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Financial Planning > Trusts and Estates > Trust Planning

Understanding Client Behavior: The Key to Long-Term Relationships

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Client-advisor relationships, like all relationships, are predicated on a few basic principles. In this piece, I will discuss this and explore how you, as advisor, can help foster enduring relationships. The first step is to understand people.

A Twist on Trust

Every prospective client has a certain capacity to trust. Some are very trusting while others are not. Whether this is a learned behavior or something genetic is difficult to say. We do know that a great number of clients seeking financial advice have already spoken with multiple advisors and have formed certain opinions as a result. If the advisor is subject to production requirements or simply has not amassed a large enough asset base to sustain their lifestyle, they can easily appear a little too eager. If the client perceives this, they may become defensive. Why? Because the client is seeking sound financial advice and does not want to be sold.

In short, when the advisors focus is on themselves and what they need, the client may pick up on it. This can be especially true if the client has a lower capacity to trust or is a female, as women are generally more intuitive and perceptive than men. Sorry guys.

Emotional Capacity

Everyone has the capacity to feel. At one end of the continuum are those who are very outgoing and wear their emotions on their sleeve. These people are much easier to read. All you need to do is let them talk while you listen and learn. Other clients hold things close to the vest and are much harder to read. Even though the latter show less emotion, they usually “feel” the same emotions as those who are outgoing. They have either learned to control their emotions or it is embedded in their God-given personality or both. Both types require a different approach, but we’ll save that discussion for another time.

Perceived Behavior

Let’s get a little philosophical for a moment. Perhaps you’ve noticed that the country is much more polarized today than 50, 40, or even 30 years ago. I believe this is largely due to two things.

First, much of the media, hungry for ratings, must decide what is news and has a very limited time to dispense it. Thus, the soundbite has become the soup du jour. The consumer of this “news” also has a limited time to listen, learn, process, and form an opinion. This has led to an increase in false narratives that are accepted as fact. The perception of this has caused many to become suspicious of what they hear, further diminishing their capacity to trust.

Another thing that affects client behavior is trauma. Trauma creates negative emotions. When this becomes too much to tolerate, the individual must learn to suppress these emotions and find new ways to cope. Depending on their fight or flight response, they may become more outgoing or more withdrawn. Regardless, trauma has a way of changing a person’s behavior. Those who understand this well are better suited to help. Understanding this will revolutionize your paradigm.


Gaining insight into the human psyche is a key to fostering long-term relationships. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. As advisors, it is incumbent on us to do the right thing for clients, at all times. Forget about what you will earn. If you put the client first, you will reap the benefits. Since this is true, why is the fiduciary standard so hard to pass? I have a strong hunch, but we’ll save that for another time.

Thanks for reading and have a great week.

— More Mike Patton commentaries:


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