Updated Friday, August 22, 2014 as of 11:35 PM ET

Why Advisors Will (and Should) Manipulate Clients

Miami – Feelings may not be wrong, per se, but they can certainly lead to bad investment decisions.

Clients are prone to decision-making based on feelings which can be irrational, Kol Birke, vice president of technology product evolution at Commonwealth Financial Network, told planners here at the annual FPA Retreat on Sunday.

There are ways for advisors to use manipulation tactics to help clients make better decisions and comprehend information more efficiently. “There is no way not to manipulate people,” said Birke.

Here are three critical aspects Birke urged advisors to focus on:

REFRAME CONVERSATIONS

When faced with more than two options, most people simply choose to take a pass and not make a choice at all, Birke explained. Therefore when speaking with clients, advisors should be careful how they stage questions and pause to give the client a chance to truly comprehend what’s being asked.

For instance, if a planner wishes to speak with a client regarding purchasing an annuity product there are better ways than bombarding the individual with an overwhelming number of options. Instead, ask the question, ‘Would you like to have a conversation around creating a floor of income?’ Birke suggested. Facing a yes or no question will make the introduction into a conversation about annuities easier, he said.

Another way to frame a question is to give three options, but at the same time funnel the client towards the result you want. If an advisor offers a three-level system of planning and charges different prices for each level, but doesn’t offer anything extra for the most expensive package, the client will most likely go for the deal in the middle. For instance an advisor can hypothetically charge $500 for a bronze package, $3,000 for silver and $10,000 gold.

Studies have shown that people assume they are getting a deal because the silver package is less costly, yet offers the same features, Birke noted.

“Is this manipulation?” he asked. “Yes, it absolutely is," he said. But "your clients are manipulated by advertisers and other advisors who are trying to do them wrong.”

CHALLENGE THINKING

“The human brain jumps to a conclusion and it’s very good at it,” said Birke. “Sometimes that conclusion is erroneous or unhelpful to us. The more times a client thinks a thought, the easier it is for that client to jump to that conclusion.”

This is especially true with bad experiences, he added. When the market crashed in 2008, many clients were angry at advisors for losses in their portfolios and began to associate planners with a bad experience. 

One way to change a client’s thinking is to take action – even if you aren’t really doing anything. The anger derives from the feeling of a loss of control which planners can help establish again, Birke argued.

“Make a list of things the client can do,” he said. “They don’t all have to be good ideas but it will give them control.”

Another way that an advisor can challenge a client’s thinking is by having them begin a task, such as creating a will, by determining what the smallest step is with regard to achieving that goal. For instance, if an advisor has been asking a client to set up this will but the client continues to avoid the process, the planner can encourage them to make one phone call to a friend who recently set up a will to discuss the process.

According to Birke, the hardest part of any task is beginning it and if a client makes one small step forward they will achieve the goal much faster. “Give client’s a digestible step,” he urged.

PROVOKE POWERFUL EMOTIONS

“If a client is upset in your office, they will not recall what you tell them,” Birke said. Recalling details is more difficult to do when an individual is under stress, he explained. If a client is happy they will be more likely to fully comprehend what you’re saying.

In order to determine how a client is feeling he suggested paying attention to the tone of a client’s voice as well as their body language. If a client is bored or angry, get them out of their chair, he said.

“Have them get up and get the blood flowing.” Planners can make something up, like discussing a painting in the office or by simply asking a client to follow them to get a glass of water, he said.

Another way to keep a client from getting bored is simple: change your tone of voice. "Just talk with more energy,” he said. “If you’re going to fast, soften your voice and slow it down.”

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