I don’t give advice in the first meeting. To do so would be to sell ourselves and the client short – I don’t yet know them well enough to engage in important decisions in their life. That’s why I take a staged approach to the process which could take up to five meetings before I’m ready to give some advice.
In those first two or three meetings, before I’ve provided advice to someone, I’m looking for engagement personally and in the process. This is particularly important if they’ve been to someone else and the process is really different to what they’ve experienced before.
I also want to understand what their financial goals are and what drives those goals, like their personal circumstances. This can take time because solutions for a client will change the more you get to know them. It’s wise to let the relationship mature and not try to make those snap decisions. Once you delve a bit deeper and get to know someone on a personal level, you might find out a key detail about them that makes a difference, like the client’s behaviour or attitude to a situation
At these meetings I also talk to clients about what I can control as an advice-giver, what I can influence and what I don’t have any control over at all. This also involves explaining what they control, what they can influence and what they have no control over. This discussion means we’re all on the same page and we get it right the first time.
If I don’t feel like there is engagement with a client then I can’t work with them. That’s because I’m not selling them a product. Products are handled by fund managers and portfolio managers – they’re the ones looking after that side of the equation. I’m an advice giver and I only have certain circles of control.
In my experience, some clients are surprised that I don’t give them advice on the spot, especially those who are shopping around or who have come to me from another advice firm. Recently I saw someone for the first time and they expected a solution on the whiteboard that day. I had to be honest with them and explain that at Viridian we get to know the client on a personal level first before we address the black and white of financials. That client understood what I wanted to achieve with them and they’re now coming back for a follow-up meeting for questions first and then a third strategy meeting before I present them with my advice.
The number of meetings that I have with a client before I give them advice depends on many things. But I usually find by the second meeting that a client will have made up their mind whether or not to put their trust in me, but it can vary from client to client. I’ve had clients where after the first meeting, we’ve engaged so well both personally that they want to do whatever I advise them to do from meeting one. At the opposite end of the spectrum, it took me more than eight months to implement the advice I gave to one client, it really depends.
Regardless how many times I’ve met with someone, I’m very transparent. There’s no over-promising and under-delivering. Our real influence is with the information we gather, and through our engagement with the client – and it’s up to them whether they choose to take our advice.
David Ross is an Executive Advisor at Viridian Advisory
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