For an advice-giver, the “ideal” client is one who presents a clear fact pattern to analyze, for which there is a single straightforward recommendation to implement, that the client immediately takes up and follows through on. In the real world, most clients are more complex, and entail a long series of recommendations to implement over time… which means, at best, even the most diligent clients won’t necessarily follow through on everything right away. And for many, over time, it can become even harder to finish all the implementation steps, as other demands and distractions of life sap the client’s focus and motivation.
Yet the growing base of research on “non-compliance” (or at least, “non-adherence”) to advice-givers in the medical world (i.e., patients who don’t follow their doctor’s advice and prescriptions) reveals that the burden for following through on implementation should not rest solely with the patient or client receiving the advice. Instead, the reality is that the advice-giver also has a role to play, and a shared responsibility to ensure that the advice they give actually “sticks.”
And in her recent book of that name – “Advice That Sticks” – neuropsychologist Dr. Moira Somers explores how the adherence research on advice can be applied to the world of financial advisors to actually increase the likelihood that clients really do follow through on all of their recommendations.
The first key insight of the research is that clients hire financial advisors for a wide range of reasons – far beyond “just” seeking out answers to their financial questions. In fact, given the ever-growing depth and reach of the internet, clients are arguably less and less likely to be seeking answers and expertise alone. Instead, they may be seeking someone to help them make sense of all the information, to reduce complexity or help them evaluate trade-offs, or increase their confidence about their own decisions. In other cases, the client may actually be hoping to delegate something – not just the responsibility for managing their assets, but the “unpleasantness” of spending time in an area they don’t relish, to have someone (else) to blame if things go wrong, or simply to free up their own time for other endeavors.
And in addition to the fact that clients come to advisors for more than “just” advice alone, Somers highlights the wide range of additional influences that can impact the client’s receptivity to advice, from their own personal financial history and circumstances (and the “money scripts” they’ve learned from prior experiences), to their social and environment factors (where they may not be prepared to face the family consequences of a financial decision), to the nature of the advice itself (long-term preventative advice is the hardest to implement in the first place), and how the advisor’s own advice-delivery process can impact the outcomes.
Ultimately, though, the key point is simply to understand that clients who don’t implement the advice they’re given aren’t necessarily “bad clients” for failing to do so. Instead, the advice-giver themselves has a proactive role to play in aiding clients to follow-through and implement, and in reality the client who faithfully and fully implements all their advice the first time and never needs help on follow-through again is not the paragon of being a good client but more the exception to the rule for how most people actually struggle to implement even good advice. On the plus side, though, that means there is tremendous additional value to be created for clients by not just giving the most accurate good advice, but actually being the best at giving advice that sticks, too.