Advisers have no problem demonstrating their technical proficiency to clients. The requirement to be level four qualified, with many advisers going beyond this to become chartered, is proof they have achieved a certain level of knowledge and understanding. But when it comes to soft skills there are no formal training requirements or minimum standards for engaging with people.
This does not mean soft skills are unimportant or advisers naturally know how to deal with people at times of emotional stress such as bereavement or divorce.
Plutus Wealth Management chartered financial planner Sebastian Hurst says some advisers are better than others at connecting with clients, but the more attuned advisers are to soft skills, the more confident they become. “Soft skills can be difficult for some advisers to master. You often have to say some uncomfortable things to clients and talk a lot about death,” he says.
Part of the problem could also be soft skills run against the grain of what some advisers have been taught. Ovation Finance financial planning consultant and managing director Chris Budd, who is also a qualified business coach, says: “Advisers are taught to run to a solution for clients as quickly as possible through a little bit of information about them and technical questions. Traditionally the first step is advice, then the factfind, then the solution. There are modern firms that do financial planning first, then advice, then the solution.”
For Budd there is another way where soft skills come into their own and the adviser can really get to know their client. That is coaching first, then financial planning, then advice. “Coaching is a complete 180-degree about-turn over the usual way advisers deliver the things they know. It can build strong client relationships.”
Soft skills that give clients a better experience ultimately benefit the adviser’s business, so how can they be developed? There are workshops and training sessions on soft skills and coaching for advisers run by various providers. For example, Budd has devised Quiver Management’s one-day Interpersonal Skills for Financial Advisers and Planners workshop.
The Personal Finance Society is also promoting soft skills and has been running a series of sales communication workshops for its members, with executive business coach Bernie De Souza as a keynote speaker. He says advisers have had a lot of bad press in the past and soft skills can be helpful in rebuilding trust. “If we put the client first we are always going to win,” he says.
Given soft skills are essential to advice and planning, is it an area that those in the industry would like to see formally assessed like technical competence? No, says Budd. He argues that to pass exams, questions need to be answered in the way the examination body wants, which may not reflect what people would do in real life, so it would be unsuitable for soft skills to be assessed that way.
De Souza believes some form of training is needed so advisers can learn these skills, but says the difficulty is not many people can deliver it. He says some firms are insisting their advisers do 14.5 hours of non-technical CPD, which would include things like attending the PFS workshops, so things are moving in the right direction. He says: “PFS chief executive Keith Richards has been instrumental in this. He asked me to deliver 30 events for the PFS in the first quarter. If we are helpful to clients they are more likely to trust advisers, whose recommendations are met with less resistance.”