Voices

We expect clients to tell us everything. Let's do the same

Register now

When clients meet with me for the first time, they’re met with a barrage of questions, often probing. What brings you here today? What makes you curious to meet with me? What are your plans for retirement?

As financial advisors, we’re supposed to gather and analyze personal and financial information of people we have never met. But it’s awkward. It’s uncomfortable. It’s sometimes distressing. All the same, we expect our clients to share their thought processes, their hearts, even their souls.

When I first started as an advisor, I felt ill-equipped to lead and manage these discussions. And I have a Ph.D. in psychology.

So I focused on listening.

Listening to the good news is easy, right? Weddings. Babies. College acceptances. Graduations. Those are easy. We send notes and gifts. Make congratulatory phone calls.

Then there’s the bad news. Listening is more painful when we hear: My child is an addict. My family is not speaking to me. I don’t know how to take care of my mom. My partner became disabled in an accident. Death.

When a client called me to tell me his business partner had committed suicide, I was hurt and sad. The person who died was both a friend and a client, and I was asked to help identify next of kin on the opposite side of the country. Over the years I’d worked with the client, we had talked about his mother, brothers and their children. I knew a lot about my client as a son, brother, uncle and business partner. He knew me well also.

Client tragedy, a phone call and an advisor's tough job
Financial advisors are uniquely poised to help clients' families with end-of-life planning needs when doctors and lawyers can’t.

Working with a new client provides an opportunity for openness. I have the chance to learn about this new person in my life. More importantly, a new client can learn about me — the person managing her finances and helping her on her road to financial freedom.

I share my purpose. My intentions. Why I feel this is a mission.Over time, my clients get to know me, my family, and friends through our chats.

They learn about my husband’s back problems and subsequent surgery. They know my brother works in IT and my sister is a nurse. They know I love to work out, drink wine, watch silly shows on Netflix and think Will Ferrell is a god. I’ve shared with my clients that I was a fat kid, reasons for not having children, the other jobs I’ve had, and the failures I’ve experienced. The things I enjoy the most in life. And during this crazy, dramatic time in the United States, living through a pandemic and righteous civil protests, my clients have reached out to me. They want to make sure I’m well and that my family and friends are well also.

Diane Manuel CFP Financial Planner for Urban Wealth Management
Over time, my clients get to know me, my family and friends, writes Diane Manuel.

Our clients live amazing lives. We do too. We have to share. This is our foundation. This process creates the trust we need to be effective at our work.

The road to financial success is full of detours and potholes, as well as beautiful vistas and straight-ahead roads. Our clients expect us to take this road trip with them. During any road trip, you learn about yourself and your companions. You learn likes and dislikes. You learn how you both handle unexpected situations. You establish a bond.

Isn’t this what we want our relationships to be with our clients? A bond that supports each of us. It’s this bond that creates the trust.

My educated guess is that we’re all pretty good financial advisors and planners. We are well versed on the massive set of rules and regulations that govern our work and our clients’ needs. We’re experts in our field.

Where we vary is on our relatability. I know that being a Black woman in this time and space means something to all my clients, whether they are Black or not. I know they appreciate my hurdles and struggles. They are happy for my successes.

I know if we don’t lead from our hearts, our success will always be limited.

Sharing parts of me with my clients makes me a stronger advisor. I know that my clients appreciate all aspects of my life. They know I appreciate their lives too.

My recommendation: Practice telling stories. Share experiences. Talk about your family. Your work. Your volunteer involvement. Your sadness. Your joy.

Your clients will love you for this.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
Client communications Practice management RIAs Holistic financial planning Diversity and equality
MORE FROM FINANCIAL PLANNING