The Staggering Disconnect Between What Clients Want and What Advisors Think
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If your brand is failing to connect with affluent prospects, here’s a glimpse inside their minds.
This article is based upon a study I did about a year ago. I surveyed a group of successful, affluent people who are solid prospects for most advisors (high income, high assets) by asking them, “What is it that you want out of a financial advisor that most don’t or can’t provide.” I then asked a group of advisors the same question.
The results were stunning.
There was a total disconnect between the two groups’ responses.
What advisors think affluent people want
When I asked a group of financial advisors of varying degree of experience what they feel their clients need from them, virtually all of them missed the mark. Here are examples of some things they said:
- To be able to have trust in the advisor’s ability
- Ethical approach
- For the advisor to take the time to get to know their needs, their family, and business
- Someone to tell them what to do rather than present options
- To wind up with more money than they would without the advisor
- An intimate relationship involving frequent contact
There’s nothing here that goes beyond basic relationship-management skills. Most of these responses are cliché, vague and centered on the client’s emotions. Only one advisor said anything about getting tangible results.
In the next section I reveal what affluent individuals said. Summary: being cool isn’t all that you need to make a compelling brand.
What affluent individuals want from an advisor
Here are the responses I got, one by one, when I asked a handful of affluent individuals the question, “What is the #1 thing you want from a financial advisor that you find that many are not willing or able to give you?” I’m not including the full set of answers I got, but here are the best ones.
An individual assessment based upon my personal situation, not some boilerplate pitch.
Advisors, repeat after me: no more marketing brochures!
Throw them in the trash can. You know what I mean – the “leave behind folder” containing pictures of you are your team sitting around the conference room table.
If you are a brochure brandisher, here’s why I steer clients in the other direction whenever they ask me to help them produce one: because it’s not about them, it’s about you.
And that’s exactly what this affluent person is saying. How can you say you want to listen (because that’s what all of you say on your websites) and then turn around and brandish a totally non-personalized packet of marketing spiel ready to dump onto anyone with a free hand.
The difference between what you say and what you do is why they don’t trust you!
Most advisors would be better going into a meeting with a solid list of consultative questions and ditch the paper parade. If they want to know more about you then point them to your website.
The ability to help me focus and not be distracted by my life as we determine my expectations for risk and reward. Making me push through the noise and get to the truth about what I really want.
So, now we’re onto something.
This person is essentially saying that most advisors don’t ask the right questions, ones that guide them to see what really matters to them. There’s also a sentiment here that advisors don’t take into account how much successful people have on their minds and how it can be a roadblock to giving the advisor their full attention.
Have you ever been in a meeting and noticed your client seems distracted? People have the attention span of a mosquito. Expect this and adapt.
Hint: Talk less and ask better questions that get them to talk.
For example, did you ever consider if your office is designed to maximize the client experience? If you were in a meeting with me and my kids’ babysitter called, you’d lose my attention totally. As an alternative, consider having a daycare corner in your office.
Returns that are not average and worth the fees. Build me a portfolio of interesting ideas backed by original research. It doesn’t take much to tell me to buy an ETF or to design a 60/40 asset allocation.
If you want to impress really successful people, you’ve got to have it going on like Donkey Kong or they’ll wonder if you’re worth the fee. For this and many other reasons, advisors should consider outsourcing the investment management.
I need an advisor who can free up my time. I the past I had time to play with my portfolio but now I’m at the point in life where time is the most valuable thing I have.
This flies in the face of the advisors who said that what clients want is constant, ongoing contact with their advisor. It seems to me like the really successful people couldn’t care less about being buddies.
In a podcast interview I recently conducted with Jeffrey Hayzlett, a prominent business leader, here’s what he had to say about advisors who ask him to meet for coffee.
“Coffee? Are you frickin’ crazy?”
His words, not mine.
For example, I see advisors who still include a fax number in their email signature. If anything it should be a secure document upload link. But, fax? Do they even make fax machines anymore? It’s an ancient relic from the decade when Michael Jackson got his first hit single.
Advisors, have you ever thought about ways to minimize the amount of time taken to deliver your services?
I once knew a man, a very successful executive at a big bank, who intentionally removed the chairs from his office. He did this so that people who came by would feel uncomfortable talking for more than a few minutes. It may seem drastic but this person was highly effective. After he left the bank he started a successful hedge fund.
Or you may remember the article I wrote about advisor dinner seminars. We all know why people go to these and it has nothing to do with the brilliant entertainment. I suggest instead using YouTube livestream or a podcast that people can access on their own time if they are truly interested.
I want to work with a fiduciary, otherwise how can I trust their advice? However I found that most wormed their way out of answering truthfully.
What I got from this just isn’t the tired old adage (that the RIA community has beat to death, by the way) is that a fiduciary is more trustworthy. The stunning realization I get from this quote is how it can get to the point where a person becomes irritated (as reflected in the phrase “wormed their way out”) by the advisors’ dishonesty.
If you’re not a pure fiduciary (meaning, if you are dual-registered or hybrid) then for goodness sake, don’t try to make it seem like you are obligated to act in their best interest at all times. Some people will see through it based upon what they know from their work, some will know from what they read, and other times you’ll get away with it because the person won’t recognize the difference.
Why don’t you just tell the truth?
If you are a hybrid advisor who wants to know what to say when someone asks you if you are a fiduciary, I tell you the words to say in this article.
In the case I’ve described, this individual was a highly educated securities attorney who was able to see through the deception very easily. And as a result it killed any semblance of trust to the point where she refused to work with anyone who didn’t charge hourly fees.
Relate better to your prospects by having more empathy and awareness for how they think and feel, and the distractions and the fears that weigh on their mind. I’m putting out a podcast episode in the next month or so on this topic with a well-known subject matter expert who will expand upon this topic further. Please subscribe here to my podcast so you’ll get the notification.
Sara Grillo, CFA, is a top financial writer with a focus on marketing and branding for investment management, financial planning, and RIA firms. Prior to launching her own firm, she was a financial advisor and worked at Lehman Brothers. Sara graduated from Harvard with a degree in English literature and has an MBA from NYU Stern in quantitative finance.