Retirement Director Taylor Pluss explains how financial professionals can establish rapport and trust with clients by conveying authenticity.
Having been in the financial services industry for 15 years, I’ve had my fair share of encounters with other financial professionals who are smarter than me, know more about the markets than me, or have some insight into the financial world that I do not have. And while many of these individuals have been perfectly gracious in sharing that knowledge and treating me as their equal, others have (to put it bluntly) acted like they had something to prove.
For many of us in financial services, being our authentic selves can be challenging. After all, when you possess a specialized and sought-after expertise, it’s easy to believe you have all the right answers. But have you ever stopped to consider how not always having the right answer on cue might humanize you and make clients view you as more genuine and trustworthy? Because while investors hire professionals for their knowledge and expertise, they also want to work with someone who is authentic, personable and, above all, never judgmental.
As head of our Women and Wealth initiative here at Janus Henderson, I’m compelled to mention that these qualities are especially important when it comes to female clients. In a recent blog post, my colleague Sara Lowery wrote about the importance of engaging with female investors, who are often talked down to by financial professionals and left out of long-term planning conversations. She explained how this long-held bias that has led many women to form a negative view of our industry and why it’s critical that financial professionals win back that trust – not only for the benefit of their female clients, but also for the longevity of their business.
According to McKinsey, “an unprecedented amount of assets will shift into the hands of U.S. women over the next three to five years, representing a $30 trillion opportunity by the end of the decade.”1 Over the next several years, financial services professionals can choose to adapt and change or risk losing out. And while there is no established playbook for attracting and retaining these female clients, a good starting point is to be your authentic self.
With that goal in mind, following are some simple techniques you can employ to help convey authenticity when engaging with clients.
Share Your Story
When striving to establish rapport and trust with any client, it is important to create a welcoming environment by using a non-judgmental approach and asking open-ended questions to gain an understanding of the client’s situation. When it comes to women, it is important to remember that we tend to be very relational – we want to share our own stories, and to hear your story as well.
With that in mind, instead of rushing right into selling, take the time to share these personal stories. And remember that you don’t always have to rely on words: having pictures or memorabilia visible in your office or in the background of your Zoom call can help establish authenticity and intimacy. Having these personal items on display – rather than hiding them away for fear they might appear “unprofessional” – can help spark conversation, allow the client or prospect to get to know you as a person, and help build rapport, which can ultimately lead to trust.
Learn to Express Empathy
You may have heard about Cheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, losing her husband suddenly while on a recent family vacation in Mexico. Several months later, she posted an open letter on Facebook, and what she said about empathy stuck with me: “Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not.”
Simply asking a female client, “How are you doing today?” is a good way to gauge whether she is open to talking about her emotions. From there, if you are able to express true empathy about her situation – that is, put yourself in the client’s shoes rather than just offering objective sympathy – she will be far more likely to view you as a genuine individual who is there to help.
Most Importantly, Listen
How can you tell if you’re an active listener? The next time you’re having a discussion with a client (or a co-worker or spouse), pay close attention to whether you are formulating your response in your head as they speak. If you find yourself unable to avoid doing so, you are not an active listener. But the good news is, recognizing this tendency in yourself is the first step to amending the behavior. If you are able to catch yourself in the act and make an effort to turn off that impulse, over time you may find that active listening comes naturally.
Asking open-ended and clarifying questions is another great way to show you are an active listener. Also remember that it’s not just the words we say, but the way we say them: a significant portion of how others interpret and react to what we are saying is defined by tone, pace and volume. We often rush to speak because we want to show off how smart we are. But allowing the client to speak first – especially female clients – is often a far more effective approach.
The Power of Silence
People tend to be uncomfortable when there is a lull in a conversation. But it’s important to realize that silence – in measured doses and at appropriate times – is a normal and often beneficial aspect of communication. If you don’t immediately have something to say when a client stops talking, try staying silent for a moment; odds are, she will continue talking because she had more to say.
Leave Out the Jargon
Lastly, remember that not everyone understands the jargon of our industry. While using industry shorthand may be part of your natural way of speaking – and is therefore part of your authentic self – this is one area where it’s often necessary to consciously moderate the language you use. Watch for nonverbal cues (nodding is good, furrowed brows and narrowed eyes might indicate confusion) to gauge whether the client fully comprehends what you’re saying. When in doubt, simply ask if the client understands or needs clarification.
1“Women as the next wave of growth in U.S. wealth management,” McKinsey & Company, July 29, 2020.