A new calendar year represents a fresh beginning and an opportunity to think anew about the adviser-client relationship. Financial advisers know that their annual planning conversations with clients may need to address sensitive topics related to the changing regulatory environment, particularly as we near the proposed timing for implementation of the Department of Labor’s Final Rule. These issues will certainly be on the agenda if you are transitioning to a fee-for-service model.
But the ability to engage clients in potentially difficult discussions is always key to building a successful business.
Central to these discussions is the ability to negotiate—a skill I have spent years cultivating through personal successes and failures, and through teaching thousands of business leaders and professionals at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. I consulted on a Janus Labs program, titled the Science of Negotiations, to prepare advisers to have better planning meetings. The core tenets of the program, and negotiating generally, are what we call the three Cs: commitment, candor and credibility.
Commitment: We know that as a financial adviser, your commitment is to serve as a trusted counselor to your clients. Working in a client’s best interest isn’t something new that rules require—it’s what you’ve always done. You need to convey this commitment clearly and consistently in order to build and maintain the kind of trust that allows for open dialogue. By reminding clients of your commitment to them, and connecting your actions to that commitment, the value of your relationship and services should always be top of mind for them. This way you can raise sensitive issues when the client can hear and process them fully, not simply because a deadline requires it of you.
Candor: We’re big proponents of the “radical candor” used at Silicon Valley companies like Facebook and Google. For advisers, this means demonstrating that you care personally about each client, while also directly addressing how DOL-related changes will affect them. Be a straight talker. Don’t beat around the bush: be clear that this is a difficult subject but the new services you offer are commensurate with what the client needs. Telling clients about the products and services you are not recommending is also important. Transparency is key. When you reveal information that’s not necessarily in your best interest, but is clearly in the best interest of the client, you build trust.
Credibility: Openly and willingly revealing information about products and fees increases your credibility, and research shows that credibility is the single most important asset of effective negotiators. Your credibility rests on expertise, competence and trustworthiness. It means that: 1) you bring your clients valuable knowledge and insights; 2) you apply your expertise to their benefit with skill and diligence; and 3) you consistently use your expertise and competence to create long-term value as a trustworthy counselor.
Strong negotiation skills will help you communicate more effectively in all your interactions. Demonstrating that you are credible, candid and committed will put you in a position to better navigate the sensitive topics that are inherent to financial advice, including fees and regulatory concerns. And this is a good time to start strengthening those skills, as you begin scheduling the conversations that will guide your client relationships throughout the new year.
For more information on how to use The Science of Negotiations for meaningful conversations with your clients, please contact your Janus Director or visit www.janus.com.
G. Richard Shell
Legal studies and Business Ethics Professor
University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School