Are We Being Too Forward With Our Clients?

Posted by Michael Kitces on Wednesday, June 29th, 1:26 pm, 2011 in Client Trust & Communication

In the dating world, being "too forward" generally means trying to advance a relationship at a pace that is too fast for comfort; being too confident and direct in what is said, to a point that may not be socially acceptable. The general remedy in the dating world, then, is to "take it slow" and allow the relationship to build trust before trying to advance a relationship to the next stage. Of course, building a trusting relationship is not unique to the dating world; many of the exact same dynamics apply in building the planner-client relationship. Yet in practice, because financial planning relationships must move to an implementation stage after “relatively” few meetings, planners often must be very forward during the sensitive relationship-building phase. But how far is too far? Have you been asking your clients to get naked on the first date?


The inspiration for today’s blog post comes from some recent reflections I’ve been having about why it is so difficult to engage prospective new clients in the financial planning process. As I have written previously, I think it is clear that part of the challenge in delivering financial planning to an ever-wider audience is our own difficulty in conveying the value of planning, so that people would actually want and seek out financial planning guidance. But at the same time, I wonder if we’re also hindering our own success by being too forward - pushing the comprehensive financial planning process with clients past the limits of social comfort.

For instance, it is fairly standard practice for prospective clients to be asked to bring all of their financial information – their “data” – to one of the early planner-client meetings (and many planners outright require clients to bring their information to the introductory meeting). From the planner’s perspective, this is simply an efficient business practice; if you’re going to determine if the prospective client is a good fit for your practice and whether it’s someone you can serve, you need to see the information to understand what the client’s needs and goals are so you can cut to the chase, right? 

But imagine for a moment what this feels like from the client’s perspective? There are few things in life we are more uncomfortable exposing and sharing than our deep dark secrets and sins about money; in some studies, money is even more of a taboo subject than sex, religion, or politics. Yet what do we as planners do? We literally tell clients they must expose all of their assets to us at the first meeting, so we can judge whether they’re worthy of being a client or whether we will reject them!!

To say the least, if you asked your date to expose all of his/her “assets” on the first date so you could judge whether the relationship was likely to be a long-term fit, you’d probably bring an end to the date right there! If you told your prospective date up front that this was your standard process for any prospective relationship, not only would you probably not get the date in the first place, but it’s highly likely that he/she isn’t going to be recommending you as a good relationship material to his/her friends, either!

Could this be a reason why financial planners struggle to get clients to agree to meet in the first place, and why clients are often so hesitant to refer their friends and family to us? Are we being too forward, in asking our gets to get (financially) naked with us on the first date, exposing their assets to be judged for worthiness, and risking personal rejection? Could our clients and prospects be sabotaging the initial planning process, afraid (consciously or subconsciously) of being judged unworthy and rejected… or worse, dealing with the further social awkwardness of referring a friend or family member who is deemed unworthy and rejected?

So what do you think? Are we doing the equivalent of asking our clients to get naked on the first date? Is it possible we’re making them feel judged and fear rejection? Could this be hindering our progress in bringing financial planning to more people in need? Is there anything you do to ease this part of the process for the client?

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  • http://www.mcleanam.com Alex Murguia

    We used to struggle with this and I must say the CEG coaching program helped us tremendously create an efficient prospect meeting agenda. It is a fairly standard process based on Bill Bachrach Values based selling. It is amazing what a good initial discovery meeting can accomplish. We aim to have a mutual commitment meeting by the end of the second appt.

  • http://wohlnerfinancial.blogspot.com/ Roger Wohlner

    Michael as always a good, thought provoking post. While I can understand the reluctance I of some prospects to reveal everything, frankly I have rarely encountered this. If I did at this point in my career I would politely suggest that a relationship between will probably not be a good fit either way.

    • Michael Kitces

      Roger,
      Indeed, I've heard this response from many planners. I have to wonder, though, if there isn't a powerful self-selection process at work.

      Strictly speaking, my concern is not the clients we see in our office. It's the other hundred million or more who don't/won't work with a planner.

      In other words, I think this effect may actually be so powerful, that the mere thought and fear of it (given the expectations we set for the initial meeting) drives a large number of prospects away from financial planning before you ever have a chance to meet with them in the first place.

      The clients we all have are not necessarily a representative sample of the average prospective POTENTIAL client.
      - Michael

      • http://www.accretus.in partha iyengar

        Well said..Michael..

        I could relate pretty much to what you say, specifically so in the context of my country and its citizens - India..
        People here do not want to reveal their financial assets in the first meeting.. In fact, it takes about 4-5 meetings for us to get to the stage where clients are comfortable in discussing about their financial assets [Most of them do not reveal fully]. Till then, we need to build trust and as you said 'date' them gradually so that they open up..
        All the more so, when we have a parallel economy equivalent to 50% of our GDP!..
        You know what I mean..

        I guess the feeling is universal. I always used to wonder as to how could one expect clients to open up the first time with their financial data. Why should they? They don't know you enough to trust you with the confidential data and you as a financial planner will take a call on the first date as to whether they are the right fit for you or not..

        Of course, I believe a different approach like 'Financial Life Planning'model with a differentiated discovery process would cut the number of 'dating' sessions and would help to get their financial picture and sign up. Because they see value in the way the Financial Life Planners approach and relate to clients.. I have just started on this journey and am really finding it extremely rewarding not only with prospective clients but also with old clients and hope to have better conversions in terms of sign ups with more potential clients and 100% renewals with old clients year on year..
        Most importantly, add value to clients by putting 'life' back into their lives and help achieve their dreams over a period of time..

  • http://www.opendoorinvestments.com Joseph Alotta

    Hi Michael,

    Nice article. You don't know some of the women I have met...

    Sincerely,

    Joe.

  • http://www.upperlinefinancial.com/blog Jude Boudreaux, CFP®

    I agree with you Michael, I've been feeling this myself lately. I've started having initial meetings where I actively tell clients not to bring their financial data, let's just talk about what your concerns are, how I work, and let's take some time to figure out if there's a fit. There's some push/pull here, and when you create some distance people seem to want it more.

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  • http://www.unzerty.com/online-dating-is-big-business/ Cindy

    I think it's important to be honest with all relationships, including clients. They will appreciate you more and build trust for the future.

  • http://www.suncoastadvisorygroup.com Rick Helbing, CFP, ChFC

    Michael,
    Interesting article, Socrates supposedly once said, "what people want is to be understood". Unfortunately most advisor's process to gather information is data driven versus discovery driven, in other words understand your client before the numbers! Can you imagine meeting with Bill Gates and asking for a summary of his assets and liabilities along with a quick list of goals? Really?
    Knowing a client's Financial DNA will assist in creating an understanding of a client's learned behavior versus their natural behavior. Just think, having an in depth discussion with your client will provide a clear understanding of what they are really all about!

  • http://www.riskprofiling.com Paul Resnik

    Feedback I receive from many of our subscribers supports this view. Discussing their financial risk tolerance report and exploring reasons for differences from both their risk groups and spouses has proven to be a soft and effective way to start money conversations with potential new clients.

  • http://www.arborfirm.com Joe Arsenault

    Michael,

    Even with this post be a couple years old now, I found it though-provoking and can't help but comment on some points that comes to mind.

    While a firm should have a foundation of rules and process flows to guide it, experienced financial planners probably won't "require" all financial information on the first "date".. knowing this requirement can paralyze some crucial moments in the "building a new relationship" process. We planners need that first meeting to let our clients be themselves and listen. This is a great stage to use our mental agility. What do I mean by mental agility? I am talking about the advisor's ability to adapt to each client by listening and observing before they jump into data gathering or counseling. The reality about new clients.. some will require 2 or 3 meetings, some may require 5 or 6. So why require each new prospect to bring all their financial information to the first meeting? This really shouldn't be a requirement, but if the prospect has a general outline of expectations they may choose to do so on their own. Win-win..

    The idea is to work at the most efficient pace possible for each unique client, assuming a relationship is appropriately profitable for both parties. You can do this by setting general expectations of the new client process and doing a great deal of listening (especially in the beginning). Requiring their financial information on the first meeting can circumvent the neutrality needed in that first meeting and you may never get a chance to listen to the prospect in a relaxed, honest state of mind. Of course, some prospects are chopping at the bit to work with you so if they know at some point you will need the information, they may choose to bring it on their own and you can get to work rather quickly!

    Main point being.. all stages of planning can vary to each client, and the advisor needs their mental agility to facilitate the new relationship. Throwing clients out of their element can actually reduce firm efficiency.

    Thanks for tweeting this post!

    Cheers

    -Joe

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