How much time and effort should an advisor invest with a prospective client if the advisor becomes convinced that the client is unlikely to hire them?

A client’s reluctance to hire a particular advisor may stem from a number of factors. Therefore, in the interest of clarity and for our discussion, let’s assume the client has a legitimate psychological condition which causes them to be suspicious and hinders their ability to trust. I’m not suggesting the client is mentally impaired, simply programmed by the past.

I suspect this may be more common than we might think, especially as more and more clients cross paths with unethical advisors. In this post, we’ll address this type of situation, and drawing on personal experience, explore some of the underlying reasons and what an advisor may be able to do to help this type of client. 

What should an advisor do when confronted by a client with trust issues? Before walking away, assuming the advisor and client wish to continue, it may be wise to explore some possible solutions. In doing so, the advisor may also help the client learn how to trust again. Here are a few steps to consider when faced with this type of individual. 

1) Confirm their inability to trust

2) Uncover the specifics behind their inability to trust

3) Validate their reasons and feelings

4) Develop a plan to move forward 

Step 1
First, you must confirm that they have an inability to trust. If you come right out and ask, “Do you have a hard time trusting others?” the relationship may end right there. This depends on the individual’s particular personality and whether or not you’ve earned the right to ask such a question.

You’ll need to judge this carefully and based on their personality, gender and temperament, you must decide when and how to ask. 

Step 2
Next, you need to uncover the specifics. For example, assuming they had a bad experience with an advisor in the past, you should do what you can to draw this out of them. Let them vent if they desire. Also, you should understand that it has nothing to do with you.

If you can get them to discuss the specifics (only if they want to), it can be a healing episode for them and they may come to view you as a genuine, caring individual. 

Step 3
Next, you must validate their feelings. You might say something such as “I understand. If I were in your shoes, I’d probably feel the same way.” However, it must be completely sincere. If you really were in their shoes, you’d probably be upset, assuming of course, the compliant is legitimate.

Be careful you don’t sound patronizing. 

Step 4
Finally, you must determine how to move forward. This can be a difficult step. As a general rule, the worse the infraction was, and depending on the client’s personality, the more difficult it may be to repair the damage and gain their trust.

You’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s worth the time to develop the relationship. You’ll have to consider the business aspect along with the human relations side of things. In other words, if you were their friend and had nothing to gain from helping them, how much time would you spend on it? Obviously, from a purely business point of view, in the absence of progress, you might decide to move on at some point. Because you’re dealing with a person’s emotions and feelings, it’s not as simple as a rigid formula.

You’ll have to use your judgment. 

Conclusion
Working with people and their money can be an emotional experience. In many cases, they have worked hard to accumulate a nest egg and are keenly interested in preserving or growing it. As a general rule, there will always be a segment of the market that has a more difficult time trusting others. To be realistic, many in this group will never find an advisor that meets their standard or expectations.

However, for those who have had a bad experience in the past, an honest and ethical advisor is precisely what is needed to prove there are honest and ethical practitioners.

The good news is that you can be that person.