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Creating a Childlike Curiosity

We have all heard the saying, “Curiosity killed the cat,” that implies it is better to mind your own business. However, as advisers/agents do we truly believe that that is the best course of action to make a connection?

I think it’s safe to say that most of us think we ask a lot of questions. Unfortunately, I’ve found that many of the questions that we ask are merely designed to uncover facts and not to truly understand the prospect or client’s situation and how they feel about it.

Young children have a genuine and innate curiosity when they want to get to know someone and they seem to have no problem asking a multitude of questions. Let’s take a look at how this type of curiosity can benefit you and your prospects/clients.

Gives you time to think. During one of my group coaching critic sessions, in which we role-play with our group members as if they were on the phone with prospects, I noticed that one adviser used what I call a “curiosity question.” It was, “That’s interesting could you tell me more about that?” This was in response to a prospect who gave him an objection about how he didn’t like to use certain investment products and thus wasn’t interested in setting up a meeting. After using his curiosity question, his prospect relaxed, opened up and ended up telling a story about his investment experience. This gave the adviser more time to think about what direction he wanted to turn the conversation.

Uncovers important information. The prospect revealed some interesting information about his concerns regarding a financial adviser he had worked with because years ago that adviser put him into a product that he perceived as expensive and it had lost him money when he was told that it was safe. As a result, he felt that he was misled and that consequently all advisers would mislead him. This helped my adviser client truly understand that his prospect’s real objection was trust and not about a specific product at all.

Shows that you care. After listening to the real objection about trust, the adviser acknowledged what he had heard by summarizing how it must have made the prospect feel. “That sounds frustrating, was it,” he posed. The prospect quickly shared with him how frustrated he was and the adviser in turn showed he cared by being even more curious and asking, “Why is that? Why do you think some advisers don’t take the time to fully explain their recommendations?”

Creates a connection. By now the adviser was creating a connection because he was open to getting to know the prospect and the prospect was connecting because he felt that he was being heard.

After a lengthy conversation the adviser inquired, “I’m kind of curious, if we met and I did give you a second opinion on the investments you own, would you be open to speaking with a couple of my clients to hear what type of experience they have had working with me? It’s free and maybe it would help you see that all advisers are not alike.” It didn’t take long for the prospect to simply reply, “Yes, I would like that.”

Why Childlike Curiosity Works
It’s no secret that people want to be heard. The reason that childlike curiosity works is because when you truly exude through your choice of words and tone that you care, prospects are more open to telling you a lot more about themselves. Everyone has a story, so get genuinely curious and find out what it is.

If you are ready to learn this and other valuable techniques for connecting with prospects and clients, email Melissa Denham, director of client servicing, to schedule a complimentary 30-minute coaching session.

Dan FinleyDaniel C. Finley
Advisor Solutions
St. Paul, Minn.


9 Things Clients Need to Know about an Adviser

In my last blog, I focused on the importance of having a service plan for those investors seeking a shared decision-making advisory relationship. Winning in this market segment requires a clearly articulated presentation.

However, beyond the now-common “elevator pitch” and “value proposition” summaries every marketing guidebook or consultant mandates, the fact is, investors looking for a new advisory relationship will want much more before making a decision—it’s called due diligence.

Most individuals will not have a clearly articulated process, but all want to reflect on their decision and know that they made a good choice. This is not just for the basic satisfaction of a well-made decision, but there’s real economic and emotional value at hand. An adviser that encourages scrutiny shows confidence and transparency, two characteristics central to a trusted advisory relationship (note: for a discussion about making this scrutiny visible to your market, see “Removing Purchase Obstacles to Valuable Benefits”).

Making Business Personal
Whether a formal or informal process, there are nine key messages that every prospect must know about an adviser. Unlike an institutional due diligence process that emphasizes sterile facts, an adviser personalizes these to not only reach the prospect’s mind but also the heart. Both must exist for a professional relationship to flourish.

1.) The Key Benefits Clients Receive: This goes beyond the service listing often found in standard value propositions to personalizing the importance of each benefit (see “Clients Buy Benefits Not Features”).

Example: “When my clients see their needs and aspirations carefully marked as milestones in the wealth plan, a real sense of financial purpose takes over.”

2.) Pricing Services: Clients’ value a fiduciary’s watchful eye over increasing complexity and uncertainty, and this must translate into an appreciation for relationship pricing such as a retainer or fee on AUM, compared to a commission approach that is inherently transactional.

Example: “We only work for your best interests, and this isn’t something that is turned on or off but rather is a constant, and that’s why we price our services in a bundled fee for the wealth we oversee.”

3.) Services Have Value: Services deliver financial or emotional benefits, and a specific example brings tangibility.

Example: “Our retirement income planning ensures that the income you receive is done so efficiently. Recently, we increased a client’s monthly income by XX percent through improved tax efficiency.”

4.) Your Service Practices: Move beyond the overused term “relationship” to how a client actually experiences the delivered services.

Example: “It’s important that we get to know you and your family. Then, when we have our meetings, you’ll see how our services directly connect to what’s on your heart and mind.”

5.) Why You’re an Adviser: Your advisory business is a service business delivered by a server. It takes a certain personality willing to serve, and the energy source for this is an adviser’s passion.

Example: “My family struggled with financial anxiety and my heart still aches for the burden it caused. I became an adviser to bring peace of mind to my clients.

6.) Your Community Involvement: Your advisory business is a people business, and this is best illustrated in community involvement.

Example: “My family took root in this community back in [year], and we are involved in X, Y and Z. This involvement gives us a deep appreciation for what it means to be a true neighbor and, since many of our clients are local too, we connect on many professional and personal levels.”

7.) Your Credentials: More than listing specific charters, list needs-based expertise.

Example: “My expertise sits right in the center of what you need in identifying a retirement-income plan. I’ve developed similar plans for XX of our clients, so it’s rare that an issue comes up that I haven’t already encountered.”

8.) How You Built Your Company: Knowing why an advisory firm started tells a lot about the adviser.

Example: “It was important to me that my business dedicate itself to specific wealth needs instead of being diluted as would be the case in a larger firm.”

9.) Your Business’s Objectives: An advisory firm is usually a community-based business.

Example: “We’re a small business in town and when our clients achieve financial, social and emotional success, the whole community benefits.”

Messaging to Win
Clients who understand an adviser’s relatable characteristics easily can paraphrase them to others. When a client speaks in this way, he or she not only offers the adviser an important due diligence reference, but the adviser’s characteristics become further internalized.

Kirk Loury


Kirk Loury
Wealth Planning Consulting Inc.
Princeton Junction, New Jersey


4 Tips to Help Grieving Clients

Amy Florian, CEO of Corgenius, was a 25-year-old with a 7-month-old baby when her husband John kissed her good-bye for the last time to go on a business trip.

A car hit his car and John died instantly.

Florian was devastated. She had money from a life insurance policy she needed to invest so she sought out a financial adviser. He did right by her in terms of investing her money well, but he just didn’t understand what she was going through. He sometimes made her feel like a number in a portfolio rather than a whole person.

“I stayed with him for some time because it was clear he knew how to invest my money,” Florian explained. But then she switched. She found a planner who made her feel more comfortable.

Widows oftentimes feel uncomfortable with financial planners as shown in the fact that more than 70 percent switch advisers after their husband’s death. It’s helpful for your clients for you have the skills to help them deal with their grief.

Helping Them Through
Baby boomers are getting older.

“We had a baby boom,” Florian said. “We’re in for a death boom and we’re not prepared.”

You are going to have to deal with your client’s grief at that first appointment with them after their partner dies. It’s going to be difficult.

“It’s awkward,” Florian explained. “It’s uncomfortable.”

But with these helpful grief support tips, you will help your clients. It is important, Florian said, to note that grief happens whenever there is a transition, whether it’s death or moving to a new city.

Ask open-ended, invitational questions. Some examples include: What happened? Who was with you? How did you find out? Then after a few months have passed: Last time we talked you said you felt a certain way, do you still feel that way now? Grieving people want somebody who will listen.

Stay away from the standard responses, “I’m sorry,” or “I know what you’re going through.”

Know that there are two main styles of grief: instrumental grievers, who focus more on their heads (things like logistics and specific events); and intuitive grievers, who focus more on their heart (the experience of everything, what they are feeling).

Have boxes of tissues everywhere, but never hand them a box of tissues when they are crying as doing so will send the message that you are making them uncomfortable and you want them to stop. Say, “You could use any of these tissues if you’d like, it’s up to you.”

Let them know that your office is a safe space and that they can cry. Encourage them to feel their grief, because that is the truly strong thing to do.

Have them write down their fears. Ask them what’s the worst thing they can imagine happening to them right now and have them write it down. Studies show that when you write down fears, you take away their power.

“I’m teaching you to do the right thing for your client,” Florian said. “It’s what we all should be doing, we just haven’t been taught.”



Ana Trujillo
Associate Editor
Journal of Financial Planning
Denver, Colo.


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How to Make Buckets Work for You

In light of the recent fiduciary ruling by the Department of Labor, you may be wondering how using a bucket strategy can help you act in your clients’ best interest.

Investment research firm Morningstar defines the bucket approach to retirement planning as a strategy that funds cash-flow needs while the client maintains a diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds and cash. Morningstar offers this helpful video interview with Harold Evensky that further dives into the bucket strategy.

Basically, buckets provide a way for you to ensure that your clients’ short-term income needs are safe from market ups and downs while meeting their long-term growth objectives with market exposure. Buckets provide a way for advisers to create personal plans specific to their clients’ financial goals and needs while helping them understand that plan regardless of their previous financial experience.

Weathering Market Storms
One of the greatest benefits of bucketing is the safety net it casts for when the market inevitably rises and falls. When the market isn’t performing, clients may panic and be inclined to abandon the plan they had previously made for one that will make them feel safe and secure in that moment. Buckets, however, give them a clear picture of their retirement plan down the road. Seeing that they meet their income needs and that their investments will have time to recover from a downturn will help them stick with their bucket plans, which will greatly benefit them down the road.

In addition to bringing peace of mind by providing a visual for their income down the road, buckets provide clients with a steady cash flow in the present. Buckets are a systematic way for a steady income because each year is planned, as opposed to scrambling to liquidate assets so that they have enough money even while the market is struggling. Having that steady, certain income ensures that clients will be able to give great thought to when they sell investments and that ensures that they are selling them at the optimal times. This way, investments are serving at the greatest benefit to bring in the most income.

A Personalized Approach
Bucket strategies can be personalized to each client. Based on their risk profile and financial goals, you and your client can generate strategies with any number of buckets and any lengths of time. The flexibility of buckets even after the plan has been set is an added security because assets and investments can be adjusted, or have time to adjust, while the market weathers its ups and downs.

One of the most traditional methods of retirement income planning, Monte Carlo simulation, does not allow for personalized strategies, and yet, they produce the same rate of returns with the same amount of risk. There is no one-size-fits-all in retirement income planning, and clients forced into such a mold can feel anxious about their funds in retirement. Creating a strategy specific to each client will inspire trust in you and bring them peace of mind knowing that their retirement income plan was created with their unique circumstances and needs in mind.

Seeing is Believing
Bucket strategies can give clients a simple visual. With their personalized strategies, clients will have a better understanding of how their assets and investments will be used during their retirement.

In addition to the simple visual that a bucket strategy offers your clients, buckets create a plan that is easy for clients to understand. They will be able to see exactly where their money is, how it is being invested and how their plan will support them throughout retirement. With this simple, easy-to-understand approach to retirement income planning, clients will be confident in themselves, their finances and, in turn, you.

As your clients approach retirement, it’s important for you to provide them with an income plan that can give them financial security in a volatile market, a simple, understandable approach and a strategy that has been created with their unique needs in mind.

FPA partners with Last Advisor to offer “Bucket Bliss,” a software tool that offers a robust, state-of-the-art financial application designed for advisers to build individual bucket strategies while implementing a comprehensive retirement income plan for their clients. FPA members receive a special rate which can be accessed here.

Madison Taylor
Clearfield, UT
Social Media and Marketing Director
Last Advisor

Editor’s note: A version of this post originally appeared on the Last Advisor blog on August 15, 2016.

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Embrace Investor Decision-Making Preferences

The respondents to the 2016 Fidelity® Millionaire Outlook Study’s hit the bull’s eye for what most advisers would consider to be ideal client characteristics: entrepreneurs; $1,750,000 in median investable wealth; $125,000 in median income; 62 percent debt free. Although the study’s theme emphasized the worthy goal of making clients loyal advocates (see my Journal of Financial Planning article, “How to Deliver Empathetic Client Service and Gain Client Loyalty”), a significant strategic implication sat unattended.

When clients engage an adviser in this market, they are focused on an advisory relationship that shares decisions instead of the adviser taking the full-on discretionary lead. What’s even more threatening is that self-directed investors (i.e. do-it-yourself) represent the biggest segment.


Advice, Yes; Control, No
There are three important conclusions to make from these segments:

  1. Advice is desired across all segments. Expertise is needed and valued, but the key issue is: where does it come from, an adviser, online or both?
  1. Investor involvement drives the go-forward market. The relationship model wherein a family would turn over their investments on a fully discretionary basis is extinct for all but an adviser’s oldest clients (i.e. the “delegators”). With much at stake, many threats, and still-fresh bad investing memories, investors want to be involved and watchful.
  1. The toughest advice competitor is no adviser. A plurality believes “I can do it better myself,” and this is difficult to argue against in rising markets when combined with many online services encouraging self-sufficiency.

Building Bridges to Joint Decision Making

If 42 percent of the market (“validators with a digital adviser” and “self-directed”) is adviser resistant and 25 percent are mostly locked into existing adviser relationships (“delegators), it seems that “validators with an adviser” is the only segment through which an advisory business can grow. Or, what does this suggest about a firm’s growth prospects if 67 percent of the market is structurally resistant to a fee on AUM model?

Market segments shift, sometimes quite dramatically. For example, the 39 percent “self-directed” may be in a very different mood for help when the next marketing downturn occurs and/or as life becomes more complicated. Or, as the “delegators” transfer wealth, the recipients of that wealth—millennials and gen Xers—will find the prospect of managing a lot of money more complex and the failure risk more daunting.

Any business seeking growth must commit to establishing as many marketing relationships as possible. Flexibility, when market shifts occur, guides business sustainability.

Planting Seeds for Long-Term Sustainability
An integrated marketing program applies the expensive resources—an adviser’s time—to prospective clients in the decision-making mode; what would right now be the “validators with an adviser” segment. Scalable marketing resources (i.e. low cost per relationship) such as website content, webinars, seminars, educational material and editorial outreach are used to seed the other segments for a later harvest.

Here is a marketing game plan to position an adviser for long-term business success.

Be an Expert Resource. Few “self-directed” investors are wealth planning and investment experts. Instead, these investors search out expertise and, upon acquiring sufficient knowledge, act upon it themselves.

Distribute educational material via the firm’s website, centers of influence, local gatherings and local publications. Tip: A well-designed and written document carries gravitas and promotes itself; consider an advice subscription service.

Price Services for Involvement. Even with a desire for self-sufficiency, there are certain topics too complicated, time consuming and/or important for surface-level learning.

Be willing to engage in short-term projects by offering a one-time consulting fee for complex planning or second opinions; at a minimum, the adviser is able to demonstrate capabilities that can turn into a referral source.

Tip: Illustrate the dollar benefits received not just the project fee in the proposal, and show the ramifications if self-directed execution were to fail (see my blog “Clients Buy Benefits not Features”).

Distribute Advice through Technology. Call it what you want, but technology-delivered advice is happening and the market wants it.

Commit to a robo solution that provides for an adviser’s advice and investment choices in portfolio design (i.e. don’t outsource investment advice, an adviser’s core differentiation). Tip: Minimize business risks by using robo offerings with low breakeven costs.

Listen to the Market and Respond
Sustainable businesses adapt to a market’s dynamics. For high net worth investors, the shared and independent decision-making models are currently the preferred engagement methods. An advisory firm able to generate revenue from these segments—even if it means doing things differently—gains long-term sustainability.

Kirk LouryKirk Loury
Wealth Planning Consulting Inc.
Princeton Junction, New Jersey

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What’s Your Referral Conversion Rate?

If you are like most successful advisers, most of your new asset growth comes from referrals, either from existing clients or from your professional network. If you have been building a book of business for more than five years, chances are that a significant portion of your new growth will come from satisfied clients and centers of influence.

What is a Referral Conversion Rate, and Why Does it Matter?
In most cases you will only know of the referrals that actually reach out to you. The reality is that some people are often “on the fence” when it comes to connecting with an adviser to whom they’ve been referred, and may not do it at all. So if you’ve been contacted by ten referrals in the past month, it’s possible that there were several more that never followed up.

Why Are You Missing Out?
According to research conducted by Deloitte Consulting, 73 percent of US respondents report that they conduct online research before making offline decisions. Furthermore, in a report published by PwC, one in three US consumers are influenced by social media in their purchases. At GuideVine, an online platform that provides education about financial planning topics and matches consumers with right-fit financial advisers, we have collected data on thousands of consumers who are looking for financial advisers, and our experience is consistent with much of the industry research: consumers are doing their homework before reaching out to advisers. When it comes to high-end professional services, consumers tend to frequent multiple online sources to form a preliminary opinion as to whether it makes sense to connect with, in this case, the financial adviser.Khalid Usmani 3

Typically, someone looking for an adviser will leverage his personal network for references, maybe receiving two or more names.  The next step is probably a simple Google search to learn more. Based on the results, it’s likely the individual would visit the adviser’s website, view his LinkedIn profile, find press mentions and view any other sites/platforms (e.g., Twitter, Facebook) where the adviser and his firm have a presence.

How can You Ensure Your Referrals Become Prospects?
The key to ensuring that you are well positioned is to have a strong, comprehensive digital footprint that not only informs, but also elicits actions from referrals. Perhaps you have an updated website, but does it have clear calls to action? Is your LinkedIn profile up-to-date? Maybe you created it three years ago – have you checked recently to be sure that the information is still accurate and includes a professional  (current) profile picture? Did you create a verified Google listing for your office so that your location can be easily found using Google Maps? Does the verbiage you use across multiple digital platforms reinforce your brand and your firm’s core principles? While there are a myriad of steps you can take when it comes to building your digital footprint, it is important to get the basics right, so that the referrals that are “on the fence” feel comfortable engaging with you.

Investing in Digital Presence Leads to Growth
According to a recent study conducted by American Century Investments, 43 percent of advisers that have used new digital marketing methods (e.g., social media) have been able to attribute a direct return on investment. Not only are advisers benefiting from net new client assets, but many have reported increased engagement and share of wallet from existing clients as they felt more connected and engaged with the adviser through the content shared via new digital marketing initiatives.

Khalid Usmani

What’s After Mastering the Basics?
One word: content. Having a website or a LinkedIn profile with a basic description about your firm is table stakes. In order to differentiate yourself from the pack, you and your firm need to thoughtfully review your content strategy to drive engagement (learn more about content strategy from this video). One powerful way to create engaging content is to have a compelling video introduction about yourself and the services you can offer prospective clients.

Khalid Usmani 2

Videos are proven to be extremely effective in communicating information and spurring action. Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text, according to the 3M Corporation. Forty-six percent of users take some sort of action after viewing an ad, according to the Online Publishers Association. According to Forester Research, it is 50 times easier to achieve a page one ranking on Google with a video.  Furthermore, videos can be easily shared across multiple mediums including websites, LinkedIn profiles, email marketing campaigns and more.

Over the past several years, my team and I have worked with hundreds of advisers on strengthening their digital footprint and have developed thousands of videos that have been viewed millions of times. In order to ensure your firm is on a path of consistent, sustainable growth, you must diversify your marketing approach and improve your existing practices to align with new technology and consumer preferences. Since referrals may be your largest driver of growth, it is essential that you protect and grow this asset.

Khalid Usmani Headshot

Khalid Usmani
Head of Advisor Success
New York, N.Y.

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Put Me In, Coach: How to Improve Like An Athlete

Being a financial adviser is a lot like being an athlete. If you have ever played on a team you can probably relate to the feeling of anticipation while waiting to play and all you wanted to say was, “Put me in, coach!” Once you got in the game it was up to you to make the most of the moment and shine.

One example of using this analogy is Amy, a ten-year veteran adviser who wanted to succeed and she needed my help to do it. As her business coach, I helped her determine what her goals were and what actions it would take to work smarter rather than harder. Next, we practiced by role-playing so she could get back to actually prospecting. However, it didn’t take long for her to realize that she was not applying what she had learned because her fears where getting in her way and thus she would rather sit on the sidelines than risk losing the game.

Let’s look at the steps I utilized with Amy to create her amazing comeback:

Step 1: Be All-In
What Amy was experiencing is very common for veteran and rookie advisers alike. It’s easy to want to win but it’s not always easy to risk the possibility of defeat. Many advisers choose not to even try. In other words, it’s like asking the coach to put you into the game but you choosing not to be all-in and not playing the best you could once you were in because you didn’t want to make a mistake and contribute to a loss.

The first step with Amy was to get her to commit to taking action and being dedicated to being all-in when it came to her own success. So, I had her make a list of reasons why she wanted to get to the next level and what would happen in one, three, five and even ten years from now if she continued not prospecting. After realizing the pleasure she would have by being a top producer and the pain that she could have by being a low level one, she committed to getting back to prospecting!

Step 2: Think on Your Feet
All athletes know that sometimes plays don’t go as planned. You may practice the play over-and-over again but on game day anything can happen. So too is practicing for an appointment and realizing the conversation isn’t going in the direction that you want it to. That’s why you must be able to think on your feet.

Amy realized that setting appointments with new prospects was getting easier but from time to time she was getting caught off guard with specific objections. I assured her that this is natural and all we needed to do was to increase the tools, techniques, strategies and solutions to handle any objection that came her way. It’s not about memorizing what to say but understanding the formula of how to say it. Once we did this, she could easily adapt to any conversation path.

Step 3: Assess Your Actions and Results
All great coaches know that the best way to take their players to a higher level is to help them assess their actions and results. Most teams watch game films so they can duplicate their successes and learn from their errors.

Within weeks, Amy was excited to tell me that her pipeline was full. She had eight appointments set for the week and had already turned a few prospects into clients since our last session.

Wanting to Win
Amy knew that just getting into the game wasn’t enough. Instead, she had to focus on her desire to win. If you take a page out her playbook you too can create this level of success.

If this blog resonates with you and you would like to have a free consultation with Dan Finley, email Melissa Denham director of client servicing for Advisor Solutions at melissa@advisorsolutionsinc.com.

Dan FinleyDaniel C. Finley
Advisor Solutions
St. Paul, Minn.