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How do you answer when prospects ask what you do as a financial advisor? The understandably easy answer is, “I manage people’s investments.”
But the truth is much more complex, isn’t it? At its core the wealth management profession is about personal relationships. We manage our clients as much as we steer their investments. The ability to help people navigate the emotional aspects of their journey is what separates successful advisors from algorithms and online brokerages.
Because each client’s circumstance, background and objectives are different, they all bring a unique mix of emotions to their financial thinking and decision-making. Still, certain feelings surface in every money discussion. By anticipating and learning how to address these stressful emotions, we can tailor solutions to each client.
The four emotions that I encounter in client interactions are fear, guilt, shame and envy. People fear not having enough money to retire. They feel guilt over not starting to save earlier or not having better managed their money. A lack of financial knowledge prompts shame. Envy of others’ financial success skews a client’s view of their own situation.
All these problematic feelings can be managed with a bit of skill and a lot of empathy. These emotions are very real to the client — even when they are not supported by the facts. Dismissing their feelings is a huge mistake.
Instead, strive to understand the root of their concern. Listen. Then listen some more. Ask lots of questions. The goal is to understand what the client values and how their background may impact their thinking. Reflecting statements, in which you repeat back to the client what you heard them say, are useful for making the client feel heard and understood. An example of a reflecting statement is, “So, I’m hearing you say that you’re worried you’re going to disappoint your daughter by not being able to pay for the college education she’s earned.”
I recently had several occasions to use some of these tools in my own practice.
A client came to me to express his deep fear of inflation. The current rate of inflation, he fretted, would destroy all his savings. Interestingly, this was a young person with a long investment horizon.
Instead of dismissing his concerns based on historical trends and facts, I took the time to listen to him. I asked a ton of questions to help him come to a more fact-based view. I asked him how he thought inflation would impact him as a consumer. When he replied that he’d be paying higher prices for goods and services, I asked how that reality would impact his investments. When he said corporate revenues would increase, we talked about how that would affect the companies in his portfolio. To further soothe his nerves, we discussed possible investment alternatives, including real estate.
Eventually, we came to a decision together regarding the adjustments to his asset allocation. As a result, the client has both an updated portfolio and more buy-in on our approach going forward. A meeting that began as a fear-driven encounter ended up strengthening our relationship.
And relationships are what it’s all about.
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