Rich conversations:  Uncomfortable and transformative

What is a ‘rich’ conversation?

From my observations of firms that do them well, rich conversations differ from the majority of conversations in a number of ways.

And they can be hard in the beginning.

All of a sudden asking new (and existing) clients questions like the following isn’t easy: “So let’s say through our work together we get in control of your debts and mortgage payments, we manage to give you the level of security you seek, we take the stress away from some of your financial matters and protect your lifestyle, which is important to you. What then becomes a focus for you?”

Rich conversations are deep conversations.

Deeper than most existing advisers are comfortable with.  

Many advisers are uncomfortable asking questions that, often, their clients don’t know the answers to, or worse, that result in clients answering with outcomes that they as advisers have little control over or expertise in.

Those advisers more comfortable with balance sheets and the Tax Act find it difficult and too challenging or uncomfortable to ask questions in areas they don’t believe they are trained to answer or capable of finding financial solutions for. They are also concerned about ‘upsetting’ long term client relationships with new types of questions that might raise questions in those clients’ minds about whether they should perhaps be considering finding a new adviser. They don’t wish to provide their loyal and paying clients with a reason to reconsider their advisers just as we are about to hopefully exit the worst financial planning recession in a generation.

Many settle on their current questions, being unwilling to rock the client relationship ‘too much’, to deal with these fears, or to potentially be seen as ‘trying too hard’.

Rich conversations can be uncomfortable conversations for clients too.

Why would any sane adviser start a conversation with loyal clients knowing that their questioning might raise issues uncomfortable for the client? (Answer: because it might be just what the client needs to better achieve the outcomes they desire.)

Growth and development isn’t always a comfortable path for advisers and their clients. Financial planning is an industry with strong sales training foundations underpinning its origins and DNA.  Making engagement conversations uncomfortable for clients contradicts the mindset of rapport building that is embedded in financial planning folklore and practices. Many advisers still believe that trust follows rapport rather than that rapport follows trust.

Ironically, though, rich conversations are often the reason why many advisers became advisers in the first place.

They sought deeper, lasting, strong professional engagements built upon foundations of confidence, trust and loyalty.

But whether due to pressures of time, or clients’ assumptions and perceptions about why they walk into our offices, or what our websites, brochures, and business cards say we do, or any number of other reasons, rich conversations have tended to only be reactive conversations rather than proactive conversations.

As the Dow Jones hits new highs, and talk of financial contagion becomes less, can we confidently return to former methods of advice that apparently suited markets that behaved themselves? Or do we do everything possible to avoid any surprises to our profits, client satisfaction levels, or growth rates?

The consistent, methodical and specific application of rich conversations between advisers and their clients (whether face to face or via fast-emerging social media platforms) will be a Facebook-like paradigm shift that will transform the delivery of financial advice far more effectively than any platform, product, bank, insurance group or piece of legislation.

These are great times to be building great advice firms.

Image courtesy of marin /


About Jim Stackpool

For nearly 30 years Jim has influenced, coached, and consulted to advisory firms across Australia. As founder of Certainty Advice Group, he leads a like-minded team of professional advisory firms seeking to create greater certainty for their clients. As an author, blogger, columnist, and keynote speaker, Jim is regularly called upon for his professional insights into the advice industry. His latest book Seeking Certainty is available now.

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