10 Insights to Master the Human Side of Advice
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Every person who works with people and their money has experienced “the moment.”
The moment when you think to yourself, “I feel more like a therapist than a financial advisor.”
Here’s the other version: “I would be better off with a degree in psychology than a degree in finance.”
It’s when you realize it’s about more than constructing plans and portfolios. It requires deconstructing thoughts, feelings, emotions, and values.
You realize it’s not just about accumulating more money. It’s about aligning money with what’s most important in your clients’ lives.
You realize it’s not just about telling someone what to do. It’s about getting them to actually do it.
You realize that your client’s success and your own success has more to do with what goes on in their mind than the amount of knowledge stored up in your own.
“The moment” shows up in a variety of ways.
It’s the client who sells out during a market downturn despite your best efforts to convince them otherwise.
Or the retired couple who has more money than they could ever spend yet still spend their afternoons scouring for coupons or refuse to entertain another vacation.
Or the parents who you advised to start saving $500/month to fund their child’s education and haven’t contributed a dollar.
“The moment” is different for everybody.
But what happens after “the moment” is universal.
The realization that none of your trainings, designations, or certifications prepared you for this.
You can calculate and explain the merits of a Roth conversion with the best of them.
But how do you help clients peacefully navigate a plummeting market without making a decision that will derail their future?
That requires moving beyond numbers and spreadsheets and into the human side of money.
It’s a completely different skill set. One that most advisors simply don’t have. And one with which most readily admit they don’t know where to begin.
Almost two years ago, I launched The Human Side of Money podcast to help bridge this gap for financial advisors and planners.
I’ve now recorded 50+ episodes with fellow advisors and some of the brightest minds in behavior, psychology, communication and money.
After recently publishing the 50th episode of the podcast, I’ve boiled down countless hours of information into the 10 ideas and insights every advisor needs to know:
- Goals shift, values persist
Goals-based planning, goals-based wealth management, values-based planning… pick whatever name you want. But know this:
If you work with people and their money to fund something now or in the future, it’s crucial to understand the dynamic between goals and values.
Here’s a visual to explain courtesy of friend and former podcast guest, Jeremy Walter.
Here’s a simple financial planning example:
Value: Spending time with family
Goal: Build a deck to host family gatherings
Habit: Save $500/month
- Asking great questions is a superpower
Name something else that:
- Increases like-ability
- Builds trust
- Elicits sensitive and valuable information about a person
That is why great questions have a more powerful impact on your clients than a great investment ever could.
And, while everybody wants to know what questions to ask, it’s actually HOW you ask questions that takes conversations and relationships to another level.
- From the clouds to the street
Morningstar’s research reveals a direct link between savings behavior and your mental time horizon.
Other research has shown that we see our future selves as nothing more than a stranger.
When you’re working with clients and planning for their future selves, you have to take their future “goals” from the clouds to the street. From vague to vivid.
Here’s an example:
Vague: “I want to spend time with family.”
Vivid: “I want to take my entire family to Disneyworld twice per year, stay at the Swan and Dolphin hotel, visit all four parks at least once, and have game nights with the kids after the grandkids are in bed.”
- Mirroring their words
The brain loves hearing its own words repeated back.
In fact, waiters and waitresses who repeat back the exact order of their customer see their tips increase 70% compared to those who simply praise the customer’s order.
Listen carefully and document the exact words clients use.
It’s not “retirement.”
It’s “sitting on the beach with my feet in the sand.”
- The discovery meeting recap email
This one might have been the biggest surprise of all because it seems so simple.
But everyone who does it swears by it.
After the discovery meeting, send an email (no later than) the next day recapping in their words:
- Values, Goals, Memories, Concerns
- What they’re looking for in an advisor
- Clear next steps
You’ll get emails back. And not just any email. Emails with phrases like:
“You get me.” Or “You understand me.”
- Leverage the power of stories and analogies
These are the sharpest tools in the toolbox of the greatest communicators.
Stories and analogies possess the rare ability to:
- Simplify complex topics
- Bypass logic and trigger emotion
- Inspire action
Telling a 62-year old widow the story of how you’ve worked alongside other widows in the same situation is far more effective than rattling off the list of services you provide.
Explaining how financial planning is like a GPS translates a complex explanation into something relatable.
(The GPS analogy roughly explained: Your GPS starts by identifying where you want to go. Then, it takes into account where you are and starts analyzing the best route to get you there. It will tell you step by step how to get from where you are to where you want to be. But, it doesn’t stop there. It’s continually monitoring as you go to help you prepare and adjust for any traffic jams, road closures, detours, etc.)
- From “advice giver” to “thinking partner”
The relationship dynamic between advisors and clients is shifting away from treating the problem and towards treating the person.
The old model was the financial advisor as the “advice giver.” Treating the problem by dispensing advice. It went like this:
Diagnose → Prescribe
The advisor diagnoses the situation, prescribes the solution, and the clients are expected to follow the advice.
The new model has the advisor playing the role of a “thinking partner.” It goes like this:
Diagnose → Discuss → Decide
Diagnose the situation, discuss the options, decide together on the solution.
The client is the hero of their story.
The advisor is a thinking partner, a guide, a facilitator, a collaborator, and a problem-solver.
- The overlooked influence of money memories
Most financial advice revolves around two points in life:
- Where you are today (present)
- Where you want to be (future)
For example, take a client whose dad showered her with lavish gifts to demonstrate his love. It subconsciously imprints this belief in your client’s mind: “I need nice things to validate my self-worth.”
That underlying belief helps to explain why she has no income left over to contribute to her kid’s education, and thus, hasn’t followed your advice to start funding a 529 plan.
A belief formed in the past influenced her decision-making in the present that jeopardized her goals for the future.
The best advice focuses on the past, present and future.
- Design for the plan. Optimize for the person.
Lack of follow-through and implementation of advice is a wide-spread problem.
This study shows that 70% of clients implement less than 20% of recommendations.
To this day, one of my favorite all-time quotes from the podcast came from Natalie Taylor in Episode 33.
She said she doesn’t encounter problems with implementation. Naturally, I asked her for her secret sauce.
Here’s what she said:
I’d rather give advice that gets 80%-90% of the results with 50% lift on their end than advice that’s 100% optimal that never gets implemented.
Advice designed for the plan requires saving $985/month to retire with no regard for the client’s capabilities.
Advice optimized for the client means the client agreed to save an extra $725/month because that’s what they decided was doable.
Optimize your advice for the client and watch your implementation problems disappear.
- The most important skill In financial advice
There is one skill that will directly impact both your success and your client’s success more than anything else.
The ability to listen. More specifically, listening with curiosity and empathy.
If you have a great listener in your life, then this is no surprise.
Here are a few things to think about:
- The #1 predictor of client satisfaction in the first meeting is the amount of air time they get (not how impressed they are with your experience, service model, or financial wizardry).
- Studies have shown that getting someone to talk about themselves lights up the same area of the brain as eating chocolate and sexual activity (the reward center).
- Brain scans have revealed that people’s brains sync up and connect when they are engaged in a conversation where they’re truly present and listening.
Your ability to truly listen is easily the most influential tool to consistently convert prospects into life-long clients.
Over the last two years and 50+ episodes with the brightest minds in the industry, one thing has become glaringly obvious…
The value and future of financial advice is shifting towards the intersection of technical knowledge and the human side of money.
It’s no longer enough to simply construct a financial plan and construct an investment portfolio.
Being a financial advisor requires the ability to build trust and connection, unearth values and emotions around money, while ultimately helping change behavior for the better.
It won’t be long before the advisor with no regard for the human side of advice will be the equivalent of a “stockbroker” today.
Brendan Frazier is the founder of Wired Planning, host of The Human Side of Money podcast, a keynote speaker, and one of Investopedia’s Top 100 Financial Advisors. He’s building a world-wide community of advisors mastering the human side of advice to enhance client outcomes and ignite growth in their business.