Financial services standards:
Our mission as financial advisers is simple, and it’s putting the client first. All too often, we get caught up in the nitty gritty of portfolio construction, asset allocation and diversification before understanding who our clients are and what aspirations they harbour. It’s always worth reminding ourselves that we’re about people first and are financial experts second.
I’m always looking for metaphors to explain the relationship between life, clients and our role in this equation. Defining this is one of the most important things we can do to build secure long-term relationships and lasting revenue streams where everyone comes out a winner. Here we talk about financial services standards and how they are just as important as any other industry, if not more!
So here’s a thought – what if we described financial advice like training a client for a competition? Your clients are competing to get to a place of financial security. They’re competing against themselves – their impulses, purchasing habits and so on – and against life and what it throws up at them.
So here, there are internal motivations and factors that you can control. But you’re also racing against what you can’t – market movements, health, illness, redundancies and so on.
So put your trainer hat on. And immediately, you see that your role is to magnify and improve the variables that are within your control. If you were training someone for a sprint, you’d work on speed, explosive starts off the blocks, and good technique. Then, you try and protect your sprinter against circumstances outside of your control – the wind, the rain, a slippery track, and so on. So a good financial adviser is like a good trainer: he’ll work on his client’s personal fitness and competitive mentality. But all the while, the trainer will be looking out for the weather, temperature, altitude, tides and tsunamis.
If we visualise ourselves as trainers, we internalise the idea that our clients’ success is our own. Our job is to help them win. Have you ever seen a tennis tournament where the trainers come first and the players a poor second? Or a football match where the team manager, and not the players, is credited with the goal tally?
I’ve used this image often when describing our role in clients’ lives. Casting ourselves in the role of a trainer resolves any potential conflicts of interest, or circumstances where a client and the advisor are not rowing together.
There’s another idea I want to talk about. In our industry, exceptionally high standards shouldn’t come as a pleasant surprise. Financial services standards should be the absolute norm, and assumed to be so commonplace they’re taken for granted.
Consider this: when you board a plane, you’re not particularly astonished when it lands safely at your destination after a relatively comfortable flight where you’ve managed to catch some shut eye. Making sure nothing remarkable or disruptive happens isn’t an added bonus: it’s the pilot’s job. Financial services standards is exactly the same!
If we see ourselves as pilots steering a plane safely onto a runway, we realise that not making mistakes isn’t something we win plaudits for. It’s our job. And that means that highest possible standards of service and safety aren’t something exceptional. They’re part of the routine.
Let’s take another example. When you send your children to school, you take it as a given that they’ll be educated and kept safe. You expect that they’ll be happy, fulfilled and kept free from intimidation. When you ask them what they did in school, you’ll get the standard response: “nothing”. Nothing went wrong, there were no dramas and not a single catastrophe. And that is how it should be.
Let’s translate all of this to our world. Our clients have the right to expect that we’ll work for them, with exceptional standards being the norm. In turn, we should internalise ideas of excellence to the point that world-class standards become unremarkable. In fact, we should take it as a compliment when clients are asked if something extraordinary occurred in their journey to financial security, and they come back with: “nothing.”
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