The Importance of Empathy: Why Financial Advisors Can't Afford to Ignore It

Nothing can form a human connection quite like the genuine expression of empathy. That human connection, which is the basis of trust in a relationship, is what clients want from their advisors. Failure to make that connection quickly can drive clients into the arms of a more empathic advisor.

Why empathy is so powerful

Empathy is the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes, understand their emotions, and connect with them on a deeper level. But to your clients, it’s much more than that. When you express genuine empathy with a client, they feel like they are the most important person in your life at that moment. You took the time to step inside their shoes, walk around, and make them feel understood without judging them.

Here’s how that might play out between an advisor and a client:

Sarah nervously tapped her foot, staring at the retirement projections on the screen. “It just feels so far away,” she sighed. “What if I can’t afford the life I want?”

Advisor Michael leaned back, meeting her gaze. “It’s completely understandable to feel anxious,” he said gently. “Retirement is a big milestone, and there’s a lot of uncertainty. We can walk through this together, step by step. Let’s explore some strategies to ensure your golden years are everything you dream of.”

Michael’s acknowledgment of Sarah’s emotions creates a safe space to discuss her concerns. He validates her anxieties and offers support, building trust and demonstrating a commitment to helping her achieve her goals.

That’s powerful.

Now, let’s flip the script to get an idea of how a client or prospect might feel when their advisor can’t or won’t step up at a crucial moment to reassure their client.

Sarah nervously tapped her foot, staring at the retirement projections on the screen. “It just feels so far away,” she sighed. “What if I can’t afford the life I want?”

Advisor Michael shifted anxiously, annoyed that Sarah wasn’t buying into his plan. “Sarah, I’ve worked these numbers thoroughly, and if you start this plan right away, you’ll be fine.”

There was no acknowledgment of the emotional weight of her financial decision; he used an abrupt tone and gave her zero reassurance. Perhaps without realizing it, the advisor’s inability or unwillingness to connect with the client’s feelings made him appear cold, dismissive, insensitive, and overly focused on the technical details, creating a relationship-killing emotional detachment. Few people would put up with that.

Consequences of empathic-free advice

It wouldn’t take a Dr. Phil to find a direct correlation between failing to exhibit empathy and a cascade of negative consequences that can completely derail an advisor’s career, such as:

#1. Breakdown in trust

First and foremosta lack of empathy erodes trust, which is the foundation of an advisory relationship. For clients to be forthcoming about their finances and future plans, they need to feel safe and understood by their advisors, free of fear of being judged or misunderstood. A lack of transparency makes it difficult for the advisor to develop a personalized and effective financial strategy.

#2. Poor communication

Without empathy, communication becomes one-sided. The advisor dictates a plan without considering the client’s concerns, which can lead to confusion, frustration, and, ultimately, a reluctance to follow the advisor’s advice.

#3. Misaligned strategies and frustration

Without empathy, advisors might create financial plans that miss the mark. They may push investment strategies that align more with their own comfort zone than the client’s risk tolerance or emotional attachment to money. This leads to a disconnect between the plan and the client’s actual needs, which can lead to confusion, dissatisfaction, and, ultimately, frustration.

#4. Client flight and negative word-of-mouth

Clients who feel unheard and disregarded will likely seek a financial advisor who can better understand and cater to their needs. Additionally, negative experiences can lead to lousy word-of-mouth referrals, further hindering the advisor’s ability to attract new clients.

#5. The Ripple Effect

The impact of a lack of empathy extends beyond the client-advisor relationship. Financial decisions often involve families and loved ones. Clients who feel unsupported by their advisor might lose faith in the entire financial planning process, impacting their overall financial well-being and potentially harming the financial future of those who depend on them.

Demonstrating empathy is not just a critical soft skill; it’s a core competency financial advisors must master if they expect to build strong and enduring relationships. It fosters trust, facilitates effective communication, and allows for the creation of personalized financial plans that align with a client’s values and emotional well-being.

An empathic advisor can listen actively, communicate clearly, and tailor their language to their client’s circumstances. Finally, clients who feel understood and valued are more likely to be satisfied with their advisor’s services and refer them to others.

Make a point to put demonstrating empathy at the top of your list for developing core competencies.

Related: 7 Common Mistakes Financial Advisors Make That Drive Clients Away