Lifeboat Drill

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Confusion, volatility, uncertainty and turmoil. It looks like these conditions may be with us for a while. This environment calls for new financial tools, new messages and new ways to grow your business.

“Lifeboat Drill” is a simple, but powerful, discussion that helps manage client behavior, calm their fears, and strengthen your relationships. It also distinguishes you as a proactive, intelligent professional who is always looking out for their well-being.

Plus, you can build a lifeboat plan incorporating almost any type of financial solution from fixed annuities to investments. Whichever way the client is currently positioned, provide a solution that makes them safer and protects them from a potential storm.

The basic lifeboat message is structured something like this:

Set the Stage

Here’s a basic intro to the Lifeboat discussion. Bob is your client.

“Bob, it looks like our plan is solid and things are progressing as expected. But there are some potentially serious icebergs on the economic horizon that I am watching very carefully. I don’t know if or when we will hit one, but things could get a pretty volatile in the markets and I would rather be safe than sorry. So I’ve built a Lifeboat portfolio for you. Let me take a minute and explain it because I want you to understand my thinking here…OK?”

Core changes to a client’s financial plan shouldn’t be based on short-term market volatility. But given today’s uncertainty, shifting some assets to low risk or even guaranteed programs like annuities may be a totally appropriate strategy. The specific kind of lifeboat you build depends on the client’s needs, but it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to sketch a broad outline of the new plan. Don’t get bogged down by the mechanics of the proposal, that’s not the key point here.

Iceberg Dead Ahead!

Top financial advisors are always on the lookout for dangers that could harm their clients. While this Lifeboat Drill is not designed to position you as an all-seeing deity, there are certainly visible red flags today. For example, I would definitely be watching things like rising interest rates, slowing corporate profits, and wage pressure in the developing markets. Your message might sound like this:

“Bob, no one can predict the future and there are always unforeseeable social shocks to consider. My team and I watch several key economic indicators that we use to evaluate the strength and direction of major trends. These trends are mostly positive at the moment and I expect that to continue. But economic conditions can change very fast these days. If they do, we will be very glad we positioned a piece of the portfolio in a lifeboat. And even if the worst doesn’t happen, we will be generating a competitive return on this money. This is one of the reasons you hired us. It’s the kind of forward thinking that goes into our planning process.”

In this way, you’re using an analogy they immediately understand. It calms their fears just knowing that their lifeboat is ready. You are protecting them in the face of uncertainty and increasing risk – that’s just prudent.

The key to this discussion is not the specific nature of the threats, which can vary, but rather your entire approach to proactive protection. You want the client to see you as the confident captain of their ship – standing boldly on the bridge – scanning the horizon with binoculars. In this way, Lifeboat Drill is also a powerful psychological branding tool. It creates a compelling image in their mind and it opens you up for both asset consolidation and referrals.

Get All the Children in the Boats!

Your best clients probably have assets at other firms. Bringing those assets under your control not only helps your business but allows you to do true holistic planning which requires a total picture of the client’s financial world. Lifeboat Drill will help consolidate those assets, but you must use these words almost exactly like this:

“Bob…I know you have an account over at ABC. And your wife rolled over her retirement plan at XYX.  If a storm ever hits, I have no control over those other assets. (PAUSE) And I want to get all the children into the lifeboats!”

This emotional phrase hits like a bolt of clarity. Of course consolidation makes sense! You are the only advisor who has ever built them a lifeboat. You’ve just demonstrated a level of intelligence, foresight and concern that earns you the top slot in their world.

Risk First…Then Reward

Creating a lifeboat plan is not a gloom and doom discussion and economic uncertainty often brings opportunity. It can be great to weave this upside energy into your message. After you’ve positioned some of their assets into a safe harbor, shift the tone and talk about your search for enhanced returns in undervalued sectors or asset classes. By taking care of risk first, you’ve given the client the courage to seek growth.

No Crystal Ball

Try not to over-promise on your ability to see the future. Lifeboat Drill is a risk mitigation tool and a peace-of-mind generator. It’s not a cure for market volatility. No plan can be totally safe from external events. You want to make that clear and not hold yourself to an impossible standard.

Meet Face-to-Face

Lifeboat Drill works best at a dinner or lunch meeting outside the office. This gets you away from distractions and puts clients at ease. It’s also the best setting for bringing up the subject of referrals. After all, you are demonstrating real value, an ability to think ahead of the pack and to protect your client. These are highly referable behaviors.


Lifeboat Drill is a very powerful conversation that will have a positive impact on your business and client relationships. It gives your people confidence to know you’ve placed their safest money in a guaranteed product, such as a fixed annuity, and that you’re looking out for their best interests when investing other assets. With you on their team – a skilled leader ready to guide them through the storm – this process can become a critical emotional framework for your entire practice.

You must ensure you hold the proper licenses and registrations necessary to address securities products and/or perform fee-based financial planning.  You should consult your own legal counsel and the laws in each state in which you conduct business and understand completely what is considered investment or securities advice.   You must comply with all requirements of the state where you do business and your respective licensing.

Frank Maselli is a professional speaker, best-selling author and 30-year veteran of the financial services industry. Maselli has presented to the largest and most successful organizations in the industry, training thousands of advisors and managers each year in advanced marketing, sales leadership and modern practice management techniques. His two books, Seminars: The Emotional Dynamic and Referrals: The Professional Way (Now in it's 3rd Edition) are changing the way top advisors market and grow their business. He is a member of the National Speakers Association, Mensa and IMCA and is the founder of The Financial Lifeguard Academy, where he teaches advisors how to stop selling and start saving lives. For more information about Frank Maselli and The Maselli Group please visit or call (800) 231-5272.

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