those factors into account to build customized plans for each individual.

“We strive to keep our clients from making bad decisions,” he continued. “We’re not afraid to call people and tell them what they don’t want to hear. The one thing we always do is speak truth to anyone who wants our opinion and wants to know what to do.”

Stone added he has passed on several cases where people were spending too much during retirement and would not make lifestyle changes to make their spending match their assets.
“One was living off 12% of their portfolio every year and basically spending their way through all their assets. I told them I wouldn’t be their advisor until they stopped spending so much. They didn’t want to hear that advice. That’s fine, but we’re not going to be a party to that.”

For more information on StoneKimbro, visit


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