Do your clients know the

By Shawn O'Brien | July 3, 2007 | Last updated on July 3, 2007
5 min read

(July 2007)The industry of financial advice continues to evolve and many clients believe that it is evolving without you.

In 1964, Gordon Moore, the founder of Intel, said microchip development would allow the flow of information to double every 18 months. He was right! This fact, coupled with an aging group of clients who are primarily concerned about stockpiling as much money as possible to maintain their lifestyles forever, creates an atmosphere ripe with confusion.

Moving from the product-focused mentality of the 1980s to a comprehensive approach today, advisors have embraced these changes to provide a broader scope of advice and set of solutions to their clients.

This change, however, has brought with it one big problem — massive confusion. It seems that your clients are unable to clearly articulate what you do for them. Moreover, most seem to default to describing what you used to do for them or, even worse, what someone else has done for them. Most of us can agree that we are collectively challenged with the task of reframing our relationships to reflect this new way of thinking.

In 35 client-advisory sessions conducted during the past year, the comment I hear most frequently from clients is, “I don’t know what my advisor really does for me.”

In fact, most don’t understand how their advisors fit within the overall industry of financial products and advice. They say they like their advisors, but they don’t know who to believe or what they should expect.

At the same time, many advisors say they don’t know why clients seek external advice when they have access to all of the necessary expertise. Clients, they say, “don’t get it.” Have you ever thought that maybe they don’t get it because we haven’t aptly explained it to them?

My financial services career began in the spring of 1988. At that time there were very divisive industry lines in place. These lines were clearly defined by our licensing and our product shelf. A banker sold GICs and term deposits. A mutual fund rep sold funds. Life insurance agents sold life products, brokers traded stocks and bonds and clients had a clear understanding of what to expect from each of us. Our role was to educate them about why they needed the product we sold.

Over the past 10 years, these industry lines have blurred. Most financial advisors are dual-licensed and are able to offer all of these services. My perspective is we have collectively migrated to the middle (in various degrees) to broaden the scope of our service offering and become the “primary” advisor for our clients. We say we no longer sell products, instead we “partner” to find customized solutions. We are all out to dampen the competitive threat and capture wallet share.

With that in mind, look at our industry today from the client’s perspective. Not only are they inundated with a relentless flow of information, media, Internet and marketing campaigns but the whole industry is saying, “we have all of the answers for you.”

If you want the opportunity to provide clients with financial leadership and hope to maintain long-lasting relationships, you must effectively define what you do, how you do it, and clearly etch this redefined role into your clients psyche.

I frequently ask advisors this question: “Do you offer a more comprehensive service today than you did five years ago?” The answer is always a resounding “yes.” If this is true, I beg to ask if they are more effective at explaining the difference. This is usually where the wheels fall off the cart. Many of us expect our clients to “get it.” Unfortunately this only happens when we give it to them.

How should you begin the process of reframing and explaining things for your clients?

1. Ask questions. Start by asking clients to explain their perception of you, the scope of services you provide, your expertise and how they see you in relation to your competition. A client advisory board, with a facilitator, is an effective way to capture this information.

2. Gather feedback. Tell clients their feedback is vital to the success of your relationship. Explain to them that your objective is to strive to communicate more effectively with them. You will be surprised by their honesty. Let them give you their perspective. You will likely realize that they can’t effectively tell what makes you different from other advisors.

3. Develop and share your governing philosophy. Once you understand their perspective, you should craft a governing philosophy for your practice. Regardless of market cycles, this philosophy should stay true. This should clearly outline the scope of services you provide, the multiple centres of expertise you leverage on their behalf and the process you use to manage their financial affairs. This governing philosophy should respond to the gaps identified when you asked for direct feedback. Once complete, endeavour to share this philosophy with clients in every meeting. Engage in a two-way conversation to ensure that they fully understand why you are explaining this to them.

4. Provide a frame of reference. The next step is to provide clients with an industry frame of reference so they know how you are different from your competitors. They will only truly understand the “new you” if they know where you fit.

5. Provide a written service standard. This document states what clients can and should expect from you in terms of service, modes of communication, frequency of reviews and the protocol to follow if they have a concern. This demonstrates your commitment to them and fosters two-way accountability.

6. Continually repeat Steps 3, 4 and 5! Your clients will only grasp this if you continually repeat it. If you only deliver this message once, it will soon fall by the wayside. By habitually revisiting these practices at every opportunity, you will successfully replace their old perception with a new one.

When reframing client relationships, tell them your practice has evolved out of a desire to continue to meet their ever-changing needs. Your clients want to know that you are scouring the financial landscape for new ideas, technologies and strategies. Most importantly, they want you to stand for something. Not only will you benefit from this exercise but your clients will gain a sense of clarity. This renewed clarity will help foster the trusted relationships needed to help them become financially successful.

Shawn O’Brien is the vice-president of national sales at Investment Planning Counsel. For more information, contact Shawn at or (877) 212-9799.


Shawn O’Brien