Should you pitch to prospective clients at tee time?

There's a lingering stereotype that being a successful advisor requires being a golf aficionado. That strategy is not the hole in one it used to be.

Should you pitch to prospective clients at tee time?

It’s a classic TV commercial. The setting is a golf or country club. There’s low-level conversation as people chat casually, gossip and order from wait staff. Then, someone speaks about investments and the scene falls silent: "When EF Hutton talks, people listen!" 

That 1970s ad projected an image that lingers to this day: brokers and advisors are omnipresent at golf and country clubs. But is the stereotype accurate? Also, is a game supposedly played for relaxation really a good time to be attempting to drum up business?

Peter Churchill-Smith, managing director of Newport Private Wealth, a private Toronto-based firm serving high net worth clients, said that for him golf is an essential part of building strong client relationships.

“We’re in the intimate relationship business and people want to work with advisors that they trust, who’s advice they value, and they want to work with an advisor with whom they are comfortable… they don’t have to like them enormously but they certainly have to be comfortable with them,” said Churchill-Smith. “I don’t think there is any sport that shows the personality of an individual more than golf.

People’s personalities show up on the golf course: how you deal with setbacks, mistakes, bad shots. You get to see how a person reacts. You also get a chance to see how an advisor deals with someone who doesn’t play that well, how helpful he is, how relaxed he is and how encouraging he is.”

Churchill-Smith said time on the green is not spent talking business. In the four or five hours spent playing with a client, they will discuss personal issues, family issues and  non-financial matters. “It gives you a chance to know each other better and it gives you a chance to know what is on the mind of your client.”

For others, golf is less purpose driven but still considered helpful.

“I golf, but I’ve never really looked it as a marketing tool,” said Blair Cross of Edward Jones in Brandon, MB. “I’ve got friends that I go golfing with and you can’t help but meet other people, or get in tournaments where you meet other people. I guess it puts you in the public eye a little more but I can’t say it’s ever been a big influence on my business.”

One advisor who spoke to WP said he does make a sales pitch when he’s on the green: but it’s not related to his business. Stephen Whipp, who manages a practice devoted to ethical investments in Victoria, BC, said he's more often pushing clubs to join the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf, a certification program that helps golf courses protect the environment.

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“I like to joke about [the stereotype] because I do like golf. But whenever I golf I end up pushing them to get the Audubon certification because of my value set,” said Whipp. “For me, when I’m out on the golf course most of the time that’s relaxation. I don’t talk business unless I’m asking clients to invite a friend along.”

Whipp also notes that clients seek him out for his niche business, and he doesn’t have to play golf to get affluent clients. “I’m not the high- end country club kind of guy, I belong to a private club but it’s pretty normal people.”

For Cory Papineau, senior financial advisor at Assiniboine Credit Union in Winnipeg, tee-time is for family and not for business.

“I love to golf, but I have two kids and at this point in my career I don’t have time to focus on my golf because my family is too important,” said Papineau. “I used to be a really good golfer but now I don’t know how good I’d be. I go to the driving range all the time with my kids but I don’t go golfing with clients at all.”

Others see golf as a necessary evil. One advisor told WP that she was explicitly told to take up golf by her employer, a bank in Montreal. “We were told to be at events and to go to golf clubs… and after you play golf you have to take a shower and then have an expensive dinner ... It was awful.”

Have you used golf to get clients? Or to get to know them better? And, if so, do you find it helpful to let them win? Sound off in the comments.