At its best, financial advising is a helping profession. It is not just a service profession. The coming decades will elevate and emphasize the client communication skills needed within this helping relationship.
Though many advisors don’t yet accept the helping nature of financial advising, try viewing it from your clients’ viewpoint. Clients come seeking help for a problem in their financial life, a problem for which they need someone to accurately diagnose the problem, determine possible courses of action, and assist in implementing solutions. I say “assist” because, as in medicine or counseling, successful implementation must be a collaborative effort between the professional and the client. Behavioral factors on both sides of the desk make or break any well-designed plan.
Yes, much depends on the client’s personality, readiness for change, degree of trust, capacity for risk and ability to collaborate. But success is also linked to the advisor’s capacity to listen, to keep out unhelpful biases and self-interests, to adapt to the client’s needs and to understand those parts of the client’s life that affect the problem.
Clients consistently report the greatest satisfaction, success, trust and loyalty with advisors who have great bedside manner. And when clients feel helped — not just served — there is a deep sense they have been cared for.
Client relationship skills have been gaining recognition recently, yet they are still relegated to second place in the minds of many advisors and the agendas of professional organizations. Several trends are converging to position these skills as core competencies for the future of the profession.
One is that organizations are starting to set standards that focus on client skills. In 2006, the Certified Financial Planner Board for the first time listed knowledge of counseling skills and client psychology as recommended areas for proficiency. Though formal CFP assessment and credentialing are not yet there, these are a natural extension once conceptual and political battles are worked out.
Top wealth managers already know that the best advisors excel in emotional intelligence and attunement to family dynamics impacting money problems. The Family Wealth Alliance released the first-ever standards recommended for multifamily offices in 2005. It is now considering best practices and training for the relationship-manager position, with an eye toward eventual credentialing. Just as new trends often start at more rarified levels in an industry and trickle down, certification of relationship skills will ultimately make its way to the mainstream advisor.