Remember story time in kindergarten or pre-K, or at your local public library?
What types of stories resonated most with you?
No matter what your answer is, I’m guessing it has nothing to do with stock-selection strategies, asset allocation models, or RIA performance history.
While this subject matter is indeed important for communicating a financial advisor’s differentiators to existing and prospective clients, numbers and charts can be dull or confusing if they are presented in a straightforward, passionless and impersonal manner.
To make their story resonate with clients and prospects, advisors need to show the value they create within the context of an individual client’s narrative. When advisors take the time to understand a client’s motivations, outlook and goals, and what they want to achieve for themselves and their families, they can present their expertise, services and added value in a way that will resonate on a deeper, emotional level.
Clients choose to work with a financial advisor because they want to make more money — but as the saying goes, money isn’t everything. There’s an underlying reason, or reasons, why a client wants to improve investment outcomes and enlarge their nest egg. A 55-year-old single schoolteacher nearing retirement may want to save up enough to move down to Florida in a few years. A 38-year-old accountant expecting a second child may want to move their growing family into a new house, and ensure they will have enough to eventually send both kids, and possibly more, to college. An elderly couple may want to make sure they can cover pre-planned funeral expenses, provide for their children and grandchildren, and create a legacy in their communities through philanthropic giving.
No matter what a client’s motivation and life circumstances happen to be, something is driving them to want to work with an advisor — and this is the central theme around which financial plans should be built, and presented, in order to elevate the advisor-client relationship and convert more prospects.
Telling a story that clients can relate to is much more effective than merely running through spreadsheets. Research by the late cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner found people are 22 times more likely to remember facts if they are delivered within a story.
A fact or lesson is even more memorable when it is delivered in a story with relatable characters. In 2017, Canadian researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and the University of Toronto found that children between ages 4 and 6 shared more information after listening to stories with human characters than they did following stories with animal characters. Clearly, the child subjects in this study found it easier to apply what they learned when they had more in common with a story’s characters.
The Tools to Tell a Compelling Story
Fortunately for advisors, cutting-edge planning software available in the fintech marketplace offer the tools and flexibility they need to create highly customized and relevant financial plans. Advisors should try to structure plans, reports and presentations like narratives, comprehensively stating each client’s goals, including detailed information about how to achieve them, and depending on how long they have served each client, the progress that has been made thus far.
To further support the story they are telling about what a client wants to achieve, and how they can achieve it, advisors can run scenarios best-suited for a particular client’s circumstances, goals, and preferences, and explain how certain life events (expected or unexpected) and market conditions can affect outcomes.
Advisors can also incorporate case studies focusing on other clients with similar goals, life stories, and motivations — and demonstrate with visually appealing materials how they were able to help these people improve investment outcomes and achieve their goals. Of course, it goes without saying that the subjects of these case studies need to remain anonymous, but a story where clients and prospects can actually see how advisors were able to help people they can relate to can help establish an emotional, trusting connection.
If advisors utilize financial planning solutions that give them full control over the information they want to include and customize in plans and reports, and also enable them to perform unlimited scenarios, then they can create a compelling story that appeals to every client — and take the advisor-client partnership to the next level.