By Sally Matthews, Client Manager at Paradigm Norton

On day one of the Financial Wellbeing Certificate programme, it hit me that we absolutely cannot have financial wellbeing conversations without getting our own house in order first.

That required a lot of self-scrutiny. Session 1 and session 2 made me have a good long hard look at myself and how I might be or might not be meeting the five elements of wellbeing (career, social, physical, community & financial), a couple of which I realised with horror I was completely neglecting. That was a shock to me and a major lightbulb moment.

That moment of self-discovery helped me realise that I needed to actively change things in my life. That process helped me to have a lot more gratitude and moments of pure content in my personal life as well as work life. It also helped me in my approach towards certain types of clients who are entrenched in their own deep-rooted biases and self-limiting beliefs that could either be harmful to them or preventing them from making better decisions in their lives. I realised this was something I needed to work on.

What do I want the client to get out of this?

Part of that has been about preparing well for the meeting. We’ve all got our compliance tick-list, haven’t we? But actually, before the meeting I now devote time preparing by asking myself ‘What do I want the client to get out of this? What do I want to know from this meeting? What’s going to be a great outcome for the client?’ And that requires careful preparation for the questions I want to ask.

I’m not the sort of person who would go in straight away and know how to ask open-ended questions as a natural instinct. It takes practise – a lot of practise. But if you put that time in, the quality of the conversations is noticeable. It also helps the client to get to know themselves better and for me to understand their way of thinking.

Subtle yet powerful shifts in language

Following the Financial Wellbeing Certificate course, I’ve made quite impactful changes in terms of how I deal with clients. One example is that previously we’d send a pack out to a client before a meeting about finances and health and so on in very cold language. Now we make an effort to set the tone and prepare the client, put ‘health and wellbeing’ and ‘life plans’ on the agenda.

I’ve found that gets them thinking in a different way without knowing it and subtly prompts them to prepare well for the meeting. When you ask how they are, they don’t just think you’re making small talk before moving onto business, they understand that this is an important part of the meeting. My more ‘closed’ clients are generally now far more open to talking about these things.

Part of the journey is educating everyone around you. It’s all very well me turning up to the meeting thinking I’m going to go with this approach, but everyone who is co-piloting the meeting, such as another planner or paraplanner, needs to be on that journey with you – you have to prepare them as well.

You’ve got to give the client space to arrive at their own decisions, so it’s about making sure that they understand the journey as well.

Zero-tolerance on waffle

We now operate a zero-tolerance approach to meaningless, generic waffle, so that what’s being said in reports and advice letters cuts to the core. When we present things like cash-flow, the default scenario is now ‘what does the client tell me they want to do and achieve in life?’ and goes straight into showing them modelling to what they want to achieve, and then you’re immediately talking about what they need to do to achieve that.

Value-added conversations

Where more work has been added to the process, it’s a real value-add. It’s really about preparing well before the meeting, really thinking about the audience, that client, their communications style, and how I’m going to broach a line of questioning with them that’s not going to make them defensive or make them feel put on the spot. Preparing well, and thinking about what I’m going to ask and how, is a really important part of the advice process.

One scenario is someone who’s so loss-averse it’s quite harmful to the decisions they make and quality of life. Rather than me coming along with my own deep-rooted biases and an attitude of ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ it’s about being curious: ‘What are the decisions they made? Why? What’s the background?’ How can I engage with them to get them thinking in a different way and improve their outcome?

I love learning and my biggest take-away from the Financial Wellbeing Certificate programme was that I’ve got so much to learn, which was both exciting and terrifying! I have been in the profession for 25 years and undertaking the programme has made me love my job again.

Book onto the Financial Wellbeing Certificate programme here.

This article is a copy of an article posted on the Institute of Financial Wellbeing’s members’ website in the summer of 2022.

Back to News & Blogs Overview