Building client trust: 7 secrets for stunning success over the competition

By Dr. Jack Singer

Psychologically Speaking, with Dr. Jack Singer, LLC


Being a financial advisor is an admirable and much needed profession. Paying attention to the trust issues and communicating that trust in your interactions with the client will put you in a position to be continually successful.

According to a survey of financial advisors and clients conducted by State Street Global Advisors and the Wharton Business School, "trust is the foundation of the advisor-client relationship." During these challenging times when so many clients have lost faith in the market and in the value of long-term products, building this trust is more important than ever if the advisor plans to successfully attract and keep clients. This article is intended to show you exactly how such trust is developed and maintained.

Trust that you have the required knowledge and ethics

Before a client can have faith that you possess the knowledge and skills that can help him to accomplish his financial goals, you must have faith in yourself. That may sound odd, but many professionals, including advisors, physicians, attorneys, psychologists and professionals in virtually all professions, suffer from "imposter fear." This involves a lack of confidence in your ability to have all of the answers. Your self-talk may include something akin to, "If my clients ever knew how much I really don’t know, I’d lose my credibility with them."

If you have this fear, you need to work through that and be comfortable within your own skin, before you can expect to portray the confidence that will engender client trust. Becoming comfortable involves realizing that you do not have to have all of the answers immediately when a client asks a question. It’s fine to tell him you will research the issue and get back with him.

Sharing with the client about situations where, for example, you steered other clients away from big commission products because they did not suit the client’s needs will show them that above all, you are ethical. Clients need to feel safe in your care.

Trust that you really care about the client

There is an old saying that "no one cares how much you know until he knows how much you care." Think about your relationship with your physician. Most people feel much more comfortable with a physician who seems to genuinely care about them, versus the obviously brilliant physician who acts cold and impersonal and with whom they feel like just a number. So, the key goal for raising the trust that clients and potential clients will feel for you is to treat them as you would a member of your family or a friend with whom you are close. This includes discarding distracting thoughts such as, "How will I close the deal?" when you sit down for a meeting. Focus on truly helping the client to feel comfortable. As State Street Global Advisors stated in their study, "…the advisor adds real value by focusing not only on a client’s financial well-being, but on the underlying personal and familial issues that could further promote or cripple the client’s financial health."

For the prospective client, the key is, "What’s in it for me if I hire you?" Always keep the benefits for the client in the forefront. It’s all about him, not about how great an advisor you believe you are. Of course, testimonials from some of your clients will help him feel optimistic about what you will accomplish for him, but that information should always follow gaining a clear understanding of what the client needs.

There are six key elements for building this kind of trust:

1. Establish rapport

Prospective clients will often enter into the initial meeting with you in a negative mood. This may be based on previous experiences with other advisors or the timing may be wrong and the client is in the middle of other projects and feels pressured. Watch for body language and tone of voice. Often you can learn more from those two elements of conversation than from the actual words. If the client seems uneasy, smile and use humor to put him at ease. If he still seems unhappy, put it right on the table."You seem distracted (or uncomfortable). Is this the best time to meet or would you like to reschedule our meeting?"

If proper rapport is not established at the beginning of the first meeting, the client may never be comfortable with you. Smile, position yourself at the same level (sitting or standing, depending on what the client is doing), and slightly lean toward the client, always maintaining eye contact. Make sure your cell phone is on silent and you are able to give undivided attention to the client.
2. Take a genuine interest

The key word here is "genuine." In order to gain trust in you and faith in your recommendations, a client needs to believe that you are keenly interested in helping him to achieve his financial goals. This means that you need to display empathy when he talks about concerns within his family situation, for example. Put yourself in his shoes and try to understand what he is telling you from his perspective. Use the phrase, "I understand," and mean it.

3. Practice active listening techniques

"Active listening" is a method of intently focusing on the speaker rather than focusing on what you are going to say next or how you are going to respond to a question. The best way to understand your prospective client is to make sure you are listening carefully, and the best way to do that is to reflect or paraphrase what you heard her say before you comment on it. An example is, "It sounds like you don’t trust financial advisors because of your last experience." Always paraphrase back what the client says before you respond. Smile, when appropriate, and use, "I understand" and "uh huh" frequently, along with nodding.

Once the client agrees that you heard his concern correctly, you can respond. You can practice using this listening skill with your spouse, colleagues or friends to make sure you are truly focused on what the speaker is saying. By the way, learning this skill will undoubtedly enhance your relationships with everyone else in your life, as well.

Often, a speaker will make several points before coming up for air, so keep a notebook handy and jot down some notes so you don’t have to interrupt her. Don’t shuffle papers or start thinking about your response. Just listen to her. Regardless of what she asks, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to answer immediately. Just listen and reflect. It’s OK to say, "That’s a great question. Give me a day or so to research our products to find the one that precisely addresses your question." Cutting off a speaker may lose you the rapport you need to maintain. Always give her the courtesy of letting her complete a point before you interject your response.

4. Be open with the client

The client needs to know that discussing personal money issues with you will be not only confidential, but also handled with empathy and understanding. It is also important to encourage feedback from the client, and if it’s negative, do not get defensive. Simply thank him for the feedback and tell him you will learn from it.

The most powerful way of gaining someone’s trust is to be open with the client yourself . "I understand how difficult that must be for your family. I have had to deal with similar issues within my own family." Share some of your own family’s financial plan to show that you are following the same advice you are suggesting for the client. Think about it. When you consider purchasing an expensive product, how much more attractive does that product sound if the sales person tells you he owns the same product?

5. Be flexible

One of the most important traits that will endear clients to you is avoiding any feelings of pressure if he cannot make a decision about a product or a plan. Accommodating the client’s needs is always paramount. Do not force the client to accept your ideas, even if you believe he is being foolish or naive in rejecting them. Help him see other options and be willing to just go with the flow. This shows ultimate respect for the client.

6. Carefully hire and train your staff

Because so much of the client’s contacts will be with your assistant and support staff, the client needs to feel exactly the same trust in them. Therefore, you must carefully hire people who reflect these same values of trust, confidentiality and empathy. Research with physicians in the U.S. has shown that by far, the number one reason that patients move on to another physician is because of their disappointment in their physician’s staff, not because of the physician. So, even when patients believe that their doctor has not resolved their medical issues, they usually stay with him if they like and trust the staff. Conversely, if the physician is wonderful, but the staff is not, they often move on.

Being a financial advisor is an admirable and much needed profession. Paying attention to the trust issues and communicating that trust in your interactions with the client will put you in a position to be continually successful.