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Starting the conversation: kill the jargon and listen!

Getting a client to open up about their hopes for the future, as well as their immediate financial needs, takes practice, patience and people skills. Top advisers explain how they begin that process.

Every adviser prides themselves on their technical know-how, but that’s only half the story. For most customers, good communication skills are the deciding factor when choosing an adviser.1 According to a recent survey, customers rated ‘being easy to talk to’ above a low-cost service.

You could describe it as the financial equivalent of a doctor’s bedside manner. There are countless courses, journals and websites designed to boost advisers’ financial knowledge, but few on people skills. So we asked some top professionals for their opening lines.

What do you really want?

Martin Bamford, chartered financial planner, Informed Choice

“Every client is different. One wants to get straight down to business, while another needs to engage in social conversation first to feel comfortable.”

Bamford believes some clients don’t know their real wishes and objectives. Asking a high-level question such as “what are your life objectives?” usually elicits a vague response.

“So I might ask: ‘What is important to you about money?’

“This allows us to dig deeper to get to the core of an issue. Other questions might include: ‘So, if you could afford to retire now, what would you do?’”

Kill the jargon

Andrew Day, principal director, Depledge Strategic Wealth Management

“Don’t fire questions at your client. Let them take the time to explain in their own words what it is they are looking for from you.”

Day suggests asking people about their previous experiences of financial services. This can be quite an eye-opener.

Those looking to build long-term relationships should remember customers want their advice, not ‘off-the-shelf’ products. This advice should come in clear, jargon-free language.

“Ask about other family members and offer to help them, even if it is not as profitable. It is this service element that people value – not an investment ‘solution’ that simply ticks the various boxes on a fact-find sheet.”

Don't talk down

Rowena Griffiths, chartered financial planner, Female Financial Management

“The more experienced advisers tend to have better communication skills. But you often find that many female advisers can be more empathetic and better listeners.”

Many advisers don’t realise they are ‘talking down’ to customers, says Griffiths. “It’s all about digging deep to find out what the client’s objectives are. Often their number one objective is to do the best for their children.

“By talking to them about their plans in detail, they can start to see investing not as pounds on a spreadsheet but as a means of providing money for a future deposit, or paying university costs.”

Avoid an interrogation

Mike Prendergast, Zen Financial Services

“The client will only trust the adviser when they feel they are on their side, so advisers need to make an effort to get to know the client on a personal level, rather than charging in with a full financial fact-find.”

This doesn’t need to be an interrogation, says Prendergast. You simply need to take a genuine interest in the person. People will sense if you are not really interested in their answers.

Keep listening

Frances Kemp, independent financial planner, Nurture Financial Planning

True investment personality is tricky because one client’s ‘average’ isn’t the same as another’s, says Kemp.

“We use thorough risk profiling questionnaires that also take into consideration ethical and religious issues, plus their capacity for loss. For example, someone investing £10,000 that they inherited from a long-lost aunt might have a very different capacity for loss compared with someone where that same £10,000 represents their life savings.”

Try as much as possible to listen, she adds. “It’s amazing how many more details clients reveal given the opportunity. Interrupting clients or talking more than them about investment options, just distracts them. Now isn’t necessarily the time to talk solutions, when you haven’t yet been able to fully understand the goals.”

It's all about the future

Charles Wootton, partner at financial advisers Foster Denovo

“The first thing I will ask a client is what they would like to achieve from the meeting.

“For instance, I would ask a client questions such as: ‘If we were meeting in 12 months from our first review, what would have happened for you to be totally happy with your financial planning?’”

Other questions include: “Please tell me the top three things you would like to improve in terms of your financial planning?”

And: “Would you like us to design a strategy and provide you with options to ensure you achieve all of your objectives?”.

For financial advisers only. Not to be relied on by consumers.

The views expressed by external contributors are not necessarily those of Old Mutual Wealth or Old Mutual International.

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