Emotions and family dynamics can sometimes prevent a client from doing what they need to do. As an advisor, it’s your job to listen and guide them to the right decision.
In life and in business, I’ve noticed something about people—they don’t like to make decisions. A task as simple as selecting a new couch or a new paint color can take months. So, it’s no surprise that the weightier decisions required to finalize an estate plan are often left in limbo for years.
With this nuance in human nature, it makes sense that successful financial professionals possess people skills that go far beyond numbers and analytics. Anyone can write and discuss an estate plan; only skilled communicators can get the plan executed.
As financial professionals, it’s time to move beyond unfinished business and help our clients experience real results. To do this, we have to precisely, purposefully move our clients through each stage of the planning process. We have to think of ourselves as financial surgeons who leave nothing to chance. Here’s how:
Focus on the diagnosis
We’ve all known people who have become inexplicably sick. In many cases, doctors treat them using a process of elimination. They try one remedy and if it doesn’t work, it rules out one potential diagnosis. Eventually, sometimes after months, they stumble onto the real problem and once they do, the remedy is amazingly simple.
That’s not the kind of financial surgeon I want to be. I prefer to spend time upfront so I can precisely diagnosis the problem before I recommend a course of action. To do so, I have to find the hidden issues and uncover what the client isn’t sharing. Perhaps the wife wants the estate split equally but the husband privately feels one child isn’t responsible enough to share ownership of the business. Perhaps the husband feels obligated to leave everything to his wife, but he knows in his heart that she’ll squander everything he’s worked for.
How do I get to the diagnosis? By doing whatever it takes and accepting nothing at face value. Sometimes I can get there by asking questions and listening. Sometimes I meet the spouse and even the children and business partners. Often, I take the time to meet the family’s attorney and accountant. Every interaction adds an important piece of information. When clients see that I’m thorough, they trust me and are more likely to confide in me. When I know the real underlying problem, finding an answer is easy.
Use your ears
Medical professionals use X-rays and MRIs to look below the surface. I use my ears. When I meet a client for the first time, I meet him as a friend. I don’t interrogate him, take notes, or focus on a pre-planned question list. I merely start the conversation and listen.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of really listening. When you listen as a caring friend, you start hearing the meaning behind words. You begin to notice emotions and feelings toward other family members. Patterns in family dynamics begin to emerge. This is important because I can’t help my client get comfortable with crucial decisions if I don’t understand what’s really happening in the family.
During our conversation, I open with easy questions that can be answered with facts, and then I gradually move into complex questions that have to be answered with opinions. I spend a lot of time learning about each family member’s capability, personality and business/financial tendency. I never ask for numbers and data because those items can be faxed.
I’m looking for the story behind the numbers and data. My colleagues often ask, “How do you do it? Why do clients tell you so much?” All I can tell you is that I listen. I rarely have to ask many questions. Once clients feel that I’m truly caring and truly listening, they open up and share.