Advisers must improve their dialogue with clients
As someone with a noticeable accent, I always have to bear it in mind when meeting someone new or speaking to an audience. Recently, on our trip to the Financial Planning Association’s annual conference in San Diego, I found myself in a club where the VIP area was populated by magician convention attendees. One of the crowd I was with was invited to join them and soon after we all ended up behind the ropes.
I was approached by one magician who asked me over the noise: “Have you ever been hit in the face?” I was some-what perplexed and asked him to repeat his enquiry to avoid any misunderstanding, once again I heard him say: “Have you ever been hit in the face?”. At that point, a friend asked another magician why this question was being asked and we found out that what he was really asking was: “Have you ever been hypnotised before?” We made our excuses and left.
This misunderstanding fuelled by alcohol and accents demonstrates that it is vital to make yourself understood. Client education cannot wait for school initiatives.
I realise that the Personal Finance Education Group does good work (up to Carlisle that is - no PFEG activity in Scotland) but it will take several generations before clients are financially literate to a reasonable extent. In the interim, we as advisers/ planners need to fill that void to protect ourselves and to reinforce the relationship we have with our clients.
The Money Advice Service may well just provide the catalyst to people recognising that advice has real value. We need to understand what they are doing and where possible support them either verbally or by taking part in pro bono initiatives.
The FSA’s decision to make the minimum qualification for simplified advice QCF level four has put several plans on hold while advisers consider their viability. I have some sympathy with those wanting to use lesser qualified guides.
When I worked on a newspaper’s website some time ago, we had three levels of users - expert, validators and novices. This allowed those who needed just information to come and go as they pleased, those who needed confirmation the right level of support and intensive education for the rest.
Not everyone wants or needs face-to-face advice. Often, they just want the odd question answered which is not the basis for an advisory relationship. We, and I mean regulators, providers and advisers, need to recognise this but the Government has to play its part by allowing flexibility in taxation treatment, Isa to pension and vice versa with tax relief adjustments.
We can educate clients and we can communicate far better but to get that opportunity we need them to see the value in what we do at present and will do in the future.
We all need to look at our websites - do they talk to the client or talk at them and is correspondence easily digested?
Some planners I know in the US have client councils to ensure that any changes or deficiencies in service are detected as early as possible. I would not necessarily copy this but parts of it will transfer across the pond.
My daughter has just started at Glasgow University and in a matter of 10 days has acquired a distinct Scottish edge to her voice.
Fortunately, she understands that getting your message across is fundamental to your success and that is something that will become increasingly clear as failure to communicate what we do will be the major barrier to profitability post-RDR.
Robert Reid is managing director of Syndaxi Chartered Financial Planners