PHOENIX -- When George Kinder took the stage at FPA's Retreat conference, he started his keynote session by performing tai chi. Classical music played in the background and nature photos, overlaid with lines of poetry he wrote, appeared on giant screens.
"I trust the sun to tell the truth," read one line, which was displayed on a photo of a lake.
Not your typical financial services conference session. But Kinder's performance was intended to underline the importance of mindfulness in achieving better client relations.
"He's all about authenticity, and that's who he is," says Chris Pollard, founder of Great Path Planning, an RIA in Monroe, New York, who was in the audience.
Kinder is a former financial planner, founder of the Kinder Institute, and author of several books, including the forthcoming "A Golden Civilization."
At one point, Kinder led the entire audience in a group meditation session. When he wasn't speaking softly to guide participants through the process, there was near-total silence.
"The quality of the freedom you deliver to your client is not so much dependent on the exercises we do, but on the quality of your listening," Kinder told about 460 conference attendees.
Greater mindfulness can yield better client conversations, deeper client relationships, and more passionate referrals, Kinder tells Financial Planning.
"What is happening here is we are adding another layer of trust," he says.
During his presentation, he talked about how developing mindfulness can be a challenge.
"You're trying to mediate, and you suddenly remember an email you meant to write," he says. Thoughts and anxieties can continually interrupt us. But if we refocus our attention on the present moment, then we can experience something of a cognitive shift,” Kinder says.
Kinder has been practicing meditation for about 50 years, he says. "Any success I've had in my life, I attribute to this practice because it makes me more awake, more aware and more creative."
He graduated from Harvard, exiting the university as a poet and artist, but found work in accounting, and later financial planning.
Kinder's institute offers two- and five-day training sessions in several locations in the U.S., U.K. and the Netherlands.
Dave Yeske, managing partner at Yeske Buie, says his team has been using Kinder's three-questions method for years. The questions are intended to elicit a client's life goals and include asking them to imagine what they would want to accomplish if a doctor told them they had only five or 10 years to live.
"I've had clients cry, but not in a bad way. It opened up feelings they did not even know they had," says Yeske, who enrolled in Kinder's two-day training workshop.
In his conference speech, Kinder also noted how mindfulness could help advisors navigate recent industrywide changes.
"If you really want to be a fiduciary, I don't see how you can do it without this quality of listening," he says.