Journal of Financial Planning: September 2015
Authentic communication cultivates productive relationships and can quickly transform a young planner into a business-generating machine. Focusing on this art, rather than simply hammering away at financial knowledge, helps remove invisible barriers that might otherwise derail fruitful relationships. Clients and referral partners latch on to someone who can blend authenticity and vulnerability in a way that shows confidence and trust.
Most of us in this industry never receive training on how to communicate effectively. We launch ourselves into the world of financial planning, reading books about investments and insurance and taking sales seminars that will get us more business, yet we never focus on basic people skills. We forget that we are a service business and our relationships with people will make or break our careers.
By focusing on building strong relationships via authentic communication across all mediums, up-and-coming advisers from the millennial generation can catapult themselves ahead of their peers—and perhaps even more experienced advisers.
The next generation of financial planners should be trained to build relationships first. Gaining experience takes time, yet learning how to have productive conversations with people simply takes practice. Focusing on learning how to listen, build rapport, and earn trust is invaluable to everyone.
These soft skills of relationship management will create productive relationships right from the start. Training should start with communication and leadership skills, rather than overwhelming millennial advisers with financial and sales education. By taking this action, we can drastically change the course of their careers, which will benefit the young planner, their clients, and the firms for which they work.
A World of Transparency
In our industry, we often talk about the word “transparency.” We say that investment products and services should be clear and easy to understand. Why don’t we follow that same advice when starting relationships with clients and centers of influence?
We like to focus on our achievements and knowledge, but most others don’t care too much about that until they know who we are as people and why we do what we do. Let’s look at two conversation starters as an example of what I mean.
Conversation Starter 1: “Hello. My name is Eric. I am the president of a Registered Investment Adviser firm. We help clients with investments, insurance, taxes, and estate planning. I have been in the business for 13 years and was selected as one of the top 10 financial planners to follow on Twitter.”
Conversation Starter 2: “Hi, I’m Eric. I’m 35 years old and I love helping professionals understand their money and use it as a tool to live a life they love. My goal is to help my clients live for today and plan responsibly for tomorrow. That’s how I live my life and I want others to do the same.”
In the first example, I focus on facts and achievements. It’s robotic, impersonal and puts up a wall between me and the person I am talking to. I get turned off just reading it. However, with the second version, I add in my personality, passion, and even a little vulnerability by revealing my age.
This is what people want to hear: that we are real people and we care about what we do.
Embrace the Mess
The word “vulnerability” often evokes a feeling of discomfort. People associate it with being exposed and unprotected and that doesn’t sound safe. But by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we can show others that we are human, too, and face life challenges just like they do. People connect with our vulnerabilities.
Early in our careers, we often feel vulnerable and it makes us uncomfortable. Then we try to hide those feelings by proving to the world that we are strong and infallible. And that’s when things get weird. People aren’t stupid. They see right through that false bravado.
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who boasts about their accomplishments and strengths a little too much? Their goal is to build themselves up in your eyes, but it has the opposite effect. They seem like someone trying to hide something. When I sense that, I instinctively close up and turn the other way. This is certainly not what we want clients to do, so maybe we should step into our vulnerabilities instead.
What would happen if young planners shared their vulnerabilities with prospective clients? This could be as simple as saying something like this:
“Hi, my name is ___. I recently started working as a financial planner. I entered the profession to transform our financially illiterate society. Although I just graduated and have my own student loans to deal with, I want to help people understand that they don’t have to live their lives in fear of their finances. I’m in the process of studying for my Certified Financial Planner designation and I’m excited to make an impact on the world.”
I don’t know about you, but that would immediately remove any initial barriers I might have. Sure, maybe as a client I wouldn’t feel comfortable immediately handing over my life savings to this person, but I would want to know more. Honesty goes a long way and can actually show more confidence than we give it credit for.
Financial Education Is Secondary
Our industry demands that we continually build our financial knowledge and learn how to apply it to the ever-changing economy. There is no doubt that working experience in the industry adds credibility and does give us an advantage.
Financial planners gain this knowledge through Certified Financial Planning courses, seminars, and the ongoing guidance of an experienced adviser or mentor. But these skills will be useless if communication is lacking. It is this art that trumps everything and can give advisers from the millennial cohort a leg up when competing for business.
We often take communication skills for granted, or we simply overlook them. Authentically sharing ourselves contributes to transparency, which builds trust. And, our ability to build trust in all of our relationships contributes to our ultimate success or failure. The financial planning industry must learn to be less controlling and salesy, and more generous and vulnerable if we want to expand and thrive.
If we adjust our training programs to focus on communication and leadership skills, we will tap into a hidden realm of possibilities in millennial planners. This shift in perspective just might be the catalyst we need to jump-start an evolution in financial planning and finally achieve the status of a true profession.
Eric Roberge, CFP®, is the founder of Beyond Your Hammock, where he works virtually with professionals in their 20s and 30s, helping them use money as a tool to live a life they love. Through personalized coaching, he helps clients organize their finances, set goals, and invest for the future.
Join Journal author Eric Roberge, CFP®, at FPA’s Annual Conference in Boston later this month, when he will give the following presentation:
Engaging Millennials: The Rubik’s Cube of Financial Planning
Monday, Sept. 28
Learn more at FPA-Be.org