Updated Wednesday, July 23, 2014 as of 4:09 PM ET
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3 Essential Client Conversations
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
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With financial information now readily available online, it's easy for people to invest without the middleman (or -woman). As an advisor, you will get hired only if clients like you, trust you and feel you can help them navigate the twists and turns of their financial lives.

As a result, the differentiator between an average producer and a top producer in the financial industry has become superior client communication skills. Those professionals who are able to clearly communicate their expertise and value proposition are truly the ones who excel.

Advisors who are good communicators also have clients who are more compliant and give more referrals. Advisors who are seen as empathetic and interested in understanding what a client wants, an FPA study found, have clients who are:

  • 3.7 times more likely to stay with the advisor
  • 9.7 times more likely to cooperate with advisor recommendations
  • 4.1 times more likely to make referrals

What attracts and retains clients more often than not are the non-technical aspects of the relationship.

For advisors, there are essentially three types of must-have conversations with clients. Use the following tips to help you succeed in each:

1. DISCOVERY CONVERSATIONS

These conversations are really about the advisor listening to clients and asking open-ended questions to gather more data. In this type of dialogue, it is important for advisors to test out assumptions through curious questioning.

Don't assume a male partner is a couple's financial decision maker, for instance. Rather ask, “How do you make financial decisions as a couple?” Often discovery conversations happen at the beginning of a client engagement, but a successful advisor will engage in these dialogues in an ongoing manner.

2. EDUCATIONAL CONVERSATIONS

These are dialogues focused on teaching a client a new concept. This is often the most comfortable conversation for advisors. However, advisors can fall pretty easily into a few traps: assuming the client wants education about a particular topic; teaching a client in the way you like to learn; and stereotyping client's interest and knowledge level based solely on gender.

Try this instead: Each time you teach clients something new, check in first to find out their interest and motivation to learn. Ask, for example: “On a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the highest, how interested are you in knowing more about REITs as an alternative investment?”

Consider a rating of 3 or above as receptive. If the clients report a rating of 1 or 2, though, you may need to let go of being the professor; instead, find out what they want from your time together.

You should also understand and incorporate clients' individual learning style into the conversation. A good question to ask to assess their learning style is “How do you go about learning a new hobby?” Their answer should tell you if they are kinesthetic (hands-on), visual (think charts and manuals) or auditory (discussion) learners. Once you understand their preferred method, present any information using the method that works for them.

Finally: If you are meeting with a female client or a couple, make sure you let go of stereotypes about women knowing less about investments. The truth is that, on average, women report a lack of knowledge and underestimate their financial abilities; men, on average, are socialized not to admit weakness and will overstate their abilities. But your clients are individuals, not averages. The best strategy is to check out their financial literacy levels and factor in the tendency to under- or overestimate.

3. CHARGED CONVERSATIONS

These conversations occur when clients have emotional reactions to the financial advising process. You might face clients fearful of losing their retirement savings due to a recent downward trend in the stock market, newly widowed clients who are scared and uncertain about managing their investments without their late partners, or clients who are simply frustrated with the last quarter's portfolio performance.

Like it or not, it's important to validate the fact that money is emotional business. While most advisors would admit they don't enjoy charged conversations with clients, these conversations are great opportunities to understand clients on a deeper level and foster trust. And when working with female investors, in particular, advisors may find that it's essential to respond to the emotional context of a conversation.

The best way to approach charged conversations is to notice the feelings expressed by the client and then lean into the conversation.

For example, recognize the frustration of the client who is upset about market returns by saying, “It seems like you are frustrated about your returns. Is this accurate?” The client then gets to agree, disagree or offer an alternative. In charged conversations, the most important thing for advisors is to let go of being right. Rather, take the time to notice and validate the client's feelings -- that's the real goal.

The funny thing about engaging in these essential conversations: What you learn about your clients will better equip you to develop plans and strategies that are more likely to be successful -- both for you and your clients.

Kathleen Burns Kingsbury is a wealth psychology expert, founder of KBK Wealth Connection, and author of several books including How to Give Financial Advice to Women and How to Give Financial Advice to Couples. Follow her on Twitter at @KBKSpeaks.

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