What one skill (above all others), if you developed and did it in an excellent fashion, would have the biggest impact on you as a financial planner?
This is the question that was posed to the leaders in the financial planning profession. Initially, the plan was to elicit feedback as to where to focus energy in the new year to become a better advisor, but after receiving so many excellent responses I wanted to share the common themes. What is the most important skill? There is always a big focus on the technical side of planning (which is obviously very important), but is it that the most important? Or is it empathy, communication, or relationship building?
The answers varied by the leaders that responded, but the common theme was clearly that in the end, the interpersonal trumps the technical.
Empathy was a common theme throughout. Roy Diliberto and Rich Busillo, both of whom are my mentors at RTD Financial Advisors, believe that empathy is the one skill that is most important. This essential skill develops trust and helps the advisor understand the client along with their goals, values, dreams, and fears. Brett Danko echoes the same thoughts by defining empathy as the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. Analytical skills are necessary but empathy is by far the most important. You must be able to understand your client’s hopes and dreams through empathy. Ross Levin also believes that the most important skill in being a sound financial planner is empathy, followed by curiosity. I interpret Levin’s curiosity as being a student of the profession, and having a genuine interest in effectively solving client concerns with the most appropriate solution. Dan Moisand gives the edge to empathy as well, and defines it as being able to see things from another person's perspective. Moisand says that the better you understand before being understood, the more effective you will be. This leads to satisfied clients who are more apt to tell others about the good experience. Marc Freedman explains that there must be a continual reminder that people look to you as a leader in their life. It is a planner's job to make sure that you give equal attention to their emotions as well as finances. People look to you for answers. Use your objective guidance and explore all of the alternatives to make the clients feel satisfied with their decisions.