Communication is critical, on a human level, for anyone in a services business. But in our screen-driven environment, it can be tough to identify the optimal pathways for having conversations.
Not to mention, communication preferences are more personalized than ever before. When should we use emails vs. text messages? When does it make sense to pick up the phone or schedule a meeting?
The key is to think about your communication strategically like a puzzle, with a systems mindset. You’re assembling multiple pieces together to meet the needs of your unique client base — to anticipate issues and proactively guide conversations forward. It’s about moving from a reactive to proactive mindset by aligning your communications to different time horizons and mediums.
Here’s how to accomplish this goal.
1. Annual planning workshops
Annual planning is essential in establishing clear goals and objectives, in addition to providing a roadmap to achieving them. You may consider using a framework to guide these discussions.
For instance, Mark Silverman, founder at Silverman + Associates Wealth Management uses a precise system for navigating important planning discussions.
“We’ve implemented a methodology from Money Quotient, which provides tools for analyzing the emotional side of money,” says SIlverman. “We’re not just using data and building financial plans — we’re looking at everyone holistically. The tools give me a feel for how they want their life to look.”
Rob Michel, chief investment officer at Glen Eagle Advisory echoes this sentiment in speaking to the firm’s goal of establishing a higher purpose for investing.
“As a firm, we are focused on a higher purpose,” says Michel. “We believe that investing is about more than just making more money. That means getting aligned around our client’s human goals — investing in a child’s education, purchasing a dream home, or getting ready for retirement.”
With this foundation in place, financial advisors can steer client conversations back to a core set of values, throughout the year.
2. Quarterly listening sessions
A well-structured communication program starts with a foundation of listening and empathy.
“We often take listening for granted as something easy and natural,” explains William Ury, a senior fellow at the Harvard Negotiation Project, in a TEDx San Diego talk.
“But, in fact, at least in my experience, real, genuine listening is something that needs to be learned and practiced every day … In genuine listening, we listen not just for what’s being said but for what’s not being said. We listen not just to the words but to what’s behind the words. We listen for the underlying emotions, and feelings, the underlying needs, what that person really needs or wants.”
There are a few steps you can take to listen to your clients more effectively:
Plan a quarterly check-in meeting for 1-2 hours, either online or in-person.
- In these meetings, the objective is not to be overly focused on your own agenda but rather to ask clients what they would like to cover, recommends Andrew Sobel.
- Allow for silence, creating space for thinking and reflecting, rather than feeling pressure to be speaking, Sobel elaborates.
- Seek to establish alignment around values, priorities, and shared decision-making
“Good listening is about mutual disclosure, not just sitting there and taking notes,” says Sobel. “The conversation has to be interspersed with your own thoughts, feelings, ideas, and experiences.”
Here are some example questions that C2P Enterprises recently published in a syndicated article with NASDAQ:
Has your family experienced any major life events lately?
- Do you have any expected milestones coming up?
- Are you planning a vacation or other large expenditure?
- Are you considering any surgeries or medical procedures?
- Do you have any new financial needs, concerns, or goals since we last spoke?
It’s about establishing a basis of trust, on a human level, so that your clients feel comfortable sharing a holistic view of their personal and financial information. Quarterly listening sessions can establish the empathy necessary for a shared basis of understanding. Less structure will be better for facilitating these sessions.
3. Monthly or bi-weekly reports
It’s important to maintain a continuous line of communication with clients, especially given the ups and downs in today’s economy. According to research from SmartAsset, advisor-client communication frequency has increased since the pandemic. Roughly 32% and 11% of advisors say that they check-in monthly and weekly, respectively.
By communicating frequently, on a monthly or bi-weekly basis, advisors can move from a reactive to guidance-oriented foundation. Clients will learn to look at the information you share as proactive, educational, and informative in nature. It’s helpful to establish these communications from a position coaching rather than customer support.
“I feel like we’re counselors or psychologists most days,” explains Kevin Andrews, founder at Eagle Financial Group. “The market challenges that we’re seeing these days are unique. We’ve been under pressure to put on our economist hats and respond accordingly. It’s more than planning.”
According to a study of advisors in Raymond James’s RIA & custody services division, email remains a primary mode of communication for advisors. However, 59% of advisors have also reported a need for improving operational efficiency as a core strategic priority.
One way to improve operational efficiency is to centralize digital communications in a client portal that investors can easily access. These include performance reports, financial plans, invoices, tax documents, bank statements, and more. The Raymond James study found that 76% of advisors in its sample offer client portals. In other words, there’s an existing precedent in the market for advisors to move off email.
4. Daily tactical heat checks
Regular heat checks allow advisors to anticipate clients’ needs, get ahead of misinformation, and outsmart chaotic news cycles.
Especially if there’s bad news on the horizon, it’s better that your clients hear it from you first rather than jumping to their own conclusions.
As an example, financial advisor Pat Herir starts his mornings by logging into his financial advisory platform CircleBlack to review assets over the previous few days, to see if any accounts were more volatile than others. He also double checks which clients have been logging into Princeton Financial Partners’ branded app as a sign for who might be feeling nervous.
“This data tells me whether I should be reaching out to clients to be more proactive,” he says. “We can quickly get on the same page by looking at the same data.”
Communications help increase your value as an advisor
Advisors who adopt a process-oriented approach will increase the value of their offerings overall.
“Financial advisors who bring a process-oriented approach to their clients’ financial plans are helping to shape their clients’ behavior,” writes Roger Wohlner, an experienced financial advisor and writer for Investopedia.
“Systematic reviews, periodic rebalancing, proper asset allocation, and spending plans are all examples of behavioral coaching. These and other strategies help clients make financial decisions in an ordered, rational fashion, rather than putting them in a position to react to news about the stock market or the economy.”
Every conversation is its own unique workstream to help support the coaching process. Imagine that each communication fits into a container.
CircleBlack is here to help
CircleBlack is an all in one management platform for financial advisors. We help RIAs communicate and collaborate better with their customers.
To learn how our software can help you build, manage, and grow your financial advisory practice, get in touch. After reading this article, you may be interested in learning more about our branded app, performance reporting capabilities, and client portal, more specifically.
This material has been prepared for educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, investment, accounting, legal, or tax advice.