Financial Advisor Meeting Checklist: 4 Ways To Build Trust With Your Clients

by Benjamin Beck, CFP® Benjamin Beck, CFP® | March 12, 2024

Every financial advisor - in fact, anyone who provides advice to others - needs to do a certain amount of preparation before a client meeting. Once you master the basics, most of that preparation becomes mental preparation. The question is: are you really ready to meet with this person? Let’s see.

You have a meeting coming up with a client, perhaps it’s a prospective client or maybe it’s someone who has been with you for years. It could be a fact finding expedition, what we call or Discovery here at Beck Bode, or a “closing” meeting, or a presentation. What do you need to prepare for that meeting? How can you conduct the best possible conversation?

I want to share with you what I do, and what I teach our advisors at Beck Bode. These are things I learned by trial and error. I practice these steps because I want to make sure that the client and I get the most out of our experience together. I still do these steps today, even after almost twenty years of being in the business.


1. You Need to Believe that Longevity Beats Short Term Returns

You may have heard me say before that you need to go into the meeting knowing – really knowing – that your client’s money needs to outlive your advice. You need to believe it first.

I remind myself going in that I need to believe it first. I must believe that the information that I have, the knowledge and expertise that has gone into creating our methodology, in fact the foundation of our philosophy is that their money needs to outlive them.

Now it’s your turn: remind yourself of this. You are not here to chase returns; you are here to help their money outlive them. The more you remind yourself of this, the more confidence will radiate from your body.

Doctors don't waste their time selling things. Doctors save lives. They ask questions, they make a diagnosis, they propose a treatment plan, and that’s where it ends. They don't sell. The same goes for you. You’re not here to sell, you are here to share what you believe and know to be true. That mindset should generate a tremendous amount of confidence in a meeting.


2. Write Down Clear Objectives For the Meeting Before You Go In 

If the meeting is primarily for information gathering, I want to go in knowing what I want to discover. If it’s the first time I’m meeting them, I want to get to know this person, their family, and their passions. I write down that I really want to get to know who they are, not as their financial advisor, but as a friend would.

If it's a closing meeting – say I'm presenting and executing the goals planning statement – what are the key reasons that this person or family should act on my recommendations? Again, I write it down clearly, so I know going into meeting, why it is they need to act.


3. Ask Deep Questions to Uncover the Client’s Emotions and Needs

The more the questions you ask, the more opportunities you have to gain the information you need. It seems pretty obvious, but doing it is not always easy.

I have learned that asking the heavy questions is where I want to stay. I want to learn more about their feelings: feelings are much more important than facts. I ask, “What are the things you want to happen financially for the rest of your life? What do you fear may happen? What would happen to your family financially if you don't wake up tomorrow?”

These are heavier-hitting questions that go far below the surface. You find out much more asking these kinds of questions than asking, “What’s your main financial goal?”

Our industry makes a big deal out of retirement planning, investing, even financial planning. Is it really that complex to come up with a retirement plan? Is putting together a financial plan that difficult? Even investing – how hard is it if you have a tested process?

None of these things are incredibly complex. I’ll tell you what is difficult: staying disciplined to stick with the retirement plan, or the financial plan, or the investment strategy. That’s where you find the complexity.


4. Embrace the Unvarnished Truth

In the end, people are either going to outlive their money – which is a disaster – or their money will outlive them. I tell people that if they want to avoid a disastrous outcome, they will need to have the discipline to execute on their financial plan for a very long time. I also tell them that the most difficult part of this is the emotional aspect: not letting their emotions distract them from their intentions.

People get distracted by the news because it affects them emotionally. As financial advisors we spend every day responding to people’s questions about something they heard in the news. A few months ago, everyone was talking about the debt ceiling. People ask us if we know what’s going to happen. I have never been successful in addressing anything that’s going on in the outside world with some sort of narrative about the economy. Besides, I have no clue what will happen.

Instead, I try to personalize what’s going on. I ask, “How do you think the debt ceiling might affect you personally over the next three decades of your retirement?” People have no idea how to answer this question because it’s impossible to answer. This stops the conversation. Once you stop where that conversation is going, you can have a more productive conversation.

Let's talk instead about controlling everything we can control in your personal situation. First, we need to make sure you have a lifetime of income. Inflation, for example, means different things to different people. How will it impact your quality of life in retirement? The constantly rising cost of a gallon of milk or a dozen eggs, or anything else that creeps up in price year after year (which is everything) – what does that mean to you over the course of your three decades or of retirement?

It takes courage to tell people things they don’t want to hear. Every day I have to have the courage to tell my clients the truth.

Here’s another example. We are a planning heavy firm, so when we present something to our clients, we need to assume certain rates of returns for planning purposes. There’s a very big difference between projecting and assuming a rate of return for the purpose of illustrating a scenario. We must reinforce that distinction as early as in the Discovery meeting. What we are showing our clients is simply an assumption, not a projection of the economy or a future outcome of the markets. As soon as we get even close to something that may be a projection, the conversation is not going in the right direction. I know when this happens because I no longer feel like a financial planner. Suddenly, I have unintentionally turned into some sort of market prognosticator, which is 180 degrees from where I want to be.

When someone is investing for the next three decades, they should have zero need for an economic outlook or a market projection. This is the unvarnished truth.

We use a document called the Goals Planning Statement, or GPS, for short. This document has a series of statements about the relationship we intend to have with our clients. We make sure that we go through this document, line by line, to get into agreement with our clients, about everything in it.

I know from personal experience that if I don't get agreement from the client on these fundamental things, if I leave anything to chance, these are landmines that are inevitably going to pop up in the future. We put the unvarnished truth into writing and ask our clients to sign their agreement to it.


Build Trust Through Honest Financial Advice

I frequently tell our team that we are not in the convincing business; we are in the truth business. This means that I must be truthful in telling people the reality of their financial condition. I don’t need to sell the truth; the truth is clear and undeniable. If a client wants to retire at 62, but it won’t happen at this rate by 65 or 70, it’s my job to tell them that. People may turn away from me because they don’t want to hear it, they don’t want to save more money now. But I can only help people who want to be helped, people who will accept my help as I define it.

I have to tell myself the unvarnished truth.


Ben Beck is Managing Partner & Chief Investment Officer at Beck Bode, a deliberately different wealth management firm with a unique view on investing, business and life.

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