Whose voice?

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Research shows that when people look for someone to do work for them, they make initial choices based on reputation, recommendation or location.  The reasons differ depending on the work they want; for instance, builders are often chosen on location, within a 3 mile radius, whilst those seeking financial advice see reputation or recommendation as more important and understand that advisers will be prepared to travel.

Once a shortlist has been created though, different criteria apply.  Whilst the final decision is sometimes made on a comparison of costs and services alone, it often comes down to whether the people trust the person they are speaking to, or have confidence they can solve their problems.  This is important as, old as the phrase is, people do buy from people and these emotional decisions can override pure facts, such as cost.

That’s why it’s important that those involved in meeting the needs of clients are encouraged to communicate in their own unique voice, to allow them to establish a rapport with clients, show they understand their challenges and to start the process of gaining their trust.

From the moment the consultation began, the change in how the adviser spoke and acted, compared to the presentation, was remarkable

One of the problems in financial services, is that advisers are expected to be the voice of the regulator, the compliance team, quality assurance, para-planners and the businesses.  There are also some managers, who have been successful advisers that try to create clones of themselves rather than working with the positives that each adviser brings, to improve the way that they communicate with clients.  This can all make finding the right voice to use with clients, daunting initially for some advisers.

This reminds me of two observations I undertook as a T&C Supervisor, in pre auto-enrolment days, when I saw an adviser deliver a presentation to employees at a firm on their pension scheme and benefits, followed by an individual meeting with one attendee who was eligible to join the scheme.

As far as the presentation was concerned, the initial impressions were good with a flawless setup that had computers, screens and documentation well organised and backups ready in case of technical difficulties.  This was coupled with a well delivered introduction, which managed the audience’s expectations on content and timing, as well as setting the scene for those who were to have individual consultations.

Disappointingly though, the delivery was a dry affair, with little in the way of engagement, a lot of referring to notes and occasional trips back to previous slides to clarify things that should have been covered. There was a hesitance to the delivery, as if the adviser wasn’t sure of what they were saying and the audience were struggling at times with what should have been a positive and a relatively simple message.

I was making a lot of notes and would have much to raise during the feedback session later, but as it turned out that would have to wait, as the first employee who was due to have an individual consultation announced they needed to bring it forward.  This only left a few minutes after the presentation for me to set the scene with the adviser and explain my expectations for that meeting.

From the moment the consultation began, the change in how the adviser spoke and acted, compared to the presentation, was remarkable.  They were assured, they listened, summarised and encouraged the employee’s input. They sought the employee’s opinion, asked them about their experience of similar benefits elsewhere and took time to look to the future to consider a number of “what if” scenarios.

The disclosures and the fact-find process were all completed in an exemplary manner and with all of the relevant information to hand the adviser went confidently on to explain their recommendations for the employee in relation to the pension scheme and the initial choice of investments.

As this was in stark contrast to what I had seen during the presentation, it was the first thing I raised during the feedback session.  The adviser agreed that the presentation hadn’t flowed as they would like, but explained that, as they had only just taken over from a colleague, it wasn’t their own presentation.  As it was compliance approved, they knew they couldn’t just change it to suit the way they would prefer to deliver it.

I said I would see what could be done and immediately called the compliance officer who agreed that provided the slide content wasn’t changed, the slide order could be, without re-approval.  The adviser was very grateful for this as they had another session to deliver next week, so could now work on the slides.

I was then able to continue with the feedback, which included positive comments about the way the consultation had been dealt with.  I also undertook a coaching session, focused on the way in which some of the positive elements from that meeting could be transferred to the presentation.

As we finished the feedback, the employee we had seen earlier re-appeared, holding their completed pension application form. The adviser took it and thanked them but explained they needed hurry to their next meeting.  This allowed me to have a chat with the employee, and to ask them what they thought of the day’s events.

They confided they had arrived that morning being unsure about whether joining the pension was a good idea. The presentation hadn’t helped but they really felt the consultation meeting had helped them to understand much more about the pension and the different investment options.  They said it had given them the confidence to make a decision about joining, because they believed they could trust the adviser.

Had the employee only attended the presentation therefore, they may not have joined the pension and may have even opted out later, once auto-enrolment had been introduced.  The fact that they had an individual consultation though, with an adviser who had found their own voice again, had changed that.

What I was able to do as a T&C Supervisor that day wasn’t just to help the adviser to find that voice, but to give them confidence that, generally, what they were doing was good.  The adviser even decided to rewrite the presentation instead of simply re-ordering the slides and asked me to review it before sending it to compliance.  It was refreshingly different and much more in keeping with their natural way of communicating.

This is an integral part of what T&C should be about, it’s not just a tick box exercise, nor is it something to be moulded to look acceptable on the surface to the FCA, in terms of the Certification regime.  It’s about making sure that advisers are fully prepared for the challenges they face and have the Skills, Knowledge and Expertise to work positively with clients, in order to provide them with the most appropriate products and services.

All advisers need to be challenged from time to time and if as part of this a T&C Supervisor can help to improve things like their communication with clients, whilst also meeting the needs of everyone else involved in the process of delivering financial advice, then they are adding value.

The benefit to the business is that clients will feel more confident about what the adviser says, that they can solve their problems and they can trust them to do so.  As Maya Angelou once said “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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Derek T Davies is a freelance Consultant,Editor and Writer

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