The main thing we have to differentiate ourselves with is the relationship we build with clients.
I believe that the financial services market is at a point of maximum change but also maximum opportunity.
Significant areas of financial planning are being commoditised. My sense is that charging to manage money will soon no longer be feasible. I think we will be doing that for free (because clients will be able to get that for free elsewhere) or not at all and that we will be able to charge only for the unique value we bring to clients. The financial planning market, like most professional services markets, (lawyers, accountants, etc), is fundamentally undifferentiated. My financial products are (more or less) the same as your financial products, which are the same as everyone else’s. The question therefore arises, in a professional services business, how do we differentiate our businesses and communicate our value to clients?
The main thing we have to differentiate ourselves with is the relationship that we build with clients.
Without a doubt, this lies in us and the expertise we have to educate and support clients in a way that allows them to move forward with confidence, security and inspiration. That is something I don’t believe can ever be commoditised.
My sense is that those of us that call ourselves financial planners (or a financial life planner in my case) already accept and understand that building strong client relationships is key. Our main role was and still is, advising on and implementing a sound financial plan. This naturally includes the management of money (in most cases), and often the implementation of products where appropriate, among and many other components. With the move away from a compliance and towards a more values based approach to what we do, how do we go about building strong relationships with clients for the long term?
I recently started working with a business coach. He helped me to see that when I was having conversations with clients that really added value to them, what I was actually doing was coaching. I sort of knew that already (after all my twitter handle is @thefinancecoach and part of our client proposition includes ‘ongoing financial coaching’) but crazily I never thought of myself as a coach and certainly did not refer to myself in that way. He explained to me that coaching is nothing more than helping someone. That made all the difference to me. If that is my objective when I sit down with a client then that is all I need to focus on; helping, or coaching as it sometimes also called.
We all know that it costs way more to acquire a new client than it does to build on the relationships with existing ones. This approach facilitates a much deeper relationship with clients where we truly do become their trusted adviser. Because the coach/professional adviser intentionally creates the conditions where the client is able to think for themselves (rather than being controlled and directed), they feel listened to, and are more likely to take action to move forward positively with their financial plan and their life. That is what clients value and what they will pay for.
For me, my Kinder Institute training has made a huge difference to the way I think and act. I learned how to listen and how to empathise which up till that point I thought I did naturally. I also learned how to take clients through a transformational experience that inspired them to move forward with energy.
Now I am building on that and learning with my coach, taking the Kinder training to a new level. Honing my coaching skills is giving me an innate sense of what each client needs. It also gives me the freedom to go “off piste” from the process we use so that I have the confidence to do whatever the client needs through our time together.
I’m also learning that how I am being with a client has a massive impact on how they will be feeling. If I feel constrained, anxious or angry in my interaction with the client, it follows that the client is likely to pick up on this. The skills I am developing in my own coaching allow me to observe and manage myself differently, stay effective in the conversation, and coach my client in a way that I would never have done before. This way of working enables the client to move much more quickly away from what is stopping them and towards a new future, in way that they experience as helpful, and valuable.
The key to this is being able to check in with myself during meetings, to reflect on what I am feeling and how that affects how I am being with a client. I find this is crucial.
The big question for those that believe this is true, is how can these skills be learned?
I am afraid there is no quick fix here. Learning effective coaching / helping skills is an ongoing process.
We have all heard that you can’t take a client down a path that you haven’t been down yourself. So get yourself a coach. A good coach. Just like there is a variety of competences in financial planning so there are in coaching. Be ruthless in your choice and use the relationship to take yourself forward and to learn from.
Then practice coaching in a safe environment until you feel confident. A good coach with help you develop yourself to this point and beyond.
Another way is for us all to help each other. We can do this through conversations, mentoring and sharing examples and case studies etc. Even more important is for us to create opportunities for us to coach and support each other in our learning and development. I am always happy to share my experience of coaching and show other advisers the impact this can have on their business and their life.
To conclude, we are at a point of maximum opportunity and the choices we make now will dictate whether or not we, and our businesses adapt successfully and thrive.