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Is “Behavioral Change” Really The Right Value Proposition?

Advisors are short selling their value when they call themselves “behavioral coaches.” I understand why they do it, and why it almost makes sense. Kind of like Kanye running for president.

But it can be misinterpreted and can send the wrong message about the true value of a financial advisor.

I asked several people what they think of when a financial advisor calls themself a “behavioral coach.” Here are some of their replies––

“It’s like the guy who wants to tell you to save money.”

“It sounds like someone who is going to tell me not to spend too much money.”

Although most advisors don’t intend to communicate this narrow concept––save more, spend less––that’s at least partially what clients hear. I can imagine the dinner conversation now, “Honey, I’ve been thinking, we need to get a behavioral coach to help us force some austerity into our lives. What do you think?”

Yes, advisors help people with those things. And there is a place for austerity. But in my experience, the label “behavioral” downplays the holistic role that true advisors play and can cheapen their value proposition.

I’d like to propose a different framing that feels a bit more comprehensive. It will assist you as you explain your essential role in achieving your client’s overall financial wellness.

Anthony Ulwick and Clayton Christensen performed valuable research on how businesses of all shapes and sizes handle the distinct types of “jobs” that they perform for their customers. I’ll adapt their findings to our industry, below.

Their combined research focuses on summarizing jobs in three categories––functional jobs, emotional jobs, and social jobs. Check out Ulwick’s book, Jobs to Be Done, for a super deep dive into functional jobs; and Clayton Christensen’s work, found in this article at HBR, to better understand emotional and social jobs.

Functional jobs are the typical stuff that you might expect an FA to do: set up a defined benefit plan, diversify an investment portfolio, and create an estate plan. These functional jobs are critical, but I don’t think they are the primary reason advisors retain clients.

The emotional and social jobs are by far the hardest to commoditize, and consequently the most important parts of your business. In fact, they are so important that your compensation will likely increase as you improve your performance in these jobs.

We can understand emotional/social jobs by thinking of them as the things a client might use to describe why they work with you. For example––

“I love working with my advisor because they…

…give me the confidence that I’m always making the right decisions.”
…always have the answer to my financial questions so I don’t stress about money stuff.”
…organize my stuff in a system that’s easy to use.”
…make me feel financially responsible which feels good when I’m talking to my friends.”
…make me feel like I’m their most important client. They answer my calls right away.”
…help me prepare for anything that might come up in my financial future.”

These are just the tip of the iceberg. You can see how these jobs are far harder to commoditize than the functional jobs like, “she helped me set up an IRA,” or “she helped me get life insurance.”

I’m not trying to discount the functional jobs. They are essential, and many clients with lower financial IQ’s will sense enough value in the functional jobs to stick with you for a lifetime. Additionally, if functional jobs are more your thing––and if you really know your niche––you could expand your services by offering a growing list of functional jobs that are truly unique to your audience.

That said, I’d encourage you to add focus to the jobs that expose clients to a broader definition of your value. Remember this equation:

Functional + Emotional + Social Jobs = Premium, Next-Gen Advisor

This framing expands the client-advisor conversation to correctly emphasize the multi-faceted value proposition that truly exceptional financial advisors will deliver to their clients. And in a world where the functional jobs of an advisor are becoming commoditized, that could be the difference between huge success and mediocrity.

How do you help your clients with their social and emotional jobs? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments area below.

Sign up for a demo of the Elements Financial Planning System––a turn-key, holistic approach to mastering the functional, emotional, and social jobs that next-gen clients will demand. Secure your place as a premium advisor with a premium process.

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