It takes 2 (questions) to make a thing go right

If you've been in the industry long enough, you may have been able to look a client in the eyes and tell them the 3 greatest words an advisor can tell a client. “We did it.” The human element in sharing that news is a win for any advisor and any client hearing it. However, when the human element in an advisor-client partnership is missing, clients may not appreciate everything that went into achieving their outcomes.

In this industry we tend to focus on the numbers—the returns, the quartiles, the fees—as we’re trying to win a relationship or keep it. Once advisors have the relationship, intensive planning and preparation takes place to keep a client on the right path to achieve their specific outcomes. What we often forget to do in this data-inundated world is return to the human impact investing can have on an end investor. On their end, it becomes stressful at the worst times, and without proper guidance, investors may end up making decisions based on their fears or even worse, the news.

Know the meaning behind the assets you manage

I would argue that until you know the meaning behind the assets you manage for your clients, you may mislead them on the path you’ve created. In my experience, there are two questions that can get to the heart of what matters most to the client and can make an incredible impact in not only advisor’s lives, but the investors they work with.

Two key questions

  1. Where did this money come from? Specifically, tell me about the work that was put into this amount of assets.
    • Are they from an old 401k? Learn about their experience in building the assets: the time it took and the hardships along the way.
    • Are they legacy assets? How did the stewards of that wealth become successful enough to leave this amount to their heirs?
    • Was it from a divorce or a death of a companion?


  2. What does this money mean to you?
    • It might mean safety, peace of mind, or what it will take for the individual to reach the outcomes they are saving for.
    • It is their future, plain and simple. Whatever they label it as, it is important to write down to be able to reference it in future conversations. 

If you don’t know the answers to these questions and you only focus on the numbers, the numbers will be all you are judged on as their advisor. Knowing the background and what it means to each client will help you keep the client focused on their outcomes. It will also help you to transition from a stock broker to a wealth planner, while also becoming the better listener rather than focusing on only being the best asset manager.

I have the answers, now what?

Asking the questions is a fantastic first step. It allows advisors a better chance of winning relationships. The most important step is everything that follows. Diligently applying the answers to your continuous relationship with your client is the measure of success.

While volatility continues to loom, it is imperative that we tie the client’s emotions to moments of irrationality. It is their emotions and the answers to the two questions that give you clarity on their investment time horizons, their risk tolerance, and the psychological traps they will likely fall into.

The conversation could start with something like this:

“I know the work that went into these assets and I also know that it represents your future and peace of mind. Though market volatility may continue, what we should avoid are irrational decisions like liquidating your investments to cash. Based on your time horizon and risk tolerance, your holdings are aligned with where you need to be and here is why....”

Show me the proof

A first-year advisor that I partnered with in 2018 weighed in on how these 2 questions have impacted his business.

When asking a prospective client how they came to build their portfolio and what it means to them, I’ve found it helps open their eyes to all of the hard work and time that they have put into saving and investing.  At times they may lose focus and forget what these dollars mean for their future.  It has helped me build relationships in my practice because it shows that you care as much about that person’s future as they do.  This industry is largely based around trust; starting a conversation with those two questions is going to set you in the right direction towards building that trust.

In 2015, a first-year advisor in Oregon was tasked with bringing in $10 million in 2 years.  He had come from the mortgage industry and I sat with him and asked him these questions. I discovered that his success in the business meant that he could help his son through college. I trained him on delivering these 2 questions and explained the impact it can have. Fast forward to 2018, he surpassed his goals and has a burgeoning business. I caught up with him recently for this article and he had just taken his son to an NFL game. He’s helping his son through college.

We did it.

The bottom line


Articulating your long-term pledge to clients


Our natural tendency to want to focus on the numbers – beating short-term benchmarks –can get in the way of what really matters to our clients: their long-term outcomes.  The use of 2 questions can help overcome this tendency and put in place the necessary conditions for articulating your long-term pledge to clients by: (1) acknowledging the time, effort and circumstances it took your client to accumulate their nest egg and (2) a shared agreement on what this money means to them.  Simply put, 2 questions that get at the heart of your client’s objective and what you’re working to achieve.