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What Skills Make a Good Advisor?

While Elements® offers you a solid planning foundation and provides a system and the tools you need to make your job easier, a lot more is needed if you want to become a first-rate financial advisor.

On this episode of the Elementality podcast, Reese Harper and Chad Jardine describe the ingredients they believe help advisors secure success. From empathic listening skills to written and verbal communication skills to an aptitude for problem solving, Reese and Chad dive into what makes an outstanding advisor. If you see yourself as a guide, teacher, and financial mentor, and believe being an advisor takes traits beyond those needed to just offer investment advice, here’s how to improve your skills and become the advisor you’re aspiring to be.

 


Podcast Transcript

Reese Harper:
They don’t know how to assess the difference between active management and passive. That’s too deep, and that’s too analytical. But you can explain that to them, they’ll get it, but they’re not looking for that. What they’re sniffing for is how do you talk, how do you write, what familiarity do you have with my situation, and they’re getting a gut check and a gut feel, and they’re looking at your emails, the way your correspondence looks, the way your visual communication is displayed on your documents and stuff and they’re making a decision based on that.

Abby Morton:
Welcome to Elementality, I’m Abby Morton, CFP and producer of our podcast here at Elements. I love being a financial planner, but I know it’s a challenging profession as well, that’s why the number one goal of our show is to help you prosper as an advisor as you better connect with your clients. We know your time is very valuable. Plan on a good return when you spend it here with us.

Reese Harper:
Welcome to Elementality everybody. I’m your host, Reese Harper, here in the studio, with friend and co-host, Chad Jardine, who’s been journeying throughout advisor land, beating the streets, trying to find our next topic, and we’re gonna go ahead and kick the question over to him and see where we’re at on this.

Chad Jardine:
Alright, so let’s say that we’re looking at… We at Elements are… Our entire focus is about trying to provide support and tools and systems and processes that make the job of a financial advisor easier and better. What I’m curious about is like, “How do you rank or determine the difference between advisors that are great and advisors that are not so great?” And it’s not that we’re sitting here in judgment on all of our listeners who are advisors, but what are we aspiring to? When you paint a picture of that’s the type of advisor that I wanna be, or that’s what the ideal advisor looks like and what they do, and I wanna be like that. I’m curious about… And for somebody who spent multiple decades sitting in the advisor chair trying to be the best advisor that you can be. For you, what does that look like? What’s the ideal advisor? What does a great financial advisor look like?

Reese Harper:
I mean, it’s a hard question to not feel like you’re projecting, so I probably reference a study or some data that I can reference as well to validate some of my conclusions, but I was thinking about this the other day, because I’m what I would probably consider to be a traditional financial advisor, but I will say there’s still some confusion in the market about, “Is a money manager a financial advisor or is a financial advisor a money manager? Is someone… Do I hire someone to pick stocks and make me money with my money?” ‘Cause there is a consumer that really wants that, and I don’t think that market’s going away, there’s always going to be the money guy, where you’re like, “I just give that guy money, and he makes me money, I don’t… It’s awesome, and I want that.” And then you re-cycle him every couple of years, ’cause that value proposition is a hard one to sustain indefinitely, but I think it’s always exciting enough. Like I was watching Titan, it’s a new fintech that’s just launched. There’s been a lot of robo-advisors that…

Reese Harper:
Robo-platforms that are passive, but Titan’s one of the first really great UX designed active management platforms, crypto, different active styles and direct placements and all kinds of things, really interesting. And so that’ll always exist, but I’m gonna speak today to who I know our audience mostly is, and that’s the financial advisor that does not see themselves as a money manager, but they see themselves fulfilling a different value proposition, and that value proposition is helping someone make sense of their money, helping them feel differently about their money, helping them make good decisions, regardless of the investment style, ’cause an investment style is one job that you might choose to do, just like you might choose to have a defined benefit plan, if you’re a small business owner over a simple IRA, these are not… But that’s less about the human, it’s less about the person, it’s just more about a style of implementation or strategy.

Reese Harper:
And I’m speaking to the people that really see themselves as people, people that are human, that are advisors, and they don’t see their value proposition as exclusively investment managers, and I think that if we look in that lens… I think one of the interesting studies that I’m gonna pull from, that Fidelity did is, they interviewed a bunch of their own advisors that were… I think they called it their Talent and Diversity study it was back in just a year or two ago, and the percentage of advisors who felt that… Well, I’ll just give you the percentage, 70% of advisors felt that this following thing was the number one thing for them, and the number one skill that best served them, and the answer was listening skills and empathy.

Chad Jardine:
Interesting.

Reese Harper:
And I was expecting maybe some quantitative stuff to be higher up on the list, but as you go down the list, it starts with 70% of advisors feeling that’s the number one thing, listening skills and empathy, the kind of EQ side of advice. The second skill was communication skills, so verbal communication, written communication, word selection and then the third thing, which was very close in its ranking to communication was problem-solving ability. I think that as I read through the questions, I think it has to do with creativity. Finding, “How can you help me figure out the answer to the thing that I’m struggling with?” And I found that to be incredibly valuable.

Chad Jardine:
Well, interesting, too, that these are all about getting an accurate understanding of the client, all about being able to, in some sense, frame the problem the right way. None of them were knowledge of financial markets or skilled at developing financial plans or projections.

Reese Harper:
Yeah. And the interpersonal skills and sociability, so just being able to relate to people was a pretty important factor in financial advisor being successful. These were all… Six out of 10, seven out of 10 people ranking, the seven out of 10 was the highest, listening skills and empathy, 70% of advisors saying that’s their most important. Analytical and research and quantitative skills, three out of 10 felt that that was the most critical factor and skill.

Chad Jardine:
Their number one skill. Yeah, interesting.

Reese Harper:
And I think there’s a couple key takeaways for me on that, and one is that this EQ component, this empathy component, the listening skills, the communication skills, the creativity around problem-solving, those are the things that I think are going to continue to stand out in the market as valuable to the client. But the fact that their ranking this analytical side and research side kind of lower, it says several things to me, I think it says that the market’s actually shifting, that there’s… I think we’re gonna see like firms…

Chad Jardine:
In terms of what the client’s expecting?

Reese Harper:
Yeah, well, in terms of what the client’s expecting and where firms can differentiate in that value, because I know in our own firm at Dentist Advisors, if we didn’t have Robbie Demovsky who’s highly analytical and very detail-oriented and super particular CFA, that our investment portfolio management process are charitable giving analysis, our analysis of tax loss harvesting and just overall tax management of our portfolios, it would be… We’d have to have someone else, he’s a critical function. But a lot of these functions, I don’t think are… They’re not… These are not client-facing.

Chad Jardine:
Right, right.

Reese Harper:
And ultimately, the customer is buying some kind of emotional piece of mind, some kind of emotional sanity around their money, it’s their number one stressor. They wanna counterbalance that with piece of mind.

Chad Jardine:
Yeah, that functional thing is wrapped in a relationship.

Reese Harper:
Yeah, and it’s hard, but those two skills don’t actually usually come in the same person. It’s really to the degree that someone is highly analytical and to the degree that they are very research-oriented, it usually comes sometimes, not always, but usually comes at the expense of the most sociable, the most…

Chad Jardine:
Some of the soft skills.

Reese Harper:
High effective, empathic listening. It’s hard. Some of the smartest people that I know, I also… I’m not thinking of them in a relationship management context, and so I think it’s good to both recognize that and to understand what parts of your personality you’re gonna work on to evolve, ’cause if you already have those strengths, then it probably is great to either pair yourself with people who have the analytical and capability as well as trying to potentially improve some of those things yourself. But employers right now, they’re going to be looking for financial advisors who can accurately translate the client’s feelings into problem-solving and goals and orienting them in the right direction, and when people talk to a financial advisor that gives them that sense of confidence, their likelihood of changing advisors is very low. And that’s why retention is so high, the industries continue to shift that direction more and more where I think these empathic listening skills and communication skills are gonna continue to be valued at a premium.

Abby Morton:
Do you ever wonder if you do enough for your clients to be worth what they’re paying you for, do you feel like you’re delivering enough value? Many advisors wrestle with questions like these, I’ve used “The elements financial planning system” for a couple of years now, with that, I can deliver periodic insight about a client’s financial health and progress by utilizing standardized measurements. They know I’m watching their progress and can actually see how my advice is improving their life. With “The elements financial planning system,” you can also give your clients consistent planning value and the valuable advice they expect. Check it out, at getelements.com/meet.

Chad Jardine:
Circling back to the opening question in your mind, would you say that the strongest advisors are super deep in their listening and problem-solving skills, or that they have that as a pre-requisite plus breadth in other skills that they can bring to bear to problems?

Reese Harper:
Well, the problem-solving skills can’t be… There’s a difference between problem solving and then research and analytical. I do think problem-solving requires is a really broad sense of options available of platforms, of technologies, of strategy. You have to have an awareness of how client balance sheet issues and cash flow issues translate into outcomes, and you have to have an idea of what’s available in the marketplace. In terms of being the most expert in any given area, it’s probably unnecessary, ’cause what you need to be able to do is just translate the options available to the customer through good written and verbal communication. I think that’s what creates a good financial advisor, and I would say it’s not just verbal though it’s writing skill, like I’ve had financial advisors who both communicate well and write well, and that combination…

Chad Jardine:
A lot of times we’re emailing or texting or using other…

Reese Harper:
If you misspell stuff, if you put an S, you make a word a plural and it should be singular and you’re just kind of sloppy with your communication, you know clients will over-look that sometimes, but these customers are quite perceptive, and they correlate written communication skills with competency more than they do analytical skills on portfolio strategy.

Chad Jardine:
Yeah, they don’t wanna think that their money guy is not up to par.

Reese Harper:
Yeah, but they don’t have a way to perceive that through the actual portfolio you’re delivering them, they only have a way to perceive that through the words you use and the written communication.

Chad Jardine:
So it’s for… In our audience advisors of many shapes and sizes, what kind of advice would you give them to become self-aware of their strengths and weaknesses and to find ways to get stronger in the skills that drive the most value?

Reese Harper:
Well, alright, I would just say for me, quite simply, it’s like I would establish a daily writing practice, because I think that will improve your ability to communicate more accurately, and I would make sure that I was fostering that and not just for… Maybe you don’t choose to publish, but I think you should be publishing to your clientele through just a simple email or a blog that you write and continue to cultivate those relationships through written communication. A lot of advisors are uncomfortable with that, that’s a big step, but I do think it’s a pretty important medium still, and it just speaks volumes when you can accurately cover a topic and especially as you understand who your customer is as a financial advisor, and you can kind of get down into their mindset and narrow your content, so it’s not so generic. That’s helped us at Dentist Advisors, I’ve watched our advisors here as they continue to publish and write and continue to get their expertise out there, it makes all the difference in the world for them, so… I’ve loved watching how much their careers have accelerated through producing content…

Chad Jardine:
‘Cause they level up on these skills.

Reese Harper:
Now as far as the analytical side, I just… I don’t think it can be this binary, you can’t just have one or the other, and clients will sense your lack of familiarity with topics, that seems like the first time you’ve discussed private equity, or I don’t know if you really understand… A particular customer will have an expectation that you know their occupational issues, so if I’m meeting with a venture capitalist, and I don’t understand seed stage versus Series A, that’s gonna be a problem, they’re not gonna trust me as a financial advisor, no way. And I feel like that’s… With the dentist, if I don’t know what a cone beam is, and I don’t know what a prophy is, I’m gonna have a problem, and they’re gonna sniff that out like in 10 minutes. And they’re looking for these kind of…

Reese Harper:
They don’t know how to assess the difference between active management and passive, that’s too deep and that’s too analytical, but you can explain that to them, they’ll get it, but they’re not looking for that. When they’re sniffing for is how do you talk, how do you write, what familiarity do you have with my situation, and they’re getting a gut check and a gut feel, and they’re looking at your emails, the way your correspondence looks, the way your visual communication is displayed on your documents and stuff, and they’re making the decision based on that. And I think that’s great to know, even if that’s not a strength, you need to make that part of your firm’s DNA, because that is the customer’s point of view, right? And it’s fun chatting about it though, and for anyone who’s in the spectrum of great communicator to struggling, we’ve all been at different stages and just keep leveling up.

Abby Morton:
Next time on Elementality.

Sten Morgan:
Because at the end of the day, if I charge you five grand, but I show you that one of my ideas will save you 15, is anyone gonna say no to that. Most advisors sit in a meeting across the table and say, “Hey, trust me, you know you need somebody, let’s get to work, here’s some products you might need to buy.” And you’re hoping you just catch them at the right time, that they say, “Yes.” We get up on the white board and just start giving away our best ideas in the first meeting and I give them, “Hey, if you do this, this is what happens.” And you actually get good at quantifying, “If you put money into this SEP IRA for this year, it’s gonna say you 15 grand in tax.” In a meeting, I can save them 10, 20 grand when I just charge them five for a financial plan and, “Oh, by the way, I’m gonna help you over the next 10 months.” Why wouldn’t they sign up?

Abby Morton:
You can learn more about the Elements Financial Planning System at getelements.com/meet and schedule a time to meet with me or one of our friendly financial planning experts. Elementality’s executive creators are Reese Harper and Chad Jardine. Elementality is produced by Abby Morton and directed by Jordan Haynes.

 

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