You Are In The People Business

Is financial advice only about finding the best solution for clients or is it about caring for people for whom you can deliver financial advice? According to Amy Florian, advisers are in the people business and financial advice is the mechanism through which they bring understanding, insight and care.
Speaking with Riskinfo, Florian unpacked what this looks like, particularly during stressful times for clients, and why any adviser can improve their empathy with clients.

At the 2017 AFA National Adviser’s Conference, Riskinfo spent some with Corgenius Chief Executive, Amy Florian for a discussion about the important role advisers have in being able to offer help when many others seem short of a word.

Florian is an expert in thanatology, that is, the field of grief studies, and trains professionals to build strong relationships with their clients through the losses and transitions of life.

During her presentation to attendees at the Conference, Florian encouraged advisers to be present during times of loss for their clients and instead of offering platitudes they should support clients by asking questions, such as ‘What would they like people to know about what they are going through at present?’.

We had a baby boom. We’re in for a death boom, an ageing boom, a retirement boom, a dementia boom and we are not prepared

Florian reminded attendees that over the next decade baby boomers will be moving into their 70s and 80s and advisers will have an important role as their clients, or the families of their clients, move through retirement and pass away.

“We had a baby boom. We’re in for a death boom, an ageing boom, a retirement boom, a dementia boom and we are not prepared,” Florian said, adding “Nobody ever teaches you what to do or what to say in those times. Your ability to walk clients through this will be a major marker on your success.”

Relationship before money

Speaking with Riskinfo after her presentation, Florian said financial advice was still changing and continuing to move away from information available in newspapers, on television and the Internet and away from commoditised services, such as robo-advice.

“The reason that anybody is going to come to a financial adviser in the future is because they want a relationship. They want to build trust and a long-term relationship with someone who gets them, and understands them, and somebody who is there for them, no matter what happens,” Florian said.

Advisers, however, are not usually formally trained to think this way, according to Florian, who added that adviser education focuses on money before people “…but when something happens in your client’s life, such as a serious illness or death, a divorce or even a retirement, they don’t want just financial advice. They want a relationship in which the adviser understands them in a way that other people do not.”

A new role for advisers

Given the difficult nature of some of these life events, Florian said it can be challenging for advisers to take on that role, particularly if they are never taught to do so and instead perpetuate the same stilted responses many people use when hearing of loss and grief.

They need to tell their story and assuming other people will feel the same in their grief, as we do in ours, will always be wrong

“We never find out what to say when we receive a call from a client who says ‘I am just calling to tell you Jim died last night’. What do you say? We are never taught, so our responses are awkward and uncomfortable,” Florian said.

“I have talked to advisers who don’t go to the funeral services of their clients because they don’t know what to say to family, and they would rather say nothing instead of saying the wrong thing. They don’t want to risk alienating someone or causing pain so they say nothing at all but don’t realise that is alienating and causing pain,” she added.

Florian said advisers who have taken the time to educate themselves on what to say and how to act towards their clients during times of loss or grief will be confident they can provide help. They will also be appreciated as they will differ from what Florian calls ‘the conveyor belt of sympathy’ offered by others who are unsure of what to say.

Remember the client

At the same time, Florian warns advisers to keep their focus on the client and how they can help or comfort them instead of recounting their own story of loss or grief.

“This is the mistake we sometimes make and then go on to tell people what we did and our experiences because we are hungry to tell our own story, but that is not being in service to the person who is grieving,” Florian said.

“They need to tell their story and assuming other people will feel the same in their grief, as we do in ours, will always be wrong,” she added.

Florian believes these skills are already in use by many advisers and can be learnt and improved upon with even the ‘most hardened left-brained person’ capable of picking up concrete skills to increase their empathy quotient. She also considers that these skills will have to be learnt by all advisers if they wish to retain clients into the future.

“It will have to change because those who are left-brain, number crunching, just ‘give me the facts ma’am’ type of people will not survive,” Florian said.

“Clients will only stay with that adviser until they realise there is another adviser out there who also knows what to do with the money but also knows what to say to them at different times and can walk them through those times and be there for them in compassionate ways,” she added.

“As an adviser, you will find yourself in challenging situations, such as ensuring clients don’t run out of money, or can send their kids to university, and you will need to have the skills to meet those needs,” Florian said.

you are not in the finance business and happen to work with people. You are in the people business and happen to work with money

“At the same, you will need to have the emotional component because if they don’t trust you they will not tell you this stuff, nor allow you to guide them. When they are trusted, financial advisers will be told things people barely mention to their families and that is a good thing,” she said.

While much of this is already part of the advice process for many advisers, Florian still encourages them to see what they do in a different way that is still familiar to their current approach.

“When I talk to financial advisers I ask why they are in the business and they tell me it is not about the money – even thought that is a beneficial side effect – but because they want to help people, and I hear that from advisers over and over again,” Florian said.

“Listening to the Awards presentations here at the Conference, every adviser up for an award says they are making a difference in people’s lives, and this is meaningful work.

So, I want to remind advisers that you are not in the finance business and happen to work with people. You are in the people business and happen to work with money.”

Amy Florian is the Chief Executive of Corgenius and holds a Master’s Degree in Thanatology.