Trust and credibility seem to dominate the news feeds these days. It’s hard to get through the daily news cycle without mention of yet another failure within the financial services industry – and a hefty portion of these articles call into question the credibility of the financial planning profession. If you’re a financial adviser today, how should you react to this implied challenge to your own credibility and reputation? Should you react at all, or is it best to do nothing (your clients and centres of influence know you better, right)?

I personally don’t believe the ‘do nothing’ approach is in anyway a viable option – the news is out there, most Australians (including your clients) are hearing about it in one way or another. So, what can you do? First up, it isn’t all bad news… we’ve analysed data from our CATScan client survey service (2018 results) and found that the overwhelming majority of clients fully appreciate their own adviser. In fact, according to our analysis, 91% of clients expect an ongoing relationship and 88% of clients are happy to refer their own adviser to their family and friends.

So that’s a positive place to work from – but, these clients are aging (55% are aged 60+, while 45% are already retired), and it’s clear that most practices will need to ramp up their efforts to attract new clients going forward. And to this end, they’ll need to establish trust in a world which may be predisposed to scepticism and suspicion. According to research undertaken by Deloitte Digital (and sponsored by Salesforce) earlier this year, only 1 in 3 customers believe that the financial services industry can be trusted. This finding has been further amplified by CoreData, which observed a decline in the level of trust in financial planning throughout 2018.

So what to do?

To begin with, continue to reinforce your value/offer to existing clients at every opportunity – never take them for granted or assume they remain satisfied with your service. Regularly tell your clients what you do for your them, do it, then tell them what you’ve done. Your clients are, after all, reading the press.

Here’s what I think should be done, at the least:

  • Recognise that transparency in what you say and do is the cornerstone of trust. How transparent are you in terms of, for example: ownership of your licensee, professional associations you belong to, your fees (structure and level)?
  • In all of your communications with clients – reinforce what you’ve already done and what you will continue to do for them. What is your Client Value Proposition?
  • Ask more questions and listen during your various interactions. The ‘coffee test’ is a great measure of who’s talking the most (talking not drinking) and who’s listening the most (not talking, drinking coffee)!
  • Before each meeting with your clients, ask if they have any questions they’d like you to consider (prepare for), prior to the meeting.
  • Make sure you have at least one face-to-face meeting each year with your “A” clients.
  • Phone both clients and centres of influence… make a ‘how’s things’ call. Irrespective of the ease and convenience of email, it doesn’t beat the benefits of the direct nature of one-to-one phone calls.
  • And maybe during the course of 2019, seek feedback from your clients (how satisfied are they really?). An independently conducted, objective, confidential and anonymous service will provide you with not only data and insight, but also the comfort of actually knowing what they think of you. Such a survey will also tell your clients that you’re interested in, and have respect for, their views. According to our research, only one in three Australian practices (34%) actually survey their clients!

As to the marketplace outside of your own clientele, how can they feel that you can be trusted? A few points:

  • As I’ve already mentioned, transparency in all you say and do is tremendously important.
  • Show them ‘how’ – do you have case studies, testimonials and bios of your staff (experience and qualifications) to showcase your capability? How about your awards, latest compliance audit results, the assessment from your last client survey?
  • Do you proactively, and selectively, reach out to the children of your clients, who, after all, will be the beneficiaries of your financial advice to their parents. Targeted seminars, communications, events and meetings etc. Why not a different newsletter (content and style) for this group?
  • Do you proactively communicate to your centres of influence? Perhaps it’s time, if you haven’t already done so, to meet individually with them and let them know how you feel about what’s happening and what you’re doing about it. And in these meetings reinforce what you can do (with the emphasis being always on the value you bring to them and their clients). Why not share with them the results of your latest client satisfaction survey and how they compare to the marketplace in general, and ‘best practice’ in particular.
  • How does your website and social media presence shape up? This is where most referrals and prospects will go, before contacting you directly. Is it up to date? If you have articles, news or blogs from a year or two ago, perhaps it’s time to update?

For your consideration.

Terry Bell