Create your client service philosophy
Many of the most successful financial advisers we work with have adopted a lifestyle financial planning framework. However, too many advisers claim to be 'lifestyle financial advisers' without understanding what it really means.
Lifestyle financial planning is not about being a holistic adviser, looking after a client's banking, loans, taxes and accounting. It's not about becoming a financial counsellor or business coach either. Lifestyle financial planning is about resisting the urge to jump straight into the 'what' and to spend more time with your client exploring the 'why' and the 'how'.
By guiding the client through what they want to achieve, and why they want to achieve it, together you start to discover and build a decision-making framework, giving a much greater sense of control for the client and demonstrable value for the adviser. Your client stops looking to you as the solution, but rather an enabler, or better yet, a guide.
The guide analogy is a clear and simple one: you know where the client wants to go and can help them get there. You've spent time understanding what the destination looks like, and you are also familiar with the weather and landscape that will be experienced along the way. You've brought along the right equipment, knowing that conditions can change quickly and most importantly, you are going on the journey with them. That's right, you are not simply equipping them to journey alone, nor are you doing the hard work for them. You are travelling together.
Understanding your client is the key to success. You cannot plan for their future without taking the time to understand their past and their present.
- The past will reveal how their character developed, the experiences that have shaped their thinking and the role that money has played.
- The present will highlight the pressures they are under, what concerns them most and what steps they are already taking.
- The future they discuss reveals their most powerful dreams, deepest concerns and what they value the most.
Along the way, you will understand your client's values and principles. These become your rules of engagement. Too many advisers simply rush to 'grow wealth' without ever understanding why.
Alerting clients to options, rather than rushing to alleged solutions, is therefore important. Many client goals can be achieved without uncomfortable investment choices. Discussions about saving, borrowing, spending and genuine retirement goals should be the focus of early meetings. Basic financial planning strategies can have a profound effect on finances, compounded over the years. Investment choices are likely to have the least impact, and therefore should not feature as prominently in conversations as they often do.
What about the providers and products you recommend? It’s important to understand and believe in those, too. Your clients are trusting you to recommend products and people aligned with their needs and beliefs. Sometimes, that means having a range of referral partners and products you can choose to recommend, depending on different client personalities, beliefs and objectives.
Clients must understand that you are not an investment manager and you do not guarantee performance. Your value lies in the strategies that you employ and even more so in the wealth-destructive behaviours that you discourage your clients from exhibiting. Your transparent fees reflect the value that you add, not the time that you spend or the amount of money invested.
Other strong, client-facing beliefs you may hold could include:
- clients don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care
- don't use jargon in front of clients
- a sub-optimal strategy that is accepted by the client is better than a technically superior strategy that is misunderstood and never implemented
- legislative risks are real and should be talked about
- recommend the risk cover a client needs, they can always decline it
- a strategy does not need to be complicated to be valuable
- SMSFs are not the answer to everything
- the best client appreciation events are smaller, fun and importantly, memorable
- referrals to external experts will be necessary, but you need to remain involved in everything that they do.
Advisers are all different—and while you may agree with some of these principles, you may disagree with others or they may not be as relevant to your particular practice. Take some time to create your own ‘list’ of client service principles. Documenting and putting them into action can differentiate you from competitors. It can also help you attract and retain the right team members and clients whose beliefs align with yours—which could impact your business growth and client retention over the long term.