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Kitces & Carl Ep 141: Creating The Space To Have More Meaningful Money Conversations With Clients

The practice of asking questions has always been an integral part of the financial planning process. In the early days of the advicer industry, those questions almost exclusively dealt with facts around a client’s or prospect’s financial situation to determine (ultimately) what products the adviser should recommend. However, given the industry’s ongoing transition away from being primarily transaction-focused and towards being relationship-based, advicers have had to learn how to develop meaningful connections. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by having deeper conversations that go well beyond basic data gathering. Which, naturally, gives rise to the question: How can advicers foster an environment where these conversations can develop, and what are some ways that they can help their clients go deeper?

In our 141st episode of Kitces & Carl, Michael Kitces and client communication expert Carl Richards explore some key concepts around facilitating meaningful conversations, ways advicers can help clients take time to focus on more foundational topics (so they can have a clearer picture around where they want to go), and some conversational strategies to give clients the ‘permission’ to open up.

Since much of an advicer’s work centers around finding (and communicating) concrete answers to help solve problems and issues (like, “How big of an emergency fund do I need?” or “When can I retire?”), it’s not too surprising that many view the process of facilitating meaningful money conversations from an analytical perspective (e.g., “Just tell me the best questions to ask and give me a flowchart to navigate the rest!”). However, finding the perfect questions and being skilled at asking them can also be cultivated through a sense of curiosity and a space where vulnerable conversations can happen. As while an advicer might want to implement the sort of life planning questions pioneered by George Kinder, the process may feel awkward in a more traditional “financial institution” setting and/or without a genuine interest in what the client has to say.

It’s also important to recognize that clients typically don’t seek out an advicer so they can explore their dreams, goals, and desires or to discuss their deep-seated feelings around money. Instead, meetings (especially initial meetings) happen because there’s some ‘presenting problem’. And that’s where an advicer is in a position to create the space where meaningful conversations can happen by expressing empathy (“Mr. and Mrs. Client, I hear you. That is a real issue, and just to make sure we get to the best answer, can we back up a bit? Tell me why this is important for you?”) and showing what a real financial planning relationship looks like.

The key point is that advicers who can develop their conversational skill set will not only do a better job of getting their clients to buy into their financial plans, implement the advice they’re offered, and (ultimately) achieve their goals, but they’ll also be better equipped to stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace. And by greeting a client with genuine empathy, an advicer can create space in a conversation for the client where they can both explore deeper issues, arrive at impactful decisions, and engender a long relationship built on trust and meaningful human connection!

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