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7 Tips Advisors Can Use to Effectively Talk with Clients

LPL Financial

Today’s investors want more from their financial professionals than investment returns and advice—they want to be understood. When clients’ feel they are heard, they’re more likely to trust their advisor to build an investment path that helps them reach their financial goals. Check out these tips for asking better questions and building trust with your clients.

Having effective questioning skills is essential to ensure you have the information needed to understand your clients on a personal level so you can help them reach their financial goals.

Better financial questions lead to better client relationships

Quality client relationships are the cornerstone of a successful business, and financial practices are no different. Clients have to put a great deal of their trust and confidence in their financial advisors. Building that type of relationship with a new client or deepening that relationship with existing clients can be challenging. Why? Because every client is unique and their financial goals different.

Challenges, risk tolerance, and personal values are unique to each investor. Having effective questioning skills is essential to ensure you accurately gather the information needed to understand your clients on a personal level so you can help them reach their financial life goals.

1. Plan ahead, per client.

Don’t plan for the meeting, plan for the person. Take some time to review what you know about the client. Are they a potential client, a new client, or an existing client? Were they referred by another client? Did they respond to a specific outreach campaign? Has it been a while since you’ve spoken with this client about their overall investment portfolio? Use this knowledge to guide your questions.

Here are three examples that expand on this idea:

Example #1: You’re preparing to meet with a potential client, referred to you by a current client you’ve worked with for years.

Your question: How do you know [current client], and what do you feel made them suggest our advisory firm?

Their answer: Our kids are in the same class at elementary school. I’m thinking of leaving the company I’ve been with for a while and opening my own business. I was told you helped [current client] plan for their financial future as a business owner.

What you’ve learned: This potential client is a parent with at least one child and is seeking a more entrepreneurial career. From here, you can ask more specific questions (How will their role as a business owner be different from their current job? What do they feel needs to happen before starting their business? Have they started a college fun for their child?) that help you understand their values even more.

Example #2: You’re preparing to meet a new client, gained through a marketing seminar, hosted by your firm, which focused on financial literacy. 

Your question: What financial questions or concerns motivated you to sign up for our recent seminar?

Their answer: I was never really taught how to manage money and now that my income is growing, I want to make sure I’m not making the same mistakes my parents have made. The seminar seemed like a great place to start learning about money management and planning for the future.

What you’ve learned: This new client hasn’t had the most positive experiences with money and is proactive about preparing for their financial future. From here, you may pivot into a conversation around money fears and what the client feels they most need to prepare for (e.g. caring for aging parents and/or determining how much they will need to live in retirement). 

Example #3: You’re preparing to meet an existing client who recently received an unexpected inheritance and wants to know how this effects their current financial plan. 

Your question: How has this recent experience and unanticipated inheritance changed, or reinforced, your financial goals?

Their answer: I’ve realized I want to slow down and spend more quality time with family and friends. I still want to be prepared for the future, but have more freedom to live in the present when possible.

What you’ve learned: This current client has been through a major life event that shifted their values and they want their financial plan to reflect that. From here, you can follow-up with more personal questions about their changed perspective (What do they consider to be quality time? What needs to be sacrificed to allow them to “slow down”?) and apply those answers to individual financial planning.

The one question all advisors should ask themselves.

If you get stuck when preparing for a meeting, or have trouble getting started, try switching things up. Instead of creating questions for your clients, answer this one for yourself: 

  • What do I want to discover in this client meeting?

By answering this question you’ll have a better idea of the gaps in your client knowledge and find opportunities to develop questions that offer deeper client understanding into their life or financial picture.

Keep in mind, some clients may not realize the importance of sharing new developments with their financial advisors and how those changes may impact their overall financial plan. Which means they may be missing out on ways to adjust their plan for new challenges or new opportunities. It’s a good idea to have an optimized communication plan in place for existing clients so you can stay up-to-date about (or remind them to share) major life events as they arise.

2. Ask open-ended questions.

Avoid asking too many closed-ended questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” You want your questions to bring depth to the conversation by stirring up more detailed answers. Open-ended questions allow you, as a financial advisor, to:

  • Get to know your client on a deeper level, more efficiently.
  • Give your clients time to elaborate and reflect on their answers.
  • Create a more personalized, friendly environment for your client.
  • Show genuine interest and find emotional connections with your clients.

Since open-ended questions are a great way for advisors to get to know clients, it’s no surprise that investors are using the same tactic when interviewing potential financial advisors. Regardless of how a client may find your practice, whether through word-of-mouth or your awesome new digital marketing efforts, prospective clients need to feel confident about choosing you. If you find you’re in the hot seat when it comes to questions, embrace it—and utilize it.

Listening for clues in the conversation

Your client’s questions can give you clues about their investment mindset and financial philosophy. Depending on the status of your client (whether potential, new, or current) you can reference their questions from earlier conversations to build a better dialogue.

Here are some examples of how common investor questions can be reworked to reveal even more insights:

3. Avoid financial industry jargon.

While certain terms and acronyms may be common to you as a financial professional, clients may find them confusing and frustrating. It’s best to avoid complex, financial lingo as much as possible.

Be sure you’re clearly communicating during your client discussions by:

  • Setting aside time prior to the meeting to review your working list of questions.
  • Pin-pointing any terms or acronyms that may need more clarification.
  • Finding opportunities to supplement more relatable language without sacrificing expertise.
  • Asking clients if they need more clarity following complex questions.
  • Being ready to provide applicable examples or definitions as needed.
  • Educating your client to empower their own financial acumen and boost their investor confidence.

Regardless of the length of the relationship, clients want to have positive interactions with their financial professionals. Stay in tune with investors' common questions and concerns to make sure you’re staying a step ahead of the competition. And, don’t feel you need to simplify everything in every meeting. Over time, your client will feel more confident in asking for clarity when needed.

4. Stay attentive and engaged.

Clients appreciate valuable information and insights that pertain to their unique financial goals, but also appreciate advisors who actively listen to what they need to know. Regardless of the questions you ask, or the answers your client provides, you won’t create a valuable interaction unless you listen.

You can help your clients feel respected and heard, by:

  • Asking follow-up questions that allow them to expand on their last answer. By adjusting your next question based on what they’ve just shared, you’ll pull more valuable insight and create more conversational flow.
  • Paying close attention to how they answer. How clients deliver their responses can indicate whether they are unsure, or confused. By staying engaged, you’ll be able to pick up on the nuances in body language and facial expressions of your clients and respond accordingly.
  • Ask for clarification when necessary. Apart from allowing you to take better notes, it may give them a chance to reflect on or revise their perspectives on short and long-term financial priorities.

5. Ask one question at a time.

Today’s investors are more complex than yesterday’s. Financial advisors may need more information to create a financial plan that fits the clients’ dynamic needs. Although you may want to get as much information as possible during your client meetings, moving too quickly may set a negative tone.

It’s essential for clients to thoroughly digest what’s being asked. As an advisor, you can help them have a better experience by:

  • Giving them adequate time to respond to each question (embrace the awkward, but valuable silences).
  • Avoiding compound questions when possible (bundling three questions into one will only muddle the conversation and overwhelm your client with complexity).
  • Don’t interrupt (don’t jump in with new questions, or comments that derail the conversation).
  • Take a pause (this helps your clients feel unhurried and free to fully express their thoughts at their own pace).

6. Avoid leading language.

Asking questions with “leading language” may make clients feel uncomfortable and lack confidence in your objectivity. While clients want to know their personal values and plans are heard, it’s best to remain neutral, avoiding overtly positive or negative language.

Here are a couple of examples of questions with leading language and how to reframe them in a more objective way for clients:

  • Instead of asking: Wouldn’t it be great if you could retire in five years?
    Ask: What do you envision yourself doing in five years? When do you think you may want to retire?
  • Instead of asking: Where do you think your business plan went wrong?
    Ask: How could the business plan and process have been improved? 
  • Instead of asking: What college will your children attend?
    Ask: What options are your children considering after high-school?

7. Respect your clients’ time.

As a financial advisor, time is one of your most valuable assets. Chances are that the same can be said for many of your clients. There are many ways to show your client that you value their time and appreciate their business (or potential business), including:

  • Accommodating for your client’s schedule.
  • Arriving on time and remaining focused.  
  • Asking questions that benefit the conversation and help inform financial planning.
  • Being digitally adaptable to client preferences (i.e., virtual meetings and preferred client communication).
  • Providing clients with your most up-to-date contact information.
  • Setting expectations and timelines for a follow-up.

Remember, to take note of the amount of questions clients still have at the end of the meeting. Observe whether they seem at ease or overwhelmed by the process of making financial decisions. Use those insights to adjust your approach accordingly for next time.

Asking better questions leads to better answers.

With better answers, you’ll have a deeper understanding of where your clients are, where they want to be, and how you can help them reach and exceed their financial goals. All while building their trust and confidence in your expertise as a trusted advisor, at every interaction.

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