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Jason Butler: The essential skill many advisers overlook

There is no doubt UK regulated advisers have become much more professional and capable. Salaries for qualified advice professionals range from £30,000 to £120,000, depending on location, experience and level of responsibility.

Despite the widely-held belief young people are not joining the sector, my experience is that there are plenty pursuing a career in advice. Next Gen Planners is a thriving affinity group of highly motivated and well qualified advisers under the age of 40. Their annual conference, at which I spoke last week, was sold out.

Plenty more people from all ages and backgrounds would pursue a career in planning if they were aware of the intellectual, emotional and financial rewards, and could find firms prepared to provide sponsorship and structured training.

Although level four is the required minimum educational standard, many advisers are choosing to aim for qualifications at levels six or seven. Indeed, many younger advisers are achieving this within five years.

But achieving technical knowledge and qualifications is not enough to be an effective planner. Interpersonal communication or soft skills are also essential.

In a recent paper, US fund manager Vanguard sets out three components that make up clients’ trust in their adviser:

  • Functional – professional credentials, day to day activities, financial planning.
  • Ethical– fee compensation method, putting the client’s interests first.
  • Emotional– the intangible aspects, such as how the adviser makes the client feel about their money.

Total trust was comprised 17 per cent of functional trust, 30 per cent of ethical trust and 53 per cent of emotional trust. So how you make your clients feel emotionally is the single largest factor that influences whether and to what extent they trust you.

Developing soft skills, such as active listening, empathetic questioning and having low self-orientation (not bring the focus back to yourself) is essential to having happy, satisfied clients who stick around and refer you to friends and family.

Younger advisers, who have grown up with an entirely digital communication ecosystem, and who have immersed themselves in deep technical knowledge, may not be as well-equipped as they need to be to develop lasting client relationships not determined solely on price.

Even some older advisers will not be as effective as they think they are, having developed bad habits such as using jargon, talking too much and not aligning their own motives with the client’s need to feel heard and understood.

There are three things every firm should be doing to ensure their advisers are great communicators who develop high levels of client trust:

  1. Equip all meeting rooms with integrated video conference technology. This will enable all meetings to be recorded easily and discretely, so they can be watched back to review the adviser’s soft skills and level of client rapport.
  2. Adopt an agreed meeting structure and framework, within which each adviser will work, but allow them to use their own style, preferred questions and language that enables them to be authentic and genuine.
  3. Undertake regular structured soft skills training with a reputable training provider.

Jason Butler is an expert in financial wellbeing. You can find him Tweeting @jbthewealthman    

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