At the height of the financial crisis, a survey by Harris Interactive revealed that just 11% of respondents had a positive view of the financial services industry. In an unsettling commentary on the state of our business, we tied with tobacco as being among the lowest-regarded of all industries. While the markets have started to rebound within the past year, the reputation of the financial industry—and the financial planning profession in general—has yet to fully recover.
At a time when consumers are in greater need of advice and guidance than ever, many investors are afraid or unwilling to turn to the financial services industry for help. Clients remain skeptical and suspicious of anything related to Wall Street, and that distrust has trickled down to their own financial advisors. Furthermore, the pervasive lack of trust has caused many advisors to lose sight of their original purpose—they may be systematically following a strategic business plan, but many have lost the enthusiasm and drive to provide authentic and meaningful service to their clients.
My prescription to overcome this malaise is to shift our focus from selling to serving. Serving is the true purpose and foundation of what we do; by connecting with clients on a deeper level, advisors will not only achieve personal fulfillment, but enhance the quality of their clients’ lives as well. I firmly believe it is possible—and necessary—to regain the trust of clients. But it will take courage and determination to get back to what I call the “art and heart” of the profession.
How Advisors Lost Their Way
In recent years, the “science” of the financial business has been the primary driver of success. In the midst of unprecedented economic turmoil, advisors felt compelled to buckle down and control what they could control. As a result, many stopped focusing on the aspects of their business that provide long-term fulfillment, and began operating in anticipation of what might happen next. Rather than acting with purpose, many advisors today are following a turn-key, methodical approach to client service. They are achieving the appropriate quantity of interactions, but most of these interactions are devoid of sentiment and meaning.
Most advisors have a system in place to track client contact. They strive for a certain number of “touches,” or interactions, every month. They send clients birthday cards and newsletters, and they track everything in a database with meticulous care. I recently spoke with an advisor who told me that he sent out some 300 hams to his clients this past Christmas. I challenged him to tell me what intention he was packaging up with those gifts, but he couldn’t answer—the gifts had become just another touch point, something to quantify.
The point is, if you are acting without purpose the effort is meaningless. Clients can see through pretense, and they may perceive it as an empty gesture. Genuinely thank your clients for their businesses and for placing their trust in you, without expecting anything in return. If your intentions are genuine, your clients will repay you with their loyalty.
The science of the business has begun to outweigh the spirit of the profession, or what I call “art.” I liken this phenomenon to a pendulum—on one side is “science,” and on the other, “art.” The two extremes of the pendulum can be related to the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The left side of the brain is the source of our analytical self, which is focused on numbers and logic. The right side of the brain is the source of our creativity, art, empathy and purpose. In order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, we must allow the pendulum to follow its natural swing, resting somewhere between science and art.
One is not more important than the other—using our whole brain is necessary to achieve balance in our personal and professional lives. Likewise, finding balance between the art and science of our business will be vital to regaining clients’ trust and repairing the financial industry’s troubled reputation.
Why Heart Matters
Your clients value you for who you are, perhaps even more than for what you know. You likely won’t serve your clients best if you are convinced that your value lies solely in your ability to pick investments. There may be other advisors with the same experience and expertise, but your clients will be more likely to trust in your advice through the ups and downs of the market if they are able to build a meaningful relationship with you.
Sports are a great example of why heart matters. Even the best athletes at the top of their game won’t succeed if their hearts aren’t in it. They can make all the right moves, run the fastest, hit the hardest, but if they aren’t truly engaged in what they are doing, and doing it for the right reasons, they will never become the best they can be. Similarly, if you are meeting all of your business objectives, but doing so without authenticity and purpose, you may not be able to truly make a difference in your clients’ lives. If your service doesn’t come from the heart, then what makes it rewarding?
Putting the “Why” Back Into Your Job
Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Advisors need to ask themselves why they got into this profession in the first place, and where their true passion lies. Without knowing the reason behind your actions, all of your business tactics are devoid of purpose and significance. I’ve found that by focusing on the why first and the how second, the profitability of your business will come naturally because you will provide better service for your clients and earn their long-term trust.