A brand-new edition of Your Client’s Story: Know Your Clients and the Rest Will Follow is now available! As financial planning continues to evolve, the book is just as relevant now as it was when it was first published in 2005. 


Financial Planning recently reported that one of the top trends for financial advisors for 2022 and beyond would be improving customer experiences: “Forthcoming research from Broadridge Financial Solutions finds that 65% of Americans said businesses need to improve customer experiences, but the numbers are especially dire for wealth management. Only 15% said their brokerage firm provides the best overall experience, while only 12% said the same of their retirement firm, according to Broadridge Managing Director Matt Swain, who thinks firms will invest more in client communication technology in 2022 to improve client experiences.”

Client communication is more than an annual meeting, newsletter, or Christmas card. Client communication begins with understanding clients and their philosophies about––and experiences with––money. In the 2nd edition of Your Client’s Story: Know Your Clients and the Rest Will Follow, Scott West and I explore why knowing your client is ground zero when it comes to your client’s success, as well as your own. We also provide the necessary tools to help you understand your own client’s stories.

Only when you know your clients’ individual stories—where they came from, how they think about money, what really matters to them—can you serve them in a meaningful way. Our relationship with money is unique for each of us; there is no one-size-fits-all model. Money is deeply personal and emotional. It represents much more than numbers on a balance sheet. The time has come to address client relationships at a higher level—not as an opportunity to grow your book of business, but alternatively to grow and prosper as a life-centered financial planner. Your expanded roles will include biographer and financial director. Don’t settle for simply selling. Instead, reach for something more––and play a key role in helping ensure your clients’ “stories” end well.

If your most important client contacts could grade you on your listening skills, how well would you score? Would you get an A, an F, or something in-between?

1. My advisor pays close attention to me when I am talking.  A B C D F
2. My advisor is tuned into me instead of thinking of a response.  A B C D F
3. My advisor answers in a way that reflects my major concerns.  A B C D F
4. My advisor keeps the conversation focused on my needs and concerns.  A B C D F
5. My advisor delivers a personalized plan for my needs and concerns.  A B C D F

Whether advisor or client, we are all guilty at times of being poor listeners. Some of us, however, are more guilty than others. One irony of the financial planning industry is that it naturally attracts individuals who, by their nature, have short attention spans and can be impatient—yet success hinges on the ability to tune in to others and listen to what they have to say.

If you watch PBS, you’re aware of their tagline, “Be curious.” That tagline could easily apply to financial planning as well. There are many good reasons for developing a reputation as someone who is curious and asks good questions. People respect the asker and listener more than they respect the teller and seller. Intelligent inquiry elevates other people’s opinions of your intellect and capabilities. People generally understand that you are asking because you know what you are doing.

Asking good questions offers a myriad of benefits to both you and your clients:

  1. A good question allows people their space on the stage of life. One of the greatest favors you can do for any person is to establish at the very beginning of the conversation where your spotlight is pointed. Not only will they be flattered by your interest in them and their world, they will also warm to you in the glow of that spotlight.
  2. Inquiry elevates their intellect and reason. When you do the asking instead of the telling, you elevate the intellect, reason, and thoughts of the other party. Rare is the person who will resist your attempts to understand their thoughts and ideas, and how they came by them.
  3. Intelligent inquiry recognizes an individual’s uniqueness. While every person’s story may not be interesting to others, it is interesting to them—and they want to tell it. The advisor who acts as biographer will find that clients will feel more connected and loyal to someone who cares enough to seek out and listen to their personal story.
  4. Questions reveal priorities and issues of import. You will always find yourself further ahead because of asking, instead of telling. An important feature of asking well-thought out questions is by helping clients sift through their own priorities, you will discover what is important enough to act upon, so you don’t waste their time—or yours.
  5. Good questions raise personal awareness and often help save clients from themselves. Good questions can help to raise destructive financial habits and patterns to the surface and provide an opportunity to show your clients how to form constructive money habits.

Great minds have always looked for better questions because they are intensely curious. Einstein wanted to know. Da Vinci wanted to know. Steve Jobs wanted to know. You want to know. Great discovery emanates from an authentic well of curiosity. It’s not about simply asking questions: it’s about knowing what you want to know and designing questions that will draw those stories out.