One of the major disconnects I see in our business is the way that clients and advisors interact with each other and how it differs from other professional service businesses and their clients.

For example, think about the last time you went to the dentist or doctor. You probably heard questions like:

  • How often do you floss?
  • How much are you exercising?
  • What are you doing to reduce stress?

It seems like every year during my annual physical, my doctor tells me to lower my sugar intake (and every year, I promise to be more careful). I have the same type of relationship with my CPA, who always checks in to see that I’ve filed my quarterly estimates and am keeping track of deductible expenses. It always seems like most of the professionals in my life view our relationship as a partnership – and expect me to do my part.

Why is it that in almost every advisor relationship I see, the advisor is the only one expected to contribute?

The advisor is the one begging the client to come in for an annual meeting, finish completing forms or make a decision on their estate plans. Doesn’t the client have some responsibilities in the relationship, too?forging partnerships

Engage clients in their success

Think about what would change if you could get your clients to interact with you the same way they do with other professionals in their lives. How can you begin to use your regular planning meetings as a way to engage clients and build more meaningful partnerships with them? Try some of these ideas:

1. Plan together. 

One way to develop deeper connections with your clients is to adopt a co-planning approach. Co-planning isn’t simply collaborating with your client to develop a financial plan. It is an ongoing process of engagement and coaching, revising assumptions together and reframing expectations based on your client’s evolving needs and priorities.

Make sure to integrate technology – such as co-planning software, mobile technology or video conferencing – into ongoing client discussions. Today’s planning software is flexible, client driven and allows for many different scenarios.

When you’re perceived as a collaborator, you are better able to gain insight into both the financial and non-financial aspects of your clients’ lives. When clients are actively involved in the planning process, more invested in it, and more knowledgeable about the decisions that come from your discussions, trust grows, leading to a deeper client/advisor connection.

2. Assign homework. 

Nothing says partnership like when both parties in a meeting walk away with something to do. Suggest that clients read a specific report, come back with a budgeting answer, commit to a beneficiary discussion, or reassess a goal. Put a deadline on the task. After all, it is their goal; shouldn’t they have some responsibility to work for it? Something very powerful happens when you meet with a client and show them that you did your homework, and then ask if they did theirs.

3. Challenge (or change) behavior.

Over the years, there have been studies from Morningstar, Vanguard and others that tried to reflect the value of an advisor relationship in an investment account. The papers typically say the advisor adds an average of 100 to 150 basis points with behavioral coaching by helping to keep the client from making emotional and irrational decisions that would adversely affect their portfolio. So we know that investor behavior, not investment behavior, can be the number one reason clients don’t reach their goals.

Knowing that, you can help your clients overcome their emotional biases by becoming their behavioral coach. Educate them about the role emotions can play in decision-making. Make it a practice to discuss potential biases with clients in every meeting. When volatility spikes or market headlines alarm clients, you can assuage their fears and refocus them on their goals.

It also make sense to meet them halfway. Earlier this year, J. Womack and I wrote a paper called Coach through Biases, Yours and Your Clients. In it, we talked about the evolution from goals-based investing to goals-based wealth management. Among other things, we discussed building portfolios the way clients think and measure success as another way to help them achieve their goals and modify their impulses.

Improve the client experience

By making clients responsible for some of their relationship with you, you get them invested in building a more successful client experience. The more clients contribute to their financial plan, the more they will “own” their success. The more you discuss progress to goals, instead of performance to a benchmark, the more they see their goals become real.

When is the last time you asked a client what they were doing to achieve the success of their financial plan? My guess is they will take the credit for all that works in the relationship, and you get the blame for anything that doesn’t. Isn’t it time to change that model?


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