Client Advisory Boards:
Challenges & Best Practices
(1 of 2)


We have written extensively about the need to understand buyer needs when a fintech vendor is executing a growth strategy. And “buyer needs” must not be limited to functional needs. Fintech buyers – FI’s, lenders, billers, merchants – value much more than the software. 

One great source of insight into buyer needs is a Client Advisory Board (CAB). Further, a great CAB will help with client retention and can even become a competitive differentiator.

But not all CABs achieve their goals. It’s easy to establish a CAB, but it’s hard to derive mutual value (the client and the vendor).

In a two-part blog we will discuss some of the root causes and vendor best practices to overcome the pitfalls. This first will outline the benefits to both parties. The next post will cover best practices at both the strategy and tactics levels.

CAB: A Working Definition

A standing group, that meets periodically, to guide the vendor’s service quality & innovation, in a worksession forum run by the vendor. While the CAB will certainly express appreciation to the clients and there will be elements of the agenda intended to be fun, the basic format is work session.

#1 Key to Success

Make it about them, not you. It impacts every detail about the CAB, from membership to execution.

Taking their perspective, the CAB should address (only) two broad themes since this is how a client thinks about any vendors’ services:

  • Service Quality: focus is the present
  • Innovation: focus is the future


“Service Quality” means much more than the software functionality; it extends to all the non-functionals that touch the customer (what we call the Whole-Product). It’s not satisfying if, while system availability is high, the vendor bill is wrong every month (just to pick one detailed example).

“Innovation” means any material change to the Whole-Product that provides substantial, additional value. It can certainly be innovative functionality; it could also be, as examples, self-service configuration changes or CI/CD methods that reduce client testing efforts.

It is critical to address Service Quality concerns first. Clients will not be interested in the additional value that Innovation brings if the current service is not meeting expectations. In fact if service is exceeding expectations, the client is much more likely to renew and even “buy more”.

Client Benefits

Remembering the client interest in Service Quality and Innovation, these are some of the benefits the clients will experience from a well-run CAB.

Service Quality

Clients will have a productive forum to provide candid, actionable feedback that rises above “what happened yesterday”. They can problem-solve with colleagues from the other client member firms.


Members will get an understanding of where the vendor is focusing in the medium- and long-run. Clients will be able to influence those plans, including the ability to help prioritize investments. Last, but not least, they can hear from experts on leading issues that the vendor brings to the forum (not vendor executives).

Vendor Benefits

The vendor is provided a chance to listen – above the din of the normal day-to-day. An effective CAB will significantly benefit client retention.

Service Quality

The CAB provides a chance to resolve challenges in the context of continuous improvement, not yesterday’s emergency. Repeat mistakes are minimized and the vendor frees up fire-fighting resources. The CAB forum permits cross-client brainstorming on painful impacts, root causes, and good solutions.


Clients can help shape vendor strategies and plans before substantial investment. The vendor can be seen as an innovating industry leader via the outside expertise it brings to the CAB.

The highest-level vendor benefit is reduced client attrition. It must be noted that directly seeking incremental revenue is not an intention of the CAB. Increased revenue will come from the clients’ satisfaction with Service Quality and their helping to determine Innovation.


In the next post we’ll cover CAB Execution Best Practices so that these benefits are enjoyed by both parties.

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