Nick Bamford: Soft skills crucial to deliver robust advice

Nick Bamford

Know your customer is an essential part of delivering the best advice. As advisers we are often in the position of knowing an awful lot of private and confidential facts about our clients. In some cases we know more than even close family members do. This is an essential part of the trusting relationship that exists between our clients and us.

With this in mind, developing skills in the fact-finding part of our role is just as important as the technical study we undertake. When it comes to “know your customer” the soft facts are just as crucial as the hard ones.

Of course, we all think we have those skills but in the spirit of keeping an open mind we decided to arrange a workshop for our financial planners and any other guests that wished to attend.

Fellow adviser Chris Budd introduced us to a specialist course designed by Quiver Management called Interpersonal Skills for Financial Advisers and Planners. Twelve came along to be coached  on skills such as constructive listening, effective questioning, uncovering clients’ goals and motivations, and building rapport.

Three of the attendees, myself included, started with a degree of skepticism. We had recently attended a similar workshop we labelled “the workshop from hell”, mainly because of the inability of the speaker to engage with the audience (ironic considering the course was about attaining a deeper level of client engagement).

However, I found this latest course very useful indeed, not least because of the sharing between advisers that always seems to take place at sessions like this. It was refreshing to have a confident and engaging presenter as well.

For me, the listening part was most intriguing. Like many advisers I have no problem in talking but listening is much harder. There are too many distractions in this busy world that cause us to lose focus, so removing the barriers to good listening is an important start.

The goal, of course, is to understand the client’s view of the world and what their reality looks like. If we can do this, then the solutions we offer are much more likely to be robust. Open questions are key if you are trying to build rapport with a client.

We also discussed acting as a coach for our clients. I am sure we all find ourselves helping clients with subjects a step or two removed from financial advice, and we can label that coaching. I was interested to hear one attendee’s interpretation of coaching was simply helping people.

I am sure some attendees might have thought there was little new in this workshop but I do not think that is the point. If you are anything like me you attend courses, learn something new and then fail or forget to use that knowledge or skill in the future. It sometimes takes a refresher to nudge me into doing something I had promised myself I would do before.

Nick Bamford is executive director at Informed Choice