When a financial advisory team from Long Beach, California-based Halbert Halgrove heard Jeff Belkora speak at a conference in 2013 about SLCT, the interview protocol he designed to stimulate patient disclosure in health care practices, they knew they had found something of great importance to them.

Halbert Hargrove has always made an effort to focus on its clients’ thoughts, feelings, needs and goals, said Kelli Kiemle, director of marketing and client experience for Halbert Hargrove. Belkora’s methodical approach has been proven to increase patient introspection and satisfaction and decrease anxiety, distress and regret. In a financial planning setting, it offered the team the perfect template to elicit clients’ goals and needs, and understand their thought processes prior to addressing them – something she said is not that easy to do.

SLCT, pronounced “select,” stands for Scribing (writing down what a client said is at the top of their mind); Laddering (asking clients to elaborate on their top-of-mind concerns); Checking (administering a prompt sheet to stimulate additional client disclosure of goals, concerns, interests, priorities and questions); and Triaging (creating a succinct document, edited for clarity and brevity, that summarizes the client agenda).

Belkora is associate professor of surgery and health policy at the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF), and obtained a Ph.D. in engineering from Stanford. He came up with the SLCT method after realizing that doctors needed a new model for patient engagement — one that enabled people to critically reflect on their condition before meeting with their medical providers.

“Most patients, when they go into a meeting with a doctor, surgeon or oncologist, tend to freeze up,” Belkora said.   

That inhibition means important questions, concerns and needs aren’t addressed because they’re not in the patient’s mind at the time.

“To have a pre-consultation interview that allows people to critically reflect on their condition before they go into a meeting with a doctor — a meeting where they are going to make life-changing decisions — is very important,” Belkora said.

UCSF uses the SLCT method as a key part of first-stage tools designed for patient discovery. It is a natural fit for the financial planning industry, which after the 2008 financial crisis has become much more attuned to client needs, and is very much focused on investor behavior, thought and feeling as key to determine the best investment options for them.

“There is a real parallel between financial planning and health care, right down to the dynamics between the advisor and client, which are the same as between doctor and patient,” Belkora said. “In both fields, we have the same issues, the same barriers.”

In 2015, Halbert Hargrove brought Belkora in to train six advisors in the process. Last May, the firm reported that initial results in a client sample group showed an increase in client input during discussions to 68% from 57%. The rate at which advisors asked questions as part of their dialog with clients also increased from 52% to 67%.

“The essence of SLCT is that it is completely client driven,” Kiemle said. “The first question we always ask when we start the interview is how the client was referred to our firm, what are their needs, their concerns and worries, and what their goals are. This sets the foundation for the client-driven conversation to continue.”

The inclusion of generic questions — “you said you have three children; what should we know about them?” — helps uncover issues that are important but that may not be at the forefront of a client’s mind when it comes to financial planning, Kiemle said.

The SLCT process is a team effort, and prospective clients have their initial interactions with the junior-most member of the team. In the medical setting, undergraduate medical students are the first port of call in discovering and documenting a patient’s agenda, Belkora said, and the doctor (like the financial advisor) only comes in when there’s a clear list of what’s on the patient’s (or client’s) mind. Not only does this save time, it removes any bias a doctor or an advisor may have and results in shared decision-making and greater collaboration between doctor and patient, advisor and client, he said.

Most importantly, the entire SLCT protocol gets clients to feel comfortable and at ease with their financial advisor. When clients are presented with a written version of their interview, “they can see with their own eyes that we listened very carefully to what they had to say and that we will translate what they want to a recommended portfolio,” said Pat Kujawa, a Halbert Hargrove advisor who uses SLCT. “As advisors, we feel that going through a methodical process and listening closely to clients is a point of differentiation for us.”

Kujawa has also noticed that the SLCT method is particularly helpful with couples. Traditionally, and even today to a large extent, men have dominated financial planning discussions, “but the beauty of this process is that it forces both parties in a relationship to come forward and speak about what’s on their mind, and makes them both feel that they’re actively interested and involved,” he said.

Belkora (JeffBelkora.com), who authored “DEAL! Discovery, Engagement and Leverage for Professionals,” has been approached by a number of RIA firms who are interested in the SLCT method. He will soon launch an online training platform for advisors who want to learn the process.

— Read “How to Improve DC Plans for Better Retiree Outcomes: SEI” on ThinkAdvisor.