Let's assume for a moment that FINRA does not require you to “know your customer,” that you are not expected to know clients’ tax status, investment objective and “other such information.” You would still want that information, wouldn't you?
How do you get it? It's called profiling. Knowing your customer enables you to design a better portfolio. Therefore, it's the right thing to do, regulation or not.
Obviously, you need profiles to gather the information. Making up the questions as you go along doesn't cut it. Just go with me on this.
However, having a good questionnaire is not enough. This is why you should never just mail out your questionnaires. The process of profiling is an extremely powerful selling tool. In fact, it may be the most powerful sales tool you will ever use.
There are, then, two parts to gathering the information you need.
Part 1: Have a good set of profiles.
I covered this very thoroughly in a series of articles I wrote for Research in 2007, which I gathered in a single doc immodestly titled, “The Good Way to Sell.” This and other profiling tools are at www.billgood.com/bestpractices.
Just having good profiles doesn't do it. Countless FAs have told me that when they try to get prospects to tell their stories, they get pushback. If you have trouble getting people to give you the information, what good are all your profiles?
Part 2: Persuade the prospects to answer your questions.
How do I teach you how to do this? I decided to write a script for you.
Selling the Process
Here goes. You are the FA. Your name is Robert Loblaw. You work for Reliable Securities.
Your prospects are Bob and Betty Barking. Bob is 66 years old. You cold called him when you read in the local paper that he was named “Rotarian of the Year.” He was instrumental in raising funds for a park for the handicapped. When you talked to him, he said he plans to retire in July. His 401(k) will be about $750,000. His wife Betty is 55. She is a teacher. She will have about $375,000 in a 403(b). They plan to retire at the same time.
They have come to your office. You go to the reception area to greet them. You seat them at a conference table. They can see your brag wall, which displays not only professional designations but some photos of you receiving an award by the Chamber of Commerce for your work teaching high school students a course on managing personal finances. Bob comments on it. You have a short conversation on the importance of “giving back.” After the initial chit chat, it's time to get to work.
FA: Bob and Betty, thank you so much for coming today. I see you brought the statements I requested. With your permission, my assistant will copy these and return the folder to you before you leave. Are you fine with that?
Betty: Yes, we’re fine with that.
FA: I have prepared an agenda for our meeting. (Hands a copy to both Bob and Betty.) I want to explain it to you. We can certainly add or delete from it, but I have found an agenda is kind of like a road map for meetings. If we know where we are going, we’re more likely to get there. Make sense?
FA: Item 1 says, “Who on earth is Bob Loblaw and why should we think he can help us?” I’m not going to spend much time talking about myself, but I think it is important you know a little more about who I am and how I might help you.
This second item is “Rules we have to follow.” I’m going to go over a document prepared by FINRA. FINRA stands for Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. That group regulates this sector of the financial services industry. This document explains some rules I have to follow. Even if these weren't the rules, I would certainly adopt them as my personal policy. I hope you will be comfortable with them too.
This third item is “Getting to Know You.” You will understand more of what I have in mind when you understand FINRA's rules.
That's really all we can expect to accomplish in this meeting. When we are done, my work is just starting. Once I have a thorough understanding of you as a family and an investor, I can then prepare some recommendations. This is mostly homework for me.
Then we will reconvene. I will also have an agenda for that meeting. Is there anything you would like to add to the agenda?
Bob: (Looks at Betty. She nods.) We’re comfortable with this.
FA: Let's start with some info about me. Here is a brochure (or résumé) that gives you info on my background, education, focus, and areas of expertise. You certainly do not need to read it now, but you should take it home and look it over.
And here are some references. The people listed here have kindly consented to receive phone calls and answer questions about my character and expertise. Please feel free to call them. Are there any questions you would like to ask about me?
Bob: (Looks at Betty. Both shake their head.)
Betty: Why did you decide to become a financial advisor?
FA: Why does someone decide to become a pilot or a chef? It's what I wanted to do since I took my finance course in college.
FA: (Continuing.) OK. The next item on the agenda is “The Rules.” For the most part, these rules are set by FINRA. I have a copy for each of you. We’re not going to read the entire thing, but I do want to go over a couple of points with you. (Hands copy of document to both Bob and Betty.)
One of the rules is “Suitability.” That means before I can make any recommendations, I need to know certain things about you. These include … and let me show you here … your age. (Goes down the list explaining why you need these items.)
Right here (points), the rule says that you are not required to provide this information. I hope you understand that I could not do a good job for you without a deep understanding of where you are financially, how you got that way and most importantly where you want to be in the future.
On this basis, are you OK if we proceed to the next item on the agenda, “Getting to Know You?”
Betty: (Looks at Bob.) I think so. Don't you?
Bob: I feel comfortable with this approach.
FA: Excellent. I have written down a lot of the questions I need to ask. (Shows the questionnaire.) This way I don't forget anything, but that doesn't mean I won't jump off with some more questions.
We will start with some questions about you and your family. Then I will need to know about you, the investors, and then we will profile your investments.
So Betty, let's start with you. Tell me where you were born, where you grew up, how you and Bob met and what role money played early in your life.
We have taken a three-point approach to dissolving pushback.
Credentials. You need a brag wall, brochure and résumé. These help establish that you are a professional, and as such need to gather information just as any other professional would.
Rules. Let FINRA do some of the convincing for you.
Bridges. A sales process is a series of steps. It is always good practice to explain the next step before you dive in. When people understand what is expected, they are more likely to do it than not.