Focus on the Behavioral Coaching of Clients

Have you ever fully dissected the value of the service you are providing to your clients? This is an exercise that I highly recommend you do as a way of reviewing the value proposition to your clients and the brand promise. Whilst many advisors do not want to be measured solely on the investment performance, this is what typically happens. It is easy because the results are reported in a very tangible way.

However, the real value of what you do is in the behavioral management of your clients. That is how you manage the impact of your client’s emotions on their decision making through the ups and downs of the markets and life. As an advisor, ?your role is more than the education of your clients about the technical investment and financial management issues. Further, it is more than teaching your clients behavioral self-awareness. Your role is to guide the client and positively influence their behavior. This is behavioral coaching.

For years, many advisors have dismissed the behavioral work as soft and not measurable. Recent research by Vanguard in their Alpha Advisor report states that behavioral coaching is worth 150 basis points a year. Lets say you have average AUM of $1m per client, this is $15,000 per client. This level of value is too big to ignore. This is predicated on the basis that the value of an advisor is 300 basis points and behavioral coaching is worth 50%. Other research studies from Dalbar would support these conclusions.

I encourage you to read the Vanguard research and do a review of your value proposition. Will it change how you present your services and the types of tools you will use to reinvent yourself as the behavioral coach of the client? You can access the Vanguard research at the following link Advisers Alpha: Putting a value on your value.


Using Behavioral Intelligence to Navigate Couple Differences

Let’s examine the client experience in your financial services practice. Who is the first person I would come in contact with at your firm? Are they trained in the behavioral intelligence of your clients? Do they even have the data in your CRM so they can easily remind themselves how to adjust their style to accommodate your clients? Or, are you assuming they know how to deal with every client…especially in a crisis?

The “challenges” of the financial services industry come in the form of market corrections, death of a spouse/family member, health challenges and even the birth of a baby. Each client is different and that is especially true of partners in a couple.

As an advisor, it is important to have a defined process that actively and uniquely engages each client/partners in the decisions that will affect their financial life. And that starts with the receptionist to the client service staff and to every client facing staff in your office.

Empower your staff with the behavioral intelligence that will make a difference. That way you can honestly say, “We can’t control the markets, but we can manage and create your experience.”

Leon Morales and Peggy Mengel are both Vice Presidents, Human Behavior Solutions at DNA Behavior

Specializing in financial services, Leon and Peggy use behavioral intelligence to help businesses navigate human differences to unlock performance potential. DNA Behavior helps grow behaviorally smart businesses and financial advisors worldwide to increase competitive advantage using the most reliable behavioral discovery and performance development systems on cutting-edge technology platforms.

Visit the Financial DNA website to learn more. |Try Financial DNA Free for 30 days!



How to Choose a Financial Advisor

How do I choose the right financial advisor? This is the most frequently asked question that I have received over the past thirty years of being in the Financial Services Business.

It is becoming an even more important question as the choices for types of advisors are increasing. Terms like RIA, independent, fee-based, broker -dealer, robo advisor, and fiduciary standard make frequent appearances in the press and it can feel like you need a PhD to decipher and conclude what it means for the client-advisor relationship.

However, what is really important to prospective clients can be summarized in five key areas.

1. Recommendations

2. Experience

3. Services Offered

4. Personality and Communication Style

5. Trust

Each individual is unique in their personal preferences, so I have included some thought-provoking questions that you can use with advisors and/or your research to get your own best answers.


  • Who do you know and trust that is already successfully partnered with a financial advisor?
  • What has their experience been with this advisor?
  • Does the advisory firm work in a team approach?

A prospective client can get a lot of information on an advisor from their own trusted sources and then follow-up with research on an advisor’s website.


  • How long has the financial advisor been working with clients?
  • Do they have enough experience to prove that they can successfully navigate clients through the up and down markets?
  • What certifications does the advisor have and why are these important to you as a client?
  • What is their philosophy for investing?

Money underpins much of life so you will need an advisor who can balance their knowledge of the industry with the ability to understand people.

Services Offered

  • Does the advisor offer both investing and comprehensive financial planning?
  • What is included in the plan and do they have a sample you can view? Do they offer insurance?
  • What is the fee associated with investing, insurance purchase and the comprehensive financial plan?
  • How often will you meet with the advisor to review the plan?
  • Does the advisor have a succession plan in place?

You will now have answers to help you understand the concrete deliverables in the financial planning process.

Personality and Communication Style

  • Does the advisor seem to be truly concerned with you as a person?
  • Can the advisor successfully navigate the behavioral differences between you and your spouse?
  • What assessment tool does the advisor use to uncover your financial personality, investment and financial risks?

This area is very subjective so most clients want to know if an advisor has more than just discussion questions or a form to “check off” your answers. You can get a “feel” or “think” you know but the fact is that the way we see one another can be irrational, incomplete and inflexible—and largely automatic. Objective profiles used to uncover unique behaviors and communication styles are the key to beginning and building a long-term trusting relationship. And, knowing this behavioral information will help an advisor prevent you from sabotaging your financial plan.


All the information you have received up to this point about the financial advisor builds the case to answer this critical question:

  • Can you trust this advisor to manage your hard-earned money to achieve your goals?

This is the number one most important factor when working with a financial advisor. Investments and financial planning can be automated but the ability to show empathy, to give clients confidence to stay invested, and to make good decisions, that’s more of an art than a science. Choosing the right financial advisor can seem daunting, but remember, the power is in asking the right questions. Be sure to create your own list so you can truly listen to the answers. In doing so, you will have a relationship that is both personally and professionally rewarding.



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Poor Communication Causes Advisors to Repeatedly Lose Clients

The phenomenon of endless blogs and studies addressing this topic serves only to complicate what is in fact a simple issue. It’s not just the financial services industry that loses clients through poor communication – it can happen across all service providers.

So, are clients petulant and easily seduced away to another provider? Well maybe, but the financial services industry is different in that it deals with money, which is an area of life that is somewhat sacrosanct ? almost as sensitive as the relationship with a doctor. There will always be some clients who are chasing a better return. Those clients are hard to retain at any time. However, given money is such an emotive issue a much greater retention effort should be made with the majority of clients who want to build a trusted long-term relationship.

I listen to many people involved in the financial services industry and they seem to have a technical and results based language all of their own. There seems to be little or no emotionally engaging conversation which is customized to each client. One almost feels like calling out ‘talk to me’ as a human being who has goals, desires and family issues.

poor comm

Talking to clients about their finances should be seen as a privilege. Every conversation should require the advisor to stop and consider their role in their client’s world. These conversations cannot be ‘one style fits all.’ Conversations need to be based on getting the mix right between investment, financial and personal topics. Knowing how to speak to your different clients and understanding them on a real and tangible level will deliver long-term sustained relationships.

The blind spot for most financial advisors is that they do not really know the communication needs of their different clients to be able to properly engage with them on their unique terms. Further, they do not sufficiently know the financial personality of their clients and how that will be motivating them and driving their biases. This needs to be addressed in decision-making conversations.

The following independent research statistics speak for themselves. Knowing how to communicate and engage with clients is the road to retention.


Lack of communication is one of the top reasons investor clients fire their advisors. Clients do not necessarily need to know if they are up 3% on the market, but they do want to know if they are on track to meet their financial goals. George Tamer, director of institutional sales at TD Ameritrade Institutional



Every client and advisor will have a unique communication style based on their natural behavioral DNA. To be able to develop more effective relationships with clients, advisors need to know how to understand their own and their client’s communication style.

Comm Style3

Communication is not just about whether the client wants an email, phone call or meeting, it is also about how each communication interaction is framed. This comes down to setting, tone, use of words (such as goals versus family stability or spending versus savings), empathy, graphics and detail.

To put it simply, every client will approach the first meeting wearing a mask (metaphorically speaking). Advisors who up-front have the behavioral insight to understand how to communicate with the client on their terms will be able to discover what’s behind the mask. Therefore, they will be able to more quickly take the first step to building trust with the client.

Discovering each client’s unique connection to their money at a deeper level will deliver insight that helps you to provide life-time recommendations. Through understanding a client’s communication style you will be better placed to help the client more confidently make key decisions when they are under pressure in market volatility or facing life transition events. Imagine, if you had the framework available at your fingertips to know exactly what to say to each of your clients in review meetings and phone calls if the market went downwards 8% during a quarter?

You will understand hot spots that might surface if your communication style is markedly different to theirs and know how to navigate them safely. You will be better able to separate your own emotions and bias from the client’s actions and decisions.

Finally, understanding communication will enable you as the advisor to have open and meaningful conversations that not only place the client at ease around the sensitive topic of money but will also help you to more confidently and wisely advise your clients to make better decisions at all times.




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Guide to Workplace Structure and Collaboration

What does true collaboration look like?

From a 2008 Guide to Assessing Teamwork and Collaboration published by the Galileo Educational Network,

Collaboration is a structured, recursive process where two or more people work together toward a common goal-typically an intellectual endeavor that is creative in nature?by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus.

Much of what we need to do in order to make an organization function requires us to work with other people. Traditionally, it takes time to learn how to interact with each person’s style, how to agree on the steps to take, roles and responsibilities, and individuals’ deadlines for a common goal. Managers incorporate various degrees of structure by defining roles and responsibilities, processes, project management, and methods of communication to complete the tasks to accomplish the goal.

There are various and differing opinions about how much structure strikes the right balance between helping to accomplish the goal efficiently and becoming a road block to productivity and creativity.

If not enough structure is in place, the team may be perceived as ineffective. Deliverables may not meet the expectations of the “customer” and/or leader(s) in terms of scope, quality, timeline, and/or budget. Often, in this low structure scenario, miscommunications occur.

Conversely, if there is too much structure, the team may be perceived as ineffective as well. In this scenario, it might be a time sink to go through all the process steps and the instructions may be so voluminous, people get lost and have trouble following the structure in place. In fact, too many meetings may take place that are focused more on the structure than on the goal, leaving a lull in initiatives moving forward. People may feel very restricted and disengaged and ultimately, Creativity is squashed.

For true collaboration within an organization or team, the structure and culture has to support two-way communication (creative conflict) built upon trust.

How much structure should you have in your organization?

Identifying the level of structure need in your organization depends on exploring a couple of key questions:

1) How big is your organization?

If you are a small company with just few people working together, less structure may be preferable. A company with fewer people requires each person to understand more of the bigger picture. They typically have to do many of the tasks themselves and there may be fewer interactions needed with other people.

If you are a growing or larger sized company, the more people you have, the more structure you may need in order to be effective. People may be added in order to handle higher volume. More people typically means that each person handles a smaller part of the bigger picture. People become specialized in their roles with specific tasks. The more interactions and hand-offs it takes to complete, the more guidelines and processes you may need to help everyone understand how to work together effectively.

2) What culture do you want to foster?

If you want to foster innovation and creativity, then you may want to have less detailed structure and more general high-level guidelines. Focus more on the goal you are trying to achieve, the communication channels needed to keep everyone in the loop, and fostering communication. Allow the team to figure out how to get to the end goal.

If your organization needs to foster nimbleness and an ability to react to changing customer demands, you also want to have less detailed structure and more high-level guidelines. Fewer restrictions allow employees to develop problem-solving skills in addressing customer issues quickly and foster engagement.

If your product has to be delivered precisely and there is no room for variability, then you will need more detailed structure and processes with step-by-step instructions.

If your organization is struggling with delivering and meeting expectations, then you will also need more detailed structure to help people stay on track. The detailed structure will hold people accountable for next steps /tasks and due dates, along with providing a more detailed analysis of the location of the breakdowns in the process and communications.

3) What are the natural behaviors of the people on the team?

If you have a team full of naturally take charge, spontaneous, and creative people, you will need at least a little structure to help keep them focused and productive. However, you don’t want to squash their natural strengths in problem solving, finding new or better solutions, and reacting instinctively to a dynamic business environment with too much structure.

If you have a team that is naturally very cooperative, planned, and anchored, they will need more structure to take advantage of their natural strengths of being able to follow instructions, ensure tasks are completed and results are delivered. These types of people are great at getting things done when the working environment is well-defined and there is less ambiguity.

Ideally the team would consist of a mix of traits that can provide for the proper balance of strengths to provide the best results.

How you add structure, and the culture you encourage, is important to fostering collaboration and creativity while still having enough structure to reduce miscommunication and issues and to ensure the outcome meets expectations.

Do you have the right level of structure in your organization? Use this Guide to aid in evaluating your team.


A Client’s Perspective: The Case for Deeper Discovery

Since most advisors have no way of knowing why their client is behaving they way they do, they will pick an interpretation—because that’s what our brains do.

The way we see one another can be irrational, incomplete and inflexible—and largely automatic. And it is a two-way street: both from an advisor’s and a client’s perspective.

Mike has been a successful wholesaler in the Financial Services industry for over 15 years. He had assembled a solid portfolio that he felt was well diversified and positioned for his future goals. But things changed after he was married for a few years. His wife, Abby, started asking him questions about their investments and Mike felt a bit attacked. Additionally, he found himself answering most of her questions with “That’s just the way it is” or “You’ll just have to trust me because I can’t explain it to your required level of detail.”

You might imagine that didn’t go over very well with Abby. Mike had to come to terms with admitting that his expertise in this industry did not incorporate every aspect of the financial planning process that his clients (financial advisors) dealt with on a daily basis: cash flow projections, creating objective portfolios and LTC insurance. He realized it was time to hire a financial advisor.

While Mike had a short list of names, Abby had a healthy skepticism of most financial professionals.

Their initial interviews were quite interesting. The technical competence of an advisor was fairly easy to ascertain. They could tell whether an advisor was intelligent, skilled and effective.

What was far more difficult to know about an advisor was how they would understand them at a deeper level. As Abby said, “We have to be able to connect with this advisor”. The advisor Mike and Abby selected used a combination of an objective profile and reflective questions. They could tell he would be able to navigate their differences very effectively and keep each of them happy in their own way!

In retrospect, what surprised Mike the most was that the financial selection process of their financial advisor was based completely on trust. Both Abby and Mike trusted this advisor to create a unique plan and manage their hard earned money to reach their goals. And to have honest and direct conversations at their annual reviews to be sure they continued on track without unknowingly derailing their efforts.

Over the ten years of working with this advisor and his team, they have never been disappointed. Each team member has a different personality and area of expertise and addresses both Mike and Abby in a unique way.

With Mike, it’s a combination of light-hearted fun and getting to the bottom line of progressing towards our goals. For Abby, it is about fun and family but equally important are the details and market overviews. Now Mike can rest easy knowing that she is happy getting all that information and he does not have to be accountable for any answers.

There are many reasons to hire a financial advisor. As this couple demonstrated, it was about finding the person whom they could trust to successfully navigate their differences.

Technical competence is a “check-box” item in today’s world. Digging deep beneath the surface is what most clients really want from their trusted advisors.

Are you prepared for this deeper discovery journey with your clients?