To succeed, financial advisors need to ramp up their client communications skills. From listening raptly to explaining complex concepts, they must connect with a range of clients and possess empathy, patience and an ability to teach.
Amid the pandemic, advisors’ communication skills were put to the test. The depth of conversation changed as clients faced hardships and experienced grievous loss.
In addition to trying to speak and listen with clarity and compassion, advisors found themselves experimenting with newer forms of communication. Technology enabled them to engage clients from afar. Automated tools doubled as touchpoints to maintain ongoing contact, albeit remote, with far-flung clients.
Customizing Client Communications
Martha Payne, a Massachusetts-based financial planner, says that after 18 ½ years in the business, she has learned that communicating with clients requires customization.
“It’s important to try to understand each person individually,” she said. “What works for one may not work for another. So when it comes to communication, you have to be as nimble as possible. Don’t be too rigid in your style.”
Rather than guess the types of old and new communication that work best for her clientele, Payne decided to dig for answers. A few years ago, she assembled a client advisory board to provide input on her firm’s outreach and other aspects of its business.
“It was born out of my desire for constant improvement,” she said. “I wanted to hear honest feedback from folks. So I built a client advisory board and asked them, ‘How do you want to communicate with us?'”
Top Financial Advisors Pause And Ask Questions
The group replied that they preferred video chats to phone calls as a way to feel more connected, especially after March 2020 when seeing each other’s face on screen enlivened the conversation.
“When I’m on camera, I use eye contact,” Payne said. “When I share my screen, I try to pause and ask, ‘What questions do you have?’ rather than just monologue.”
She finds that when she’s not in the same room, it’s tempting to advance from slide to slide and keep talking. Remembering to stop frequently and check in with the client creates a livelier, more balanced dialogue.
Advisors often grapple with the frequency and type of client communication that works best. A client’s age and background come into play in determining the best engagement strategy.
“My clients are in their mid 20s to early 40s and I tell them at our first meeting that accountability is my differentiating factor,” said Thomas Kopelman, an Indianapolis-based advisor. “I tell them I will always follow up.”
Tailor Your Video Communications Skills
When he began his career about four years ago, he wondered, “Is there a point where there’s too much communication with clients?” He has concluded that the answer is usually no.
He sends frequent reminders to clients to complete tasks that he has discussed with them. They like to receive his texts and often tell him, “That’s exactly what I need.”
“To the average person, getting lots of texts from me might be annoying,” Kopelman said. “But many of my clients have high-stress jobs. They’re busy. They want me to hold them accountable” for follow through.
Like other advisors, Kopelman adjusts his communication style to accommodate each client’s preferences. Some welcome calls; others rarely answer their phone or read incoming emails.
“The key is meeting your clients where they are,” he said.
Top Financial Advisors Make Frequent Use Of Digital Channels
Over the last 18 months, Kopelman has relied more heavily on digital channels to maintain contact with clients. When leading Zoom video chats, he uses Otter — an artificial intelligence tool — to record meetings.
“I don’t have to take notes because the software dictates the whole meeting,” he said. “I can just listen.”
Reviewing the transcript later, he can search for keywords or phrases. When discussing what’s most important in life, for example, a client in his late 20s referred to “making memories” and “putting family first.”
“About a year later, that client got a job offer to move across country,” Kopelman said. “He was excited, but he wasn’t sure about uprooting his family.”
Kopelman gently reminded the client what he had said about his cherished values and asked, “Have your values changed?” After a searching conversation, the client decided to turn down the job.
Timeless Truths To Effective Client Communications
Shifting to more virtual forms of communication has its advantages. Automated email newsletters can provide information and encouragement to clients facing pandemic-driven disruption or other travails. A few rounds of back-and-forth text messages enable clients to get answers to their questions — or simply share personal news with their advisor.
But to combat the isolation brought on when people stayed at home, some advisors gained a fresh appreciation for the phone.
“Hearing my voice can create more of a bond,” Payne said. “Tone can get lost in the written word. So if I need to confirm an appointment or let the client know we took care of something, I like to call. They can relate to you more as a human being than words on a screen.”
There are subtle ways to reinforce your value to clients without audio or video calls. While newsletters can impart information, customized notes tend to resonate even more with recipients.
Annette VanderLinde coaches advisors at a firm in Royal Oak, Mich. She urges them to pounce on opportunities to send informative articles to clients on topics they care about.
Be Proactive In Developing Communications Skills
“We want to be proactive in our client outreach,” she said, adding that it’s important to remind them of their advisor’s ongoing interest in enhancing their financial life.
Some advisors draw timeless lessons on effective communication. Larry Pershing, a Chicago-based certified financial planner, read Dale Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends & Influence People” nearly 10 years ago and still applies what he learned.
“That book changed my life,” he said. “Using people’s names is so important. And taking an interest in them so that it’s not all about you.”
Pershing adds that asking questions sometimes works better than making statements. When hearing objections from prospective clients, he used to jump in and address their concerns.
“Now I ask a question first to gather more information,” he said. “I might say, ‘Tell me more about that.’ It helps me understand where they’re coming from.”
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