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?