“Knowledge is a process of piling up facts. Wisdom lies in their simplification.” – Martin H. Fischer
The coronavirus pandemic requires not just an outreach of phone calls, emails and video chats but also carefully constructed messaging that helps advisors truly connect with their clients and prospects. Empathy and communication have never been more important than right at this moment.
The financial industry has traditionally been built around technical facts, operational functions and a logical flow of information. However, financial professionals need to realize that, while a sentence makes sense on paper, the words may not resonate with emotionally concerned people. While a lot of information may be helpful, it could also confuse listeners who are just looking for comfort. Ironically, advisors end up serving no-one if clients do not precisely understand what is being said, or if they cannot relate it to their exact situation and fears. Lacking this acknowledgement severely limits an advisor’s ability to respond to client concerns and to connect as deeply as possible when it’s needed most, like right now.
“Simplicity will stand out, while complexity will get lost in the crowd.” – Kevin Barnett
Since being a communications expert may not be a core skill set of many advisors, it is imperative today to be aware of one key communication principle - the power of simplicity. Simplicity aids understanding - the easier to understand, the easier to share it, the better to focus and, subsequently, the better it builds confidence and impact with clients that leads into an enlightened agreement on a course of action. This does not mean necessarily dumbing-down your message. It is about stripping the communication to its core, clearest meaning. Yet many advisors, and the industry as a whole, still have a natural tendency to over complicate things.
This key communication lesson, among others, was reinforced and fully explored at a recent industry conference held by Birmingham, Michigan-based White Glove - a leading seminar planning and community education platform that now offers virtual presentation options for financial advisors and other service professionals. Their conference was a true Masterclass focused on client communication lessons with multiple applications for an advisor’s business. The following provides a quick overview of the main communication and engagement principles discussed that bears repeating and needs to be more broadly shared with financial professionals.
“We took the complex content and logistical challenges of doing educational seminars and simplified the activity into a 100 percent done-for-you, turn-key, triple guaranteed and now virtual community engagement strategy.” – Dean Thurman
The art and science of client communication was the key theme running throughout White Glove’s 2020 Host University Conference in Las Vegas earlier this year. White Glove co-founders—financial advisors Mike & Dean Thurman and their partner Jeff Grail - shared their expertise and process of gleaning a community’s most pressing financial interests and needs through local digital marketing mining and then translating and crafting those most sought after concerns into simple, direct, motivating seminar content and engagement strategies. Topics they have developed-to-date include retirement tax strategies, maximizing Social Security benefits, preparing for Medicare, college planning and, more recently, estate planning. White Glove has also re-fashioned all their content for Virtual Seminars and community town hall out-reach for advisors to position them to leverage financial guidance during the current crisis.
After many months of beta testing with advisors and attorneys (many of whom partnered up to make their estate planning presentation a breeze) from around the country, White Glove reported that the estate planning topic is not only a huge draw for prospects, but it actually attracts households with more investible assets (on average) than any of their other topics. Throughout the Conference, advisors were presented with everything they would need to know in order to be successful at being a financial educational resource for their local community, including how to partner with estate planning attorneys or accountants in delivering this estate planning content.
“Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. – Steve Jobs
Transforming something complex into something simple is, without a doubt, a challenging proposition. It tests us to ensure that we truly understand what we are talking about and that we can distill it into understandable, manageable chunks. The formula is to remove the layers of complexity to reach what is simple at the core. Simple communication is natural, easy, direct, concise, clear and unpretentious. It helps to add a little creativity and innovation to the mix.
Rounding out and elevating those discussions were further techniques and strategies shared by White Glove’s carefully curated strategic partner firms that they designate as their Syndicate partners. In aggregate, the syndicate partners painted a very clear picture of how simplicity comes out from the conscious merging of experience and wisdom.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” - Leonardo da Vinci
Jason L Smith, Founder Clarity 2 Prosperity and author of The Bucket Plan – put into context that a confused mind says “no” and does nothing, as well as, any client or prospect saying “I have to think this over” is because the advisor has overcomplicated things. With the goal of simplifying the often complex world of financial planning, Jason went over his book and financial planning process which is based on a three-bucket philosophy of strategically positioning assets to plan for and mitigate the risks and dangers that can occur in retirement. The key is to his communication strategy of the three buckets is to impart an easy plan of action around retirement that is free from worry, stress, and confusion for the client. The process he developed begins with the art of knowing how to ask the right questions to isolate the client’s primary pain points, briefly lays out major risks and mistakes others have taken, and maps out the client’s time horizon and financial plan around “Now”, “Soon” and “Later” buckets. You communicate simply in an encouraging and motivating way and let them ask the complex questions, if they have any. You leave them with the confidence of letting them know you are doing all the sophisticated actions behind the scenes. Jason even brought this simplified process for review to the DOL and the SEC.
This presentation brought to mind an analogy of thinking about the issue of simplicity versus complexity as a river: “It flows easiest when there are no rocks or boulders in the way. The flow of the river is effortless and no resources are wasted. Contrast that with a river full of debris and rocks. The river flows more slowly as it navigates the hazards in its way.” That is the difference between the power of simplicity and the challenge of complexity. It provides a great metaphor to guide advisors in their business. Not every complexity is bad, the point is how to eliminate the unnecessary complexity to make it elegant.
“Complexity is enemy of execution”. – Anthony Robbins
Pat Quinn, a professional consultant and keynote speaker with an advanced degree in brain research, discussed how in order to truly communicate with people you need to understand how adults process and learn new information. He mentioned the importance of studying the body of work coming from the social sciences, mentioning the work of Daniel Pink and Robert Cialdini. He made a strong point that using this behavioral information is not to be manipulative, but rather, to know how to build structured communication frameworks to be able to connect with people. He provided an example of his four-part story bridge framework that aims to communicate ideas using an initial “heart” story, moving to just enough facts to address the “head”, then offering a “hand” to a call to action, then closing on another point addressing the “heart”. His formula - based on social science - is a heart, head, hands, heart communication structure in order to maximize potential for higher engagement and moving clients to positive action in their best interests.
Dan Collison, Managing Partner, Advice2Advisors - has focused on the education and development of financial advisors towards a comprehensive, holistic approach to financial planning. He strongly reinforced that estate planning is a perfect topic for advisors to focus on. The key opportunity for them is to simplify its complexities so that the audience can better understand the issues and subsequently, their need to take action. Dan went on to recommend the work of Richard Thaler, who coined the term of being a “choice architect” - the practice of influencing choice by “organizing the context in which people make decisions”. Most advisors tend to lose their audience in the first few minutes by talking in overly technical language. Rather, they should open up their audience with tough questions that help the participants become part of the conversation; engage them emotionally in a simplified way; and then “nudging” them to realize why they need to act now rather than later. As Dan put it, “Disturb, then motivate”. He outlined how the advisor using this communication approach can position themselves as the client’s personal CFO – just like a typical CEO relies on their CFO to qualify and quantify goals.
Scott Huff, Founder of Yourefolio – is a financial advisor who acknowledged the fact that 60% of adults do not have an estate plan due to the complexity and strong emotions tied to the subject and took it upon himself to correct this problem. He built a legacy planning software platform with innovative tools and modules designed to more easily explain, stress test, prepare and implement a full estate planning process in a more motivating way for his clients. This is a great example of how advisors can create new solutions and processes to actively work on simplifying financial planning complexities and provide more clarity to motivate clients to be prepared.
“Simplicity is a state of mind.” – Charles Wagner
Jeremiah Demarais, Advisorist - heads a team of experts - “front line tacticians” who are constantly collecting strategies that are working - who teach financial professionals how to leverage digital marketing to significantly grow their financial services businesses. He relayed an enlightening report from McKinsey & Company that proved targeted emails are over 40x more effective than all other marketing efforts. The key to effectiveness in this communication format is, not surprisingly, keeping it simple and direct. The best formula is: 1. Keep it short (more emails are becoming like text messages), 2. Ask one question, 3. Keep it conversational. Jeremiah stated that the simplest execution is often the most effective.
Luke Acree, ReminderMedia – a unique marketing firm and follow up specialist, their flagship client engagement tools are their American Lifestyle and Start Healthy magazines – beautiful, glossy, advisor branded 48-page publications that features advisor information and valuable general interest articles on topics like art, food, health, fitness, interior design, and travel. Advisors are able to use the magazine to stay top-of-mind with their clients and continue engaging their clients positively without complicated messaging and having it feel like a marketing tool. They offer a compelling example of how subtle, yet powerful, communication tool like this can nurture deeper connections with clients.
Frank Maselli, The Maselli Group – a widely renowned expert in the financial services seminar industry also emphasized that all communications with clients and prospects should be built around an emotional dynamic. Cut content by 75% - as people only absorb 10% of information anyway – and realize that bottom-line, people are trying to make a decision on you, not the content. Key question to ask yourself before you write and reach out to clients and prospects is: What do I want people to feel? He suggested what he calls the “hourglass“ structure to which fashions communications into a Big Picture – Details – Big Picture layout versus just jumping into the numbers which many advisors do.
“Simplicity is the key to brilliance.” — Bruce Lee
White Glove’s Conference was a truly a Masterclass dedicated to demonstrating how to refine the complex into practical effective ways to engage and guide clients that are much easier than most advisors might assume. Hopefully, after reviewing this Conference report and the numerous examples provided on simplicity in client/prospect communication and need for deep customer engagement, you’ll explore some of these ideas or come up with others for new, more effective communication strategies that can be tested.
A serious stepping back from the old routines of how the industry explains itself and conducts business is needed. The bottom-line for the profession is in the ability to improve a client’s present moment and state of mind to improve their lives. Many of the products and services presently on offer are too complex and this needs to change or be expressed differently. Financial professionals should be consciously and purposefully designing their communications and have a strategy behind it at all times; not just during a crisis. The future of asset management is in simplicity.
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