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Paul Armson: Do your priorities lie with helping clients or the industry?

Paul ArmsonThe vast majority of advisers have become distracted by helping the industry get what it wants – products sold – and lost sight of what their clients really need

Back in 1982, as a gullible 22-year-old, I fell into financial services. At that time, there were no qualifications needed to start out as an adviser. How things have changed.

Luckily for me, I was placed with a manager who said I was not allowed to speak to anybody until I knew how to carry out a proper fact find meeting. Yep, even back then this firm had fact finds.

So, day after day, I would practice fact find meetings with my manager Norman. It was all about the soft skills: asking great questions, listening, body language.

I feel blessed to have met Norman. I remember him bellowing: “Find out about your client. What’s their story? Where are they now? How did they get there? Only when you know this have you earned the right to ask about their future and what they want to achieve. To build trust, to build rapport, go back first. Be interested in their story.”

A few months later, using these skills, I was top producer in my branch. This earned me an audience with the general manager, a very successful guy.

“If you want to achieve success in life, there are two important steps,” he said. “Step one is to know what you want. Most people fail at the very first step because they don’t know what they want. Step two is to keep asking yourself, every day, every hour, every second if you can, whether what you are doing now – or about to do now – is going to help you get what you want. If the answer is yes, do it with all your heart. If the answer is no, do not do it.”

How simple is that? Simple, but not easy. I tried to make it my mantra.

A year or so later, I listened to a self-improvement tape from Nightingale Conant. It was “See You At The Top” by the late, great Zig Ziglar. He said: “You can have everything you want in life if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want.”

Thanks to Norman I already realised I was in the “helping people get what they want” business. The penny dropped.

If you put those two important quotes together, you get this: “Is what I’m doing now – or about to do now – helping my clients get what they want? If yes, do it. If no, don’t.”

Now I just had to keep the focus where it belongs: on clients and helping them get what they want.

It made me question every act I carried out and that is when I realised – all the industry stuff, the new funds, the bells and whistles, it was not going to help my clients get what they want.

There is only one thing that is going to help my clients get what they want and that is me asking great questions and, where necessary, cajoling them to think seriously about their future.

It is me, armed with comprehensive cashflow modelling software, helping them understand what needs to happen to get and keep the life they want without fear of running out of money, or dying with too much. That is the only thing that is going to help my clients get what they want. That is where my value lies.

Now, let me run that past you again. In fact, I want to hit you over the head with it, to make sure it sinks in: is what you are doing now – or about to do now – going to help your clients get what they want? Or have you become distracted?

You see, I have noticed something. The vast majority of advisers do not focus on helping their clients get what they want.

Why? Because they have been distracted by the industry. They focus their attention on helping the industry get what it wants, which is distribution of financial products and investments.

That is why most advisers have an investment or product focused service. It is what the industry wants them to do; they want you to keep the focus on selling their stuff.

But what do clients want? They do not want financial products, that is for sure. Those are just tools in our bag to get the job done. When you call a plumber, do they spend hours talking about the tools in their tool bag? No. So why do we?

The financial services world is changing fast. Fees will come under increasing pressure. We need to change our conversation, from money to life. It is about understanding your client’s story. Where are they now? How did they get there? And where do they want to get to in the future? This is the human aspect of the advice and planning process that a computer algorithm could never deliver.

As Daniel Pink pointed out in his 2005 book, A Whole New Mind, the value propositions of the future are going to be rooted in the right side of the brain, meaning the human element is what people are willing  to pay for. Everything else is going to eventually become commoditised. In financial services, this is already happening at an alarming rate.

What about you? Have you become distracted? How much of your client conversation is money focused rather than life focused? Are you really helping your clients get what they want?

Think carefully. Your income and business value will be dictated by your answers.

Paul Armson is the author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Financial Planners” and the founder of Inspiring Advisers


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There are 4 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. I find it hard to believe this is a serious question.

    Mr Armson actually gives us a clue “as a gullible 22-year-old”. This is precisely why I have always advocated that this industry should actually be a second career. Only after working in ‘the real world’ gaining experience, commerciality and it is hoped cynicism are you really suited to advise other people how to manage their money.

    The only answer to this rhetorical question is: If you don’t put clients unequivocally first – you don’t have a business. Often it is precisely acting against much of the machinations of our industry that you do your clients the best service.

    • It’s called a rhetorical question and your last sentence shows you agree with Paul!

      I’m not sure that failing in another career qualifies you to be a success in financial services..(speaking as someone who also started in their early 20s)

  2. Zig Ziglar. Wasn’t he in “Boogie Nights”?

  3. “The majority of advisers….” Research data please
    Gullible was, gullible is.

    Sometimes, when people think that you are stupid, it is best to keep quiet and not confirm it!

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