Advisors have the opportunity to be a powerful force for good in their clients’ lives. Many clients who are actively seeking financial advice aren’t open to receiving it until they feel safe and supported. 

Robo-advisors have been causing a lot of commotion in the financial world. For a long time, conventional wisdom has recommended that people remove emotion from investing as much as possible. Robo-advisors seem to achieve this ideal, and that’s led many advisors to worry about being replaced by quick-calculating AI.  

But there’s one thing the robots can never do: connect with empathy. And empathy just happens to be one of the key qualities that many investors are looking for. So the question becomes, how can you practice empathy? Try seeing the process from the client’s perspective. 

Step Into the Client’s Shoes

For clients, the financial planning experience is a combination of marriage therapy, math class, and dental exam. 

When clients walk through an advisor’s door, they often find themselves confronting their financial future, revealing their issues, and discussing their goals in front of witnesses. They’ll be asked to understand math that may be outside their comfort zone, dealing with what could make or break their future. When a client walks through an advisor’s door, they’re about to have their life experiences laid bare, and all their past decisions subject to uncomfortable scrutiny.  

The ones who make it into the advisor’s office are as vulnerable as a patient in a doctor’s office with only a flimsy paper for a gown. This situation is your opportunity to be the empathetic problem-solving support that clients need. If financial planning is a combination of marriage therapy, math class, and probing dental exam, then your client needs an advisor who is ready to listen, teach, and gently care for people. 

Advisor as Dentist: Help your clients to open up

Many people dread dental exams precisely because the exam exposes an intimate body part to professional scrutiny. Dentists can’t fix teeth they can’t see, so it’s crucial that they build rapport as quickly as possible. How do they do this? 

Good dentists don’t lead with the history of their practice or a recitation of their clinical qualifications, and they don’t lecture patients on the intricacies of dental work. They know that the goal–taking care of their patient’s teeth–is something that can’t be done in a single visit. The best dentists help patients become partners in their own care. They do this by beginning with asking the patient where it hurts. Listening, not lecturing, is what helps a patient open up for the expert solutions their dentist can provide.  

Advisor as Therapist: Emotion is your ally  

Advisors are present for some of the biggest pivot points of a client’s life–managing the financial fallout of divorce, funding elder care, and planning for a child’s future. 

Understandably, there are a lot of really big emotions tied up in financial decisions. Conventional wisdom talks a lot about how emotional investors make poor decisions and believing that can make it easy for advisors to see client emotion as a problem to solve, or a factor to remove–but this would be a mistake. 

These emotions represent your client’s investment in these decisions, revealing that they care enough about solutions to take action, up to and including exposing their lives to a relative stranger in order to get expert assistance. Emotions are an empathetic advisor’s ally, providing an opportunity to prove to clients that they won’t have to face their future alone.

Advisor as teacher: Start with where they are  

Often, people feel they have to get their financial affairs in order before visiting a financial planner. but this makes as much sense as making sure you’re not sick before visiting a doctor or waiting to ask for help from a teacher only after you’ve learned the material.

Advisors know the importance of timely intervention and planning, and they know they can’t do anything to help a client who won’t open up. It’s vital to meet clients where they’re at and offer the support clients are able to accept. 

Generally, people seek out financial planners because they know they need help. One of the most common reasons that clients report for leaving an advisor is that the advisor talked down to them or treated them rudely. 

Financial planning is about solving problems, and client-tailored solutions begin with solid knowledge of the terrain ahead. Good teachers find out what their students know, how that student learns best, and how to build on their student’s knowledge in a respectful way.  

Your Opportunity to be Irreplaceable 

As a financial advisor, you have the opportunity to use your skills to make someone else’s life better in a very real and profound way. 

Advisory work demands the same skills teachers use to help students learn, therapists use to honor emotion, and dentists brings to bear when easing a patient’s pain. What brings students, patients, and clients back is how you helped them feel while they were in your care.