by Mitch Anthony

I recently read an article bemoaning the fact that financial services professionals aren’t the best communicators. Why? Simply put, advisors don’t always listen to what their clients are telling them.

In a Financial Planning article published last month, Alan Boomer talked about why clients dislike their financial advisors. He cited a few reasons, one of which was communication style—not listening to clients and using too many acronyms they don’t relate to.

Life-centered planning turns that notion upside down and inside out. When Steve Sanduski and I created ROL Advisor, we knew the industry needed to change if it was going to not only survive, but thrive. We knew that if advisors wanted to stand out in a crowded field, they would have to do more than use fancy words and pretty presentations.

The truth is, your clients don’t really care about that stuff. They care that you are listening to them and providing advice that helps them achieve their goals, not yours. AUM might sound impressive to another advisor, but clients want to know why they should care about how much money you are managing. To them, more isn’t necessarily better—bigger may translate to impersonal.

The good news is, that by listening, you’ll actually increase your book of business, create more clients for life, and get even more referrals. Plus, you’ll have a level of satisfaction you’ve never had before!

In the third annual Advisor Authority Study, trust and communication were ranked the number one and two issues by both advisors and investors. The top two factors influencing a client’s decision to work with an advisor were the advisor’s experience and the advisor’s ability to deliver holistic financial advice––or, in other words, life-centered planning.

Life-centered planning takes clients through a series of dialogues that gets to the heart of what’s important to them when it comes to transitions they face and goals they have. Those transitions and goals are unique to them—one size does not fit all when it comes to life-centered planning. After all, how can you know what is best for your clients without knowing what they want beyond ROA. Each year it becomes clearer that clients don’t need you, if all they’re after is ROA.

Life-centered planning starts with an evaluation of where your client is in terms of their own Return on Life™ (ROL). Are they satisfied, or are there areas they (and by default, you) need to focus on? If your client has a spouse or partner, it’s important to get their input and then compare responses. I’ve spoken with a lot of advisors about this process, and they are always amazed at what is revealed during this exercise—including that the husband and wife don’t always agree!

In the book I coauthored with Scott West, Defining Conversations, we discussed the importance of having a true conversation, where instead of simply delivering a message, you are engaged in an exchange of ideas designed to address an issue. In the book, we stress the importance of ending any meeting or conversation with a variation of the question, “Have you received what you hoped for in our conversation today?” I’m surprised, even today, by how many people don’t understand or appreciate that effective communication involves two people—it’s not a one-way street.

Here are a few other ideas to have more engaging conversations with clients:

  • Put away the PowerPoint. Stop presenting and start listening. Ask questions that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”
  • Use stories to illustrate your points. When Scott West and I first wrote StorySelling for Financial Advisors more than a decade ago, we had no idea what kind of impact the book would have. We have heard from thousands of advisors about how they were able to move a relationship forward by using stories and analogies to communicate.
  • Focus on helping clients understand how to live well with the assets they have (i.e., ROL). If they have a specific goal or transition that will be difficult to attain based on where they are, discuss what can be done about it. We all have choices to make, and often we are closer to achieving a goal than we think—if we’re able to change what we thought were plans set in stone. Your clients will thank you.
  • Revisit last month’s newsletter for a discussion of the kinds of questions to ask to better understand how your clients think about money—and why.

Financial advice is well on its way to becoming a commodity—the result of robo-investing, downward pressure on fees, and consolidation. Now, more than ever, is the time to move away from traditional financial planning to life-centered planning. Your future depends on it.

© 2017 Mitch Anthony

Mitch Anthony advises financial services organizations throughout the world. An industry pioneer, he is a popular speaker and consultant, and the developer of MyFLPTools, a subscription-based service that provides a suite of discovery tools for financial services professionals. He and Steve Sanduski have developed the Retirement Coaching Program and ROL Advisor to help advisors build a Life-Centered Planning™ practice. A regular contributor to Financial Advisor magazine, Mitch is the author of more than a dozen books including the industry bestseller, StorySelling for Financial Advisors and The New Retirementality, now in its fourth edition. Contact Mitch at [email protected] or visit