May 6, 2013 3:06 by kippreport
For many years of my life, I have been employed in an advisory capacity. Sometimes, as an employee, I have trained and coached my colleagues,
with the result that I have been lucky enough to be asked to mentor some of them, too. At other times, as a management consultant,
I have been paid to advise companies about problems that fall within my particular, if limited, field of competence, as well as
act as a personal coach to some senior managers and directors.
What has all this taught me?
First, I now believe that we value what we pay for more than what we don’t. Advice that is given freely is, unfortunately, seen as worthless.
Secondly, in a business-to-business relationship (such as client and management consultant), the client is more often looking for a problem to be solved than advice as to how to solve the problem for himself.
Thirdly, unless the client (individual or organisation) specifically asks for advice, the chances that he will accept and act on it are quite low (“between slim and nil” as one client put it to me when I was much younger and keen to change the world).
Is there a more general message here for people in advisory positions?
Let’s suppose we have dealt with the three points raised above – the client is prepared to pay; he wants advice; and wants to solve the problem. What is the key to being a successful adviser?
Professionalism – the one word that sums it all up. To be professional involves, on the one hand, being competent, and competence is a mixture of technical expertise (as an adviser, you have to have some solutions in your kitbag, and more importantly, you have to have diagnostic skills to work out the nature of the problem, in order to select the right solution) and professional qualifications (to reassure the client that your technical expertise is supported by external accreditation).
On the other hand, being a professional involves ‘bedside manner’ (the client wants to feel listened to, appreciated and recognised as an individual with a unique problem, even if the adviser has seen the same problem a hundred times before) and experience (no client wants to be an adviser’s first client).
So, the equation for professionalism is (technical expertise + professional qualifications) x (bedside manner + experience). Through the astute application of these attributes, the adviser can build a trust-based relationship, allowing him to help the client to solve the problem…professionally.
Now, what if the client can’t see that he has a problem, but the adviser can? If the client is unaware of the problem, the chances he will accept advice about solving it are, as already mentioned, between ‘slim and nil’. If the adviser feels passionately about the problem, then it is up to him to ‘disturb’ the client, effectively shaking him out of his complacency, causing him to face up to the reality of the problem and being prepared to take the necessary remedial action.
This is ‘advisory confrontation’, in which the Adviser acts as a mirror, showing the client how his position appears to the world – it’s not an ‘Adviser-as-Expert’ confrontation where the Adviser is effectively saying “I’m right and you’re wrong”. Little, if any change occurs if the Adviser takes this stance. If you don’t believe me, try it on your children.
One such situation is that of the Financial Adviser. The vast majority of clients are under-insured. In this part of the world, insurance penetration (other than motor and, in some places, medical) is woefully low. Clients own too little life insurance, critical illness cover and contents insurance. In addition, they save too little for the major events in their lives that require significant financial resources (like educating their children, marriages and, most importantly, retirement). Many don’t have wills. Their businesses are under-insured (e.g. key man insurance; buy-sell agreements; trade credit).
Financial Advisers have to be missionaries, converting clients by helping them to see the risks they are running. They can do this most effectively by asking questions of the ‘What if…?’ variety. Selling the features and even the benefits of the solutions (products) they have in their kitbags will, more often than not, merely create objections.
My advice to you – I know you didn’t ask for it, so the chances of you doing anything with it are, therefore, between slim and nil – is find yourself a financial missionary, not just an adviser, but someone who believes in the importance of mitigating risk. Someone who has technical expertise, is professionally qualified, has a good bedside manner and experience and seek a check-up.
This may be the best advice you never paid for.
Peter Ellen is operations director at Nexus Insurance Brokers www.nexusadvice.com. He has worked in the sales industry for 28 years in senior management positions and as a consultant. To contact Peter for advice with any insurance and investment advice please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.