An effective client interview is an essential part of the client-advisor relationship. Top advisors recognize that, beyond the need to capture financial data about new or existing clients, an interview session is the primary opportunity to understand clients’ objectives, motivations and expectations - key factors in framing comprehensive, integrated wealth management solutions.
The end goal of an interview is to go beyond the facts and to understand the financial needs, goals and philosophy of the person sitting across the table from you. The science of process-based fact finding must be combined with the art of finding meaning in your client’s words. It would be much easier and less time consuming to simply hand a profiling sheet to clients and ask them to answer the questions than to search for nuance and deeper meaning. Nevertheless, your investment of time and energy in conducting an effective dialogue will pay dividends in the years ahead in terms of a deeper understanding of clients and a higher quality of client relationships.
Below are ways by which advisors can implement the process efficiency that makes good interviewing a science and the soft skills and techniques that make good interviewing an art.
INTERVIEWING AS SCIENCE
Be prepared. Identify in advance the topics that you would like to address in the time spent with your clients. Be sure to request as much background as possible from your referral source. During your first effective interview session, let your clients know what you will be discussing during subsequent conversations and ask them to bring the necessary information.
Be complete. Make every effort to capture the necessary information about your clients at the start of your relationships. The appropriate time to ask questions is during the client discovery process, not later in the relationship after recommendations have been delivered and investments have been made.
Discuss client benefits. While the attributes of your practice may be unique and impressive, clients want to know that you and your firm can help them accomplish the objectives that are important to them and their families.
INTERVIEWING AS ART
Listen for repeat topics. If your client keeps using the same phrase or keeps coming back to the same topic, you will know that it is top of mind for him or her. These cues can be subtle, only perceptible to a keen listener. For example, this cue might be multiple grumblings about an eldest, troubled child who is the default beneficiary on accounts and policies.
Customize your questions. We all walk our own individual journeys, and we consider ourselves special and unique. Recognizing what this journey entails and addressing it in your questions is necessary to an artful interview. Asking a family who is very proud of their charitable contributions further questions about the fulfillment it brings them will demonstrate that you understand their journey. Perhaps they give more than they can realistically afford in remembrance of a loved one’s extended illness.
Personalities matter. Questions that one person might find unnecessary, another might consider essential, and paradoxically, the things with which we need the most help are often those things we do not want to be asked. Someone who is impulsive and passionate might balk at planning questions, but it is precisely those planning questions that will help you get to the biggest financial issues that client might have.
Leading advisors, committed to building a truly consultative practice, realize the significant opportunity afforded by a client interview. They focus considerable attention on the importance of the science of developing a comprehensive client profiling process and the art of refining their interviewing skills.
By understanding the role, benefits and goals of a successful interview, utilizing the proven basics of profiling, embracing a unique model to frame the interview process and continually refining their interviewing method, advisors can maximize the benefits of an effective interview.
John Nersesian currently chairs the board of directors at IMCA, and is managing director, wealth management services, at Nuveen Investments.