By Anne Graham
When you see a doctor or specialist you assume they are well trained and experienced in their chosen field. Most people will see a doctor/accountant/lawyer as a result of a referral from another professional (GP) or friend/family member/work colleague. In some cases you don’t necessarily need to be engaged with the person to get the advice you need. You have a particular problem, they have the skills to solve it, and Bob’s your uncle.
Financial planning is different to other professions because the relationship between your planner and you is likely to be ongoing and span many years, if not decades. Having your planner really understand you and your situation is a critical element in that relationship and may ultimately affect the advice you receive. Financial planners are in a very privileged position and often know more about you, your family and your finances than almost anyone else. Building a meaningful, honest and open relationship can mean the difference between a decent outcome and a very rewarding, ongoing, satisfying outcome – for everyone.
Like many financial planners, I entered the profession with the desire to help people. I thought that my supreme technical and problem solving skills would be the most important piece of the puzzle. I was wrong. Experience has taught me that the main value professional financial planners can add to their clients lives comes from the ability to engage with them.
Whilst technical competence is obviously critical, the soft skills required to engage with clients (you) are equally as important.
Next time you are speaking with your planner, or even if you are meeting with a planner for the first time, bear in mind the following:
If she’s too busy trying to impress by quoting legislation and telling you about the great investment returns she achieved last year, then she isn’t focusing on you. Real people listen, ask questions, and interact with each other.
How do you relate to your financial planner or more importantly, how does she relate to you?
Apart from being the most effective way of communicating, speaking to you in person or over the phone is how your planner can better understand your needs. Email can be quick, efficient and to the point, but your planner can’t always get to hear or see what’s really going on in your life. If she can understand you better, she can provide you with better advice and further build the relationship.
How does your planner communicate with you and how often do you hear from her?
You should have a clear understanding with your planner that if you need to speak to her, you can. If she can’t speak with you immediately, then at least a competent and qualified staff member should be available. Quick response to emails should also be a priority. She may not be able to answer your question or solve your problem but she can acknowledge your concern and give assurance that it will be resolved within a known timeframe.
Are you able to speak to your planner if you need to?
One of the most difficult tasks your planner has is telling you (or any client) that you won’t be able to achieve your goals. As hard as it is, this is what she’s being paid to do and you’d rather know where you stand now than get a big surprise later. When you know the situation, it allows you and your planner to re-evaluate strategies, timeframes and goals and get back on track. Being honest and upfront with the difficult things clearly shows that your planner is working for you all the time and not only when things are easy.
Has your planner had to tell you some hard truths and how did you feel about that?
When you find a financial planner who really cares about you and your family, you are more likely to be truly engaged with her and her practice. This goes to the heart of financial planning and makes for successful relationships. When your planner is on the same page as you, the outcomes can be amazing.
Anne Graham is the Partner and Managing Director at McPhail HLG Financial Planning.
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