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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Grill your clients hard for a super effective data gathering

Out of the six steps we follow in Financial Planning process, data gathering which provides the input for making a Financial Plan is the most critical one. Fundamental science says that the output of any process is only as good as the input. Going a step further and beyond the conventional practice of Financial Planning, the data gathering meeting with clients can be utilized to fulfill multiple objectives, collecting numbers being just one of them. This article is about using the opportunity of data gathering meeting in a much more effective way than just filling a boring 10-20 pager data gathering form.
The article is written based on the assumption that you offer a no-obligation/complimentary data gathering meeting to anyone who has even remotely shown interest in subscribing to your FP services. The article is a comprehensive guide to getting the best out of data gathering meeting and the strategies followed have worked well for me in higher conversion.
 Data Gathering Meeting 

1. Taking Initial Commitment from Client

While offering complimentary first meeting/data gathering meeting without any obligations from the prospective clients so that they are open to explore our services, you can request a few things from their end to rope in the initial commitment towards subscribing to our services. Irrespective of source of lead and chances of conversion, it is good to put forward the following requests;
  • Involve spouse in the meeting.
  • Meeting will be at their residence not office
  • 2-3 hours of undisturbed time
  • Keep the required documents handy
  • Read (Not fill) the Data Gathering Form before meeting

The above commitments from cleints will not only push the clients to take the meeting seriously but will also help us during the actual meeting. Kindly note its just not fees that clients have to give us but also their time, data and efforts. A good start, isn’t it?

2. Establish Goals & Financial Objectives

It’s always good to start the meeting with personal goals and financial objectives so that we are able to connect to the client’s aspirations for the rest of the meeting time. The section can be started of by asking simple open ended questions like “what are your goals and dreams in life?” or “what are the concerns that made you sit with me?” Remember its listening time, let both husband and wife speak up and probe on their statements if they try to keep it short. This will set the mood for the rest of the meeting. Invariably you are making a statement “I am here to help you achieve your goals.”
After the initial free talk, its time to get into details. Get on to the list of various goals and financial objectives an individual/family can have. People have very vague thoughts about what they want in life and that is why their personal finances are managed in a very haphazard way. It is our duty as Financial Planners to help them articulate and quantify their goals. This is where our experience and commonsense will matter the most. There are 3 major goals that any normal middle class or mass affluent family wants to fulfill;
  • Children’s Future (Education & Marriage)
  • Retirement (Normal or Early)
  • Buying a House (First or Upgrade)

Clients need help here and you need to be prepared for it. Like you should know what are the usual graduation and post graduation education costs, the pros and cons of early retirement and even the housing rates in your city. This will also give them confidence that you are not theoretical but practical. Once you are done with the above 3, its time to get on with other goals like annual vacations, inheritance of wealth, charity, new member in the family, buying a car etc.

3. Understanding Current Financial Situation

Financial Planning is all about drawing a roadmap which will connect current situation to future aspirations. To understand the current situation you will need four basic data i.e. Inflows & Outflows, Assets & Liabilities. These also are basic elements of all personal financial statements like net-worth statement, income expenditure statement and cash-flow statement.
Never tell a client to fill this either before or during the meeting. Fill this yourself by way of interviewing, you can establish a lot of qualitative aspects of his financial situation. Like say what were reasons to invest in particular assets, what has been his experience with the investments avenues he has chosen before, is he comfortable taking loans or he prefers being debt-free?, his current lifestyle and flexibility to alter the same if required, income pattern over the years, his concerns/confidence over current employment and future prospects, his experience with previous financial advisors etc.
You as a Financial Planner have to decide what finer points you want to draw out of the meeting and then go about making them speak on it. The deeper you get into qualitative aspects, the better you will be able to service your client at the later stages. Also it will help you to gain his trust as you are not just asking about how much money he has got to invest today.
After above data, enquire about life and general insurance policies, employment and retirement benefits from his company. Its good to use this time to ponder upon qualitative information and retrieve the quantitative information from the supporting documents back at your work desk. So ask them to give you photocopies of the following documents;
  • Latest Mutual Fund Statements
  • Equity Portfolio Statements
  • Insurance policy documents
  • Certificates of Post office schemes & deposits
  • Salary slip and latest income tax return

 

4. Ascertaining Assumptions

Let’s understand that the whole Financial Plan is based on numerous assumptions. It’s important that you communicate and educate your client and take his concurrence for some of assumptions like;
  • Economic and lifestyle inflation
  • Income Growth in future
  • Life Expectancy of family members
  • Retirement Age and lifestyle

Even here they will require your help and expertise. You should try and explain the assumptions affecting his Financial Plan with examples and personal experiences or better applying them on one of their goals.
It good to share the general norms and give a range by sharing your logic for assumption and then throw the ball in the client’s court by asking “So what do want us to assume?”. You may even want to discuss the assumptions on returns from different asset classes like liquid, debt, equity, gold and real estate that. A little bit of debate and sharing of experiences will bring both of you on the same page.

5. Financial Education & Literacy

Clients need to be empowered to take decisions and act upon them and Financial Planners play a very big role in this. This empowerment can happen through Financial Literacy. Financial literacy is the ability to understand the various components of personal finance like investment assets, economic scenario, inflation, employment benefits, mortgages, investment returns and many more. As Financial Planners we should remember that the more we educate our clients the better we will be able to help them take decisions, which is the essence of Financial Planning.
Educate the client during your 2-3 hours of interaction in small doses on various aspects whenever you are talking about a particular component. This will also help fulfill other objectives like getting accurate information from the cleint and showcasing your command on Financial Planning. Encourage cleint to ask questions right at the beginning of the meeting and also as and how you complete each sections of the data gathering form. Also be sure not educate so much that it will eliminate the need to hire you as a Financial Planner!

6. Making a mark & closing

The onus of proving that it is worth paying you 10-30 thousand fees is on the ‘You’. You have to make a positive impact in 2-3 hours to enthuse him to hire you and write the cheque for your fees. Your communication, body language, opinions, knowledge sharing, questions etc during the course of the meeting have to ensure your prospective client understands that;
  • Financial Planning is a profession and you are a professional
  • You are qualified/certified to do what you are doing
  • You have the necessary knowledge and expertise
  • You are client-centric and you are there to help them fulfill goals
  • You are different from the numerous financial advisors they have met before

It is worth mentioning that apart from your knowledge, soft skills will play a very important role in driving the above points. Don’t hurry into the meeting and give space to the other party to judge and evaluate you and your services. Clients may have more concerns like confidentiality issue, reference from existing clients, legal agreement, guarantee of returns etc., you need to be prepared to answer these questions.
They above mentioned process may be quite grilling for your clients, but they will appreciate it as will be able to see through your real intentions. So, dont be apprehensive about upsetting your prospective clients, just do your job… just be a financial planner who is genuinely interested in helping his/her clients! Do comment below your views, we are here to evolve by sharing each other’s experiences.

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