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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
President
Advisor Solutions
St. Paul, Minn.


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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.”

AnaHeadshot

 

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

 


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In Praise of Good Financial Advisers (You Know Who You Are)

Ours is an industry that gets a hefty dose of negative publicity. True, there are scoundrels perpetrating Ponzi schemes and conducting other nefarious activities—and they cast a pall over the public’s perception of the well-meaning and competent financial professionals out there.

The good news is, these bad guys are few and far between. The bad news is, with our heavily regulated industry, sometimes the good guys may feel they are being micromanaged as a result. Still, there are so many financial advisers out there who are doing excellent work for their clients.

The Well-Adjusted Retiree
I recently had the opportunity to see this excellent work firsthand when I attended a client event hosted by an ensemble practice. At the event, a panel of recently retired individuals and couples answered questions from an audience of pre-retirees. The questions varied from cash flow, social security, Medicare and investment performance to how to align a couple’s “vision” of retirement, which included things like whether to downsize their home and how to stay connected and social with friends and family.

I was especially curious how the panel would respond when an audience member asked if the peaks and valleys of the market affected the panel’s daily decisions about drawing down on their nest egg. This question was especially timely, as the market had just dropped more than 870 points in the prior week due to the Brexit vote. The response? Daily markets weren’t a showstopper. In general, the panelists said:

  • They had their goals.
  • They had their nest egg.
  • They didn’t pay much attention to the markets unless their advisers said they should.

One couple talked about how they met with their financial adviser, estate attorney and CPA for an annual meeting. That meeting gave them the confidence that not only were their investments on solid ground despite market volatility, but that tax efficiency and an integrated estate plan were being managed by a team of professionals working together to help them achieve their retirement goals.

Helping Clients Not Sweat the Small Stuff
Financial advisers enjoy deep, meaningful relationships with their clients. Sometimes they garner appreciation and recognition for what they do. But just in case you haven’t gotten a dose of it lately, as one of the good guys in the industry, know that because of your competence and caring, your clients don’t need to sweat the small stuff like daily market volatility. Instead, they can focus on enjoying the retirement lifestyle you helped them achieve.

Thank you for all you do, financial advisers!

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for web

 

Joni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.


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Sympathy, Empathy and Compassion: The Pillars of Better Client Relationships

Put succinctly, emotions and finances go hand in hand.

Many emotions are associated with financial decisions—so many that clients and prospects may have a hard time talking about it with anyone in their circles, and often even with an expert like a financial adviser.

So what can advisers do to enable their clients to circumvent emotional barriers and make them feel more at ease in talking about their dreams, need and fears?

There is an abundance of literature offering instructions, tips and guidelines on this topic. Frequently it is stated that exercising sympathy, empathy and compassion toward clients can help advisers attain a more in-depth understanding of their clients’ needs and emotions and develop more solid relationships. However, the often-inappropriate use of these three terms seems to lead to confusion. Below, I provide more accurate definitions of the terms and how they relate to client relationships.

Sympathy
Sympathy is feeling compassion, sorrow or pity for the hardships that another person encounters. We feel sympathy toward a client experiencing an unusual chain of negative family events. However, sympathy is characterized by a degree of emotional distance because we are not experiencing the pain ourselves. Ultimately, sympathy is the ability to express culturally acceptable condolences to someone else’s plight. Sympathy, however, fosters disconnection. This is because it sparks in us the desire to identify a silver lining in the situation—lamentably and in some cases a banal cliché—which does not really help relieve an individual’s suffering.

Empathy
Empathy goes beyond sympathy. While the latter focuses on finding a response that does not necessarily help make things better, empathy aims at establishing an emotional connection with someone. Empathy makes us vulnerable, because to create a real emotional connection with the one who is suffering we must first connect with that part of ourselves that knows that feeling.

Subsequently, empathy forces us to experience some of the pains that the other person is experiencing. Research conducted by neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolati, proves that about 20 percent of our neurons possess mirroring functions. Accordingly, when we witness another human being’s emotion through their body language, voice intonation or spoken word, those neurons dispatch signals that enable us to feel and know what that emotion is. For this reason, we do not have to work hard at developing empathy, as we have an inherent disposition to it. Real empathy requires being mindfully present with our clients and prospects, listening wholeheartedly to what they say, recognizing their emotions and reflecting them back.

Compassion
Compassion is empathy in action. The word compassion is composed of com (together with) and passion (to suffer). Despite the word’s etymology, exercising compassion does not mean that we have to suffer to help someone. A financial adviser just like a doctor can relieve suffering without having to experience a client/patient’s exact pain.

Compassionate listening may be hard to master, particularly when it requires listening to the suffering of others. The fact that we all experience pain and grief makes it very difficult for us to listen to others. To be able to truly listen to someone’s suffering, we need to first listen and transform the suffering that dwells within ourselves. The foundation of compassionate listening is self-awareness. This may sound paradoxical, but lacking clarity in our relationship with ourselves severely impairs our ability to improve relationships with others.

Compassion is the ability to listen in a receptive, generous, supportive and non-judgmental way. Ultimately, it is the practice of abandoning our self-oriented, reactive and opinionated thinking and expanding our awareness to make room for the suffering of another human being. A client or prospect brings more than words to a meeting. There is a plethora of unexpressed feelings, anxieties, fears and thoughts that only compassion enables you to recognize, understand and speak about.

I exhort you to master the art of compassion. In addition to being pleasant and caring, compassion makes you trustworthy. Eventually, it will contribute to elevate your professional image, build enduring relationships and make a difference in your life and those of your clients.

Claudio PannunzioClaudio O. Pannunzio
President and Founder
i-Impact Group
Greenwich, Conn.


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5 Strategies to Connect During the First Appointment

Have you ever gone into an initial first appointment with high hopes of connecting with the prospect only to later realize that you did not make a connection at all? Maybe you have had several appointments like this over the course of your career. If so, you may have been missing one, a few or all of the five strategies for the first appointment process.

Let’s take a look at what those are:

  1. Get the prospect’s story: One of the most important things you can do to establish a connection is to genuinely be interested in learning about the prospect. People love to talk about themselves and the best way to encourage this is to strategically map out questions that will help them tell you their life story. If you can do this, they will end up explaining the reason for why they are looking for a new financial adviser and what is important to them about finding just the right one.
  1. Show them how much you care: It’s been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I believe that is true. Oftentimes, advisers try to win over a prospect by dazzling them with their stock market and/or product knowledge. Unfortunately, this tends to create more of a disconnect with a potential client. Don’t start the relationship off by telling them what you know but instead tell them how much you care about their situation. Chances are you have had other prospects and clients experience similar things. If so, then you should share their story with them. Do this and you will set a prospect at ease. They will feel comfortable that you are familiar with their situation.
  1. Understand the prospect’s pain points: As you listen to the prospect’s story and let them how much you care, you will probably realize that they have real concerns about their finances–these are what I call the prospect’s pain points. Typically, these are the reasons why they came to see you in the first place. If you truly understand their concerns as well and what is most important to them, and they know you understand both, it is much easier to build a connection with them.
  1. (Strategically) sum up the appointment: At some point, you need to strategically shift the conversation into summarizing what you have learned about them from your conversation. Try a phrase such as, “We’ve talked about a lot of things today and what I’d like to do is summarize what I have heard.” Then, proceed to state their situation, issues/problems and the long-term implications of not fixing those issues/problems. If you do this well, they will be much more inclined to hear what else you have to say because they know you have listened, and more importantly, have heard them.
  1. Sell your solutions to set a second appointment: Once a prospect gives you the signs or tells you they are ready, it’s time to sell your solutions to set a second appointment. Ironically, the strategy that I am about to explain isn’t so much about selling as it is about helping them want to buy. Simply, use questions such as, “How would it help you most if I put together a full financial plan so that you can understand how much money you will need when you retire, how much income you may have to live off of once you are retired and whether or not you are currently on course to accomplish those goals?” Nine times out of ten they will instantly start telling you they would value that by saying, “That sounds like something I have needed for a long time!” All you need to do is agree with them and then simply ask for the second appointment. “Exactly, then that is what we will do! Are you available this time next week to review the plan?”

Take a moment to think about what you have just learned. Are you using these strategies in your first appointment process? If not, you now know how.

If you are ready to strategically run your prospecting process, schedule a complimentary 30-minute coaching session with Dan Finley at Advisor Solutions by emailing Melissa Denham, director of client servicing at Melissa@advisorsolutionsinc.com.

Dan Finley

Daniel C. Finley
President
Advisor Solutions
St. Paul, Minn.

 

Daniel Finley presents an FPA webinar titled “Beyond the Production Plateau: The Solution to Your Business Evolution” from 2 to 3 p.m., EDT, June 8. Register for the webinar here


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To Improve Client Relationships, Turn the Light Inward

Because of the crucial role financial advisers play in the lives of their clients, they must be able to effectively manage both their clients’ emotional and financial demands. This is easier said than done, especially during times of financial turmoil, when it becomes particularly challenging to remain calm, focused and available to help clients face their fears. Inability to do so is often perceived as lack of leadership on the adviser’s part.

It may sound surprising, but leadership qualities can be developed and reinforced through mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of slowing down and devoting undivided attention to what is taking place in the present moment, ignoring the outer noise and noticing instead our thoughts and emotions arising. This practice fosters increased calmness, clarity and deeper concentration.

Mindfulness allows us to transform personal experiences, narratives and emotion from distractions into valuable tools. During a client meeting, mindfulness will give you the clarity and openness you need to understand the emotional and physical sensations both you and your client experience while working on a financial decision. Ultimately, mindfulness arms you with a compass to identify the best course of action that truly reflects your client’s goals and aspirations.

Below you will find some mindfulness concepts that can be beneficial to the client-adviser relationship:

1. Turning the Light Inward
Dogen Zenji, a thirteenth century Zen philosopher, referred to mindfulness as the process of “turning the light inward”—returning our attention to the source of consciousness. Turning the light inward enables us to pay less attention to the myriad distractions, preoccupations and delusions we experience, and observe instead our mechanical reactions, mostly driven by our anxiety. An unanticipated difficult question from a client can pose a threat to our expertise and undermine our security. Consequently, we rush to deploy an automatic reaction to annihilate our anxiety. It is only by taking a step back and shining the light inward that we can see how emotions and fears are driving our responses.

2. Mindful Presence and Listening
The highly competitive and fast-paced environment in which you operate, success and oftentimes survival appears to be a direct function of your ability to multitask. Regrettably, this is pretty far from the truth. A study by Stanford University concluded that multitasking lowers efficiency and performance, as our brain can only focus on one task at a time. In addition, an article in McKinsey Quarterly titled, “Recovering from Information Overload,” debunks the myth of multitasking in favor of mindfulness. Mindful presence and listening opens the doors to a new way of being fully present and hearing in a way that fosters a natural propensity to remain objective and gather good intelligence about what clients worry and care about. Ultimately, it enables advisers to better facilitate their clients’ pursuits of financial freedom and even dispel some of their fears. During a client meeting pose a question, such as “What are the most important challenges our firm has helped you successfully address?” and then, commit yourself to mindfully listen to every word your client will say. Her answer may yield valuable information you may have missed in past conversations.

3. Achieve Higher Effectiveness
The Internet is rife with information about the benefits of mindfulness. A Harvard Business Review article titled “Mindfulness in the Age of Complexity states that mindfulness practice helps “to reduce stress, unlock creativity and boost performance.” The majority of the public is not aware that while carrying out a task “on average, our minds are wandering involuntarily from what we are doing 46.9 percent of the time,” (from A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind by Daniel Gilbert and Matthew Killingworth). Some of the leading corporations in the world are making significant investments in mindfulness for their employees to enable them achieve higher effectiveness, improved focus, heightened self-insight and increased cognitive flexibility.

4. Beginner’s Mind
The busyness of our Western culture forces us to consistently approach people and situations with an expert’s mind rather than a beginner’s mind. Though an expert mind unquestionably serves it purpose it far too often triggers in us the very familiar “been there, done that” response. Shunryu Suzuki in his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, stated “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” So, with a beginner’s mind we actively listen to a client or prospect to gain more knowledge and learn about their fears, needs and goals—wholeheartedly and refraining from quickly passing judgments or rushing to offer solutions until we have absorbed all there is to absorb.

Claudio PannunzioClaudio O. Pannunzio
President and Founder
i-Impact Group
Greenwich, Conn.

 

Here is some other FPA content you may be interested in: 


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4 Ways to Make Clients Feel Special

What has the digital age meant for you? Does the information at your fingertips make you more decisive or paralyzed? Do you command your devices or do they rule your life?

All the technology and information available doesn’t replace the need for special client interactions. In fact, our industry is losing the heartfelt touch that defined what it meant to be an investment adviser years ago.

Communicating is Not Relating
Technology facilitates productive communication between people via email, texts, tweets and posts. However, communicating does not necessarily mean the adviser is relating.

Wealth advisory is a relationship business from beginning to end. When clients entrust their financial lives to an adviser, it’s more than just handling money. Wrapped up in the “money” are families, emotions, conflicts, histories, anxieties and aspirations. These are dimensions visible only through heart-to-heart socializing that make humans unique.

For the majority of the individual investor market, and all segments therein, a human adviser (vs. solely a robo/technology interaction) is the preferred medium for receiving advice and counsel; the trusted adviser is someone to relate to, to share with, and to be inspired by.

Both Feet Firmly in the Relating Business
Over-reliance on digital technology is the greatest temptation facing today’s wealth advisory business. Volume of communication doesn’t equate to a high-quality, adviser-to-client relationship. Advisers may know more surface details about their clients than ever before (because of social media), but this veneer masks what’s really happening within the client as a person.

The volume of “stuff” pouring through an adviser’s smart phone or other device overwhelms particular details about a client that otherwise would allow a relationship to deepen. All this disconnected information becomes white noise to the client/person the adviser needs to know.

Budgeting Daily Time for Relating
The adviser’s communication feed to its clients (e.g. newsletters, LinkedIn updates, Facebook posts, blogs, etc.) is delivered impersonally—but it sure is efficient!

That’s the problem. How often does an adviser pause and read a client’s Facebook page and send a personal email reflecting on the content? Or, after a meeting, sit down and write a meaningful, hand-written reply?

While keeping technology in its rightful place, an adviser can deepen client relationships with these four steps.

  1. Schedule daily relating time. In every day, there’s an hour available to do special relating with clients apart from the normal reporting and associated activities. The time is there, it just needs to be a priority and a matter of focusing on the “few” and not the “many”.
  1. Partition the hour to specific clients. For the allotted time, take, say, two clients and devote 30 minutes to each with the end task being a personal interaction of some form. Write a note thanking them for their business; send an article about one of their interests; write a meaningful comment about a family picture on a Facebook page; send a book with a note inside the front cover; place a phone call just to see how the client’s children are doing or the status of a parent’s illness. Unlike business-type communications, these relational interactions are of a higher standard: something the client will keep. Each keepsake you create for your client, the deeper his or her loyalty to you will be.
  1. Log the activity in your CRM. Make a note in each client’s activity file. It only takes a few minutes of the allotted 30 minutes, but it results in a diary of meaningful contact. Across the year, the adviser will see the volume of these interactions (i.e. there are about 260 business days in a year * two interactions a day = 520 quality interactions). Also, use the CRM’s follow-up system to create a client rotation program such that each client will receive at least two keepsake communications from you each year.
  1. Get the company involved. Make this “relating hour” a company priority. Encourage the team to come up with creative ways to express care and concern. Especially for a client’s life-changing events such as marriages, births and deaths, engage the company in the joy or sorrow.

Relating Impacts
In a people business like investment advice, clients want to be treated specially (and they’re paying good fees for this treatment). Attending to the inner person with focused—and unexpected—communication shifts the business from money to friendship. And, advisers that have both a business and personal relationship with clients always win.

Kirk Loury

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