8 Ways Clients Can Help You Serve Them Better

Clarifying their role and your expectations for them can improve advisor-client relationships on both ends.

By David I. Leo
David Leo
David Leo

Most of the material for clients about selecting a financial advisor focuses on what you, the advisor, should bring to the table so you can deliver what they signed up for. Clients expect and should get an honest, knowledgeable, educated individual with excellent integrity. You wouldn’t be doing your job if you didn’t analyze your client’s complete financial needs and wants and provide them with a comprehensive financial plan; an investment management offering that meets their criteria for risks and results; a solid, proactive communications approach; and excellent availability.

What clients and prospective clients might not realize is that part of being able to do your job well and achieve good results depends on them exhibiting many of the same features that you model: being engaged, proactive and truly committed to their own financial well-being.

Have you ever wondered what to tell them or how to weave these hints into your conversations in a delicate way? Here are eight talking points to share with prospects, new clients and even long-term clients. Let them know that these are some of the qualities and actions that you value. Praise them if they’re doing a good job or encourage them to more proactively embrace these points so you can better serve them.

1. Open and Honest Communication

Tell them that you appreciate clients who are transparent about their financial goals, concerns and life circumstances. Explain that clear and open communication will help you understand their needs and tailor advice for them accordingly.

Explain that you want provide the most appropriate advice for them and their family. Emphasize that you can’t do this without their openness. Communicate that being open and honest is a two-way street that you should both expect and deliver. Acknowledge that many clients can’t really vocalize their goals and that goals will change over time. Emphasize that if they open up and discuss how they envision their life, you’ll be able to help them plan for both now and the future. Simply put, tell them to explain to you what they want their money to do for them.

2. Active Participation

Stress that you value clients who actively participate in the financial planning process. This includes attending meetings, asking questions, providing requested documents and information, and engaging in discussions about investment strategies and financial decisions.

Explain that you will be capable of creating a plan and managing their financial well-being if they give complete discretion to you, but that neither one of you will have clarity unless they are an active participant. Let them know that if they are active participants, they’ll provide thoughtful answers to questions about your service, such as:

  • What am I, your advisor, currently doing that you’d like me to continue doing?
  • What aren’t I doing that you’d like to see me do?
  • Is there one area where you think I could do a little better in meeting your needs?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being exceptional, how would you rate my services?

Remind your client that their complete satisfaction is important and if they are not receiving it, they need to tell you this. They should also be able to tell you whether or not they understand their portfolio and why they are invested the way they are.

3. Long-Term Commitment

Inform clients that building a strong client-advisor relationship takes time. Tell them that you appreciate their commitment to a long-term partnership because financial planning is an ongoing process that requires regular reviews and adjustments. Remind clients that the markets always go up and down. Although the stock market had a return on investment of 9,399.31% or 11.72% per year between 1982 and 2022, 10 of those 41 years saw negative growth.

Let clients know that although they can mitigate negative-growth years to a degree, through asset allocation, they will still need to be patient. As Morgan Housel, author of the book “The Psychology of Money” has said, “Most investors intuitively interpret volatility as a ‘fine’ when, instead, they should be interpreting it as a ‘fee,’” or “the cost of admission to doing well over time.”

Acknowledge that you know clients sometimes wonder if timing the market could help significantly increase their returns. Then assure them that it is generally considered unwise to time the market because it can negatively affect their long-term goal of financial independence. Encourage them to discuss their expectations in detail with you.

4. Trust and Respect

Stress to clients that trust is crucial in the client-advisor relationship. Let them know that you value clients who trust your expertise and advice, allowing you to guide their financial journey. Remind them that showing respect for you and your team, your expertise and your recommendations fosters a healthy working relationship.

Encourage clients to read your resume and to interview you about your knowledge, education, certifications, experience and history — just as they would with other experts. To help them get to know you better, tell them what research you have done and what you’re reading. Provide references from other clients if your compliance team permits it. The more you give clients a reason to trust and respect you, the more likely they are to do so in return.

5. Willingness to Learn

Let clients know that you appreciate clients who have a desire to expand their financial knowledge and educate themselves about various investment options, strategies and financial concepts. Tell them that clients who are open to learning can make more informed decisions and actively participate in the planning process.

Encourage clients to share what they know and don’t know. Inquire what they’d like to learn more about. Tell them that their most valuable questions are “Why?” and, “Can you tell me more?” Reassure them that you want to satisfy their curiosity but don’t want to overwhelm them with too many details.

6. Patience and Realistic Expectations

Inform clients that you aim to help them achieve their financial goals, but that it’s also important for them to have realistic expectations and understand that financial progress takes time. Patience and a long-term perspective are valued qualities that enable advisors and clients to work together effectively.

The key word here is “time.” Remind a 40-year-old client that they may have 30 or more years to fulfill their purpose for themselves and their family’s assets. Let a 60-year-old client know that they cannot have the same expectations in terms of asset growth as a 40-year-old because their time horizon is shorter and they may not be willing to take as much risk (nor should they, typically).

Tell clients that it is well-known psychology that we “suffer” from loss aversion: We feel twice as much pain from loss than the feelings of pleasure we get from the same amount of gain. Remind them to be aware of this.

7. Follow-through

Educate clients that implementing financial recommendations is crucial for success. This includes following through on agreed-upon actions and commitments, such as making necessary changes to their investment portfolio, budgeting or estate planning.

Acknowledge that lack of follow-through is oh, so human. We don’t have a problem knowing what we should do; the problem is that we just don’t do it! For example, research suggests that only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals. In studies of patients who have undergone coronary bypass surgery, only about one in nine people, on average, adopt healthier day-to-day habits, like exercising and losing weight.

Nike says, “Just Do It.” It’s not always easy, but results only come from actions, not words or thoughts.

8. Referrals and Recommendations

Don’t hesitate to let your clients know that you greatly value word-of-mouth referrals and recommendations because you’d like to be able to help more people achieve financial security. I left this point for last because all the points above must first be in place to a very high degree of satisfaction by you. Remember, though, that helping you grow your business is not your client’s responsibility or role — and you should never put them in a position that make them feel uncomfortable.

The advisors I know seek introductions or referrals and understand they only will receive them if their client is a real advocate whom they have served with excellence. Your client may want to make sure that their friend and family receive what you provided them with. Let your client know that you’d be delighted to speak with their referral, even if they decide not to become a client.

Additional Reading: What is a ‘Perfect’ Financial Advisor?

As a financial advisor, you strive to provide personalized guidance and support to your clients. By being engaged, proactive, and committed to their financial journey, clients can build a mutually beneficial relationship with you and work toward achieving their financial goals. Giving them a little direction on client etiquette and responsibilities can go a long way.

David Leo is founder of Street Smart Research Group LLC. He is an author, speaker, coach, consultant, and trainer to financial professionals. David has worked with the financial services industry for decades, originally as a consultant with IBM and then with UBS/Paine Webber before starting his own firm. If you would like more information about his services, contact him at David@CoachDavidLeo.com or visit www.CoachDavidLeo.com.



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