Your first meeting with a new potential client, either remotely or face to face, is a crucial step in the onboarding process. Unless you are just starting out, you will already have your own approach that works for you, and your own expectations of what this hour should achieve. Nevertheless, it’s always worth rehearsing the rudimentary opening moves to ensure you stay fresh.
Remember, this may be your umpteenth new client meeting, but it is likely to be their first. Going over these basics beforehand will remind you to keep the pace steady and not proceed too fast for their comfort.
Following a tried-and-tested formula like this will also help you steer the conversation in the right way to learn valuable information about this prospective client’s needs – even if they don’t yet know these themselves.
Here are the 10 basic starter questions around which most first meetings tend to revolve.
It never hurts to start with the obvious. This question reminds your client that this visit is about them, not you. First-time clients may be nervous, afraid of looking naïve, perhaps even worried that someone might try to take advantage of their inexperience. They might also be wondering what people are ‘supposed to ask’ of their IFA. This simple first question makes it clear that they are in the driving seat, and that you are hear to listen and help them with their goals – not push your own agenda.
It also enables your client to tell you exactly what they want in their own words. This can give you valuable insight into their personality, communication style, values and expectations.
Whatever answer your new client gives, this is the perfect opportunity to introduce yourself more fully and tell them about your practice and how you can help. It’s a subtle, soft-sell approach that gives you the chance to showcase your knowledge, experience and expertise, while simultaneously confirming to your new client that they’ve shown good judgement by choosing you. Now, as you’ve both been able to find out a little more about each other, the meeting should steadily build momentum.
This is a really useful question as it helps gauge your new client’s experience with the financial planning process. If they’re a complete first-timer, this can remind you to take things a bit more slowly and explain things that might seem obvious to someone more experienced. Conversely, if they’ve worked with a financial adviser before but ended the relationship, you can ask them why. This is a critical bit of intel, as it will help you work out what’s important to your new client and enable you to avoid making the same mistakes that the ex-adviser made.
On one level, your business is managing money and investments, but on another level, it’s curating people’s hopes and dreams – while keeping their fears at bay. New clients, particularly first-timers, are more likely to talk in terms of feelings and aspirations – for instance, they want security, they have ambitions, they want a legacy for their children and so forth. If you can figure out what really matters to your client, you can start to fit together the pieces of the financial puzzle that might help to deliver their goals. They talk emotions; you can translate it into financial advice.
This will enable you to get a useful overview of your new client’s current financial situation. Play it casual and see what you can pick up from their response. It may become clear that they’re thinking about life insurance or retirement planning – or perhaps they’re just not sure what they should be prioritising. To help your new client accomplish their goals, you need to know where they’re starting from.
One thing to bear in mind is that their first query may not actually be the thing that troubles them most. It’s the same with people who visit their doctors with a minor complaint – often, they don’t discover what the real problem is until the consultation is drawing to a close. Watch out for the ‘While I’m here…’ question.
Following on from question five, which should have got your client’s thoughts flowing, you can tease out any other issues that may be on their mind. Sometimes these are thoughts that will occur to them for the very first time in this meeting. Most people spend most of their time deliberately avoiding thinking about money, and this may therefore be the longest time they’ve spent focusing on their finances. So you can often expect far more to emerge than what they initially came for.
This is where you really start to get to know your new client and what’s going on in their life. Whether it’s getting married, divorced, having children, college fees, ageing parents, upsizing, downsizing or concerns about inheritance – all of these are major life events that can have big financial implications. Being aware of them will help you steer your new client in the right direction.
You will of course conduct a formal risk-profile analysis on your client if you take them on, but this quick question can provide a snapshot of their attitude to risk. They might jokingly say, ‘I’d fire you!’ or they might say, shrewdly, that it depends on how much they had initially, and how much it might have grown at other times. There are many possible reactions to this simple scenario, and each one will tell you something about that client’s attitude to risk, their understanding of risk vs reward, and how much they feel they can afford to lose in return for growth opportunities. You’ll also get an insight as to where they are on the optimist-pessimist spectrum.
Finally, this question reminds them that loss is indeed a possibility with any investment, so will help to focus their mind while impressing them with your directness and honesty.
This is a softer way to find out if people struggle with understanding jargon or reading lots of information, but are embarrassed about voicing their concerns. If this is the case, they’ll really appreciate that you’re happy to tailor the way you present your recommendations – whether more visually or highlighting the most pertinent details – in a way that’s easiest for them to digest.
By asking this question, you’re giving your new client a chance to reflect on what’s been discussed so far, which will allow them to speak about something they may have forgotten. Alternatively, it can serve to give them confidence that you’ve had a good, productive meeting and have covered off all the essential things they wanted to talk to you about – and your first interaction will end on a positive note.
Finally – though this goes without saying – you’ll ask them if they have any more questions for you. Often, clients will have more questions at the end of a meeting than at the start, because you’ll have opened up their minds to all the things that they could learn about to do with their finances. Which, as we know, is practically endless.
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