What's your disconnect? How to build trust in our business

By Kathran J. Martin

Elite Advisor Group, LLC

Aren’t we all in the trust business? We are asking consumers to trust us with their legacy, retirement security and family protection.

The damage to our industry’s reputation that was done by the economic crisis of 2008-2009 was substantial and has not been repaired, according to a recent report from Spectrem Group. More than 60 percent of the ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) individuals who have a net worth of $5 million to $25 million, not including primary residence, indicate that they feel angry because "the government and financial institutions failed consumers.”

It’s of little solace that less than 42 percent of retail investors — those with a net worth of $100,000 or less — report feeling angry with large institutions. Serious damage has been done!

Can we agree that there are segments of our business that might not deserve their trust? But not all of us. Many delivered during the crisis and deserve our customers’ trust. How do we differentiate ourselves?

How do we build trust in our business?

It’s almost impossible to build a trusting relationship without a strong connection to your target audience. That makes the results of an Accenture study about financial advisor-to-client relationships very eye-opening.

You may have taken steps to improve your communication to build that connection. And while you thought the communication that you have been using with clients was valuable and relevant, consumers often perceived it as promotional. They are looking for education and understanding, but it looks like institutions and advisors are missing the mark. This obvious disconnect makes it extremely challenging to implement a suitable plan for consumers. You can also see this in the differences in perception that financial advisors have with consumers on the subject of risk tolerance.

The implications are significant in terms of client commitment and loyalty. The “trust issue” probably goes a long way toward explaining the large amount of consumers' cash that remains on the sidelines. Not to mention that a large percentage of consumers in all wealth brackets are looking for new advisors.

What are the takeaways?

Richard Branson observed:

“There are few things more important in business than trust. After all, if potential customers do not have faith in your product or service, then your business will never get off the ground.”

“Building trust in your brand isn't easy to achieve and it may take time, but it doesn't have to come at a high cost. With honesty, ambition, hard work and attention to detail, you can instill a level of trust that will enable you to move forward.”

What are the basic must-dos?

Let’s get specific and frame the answer from the retirement income planning perspective that we are all focused on today.

Begin with the belief that we can positively impact retirement outcomes for our clients. Remember that decision-making happens at the emotional level of the brain. It's more important that consumers know what we believe and that they believe what we are saying than it is for us to provide more data.

Next, we need to change the way we engage consumers. The conversation needs to change from numbers to people. We need to recognize that retirement planning is less about a number and more about dealing with life, uncertainty and risk. A more client-focused approach will result in deeper client connection.

Provide more retirement planning support. In fact, they view that as a key differentiator. This is prime territory for marketing innovation.

Where to find innovation?

Innovation, an overused word applied to the most non-innovative concepts, is the answer.

Mike Harris, builder of five multi-billion dollar brands, has criticized the idea of companies hiring consultants to teach them “best practices” instead of helping them innovate and differentiate. He pointed out how dull and boring businesses can become and how that stagnant attitude eventually rubs off on the people who work for them.

Instead, look for consultants who can bring true innovation based on real world connections to the market.