Valuable Dialogue

Mark Wendell |

By Mark Wendell

All of us want to educate our children, save on taxes, get a competitive return on our portfolios, have a successful career, plan a comfortable retirement, and have fulfilling relationships and good health. But beyond these familiar personal aspirations, most clients of financial professionals seldom discuss their deepest wishes, fears, desires, and feelings.

Financial advisors are accustomed to asking their clients the standard questions about goals, objectives, and risks and occasionally less common questions about trusts, taxes, and insurance. However, like good doctors and lawyers, good financial advisors also ask “life issues” questions to discover the sometimes subtle, sometimes crucial issues clients are reluctant to communicate.  A more personal survey of a client often evokes anecdotes from the client’s lifetime of experience and a deeper understanding of the unique challenges that consume their time and attention. Client discovery takes into account not just the numbers that measure clients’ financial situations, but also the stories that define them as special people.

Perceptive financial advisors set as their goal a balance between the quantitative and qualitative, the objective and the subjective. Clients’ past experiences have defined them as the individuals they are today and, not coincidentally, shaped how they approach money matters. Their concerns and responsibilities in the present, their hopes and visions for the future compel them to plan responsibly with whatever financial assets they possess, to provide not just for themselves, but also their families.

Financial professionals could ask some “life issues” questions, such as:

  • What is your greatest passion or desire in life at this moment, and what is holding you back?
  • How would you live your life if you had all the financial security you need?
  • How do you feel about money, what is its purpose?
  • What matters to you and how does money fit into what matters?
  • How are you doing with your financial picture at this stage in your life?
  • Would you be open to discussion on subjects such as estate, legacy and heritage planning?
  • What are your health issues and what are your biggest health fears?
  • What are your expectations for your financial future and can you accept outside guidance?
  • What would you do if you knew you had a very limited time to live?
  • What do you most regret in your life? What do you wish you had done differently?
  • If you could wish-away three problems in your life, what would they be?
  • Have you written your ‘biography’? How would you like to be remembered by your family?
  • What is your most intense fear about the present and the future?
  • What is the most valuable action you could take to fulfill your purpose in life?
  • What do you like and dislike about your home, your community, your environment?
  • Apart from money, what do you really value?

Sometimes the financial professional, in the “life issues” discovery process, can even uncover problems, inconsistencies, or misunderstandings that might disastrously affect the likelihood of meeting goals and which may diminish the added value an advisor brings to a client over the course of a long-term relationship. This personal information, brought to light, also helps the client realize and the advisor define what is expected of the client in the relationship.

Discovering a client’s essential goals, values, and history early in a relationship rarely intrudes on the client’s privacy, but often serves to nurture a closer understanding and mutual respect between client and advisor. For the financial advisor, it provides the satisfaction of helping fulfill the client’s highest expectations, beyond mere figures on an account statement. For the client bewildered by the multitude of financial options available today, it provides not just the guidance of an informed financial professional, but also the reassurance that comes from communicating openly and meaningfully with a trusted advisor.