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The worth of times

EN writes: A financial planner who works in my firm is technically excellent (he has full AFPC). He works very hard but overcomplicates matters with clients and is disorganised. He also seems unable to motivate clients and, therefore, to produce an acceptable level of income (fees and commission) for himself and the firm. I have spent a considerable amount of time with him to no avail. What do you suggest?

I suspect that the person sees his area of excellence as knowledge. The quest for knowledge motivates him and probably helps him feel more confident because knowledge often masks insecurity. Clearly, he finds something appealing in dealing with people or he would have chosen a career in a pure knowledge-based profession. Some “re-framing” is necessary.

This will require effort all round. It is important to find out how much he really wants to succeed as a financial planner. It is also useful for him to understand the basis of any insecurity and it may be best to seek professional help here.

Insecurity and lack of self-worth are closely linked, which makes sense when you say this person is not producing much income. If someone feels unworthy, their personal expectations will be low. Being disorganised will not be considered problematic because great things are not expected anyway. Charging too little in fees reflects a low professional value tied up with low self-esteem.

Overcomplicating technical explanations could be an attempt to impress clients but usually has the opposite effect.

Your colleague needs to recognise that knowledge is not an end in itself and, if it is pursued without regard for other skills, will eventually lead to a change of career. A more effective and enduring end would probably be the satisfaction of empowering others using his knowledge.

What are the other skills required to be a successful financial planner? Well, apart from being appropriately motivated and needing a high degree of knowledge, you also need excellent interpersonal skills and you need to be an effective business manager.

Clearly, the latter two need work. With regard to interpersonal skills, this person needs to be sensitive to the information “threshold” of his clients, to be aware when he is using jargon and to replace it with clear English. An amount of training can be done through role-play and video. But I think it would be helpful to let him sit in on meetings that you or other successful advisers have.

With regard to his effectiveness as a business manager, clarity and order in meetings is vital, not to mention the same in preparation. Agendas for meetings are good for advisers and clients and it is essential that not too much is covered in one go. If there is a lot to go through, two meetings are better than one.

I suspect that only when your financial planner experiences the benefit of integrating these skills for himself will his feelings of worth grow and his prime motivations change.

FS writes: Within minutes of meeting a new client recently, they informed me that if I intended to recommend a pension I would have a hard time. This threw me, particularly as a pension seemed the most appropriate course of action having completed the fact-find. As a result, we did not get off to the best start. Do you have any advice for dealing with this sort of thing?

I am a great believer in tackling situations like this as soon as they arise. In your position, I would have asked the client why they said this. Had they had a bad experience with another adviser, are pensions a pet hate of their parents or partner, do they have a phobia about commitment or a terminal illness? You have to understand what the issue is so you can respond appropriately. Guesswork will only hinder things.

If there is “baggage” to be dealt with, deal with it and “park” it, so you get off to the right start. It is also a good idea to ensure the client appreciates part of the value of seeking advice is it will not always agree with their preconceptions. Besides which, you need to keep control of the meeting, in the nicest possible way, to steer your client through a process which is daunting to many.

Fiona Price is managing director of Fiona Price & Partners and a professional mentor

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