The Mindsets and Stages for Successful Engagements

Implementing a fee for service proposition for your financial planning business without addressing the fundamental issue of adding real value for your clients is akin to getting dressed up as a mighty Sydney Swans player and thinking you’re therefore entitled to play 1st grade each weekend.

The flight to implement fees for service without a commitment to industrialise a process that clearly understands the value clients are seeking is a farce. Many advisory firms are going to be found out, if not at the first bounce of the ball, then pretty soon thereafter.

What does an effective client engagement process look like?

From our experience observing the great engagement practices of great advisory firms there are essentially three components in an effective client engagement –

  1. ‘frame-up’
  2. ‘discovery’ (or for existing clients, ‘re-discovery’)
  3. ‘fact find’

Before breaking down each of the three stages of a successful engagement, however, it is crucial to understand the mindsets required to obtain mastery of the engagement process. If the mighty Swans players didn’t rush into each ruck with a mindset to get the ball, their skills and techniques would be useless. Similarly, technique and skills alone, without the right advisory mindsets, won’t convert product based planners into value adding advisers who deserve their fee for services.

Mindset 1 – Not trying to build rapport

Great advisers don’t need more friends, nor do their clients. The old ‘they have to like me before they buy me’ should be parked back in sales school where it belongs, and replaced with ‘they have to trust me, and I have to trust them, before we both decide to proceed’. Rapport can be developed once trust is established, but trust doesn’t always follow rapport building.

Mindset 2 – Maintaining control

Whilst being respectful during engagement, too many advisers let their client ramble on and on, or don’t get their questions effectively answered. They don’t keep control. While it’s important to maintain the 85/15 rule (i.e. clients should be speaking for 85% of the time, and advisers, only 15% of the time), advisers need to subtly work to a checklist, managing the conversation to ensure that 90% of the engagement information required is obtained in the 90 minute engagement meeting. Subjecting clients to meetings over 90 minutes – no matter the complexity – should be the exception, not the rule.  These are intense meetings for our clients (and us), and the quality of information degenerates as they extend beyond the hour and a half.

Mindset 3 – Remember what you’re trying to accomplish

There are many other mindsets, but this is the most important. Your single focus in the engagement meeting is determining whether your firm is the best firm to help these clients (new or existing) make the right financial decisions (today and in the future) in order for them to achieve their financial goals and financial destiny. Period.

Now, let’s look at the stages of successful client engagements.

Stage 1 – The Frame-up

First impressions matter far more than most advisers realise.

Unfortunately there is still too much sales thinking – e.g. displaying certificates and degrees on walls and client testimonials on tables in reception, and leaving clients waiting for six minutes so they can take in the ‘professionalism’ of your reception and fish tanks. Leave the sales stuff for people selling products and rockstars.

For advisers, the success of the frame-up (and discovery) is based upon the quality of questions that you ask. In the frame-up, you must:

  • uncover ‘burning issues’ (don’t dwell on these, just identify them)
  • provide assurance that these issues will be covered in the meeting
  • inform your prospect of what your job is and what you’ll do in the meeting
  • introduce your people (ideally there are two of you in the appointment)
  • explain that you’re taping the appointment to minimise note taking, maximise recall, and keep an accurate record
  • assure them of confidentiality and that the tape’s use is only internal and to properly advise them.

Frame-ups are approximately 5-8 minutes long. Any longer and you’ve probably already lost control.

Stage 2 – Discovery

This stage is named for the ‘discovery’ that the client experiences during these conversations, not for the issues that the adviser uncovers.

Clients meet with advisers because they’re facing financial decisions they can’t solve by themselves. As ranges of financial options, products and offerings explode, clients simply seek greater financial certainty as to the best decisions for them today and for their financial future. It’s the adviser’s job to align the appropriate financial choices against the current and future circumstances of their client, whilst advising, leading, counselling, challenging, and implementing the most appropriate financial disciplines, tactics and advice. This is all to assist the client to best achieve their desired financial goals.

The discovery is NOT the traditional fact find questionnaires, if the current crop of financial needs analysis questionnaires I’ve viewed are any guide. We recommend the discovery questions used by Bill Bachrach ( There are many others including Dan Sullivan’s DOS questions (, Nick Murray’s (, and George Kinder’s (, just to name a few.

The point is that your discovery process must be industrialised, recorded, repeatable, and aimed to provide the clients with a discovery of one or more of the following:

  • the financial options they have
  • financial habits that have been preventing them from attaining their goals
  • what is required to obtain greater financial certainty in their lives
  • what in fact are achievable and realistic goals to aspire towards

Discovery takes approximately 25 minutes for two people (assuming the meeting is with a couple).

Stage 3 – Fact Find

Most advisers are comfortable with this third stage, since for most, after some initial rapport building, it’s the only stage in their current engagement processes.

The fact find fills the remainder of the meeting, approximately an hour. Advisers should resist the temptation to articulate possible financial strategies in depth, or discuss fees. Your fees will be determined, if you decide to proceed, after you have conferred on possible strategies with your advice/paraplanning team and pricing options with your pricing committee.

Once the clients leave, client advice maps (their financial life on a one-page mind map) are developed, a two-three page client terms of engagement is drafted (which repeats their goals, financial values, and aspirations, outlines in simple paragraphs their priority strategies and the scope of advice, and provides a range of fees).

Statement of advice

Don’t waste your time building a comprehensive compliance-centred statement of advice until the clients sign their commitment on the terms of engagement.

Thanks to compliance, statements of advice have morphed from being a client document to primarily being a compliance document.

The engagement (and re-engagement) process is as core for an adviser as the ability to land and take off a plane is for a pilot. Without focus, training, processes, and mindsets controlling your client engagement process (obviously moulded to your firm, your clients and your business plans) no amount of simple ‘fee for service’ technique will ensure success in the new world of advice.

Don’t get caught masquerading as a financial planner simply on the basis that you’ve ‘converted’ to fee for service. Like the continual skills training undertaken by the great Sydney Swans, successful financial planners and advisers continually build their skills of client engagement to ensure their proposition adds real value, upfront and ongoing, to the financial lives of their clients.

This requires a different focus and much more effort than by just trying to look the part by donning the jersey of fee for service and claiming a position on the new playing field of advice.

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