How clients will choose their future advisors

By Chris Delaney | November 20, 2018 | Last updated on November 20, 2018
3 min read
Two business men shaking hands
© Edhar Yuralaits / 123RF

I recently conducted a series of workshops on choosing advisors for family business owners and other wealthy families. The conclusions? Referrals and institutional stickiness may no longer drive new client engagement. Instead, clients want their own goals and values to align with those held by the professionals in their advisory circle. For advisors, this signals a necessary change in how you develop your value proposition.

At the presentations, I recommended that prospects ask questions such as:

  • Describe your process and how it differentiates you from others in your branch or market.
  • Describe the depth and breadth of your education.
  • Describe how you integrate that education with your process.
  • Share a family business experience where you worked with other stakeholders.

This list isn’t much different from those suggested by other organizations, including Advocis. However, there are some key differences.

“Describe how you work with clients.”

This question is more demanding than statistical-type ones such as “How long have you been practising?” and “Do you have many clients with similar needs to mine?” The family business owners I’ve spoken to want deeper answers. Experience and professional credentials are table stakes. Participants wanted to know about specific process and attitudinal mindset.

Several times, prospects said they wanted advisors who were fiercely curious about their values and goals. They wanted their purpose to be aligned with the advisor’s personal and business mission. As such, any advisor who wants to serve family businesspeople must be able to easily articulate key goals and values.

“Describe the depth and breadth of your education.”

Credentials are typically perceived as an integral part of establishing authority and relevance. However, often they only establish credibility with other advisors and professionals. Clients rarely understand the alphabet soup of letters that follow many advisors’ names. Increasingly, they care less about which designations you have, and more about why you obtained them in the first place.

In our sessions, the education question was followed by these questions:

  • “Tell me why you chose to obtain that specific designation.”
  • “Explain how you’ve specifically integrated [the designation] into your client engagement process.”
  • “Explain the designation or life experience that has most profoundly influenced how you conduct business. Then, explain the designation or educational experience that has proven least valuable.”
  • “What is the next step in your professional education journey, and why is that step important to the work you do with clients?”
  • “Describe your top goals and values, and how your designations have advanced those needs.”

These questions were aimed at understanding the core reasons advisors sought to add knowledge. Most prospects were not interested in hearing about training required to sustain professional credentials. Instead, they benchmarked advisors against professional development intended to enhance the client experience.

“Describe how you integrate professional development with your process.”

Participants wanted evidence that professional training had resulted in an actual change to advisor processes. They also wanted advisors to customize their processes, rather than replicate someone else’s. The prospects said customization tended to reveal how invested advisors were into their own processes; the prospects wanted to see genuine commitment based on understanding their own values and mission.

“Share a family business experience where you worked with various stakeholders.”

Participants wanted advisors who were capable of appreciating their own limits and willing to stretch those boundaries by working with other professionals. One participant said they look for advisors who refer—because they have growth mindsets rather than fixed mindsets. In fact, one of the proposed questions was, “Share a time when you referred a client to another advisor because you perceived yourself to be inadequate for the client’s needs.” The follow-up questions were, “How did it make you feel to bring in another advisor?” and “What changes in your practice resulted from that interaction?”

The participants were less impressed by an advisor being a “quarterback” than by how the ball had been distributed on the team to benefit a client. The ability to “check ego at the door” when working with other advisors was mentioned several times.


The way clients choose advisors is evolving. Particularly in the high-net-worth space, expect tougher and more challenging questions that will test your own goals, values and professional purpose. Understanding those metrics is the first step in being able to answer meaningfully.

Chris Delaney

Chris Delaney, B.A., LL.B., B.Ed., TEP, FEA, is the author of The Naked Opus: Growing Your Family Wealth for the Long Term.