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There will always be something big and scary to worry about. And yet a positive frame of mind about our future is critical to both our mental and physical well-being.

That conundrum is best solved by controlling what we can. In the context of financial advice, that often requires hard conversations.

Leave no stone unturned

Having a comprehensive financial plan in place promotes a healthier, more optimistic relationship with our respective futures.

But that end goal can be elusive; there are issues people don’t want to discuss. Those omissions can create vulnerabilities in any plan that haunt the client and undermine their confidence, with distressing side-effects.  

Any one of the following ‘unspeakables’ could play that insidious role:

  • Precarious job security
  • Severe health issues
  • Failed investments
  • Marital strain
  • Retirement concerns
  • Estate planning in case of death

The existence of these difficult and common realities presents a strong case for face-to-face client/adviser engagements – the level of vulnerability needed to facilitate these hard conversations requires every ounce of body language we have.

Conversation starters  

Obviously, there’s risk involved in asking hard questions. Push a client too hard for information and they may bring down their defences. How can advisers get their clients to engage on touchy subjects?

Draw on personal experience or the experience of others to help normalise taboo subjects in the mind of the client (‘oh, so I’m not the only one with health issues’), making it easier for them to open up.

Prime them through digital communication (your monthly email newsletter, for example) that explores or educates around the topics you would like to engage your clients on.

Give them time to process any request you make for delicate information (they may need time to think about it).

These ‘shortcuts’ will be even more effective if the adviser in question takes a deeper interest in the lives of their clients, collecting the information and insight they need to practice genuine empathy.

Asking the easy questions first (what are your daughter’s hobbies?) will allow you to ask the hard questions (can you afford to send her to that school?) later.

Friends with benefits  

It’s somewhat ironic that technology, through its ability to automate, is giving advisers the opportunity to go full circle, back to the halcyon days when the relationship they had with their clients was most important.

The thing about technology, in general, is this: it’s only as good as the information we feed it. And therein lies the opportunity for advisers to differentiate themselves and secure a prosperous future.

Build the kind of client relationships that support transparency around even the most difficult of subjects. Once a client has their darkest concerns off their chest and into their financial plan, they will feel more confident about their future, and more appreciative of their advisers.

To say that advisers should become trusted confidants and even friends to their clients is a reasonable expectation when you consider the weight of the information that must change minds.

What question would you, as a financial adviser or client, like to discuss that sticks in your throat?

About the Author

Flynn Robson
Head: Portfolio Management and Stockbroking, Sasfin Wealth

Having a comprehensive financial plan in place promotes a healthier, more optimistic relationship with our respective futures.