McDonald’s Might Be OK for Food, Not Financial Advice

Advisors must serve individual needs and create memorable experiences, says our columnist.

By Michael Kay
Michael Kay
Michael Kay

Can you think of the last time you enjoyed a great restaurant experience? You know, when the food was excellent and the service was perfect. The presentation was stunning and every aspect of the meal coalesced to be a superb experience.

Are you still thinking?

Sure, you can probably remember great food presented in a very pleasing way. But was the service something you left the restaurant talking about? Restaurants might be lucky enough to capture an amazing and creative chef, but finding servers who actually get it, who actually care enough to make sure your experience, leaves you raving is an entirely different story.

This is how I see the financial services industry.

There are excellent products, platforms and offerings to support clients’ success. There are software applications that allow planners to produce superb charts, graphs and information. But is the advisor actually bringing top level service as the container for the products and concomitant information? Unfortunately, this is where is too often falls apart.

Two game changers

Recently, my wife and I went to a restaurant in Lenox, Massachusetts, with some friends. The food was good, the ambiance was nice, the service was excellent. The conversation post dinner centered on the congenial server who went out of his way to make our meal memorable. He started the evening by asking, “How can I make your experience tonight wonderful?” Throughout the evening he checked in by asking questions, like “How is everything?” “Is your food prepared to your liking?” “Can I get you anything else?” He closed with, “I hope you’ll come back to be with us again.”

All great questions, all coming from a place of care and commitment to help making our evening a success.  Asking good questions combined with a sincere desire to help is a game changer. Advisors who get it are creating a double win: One for their clients’ benefit and a win for them by creating relationships of sincere care and desire to help improve the situation of the people who are putting their trust in their care.

Perfect timing

I can’t think of a more important time for advisors to up their game than working with clients who are considering retirement.  Retirement represents many complex issues: the end of career, the shift from accumulation to decumulation, and an untethered journey from mastery to novice (no one lands in this life stage already a master).

“I can’t think of a more important time for advisors to up their game than working with clients who are considering retirement.”

It begins with mindset and determination to bring your best self into every client encounter.

You may speak words like, “I am here to help” — but if your behaviors don’t align, you lose. The right mindset is to work with clients like the server in Lenox. It was evident that he loved his job, and was delighted by making us happy. Face it, we’re servers too. Here to serve the clients’ needs first, and not our own.

No multi-tasking

Next you want to make sure your listening skills are honed to a razor-sharp edge. This means, that all distractions are eliminated, your focus is 100% and you are listening for and looking for clues and cues into understanding the real needs, desires, goals, fears and concerns of your clients in your care.

You need to find out what their beliefs, behaviors and habits are concerning money and what limiting beliefs they might be carrying that are detrimental to their success. You are listening for inconsistencies that might indicate areas where the client is uncomfortable. The point is to understand what they really want; and not what they think you want to hear. They need to feel safe before they’ll tell you the whole story and your ability to demonstrate top-shelf listening skills is the runway.

Meaningful questions

Once you have demonstrated your prowess to listen deeply, you want to add a generous portion of meaningful questions. Asking clarifying questions demonstrate your desire to truly understand what’s been said. Great questions show your commitment to making sure you and your client are moving in the right direction together. For example, asking questions like:

  • “Is there a time when we must be finished with our meeting?”
  • “Can you share a little more about …”
  • “What experiences have you had that illustrate …”
  • “What would make our relationship the best it can be?”
  • “How do you prefer to communicate? Email? Phone? In person? Virtually?

These are the types of questions that shows the client that you are locked in on wanting to know more.

What clients really care about

If your practice is focused on your state-of-the-art software and investment platform, you are missing the point. Clients do not care about “features and benefits” or the robustness of the software. They care about your willingness, desire and commitment to their success and that they feel heard, attended to and that they are important to you beyond the revenue stream.

They care that you answer their questions timely and thoroughly. They care that you speak their language and not a bunch of gibberish and jargon. They care that you have the courage to ask great questions and courageously hold space while they work through their internal processes.

Additional Reading: Rethinking Retirement Planning for Successful Professionals 

As I think about the young server in Lenox, I remember his exuberant attitude and desireto make our meal wonderful. I remember him listening when we asked questions and repeated back questions that he needed to check with the kitchen to provide an answer. I remember him checking in throughout the meal to make sure the goal was being met. I remember his smile and positive countenance that exuded confidence and a friendly open nature.  I remember his ending comment, thanking us and asking us to come back. Great mindset, great questions, great listening, great follow up and his engagement with us throughout the evening.

The financial services industry is interested in products that sizzle and software that is capable spitting out a ton of information. But the heart of the client relationship is more myth and perception than reality, simply because the motives of the industry, which are led by big firms, are not in synch with what it takes to build superb clients relationships and raving fans.

“The broad industry can be compared to a fast-food restaurant, promising cheap and fast without focusing on service or customer experience.”

The broad industry can be compared to a fast-food restaurant, promising cheap and fast without focusing on service or customer experience. But a planner who is truly client-focused has the ability to be the “server” of a lifetime of security, comfort and creates memorable experiences for their clients.

Michael Kay, author of “The Business of Life” and “The Feel Rich Project” joined the financial services industry in 1985, after nearly 10 years as a CPA. He founded Financial Life Focus LLC in Livingston, N.J., in 2001 and recently transferred ownership to his partner. Michael has been married to his college sweetheart for 44 years. His Chapter X project is available at along with his podcasts (Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen). Reach him at [email protected], on Twitter (@michaelfkay) and on LinkedIn.





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