What should really happen at client meetings. Hint: It's not discussing investments.

Experts explain how to draw out the truest intentions and values of those who seek full financial advice

Jun 13, 2017 @ 12:57 pm

By Jeff Benjamin

Client meetings don't have to be all about investment performance. In fact, they don't have to be about performance at all, according to Jason Gordo, head of FinLife Partners and managing director at United Capital.

"Four things you never want to bring to a client meeting are a yellow pad, pen, calculator and a performance report," said Mr. Gordo during a panel discussion Monday at Fidelity Investment's Inside Track seminar in Boston.

Based on the premise that better client relationships lead to higher assets under management, Mr. Gordo said financial advisers need to learn to listen more and talk less when meeting with clients.

On the matter of "drawing the disinterested spouse into the conversation," he said his policy is to have the adviser speak no more than 30% of the time. And the conversation doesn't have to be about investment performance.

"We want the client to talk about intentions and values; not goals," he said. "By doing this we find that spouses will start to have conversations with each other in front of you that they've never even had before."

Fellow panelist Jeff Belkora, director at the Patient Support Corps Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California, recommended recording client meetings so that both client and adviser can get more out of the time spent together.

"Advisers need to practice active listening, versus just talking to clients," he said. "That means listening more and talking less, and measuring and monitoring your client interactions."

Like Mr. Gordo, Mr. Belkora believes it is best to not let client meetings be centered on investment performance, regardless of whether that performance is good or bad.

He used the analogy of an iceberg, where there is usually a lot of consequential matter unseen beneath the surface.

"You should start the conversation with whatever people are really comfortable with," Mr. Belkora said.

To that end, he asks clients to share any notes they might have jotted down in preparation for the meeting. And if there aren't any notes, he works with them to help list some of the issues they might have hoped to address.

"It's important to just write those things down without interrupting," Mr. Belkora said. "This will let you go deeper into the iceberg, because the more people tell you, the more they realize how much they trust you."

The third panelist, Kate DeBartolo, national field director at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and The Conversation Project, is focused on helping advisers broach some of the most sensitive topics, such as end-of-life requests and arrangements.

"I would encourage these kinds of conversations to be open and out there, because it's better to have them around the kitchen table then in the ICU," she said.

In addition to "staying one step ahead of these issues," by talking about them, Ms. DeBartolo said the documents should be regularly visited, updated when necessary and not just locked away in a safety deposit box.

"These are important conversations that involve a lot of different people, and they should not be guarded and kept in a filing cabinet," she said.

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