A Prospect’s First Visit – Nightmare or the Start of Something Beautiful
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Everybody has their first time – sitting across from an advisor.
This visit can have major consequences for how the prospect lives out their financial lives and what type of success they end up having.
Based on the findings of the review trackers data, financial services as an industry ranks 11th out of 14th in terms of average ratings.
According to the same research, only 59% of global consumers trust financial services to do what’s right.
It’s a cliche, but the saying where there is smoke, there is fire applies in this case.
First-time encounters make a huge difference in how consumers view our profession.
My first time visiting with an advisor
I had serious doubts about our finances considering our legal status. My husband and I were on different work visas and from two different countries.
HR is usually not very helpful in those cases, and the best advice they’ll give is to find a professional to talk to. But there was no direction on how to go about finding this professional.
We’d been told by others wanting to be helpful that financial and tax mistakes could ruin our chances of becoming citizens, so we had a lot of questions and concerns.
We finally gathered the courage to make an appointment with an advisor. I had just started reading about personal finances, but as happens when you start on something brand new without any direction, my brain was full of very confusing personal finance information – enough to be dangerous.
When you become immersed in a complicated subject and learn the ins and outs, it’s easy to forget that, to outsiders, your core subject is like speaking a foreign language.
The initial visit
We sat across from the advisor and answered the questions he asked us. We said we wanted to retire at some point but had no idea where or how – he didn’t pursue that line at all. We had no reference point to pursue this further.
He asked us how much we were making, and we proudly gave him our numbers – we both felt good about this one, considering where we’d come from. Getting a job on a work visa after being a student on an F1 visa is an accomplishment. For my spouse, moving to the U.S. on his own for a better job was another accomplishment.
He congratulated us on our great jobs.
He wanted to know how much we were saving – we explained hesitantly we’d not been at our jobs for long, but we were saving in the company’s 401(k). We asked if he could look at our 401(k)s and maybe suggest changes.
“Probably,” he said.
We also explained we had just financed a new vehicle – and we were curious if we should try and pay it off, or maybe refinance what was a very high-interest rate (in hindsight – something to do with not having a great U.S. credit score history) – he said, “Maybe that’s something we can figure out later.”
He then asked us what our monthly budget was, and we gave him our numbers – I was very proud of my color-coded spreadsheets.
Then he asked us if we had any questions. We had so many questions but felt rushed.
In hindsight, we realized we didn’t have the right “financial vocabulary” to ask the questions we had.
We did at least ask how we pay for the service, and he explained the financial plan was free, but I don’t recall what the other fees were going to be. I’m sure he said more, but we were completely lost.
He asked us to set up another appointment to go over the plan.
We walked away with a vague sense of unease, feeling like something was missing, but not exactly sure what that was.
Later he asked us to share a few more documents with him, especially our paystubs.
Working with people on work visas with assets overseas has its complexities. I don’t expect every advisor a prospect talks with to be familiar with the details. But I want us (advisors) to be willing to dig deeper into our prospect's background without necessarily going into specifics. This applies to any niche specialization.
The second visit – The “plan” meeting
We were excited about getting our plan. We dressed up for the visit to match the advisor – we both appreciated how sharply dressed he was the first time.
Again, we sat across from him. He started by congratulating us on a great income, which made us feel good.
Then he went into our plan and showed us lots of graphs and pretty pie charts and explained them in some detail – but they didn’t mean much.
My spouse recalls him mentioning a few products.
And then he spread everything out on the table, dramatically dropped his pen, and I can only describe the next bit as him scolding us. I paraphrase some of the words here:
You guys are making so much, but I don’t see where your money is going. You should have saved more by now.
We both literally shrank from the table and started hesitantly trying to defend ourselves, while avoiding eye contact.
Well you see our families live on different continents, anytime we visit, it costs us thousands of dollars. Last year we had a couple of weddings, and then we visited another family member and had to help with some medical bills...
You get the idea.
In hindsight, if he’d dug a little more deeply into our background (he didn’t need to understand the visa implications, just the human aspect of it) we could have told him more about some of our overseas trips and how important that was to us.
We could have done any of the following:
- Shared with him the joy of visiting our newest niece overseas (with gifts) and how amazing it was to be a part of the traditions of welcoming a new baby.
- Discussed our love of travel and how we were prioritizing that before the kids. We could have explained how important family was, and what we were doing to maintain those relationships.
- Gone into more detail about our past lives, and how new this kind of income was to us.
- Shared our legal fears based on the confusing financial info we were getting.
After the scolding – he then proceeded to say we didn’t meet the firm’s minimums, but he could take us on as clients if we promised to save more, as we had the potential. We never figured out exactly where we could save that money.
We could not wait to leave as we vaguely muttered about getting back in touch at some point.
The aftermath of this encounter
We were completely deflated. We drove home questioning our choices and wondering if we were kidding ourselves about our American dream. We still didn’t have a lot of answers to our questions, and we were now more confused than before.
It took years before we’d visit somebody in the profession again. I wonder if we’d had a different encounter what life and financial choices we would have made differently.
This visit would have made many people uninterested in working with a financial advisor.
But we still had a need and lots of unanswered questions. Plus, I knew and kept meeting people in my situation, so I resolved to keep digging until I could figure out a lot of things for my family and others.
What are you doing to make the first encounter the best for prospects?
You’ve probably met hundreds if not thousands of people searching for a financial advisor. And for most people, this is their first time with an advisor. (Despite a lot of information on the internet, this still applies to a lot of people.)
If we were to survey them, how many of them would not want to talk to another advisor because of their first encounter with you?
How do we ensure we don’t put people off by making their first-time one of the best experiences with the profession even if they don’t become your client?
Jane Mepham, CFP® is the founder of Elgon Financial Advisors and a registered investment advisor based in Austin, Texas. Her advisory practice is limited to providing investment and financial planning advice to foreign-born individuals and foreign nationals on work visas. She works directly with these individuals and has flexible relationships with investment advisors serving this community who require her specialized knowledge.
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