Imagine if financial advisor services were relegated entirely to technology, and the role of financial advice was replaced by keyboard strokes. Imagine if financial advisors became completely redundant in the face of innovative software entrepreneurs. Imagine if clients were subscribing to websites that were managing their investments automatically with uncanny success. Imagine that you were competing for clients, not against other financial advisors, but against cyberspace!
Now in this state of imagination (which by the way, is already reality) challenge yourself and ask: “What value am I, as a human being, adding to my clients’ needs beyond these comprehensive technological solutions and services?”
As I ponder this question myself, I recall the story of The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. At that party, the March Hare is most disturbed about his broken timepiece which he has attempted to mend by applying butter to the inner mechanism. The Mad Hatter, puzzled by the bumbling bunny’s action exclaims: “I told you butter wouldn’t suit the works!” The hare responds: “But it is the best butter,” obviously perplexed as to why such a superior product had not repaired the watch.
Even though technology may be “the best butter,” it does not always “suit the works.” No matter how advanced technology is, it alone cannot replace the interpersonal connection, human energy, depth of understanding, personal interaction and special bond that exists in a face-to-face client encounter.
This human factor is crucial because as financial advisors we are providing services to our clients beyond just technical investing. We educate them about financial markets, products and performance; we impart knowledge; we answer their questions and perhaps more importantly, we challenge them by asking questions; we help them achieve clarity; we empower them; we reassure them; we provide creative solutions to their problems; we allow them to experience control over their financial future; we provide encouragement and inspire confidence in times of self-doubt; we protect them from ill-advised strategies; we guide them through the tough times; we are their partners and friends sharing in their dreams and cheering them on; we are, without doubt, their counselors, confidants and advisors in every sense of the word!
If all we are doing is technical investing, than indeed we will be usurped and made redundant by innovative technology.
So we stand at a crossroad where technology and powerful interpersonal capability intersect and compete with one another for the future of our profession. To be sure, it is imperative that we stay ahead of the technology curve, but to compete we also need to develop sophisticated and advanced skills, processes and techniques to manage our client relationships effectively, productively and profitably.
A fundamental skill that is crucial in all of this — a skill that very few people have — is the ability to be in control of any conversation at any time. This does not mean in a controlling and manipulative way, but rather in a subtle way of leading, steering and funneling the interaction and not reacting with emotion and defensiveness. This competency allows us to manage and guide those conversations towards productive outcomes, with grace and composure at all times. It allows our clients to see us as solid and competent professionals, which inspires their trust and confidence.
To illustrate this point, I will share a recent conversation I had with a client whom I have been coaching in these areas of skill development (with his permission of course). In one particular session he related to me how his client had challenged his integrity as a financial advisor.
“How did you respond?” I asked my client.
“Well I can’t have clients who don’t believe in me or trust me, so I decided to fire him” said he.