by Mitch Anthony

In 2007, Roy Diliberto and I penned an article for Financial Advisor magazine introducing what was still a relatively new idea: “Be a part of what matters to your clients.” Ten years later, the message is even more important: “What matters to your clients is more than just the return on their assets.”

An event I attended ten years ago had an enormous impact on me—as did the financial planner at that event, Marty Kurtz. Marty shared with everyone attending the gathering (primarily his clients) what really mattered to him as a planner:

“The real value I want to bring to you is to know what really matters to you and to be a part of that.”

A decade later, Marty shared the moving story of his daughter’s work with preschool children—and introduced her to the applause of his clients. Marty wasn’t behaving like the all-knowing financial planner, but someone who instead chose to be authentic by sharing something personally significant from his own life. He reached out to his clients at a human level, making a connection between planner and client unlike any other I had experienced at that time.

Marty taught me three important lessons that night:

  1. Managing someone’s portfolio is not enough to separate you from the pack. Portfolio management is a commodity that, frankly, any advisor can provide.
  2. Understanding what your clients really want—and partnering with them on their journey—is an advisor’s true value proposition. It’s the difference between providing your clients with a return on investment (ROI) and a return on life™ (ROL).
  3. Connecting with your clients at the human level is essential; you cannot coach them without making this connection.

There are many advisors out there that can do a perfectly fine job helping people manage their assets. As Roy and I discussed in that original article, claiming that you are able to deliver superior returns is an invitation for a client exodus because there’s no value in your proposition. Don’t get me wrong—ROI is essential—but it’s not enough to set you apart from the advisor down the street.

What does make the difference?

As Ross Levin wrote, “There are a number of people out there calling themselves financial planners who are probably not really doing financial planning. They may be doing pieces of the plan, but they are not trying to discover what the client’s true motivations are. They may excel at some of the tactics, but they may lack the willingness to dive deep into the client’s personality to try to make sure that the plan is unique to the needs of the person for whom it is being developed. These practitioners serve a useful purpose and provide a service, but they can mess up a client. They can get in the way of what a financial planning relationship can be like.”

Many advisors have told me that their clients want them to focus on ROI because that’s what they’re being paid for. My response is, if that’s the case, don’t plan on having those clients for very long because you’ve positioned yourself as a commodity (even more so with robo-advising entering the picture). Instead of starting with “let’s review your assets”, find out what their goals, transitions, and dreams are. Nothing is more important than coaching clients and helping them discover what really matters — and chances are it isn’t ROI. ROI isn’t the goal, it’s the vehicle to get you there.

While it may be difficult for clients to provide a list of specific goals, asking probing questions can help both you and your clients develop a plan that works. Go beyond superficial questions such as, “When do you plan to retire?” and ask your clients what retirement means to them. You’ll begin to learn what really matters to them—and I bet both you and your clients will be surprised by their answers.

Once you do that, developing a plan that enables your client to achieve a successful ROL will become much more clear. As Marty Kurtz told me, “Know what really matters to your clients—and be a part of that.” The second half of his statement is the true value proposition—and still resonates after all this time.

No matter how compelling the numbers may be, it might still be hard for some clients to take the necessary steps to achieve a true ROL. Connecting with your clients at the human level can be the difference between making well-intentioned recommendations that are never implemented—and changing their lives.

Dig deep with clients, and don’t be afraid to share some personal information about yourself with them as a way to engage them and build trust. Talk about steps you’ve taken to achieve ROL, and the difficult decisions you may have had to make to ensure your own dreams became a reality. Your clients will no doubt be inspired, and will be more connected—and invested—with you. As you already know, stories are a powerful way to communicate with someone.

There is more to a financial plan than numbers, and the most successful planners understand that. They connect at the heart—and understand the value of moving from ROI to ROL.

© 2017 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-KitThe 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].