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Building Consumer Trust Through Better Communication

By Simon Hassan, CFP

More than almost anything, a financial planner needs to be trusted by clients, referral sources and prospects. Trust comes from who you are and what you do: you need to be competent, confident, honest, and place the interests of clients first (avoiding or at the very least, clearly disclosing any conflicts of interests).

But whether you are a big brand employer, a medium or small practice, a sole practitioner, or a newly qualified financial planner, you can only demonstrate these requirements over time – building your reputation (your most precious business asset) day-by-day, year-by-year, by consistently demonstrating your integrity and commitment to your clients as you repeatedly meet or exceed their expectations.

While all this is true, there are some ways you can accelerate the trust-building process – and avoid unhelpful detours along the way. Here are a few:

Listen more than you talk

I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t love talking about themselves. But how do you feel when you meet someone like this? Your prospects and clients will quickly lose interest in you if you fall into this trap. We have two ears, two eyes, and only one mouth.

Listen with your eyes

How do you feel when you are talking to someone who is not looking at you? Your client needs to feel that you are interested in them, and keeping your eyes on them (not the clock, your desk pad, computer or out the window) while they speak is a sure fire way of showing this. It will win you their respect – a really good start on the road to trust.

Ask open-ended questions

When interviewing a prospect or client, try to avoid questions that can be answered with “yes”, “no” or another short word or phrase. If you need to ask a yes/no question, follow it up with an open-ended one (one starting with a phrase like “why”, “tell me about…” or “what is important about…”).  Here’s an example:

Confirm what they tell you – using their own words when you do

If a prospective client says, “We want to make sure our kids can go to decent schools” confirm that you were listening by saying something like “Okay, you want your kids to be able to go to decent schools: is that correct?”, not “Okay, so you want your children to get access to a superior education.” This is another mark of respect.

Know your stuff – and your limitations

Confidence is very important – your client needs to feel that you know your stuff.  But take care: never pretend. If you don’t know something, say so – and say what you intend to do about it. How would you feel if you were talking to your doctor about a lump you were concerned about, and they said: “Oh that’s probably nothing to worry about.” Would this make you more confident? “I’m not sure about that, but I’m going to refer you to a specialist who will be able to help.” And on this point what does any of us know for sure about the future? Not much, especially when it comes to investments. So don’t fall into the trap of predicting it! If a client asks you what return they can expect over from their share portfolio over a particular period, tell them the hard truth: you don’t know. Then tell them (again, no doubt) why you believe the portfolio is sound and suits their requirements.

Keep your promises

When you say you will do something – either in words simply by setting up an expectation – make sure you do it. So:

  • follow up meetings with a quick email or letter summarising what was covered and confirming any actions  required or taken as a result
  • process and confirm all transactions promptly
  • present yourself (dress, body language, speaking, …) as your clients expect
  • arrive on time, or call to explain you’ll be late – or early
  • complete at least the required levels of education and continuing professional development
  • if you send out regular newsletters, birthday cards, or calendars, don’t stop – at least without explaining why and what you will be doing instead
  • communicate honestly – about bad news as well as good news.

Sound, strategic common sense

Research shows that we add most value to clients not as a result of our clever financial advice, but by ensuring the financial strategies we recommend continue to meet our clients’ changing needs, and helping them stay on track. Sound, strategic common sense, helping your clients avoid “crowd behaviour” and the kind of wealth-destroying knee-jerk reactions that are sparked by fear and greed will not only help improve your clients’ long-term investment returns, it will also help you win and retain their trust.

And if following these tips means you lose a client – you are both probably better off!

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