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The best way to gain client trust

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Building trust is a crucial part of selling. It’s all about helping prospects answer two questions: First, has an advisor behaved unethically in the past, suggesting a flawed character? And second, is the person still engaging in unethical practices today, indicating a threat of current fraud?

Prospects must answer both questions in order to get comfortable with their advisor. How to help them? By understanding that what we’re really talking about here is the importance of being transparent (the first question) and the necessity of acting as a fiduciary (the second).

But I’d go even further. Since most advisors today are focusing on transparency and on putting clients first, you must do and say something dramatically different to set yourself apart. Here’s how: 

  • Buy a background check on yourself so that consumers cannot question your level of transparency.
  • Make a compelling gesture that says you’ll never, ever put your own interests ahead of the client’s.

In this column, we’ll address the first bullet, and in the next, we’ll explore the second.

So why commission a background check on yourself? Because the standard transparency strategies only take you so far.

Sure, you want to discuss your background extensively on your website. And you want to increase your online exposure by building a LinkedIn page, along with personal profiles on sites such as (provided by my firm, the National Ethics Association). And you want to have a compliant business brochure, with ethics and confidentiality statements front and center (and on your website, too).

But again, these have become expected strategies. The only way to convince a consumer that you walk the talk is to let your record speak for itself — by sharing the results of a comprehensive background check.

What should a reputable background-search cover? Here are the main elements:

  • A county criminal record search, for both ciminal and misdemeanor criminal cases. (Beware firms that claim to have one national criminal records database; there is no such thing).
  • A federal criminal records search, for cases involving violation of federal laws, often crossing state lines.
  • A sex-offender registry search, for cases involving sex crimes.
  • A civil-action search, for lawsuits and bankruptcies that reflect on your fitness to advise on financial matters. 

Assuming you pass, it’s time to communicate your background check to prospects. Here’s how:

  1. Feature it on all sales and marketing tools (check with Compliance first).
  2. Include it in online profiles.
  3. Provide a hard-copy report during initial sales meetings.
  4. Say that you voluntarily offered to be background checked (crucial, since it suggests you have nothing to hide).

If you do all of the above, you will be 50 percent of the way to trust. To get the rest of the way, please read next month’s column. 

Full disclosure: The National Ethics Association offers its members Certified Background Checks through its relationship with Sterling Infosystems, the world’s largest background-check provider.

For more from Steven McCarty, see:


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