Do you know your client's personality type?

Advice on how to adapt your communications style to your client's needs

May 9, 2012 @ 12:35 pm

By Andrew Osterland

Is the client in front of you a “guardian,” an “artisan,” an “idealist” or a “rationalist?” Is their personality best characterized by the colors red, yellow, blue or green?

An adviser's ability to read personality types and adapt his or her communication strategies to different individuals can often spell the difference between winning and losing a client.

“We all generally look the same and talk the same, but we're different and what you communicate, and how you communicate with clients should be different,” Blaine Dunn, a fee-only financial planner and owner of Dunn Financial Advisors, said at the NAPFA conference in Chicago this afternoon. “Understanding personality types can help advisers use language that enables clients to accept solutions they're offering.”

Mr. Dunn explained various models for assessing personality types, including the Myers Briggs test, the Kiersey temperament sorter and color characterizations by the Pace organization. All can help advisers better assess people's needs from a communication and financial planning standpoint.

“If you're dealing with a ‘red' personality, you don't have to be red, but you have to understand where he's coming from,” Mr. Blaine said. Reds are adventurous and impulsive, yellows are organized and plan oriented, blues are creative and sensitive to others, greens are analytical and independent. Massive generalizations, yes, but they tend to hold true for personality types and can help people better understand others' needs and expectations, Mr. Blaine said.

“I was speaking with a married couple — likely blue personalities, and was asking them why they did this and why they did that, why they didn't do this and that. I was trying to understand them but what they heard was, ‘You're incompetent.' They wanted a more empathetic adviser,” Mr. Blaine said.

For blues and yellows, boring is beautiful and mirroring index returns might be the ideal investment strategy for them. Reds would be bored to death with that plan.

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Being able to read personalities can also help you avoid clients you don't want. Example: a 44-year-old female risk-taker — a red. “She wants to know your top 10 stock picks but doesn't want to pay for it,” said Mr. Blaine. “She'll take excessive risk, then blame the adviser when things go wrong.”

He suggested several key points to keep in minds when communicating with individuals:

Reds: They want to see action. They like humor and puns, and they get easily bored.

Yellows: Structure and order is very important. Be clear and direct with them. They want time to think things through.

Blues: They are flexible and loquacious. They are more likely to assume that you know your stuff but need to determine if they like you. Make eye contact.

Greens: The brain overrides the heart. Skip the small talk. They are independent and ask lots of questions.

A couple of cautionary points: “If you and a client are on the same page, don't overreach,” Mr. Blaine said.

And don't try to be all things to all clients. “Don't become what you're not. Recognize who you are but be sensitive to your clients and the method of communications they likely prefer.”

How do you figure out a client's personality type if they're not taking any tests for you, asked one adviser?

“You have to listen to them and hear their concerns, and then determine how to proceed,” Mr. Blaine said.

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