So, you want to be in the business of giving financial advice. That’s understandable because not only can the career of a financial advisor be financially rewarding, it can also be very fulfilling. Through a relationship that can span a lifetime, you become the essential source of advice in one of the most important aspects of your clients’ lives. There’s just one problem. You don’t have any clients—yet.
As a new financial advisor, your number one job is to find new clients. That has always been advisors’ biggest challenge but more so today due to the trust deficit that exists in the financial services industry. According to a CFA Institute survey, only 57 percent of retail investors trust the financial services industry, which is up from a few years ago, but it’s still a wide chasm to overcome. The same survey found that retail investors listed “trust” as their top consideration when hiring an advisor. Prospective clients simply won’t work with an advisor they don’t trust.
What clients really want
As a new advisor, your biggest challenge is to be able to build trust quickly with people you’ve just met. Unless you have an innate ability to build trust with people who already distrust your chosen profession, you must develop the critical skills at the outset to have any chance of success. So, how do you build trust quickly? By mastering the soft skills to become an effective communicator who can connect with people, because that’s what clients want.
Of course, you’ll need to obtain the proper licensing and product training. You can’t become a financial advisor without that. It would help if you also worked to obtain an industry designation such as a Certified Financial Planner (CFP). Being able to demonstrate competence is critical to establishing trust. But a certificate on the wall does little if you can’t get people to trust and connect with you.
To that end, here are three things you need to master to succeed in the business of giving financial advice:
One of the quickest ways to build a connection and the trust that goes with it is to show that you care about what they say. Empathy is about seeing the world through your client’s eyes. When you demonstrate that you are genuinely invested in their needs and concerns, clients are more likely to feel you have their interests in mind.
Demonstrating empathy doesn’t come naturally for some people, especially financial advisors who have been conditioned to share information and provide direction. Many times clients want a sympathetic ear rather than direction. It’s important not to make the relationship all about business because it is a personal business, after all. Rather than rushing in to solve a problem, slow down and find out what’s going on with the client. By allowing the client to steer the conversation, you will uncover their underlying emotions.
Never make the initial meeting about you. Avoid making prepared statements. Before each initial meeting, make a list of five questions to go along with the typical questions about a prospect’s financial situation. The five questions should focus solely on getting to know the prospect as a person. When done right, these five questions will change the tone of the meeting from a stiff, prepackaged presentation into a meaningful conversation, giving your prospects the sense you genuinely care about them.
#2. Active Listening
Of course, to demonstrate genuine empathy, you must be a good listener. That may be easier said than done, depending on your prospect. Active listening entails asking opened ended questions to encourage your prospects to open up. Questions that start with “how” or “why” or “tell me about…” force prospects to elaborate on a subject. You can draw them out even further by inserting “tell me more about…” when appropriate. All the while, you must maintain eye contact and avoid fidgeting with your devices.
They know you hear them loud and clear when you play their comments back to them—not in a verbatim recall of their words, but your interpretation, using something like, “Let me see if I understand what you’re telling me…” This turns a typically one-sided conversation into an empathic conversation.
Active listening does not come naturally for most people. The average person is more comfortable asking closed in questions starting with “Are you” or “Did that,” which can only be answered with a closed-end answer. It takes conditioning to master this skill, so you will want to practice it daily.
As part of their need to trust and connect with their advisors, clients crave authenticity. Prospects and clients will unmask a fake persona immediately, and nothing can diminish trust more quickly. Throughout our lives, many of us are told that it’s better to put on a tough veneer, not to show ourselves, to paint a picture of who we should be rather than who we are. That’s an easy trap to fall into for new financial advisors because they may feel they have credibility issues.
You may not yet have the experience or knowledge of a 10-year practitioner, but, to a great extent, authenticity—being open and honest about who you really are—lends you a certain amount of credibility. Skip the fancy jargon and talk to them like you would want to be talked to about something you don’t understand. Paint a picture or tell a story. Tell your story (keep it short) and let your prospects tell theirs. That’s how connections are made.
To win the trust of your prospects and clients, it’s not how much you know; it’s how much you care about them. That will come through clearly when you practice genuine empathy, active listening, and authenticity.