by Mitch Anthony

You know your clients’ names, their addresses, their Social Security numbers, their account numbers, the whereabouts of those accounts and the balances within them. You know where they work and how much they make. You know your clients’ family members’ names and ages. I bet you know your clients’ birthdays and the fact that they consider themselves “moderate” risk takers.

But—do you really know your clients?

The markets continue to rock and roll. As I write this article, we’ve had one of the most tumultuous periods in a long time. In times like these it becomes apparent that we don’t know nearly enough about the clients we serve, and consequently those relationships are often at risk.

Perspectives continue to change, as do realities. Clients have raised their scrutiny of what constitutes “value”—and subsequently have greater expectations. Do they really need you or can they do just as well robo-investing?

Clients are expecting more from their advisors, as they should. The definition of what “more” is has been difficult to delineate and is an abstract concept to most. What is clear, however, is that we have done an excellent job gathering facts and numbers but have come up short in understanding who our clients are and what they really want (even if they tell you they don’t care about anything but returns). A more personal survey of clients must, by definition, include anecdotes from their experience bank and a deeper knowledge of the challenges and opportunities consuming their time, attention, and resources.

Client discovery is more than the amount of risk someone is willing to accept. Effective client discovery is taking into account the stories that define our clients, combined with the numbers that measure their financial situations. The financial aspects of our clients’ profiles gathered through facts and numbers is critical, but they are not enough. Let’s face it—more and more, that piece of client discovery can be done by machine. The personal aspects of their developing profiles are only available through anecdotes and well-designed surveys of their life situations. It’s also the way to keep them as clients for life.

The following describes the financial facts we have discovered, as well as the personal corollaries of understanding we often forget to ask about:

  • Financial Profile: Net worth; Liabilities; Cash flow; Money goals
  • Personal Profile: Experiences; Concerns; Responsibilities; Hopes

For almost 20 years, I have been helping both large and small financial services firms integrate personal profiles into their practices. What’s become clear to me is that we can all improve upon both the manner and the methods by which we come to understand our most valuable asset—our clients. If we cannot improve the content of the conversation itself, we can almost always improve upon the connectivity achieved in that conversation. That’s not something that a robot can ever do.

The first way we can improve is by bringing balance to the profiling of clients. By balance, I mean the balance between a story of numbers and a number of stories. While we cannot help clients improve their situations without knowing the numbers (helps establish baselines and financial goals), these numbers and facts need to be put into the proper context.

It is our clients’ defining experiences from the past—concrete and established—that have made them who they are today and shaped how they approach money matters. It is their concerns and responsibilities in the present, unformed and in various stages of chaos, consuming their energies. It is their hopes driving them to act responsibly with their present assets, which only now brings us to a numbers conversation.

Attempting to get at these numbers first and stories second—if you get to the stories at all—provides you with a one-dimensional view of your client.

How much more solid would the advisor/client relational footing be if we understood the defining experiences from our clients’ past, the pressing concerns and responsibilities from their present, and the hopes and aspirations directed into their future? Every day we look at numbers regarding our clients, but we need to resist the temptation of believing that these numbers tell us all we need to know about them.

Want your clients to stay calm and listen to you when the markets are rough (and even when they aren’t)? One thing we all know for certain is that if you have taken the time to understand who a client is (and the defining experiences that have shaped him or her), what the client most cares about, and what the client aspires to achieve, it would be difficult for any client not to listen to you. Every advisor I know wants to strengthen client relationships, but the relationship can grow no further than the conversations that guide the process. Broadening the conversation will result in both broadened relationships and broadened opportunity—but most importantly, you’ll have calm clients for life.

© 2016 Mitch Anthony

Mitch Anthony is the founder and president of Advisor Insights Inc.and the Financial Life Planning Institute, the leading provider of financial life planning tools and programs for the financial services industry.

For almost two decades, Mitch and his team have provided training and development for both individual advisors and major organizations throughout the world. Mitch personally consults with many of the largest and most-recognizable names in the financial services industry on both financial life planning and relationship development.

Mitch is a consistently top-rated presenter who has spoken to groups ranging from 10 to more than 10,000. He has been named one of the financial services industry’s top “Movers & Shakers” for his pioneering work. Through the Institute, he has partnered with Texas Tech University, the University of Georgia, and Utah Valley University to develop financial life planning programs for their undergraduate programs.

Mitch is a sought-after expert for the media, and a regular columnist for Financial Advisor magazine. His columns have appeared on CBS MarketWatch and in the Journal of Financial Planning. His original comic strip “Stanley Brambles, CFG (Certified Financial Guru)”appears monthly in the print edition of Research magazine. Mitch is also host of the daily radio feature, The Daily Dose, heard on over 100 radio stations nationwide.

Mitch is also the author of many groundbreaking books for advisors and consumers, including perennial bestseller StorySelling for Financial Advisors, cited by “Financial Advisor” magazine as the number one “must-read” book for financial professionals. Mitch’s other books include The New Retirementality (now in its 4th edition), From the Boiler Room to the Living RoomYour Clients for LifeYour Client’s Story, and The Financial Lit-Kit: The Cash in the HatThe Bean is Not Green, and Where Did the Money Go?. For information on these books and more resources, click here. Contact Mitch at [email protected].