You hired a pro for a reason. His or her time is precious, and so is yours. I always say communication is the absolute most important thing an advisor and client can work on; it takes a little reflection and a lot of practice to optimize. Here are my top 10 things you should say to your advisor to improve communication, make the relationship more efficient and get the most out of it.
- Give me a quick refresher on ______. Your advisor thinks about things every day that you might only think about once every few months (or never). Sometimes the best way to start a conversation is to let your advisor provide a refresher on the big picture and why you do things like you do. Of course, this is a great thing to say anytime your advisor mentions a concept that is familiar, but a little foggy in your memory.
- Give me an example. Examples make concepts come to life. I’ve had clients ask for an example and 4 seconds into it, they interrupted me with an “ah-ha” moment because they suddenly knew what I was about to say and all their understanding rushed back to them. Examples are always a good idea.
- Tell me why that’s important Sometimes your advisor may reference something you understand conceptually, but it’s even more important that you connect it to something that matters to you. Advisors get used to throwing around terms like diversification all the time, but unless you understand why he or she is mentioning it right now to you specifically, you won’t fully understand the value your advisor is adding or feel as comfortable as you should with your plan.
- I don’t understand. Clients come to us with a variety of different levels of knowledge on different topics. I try my best to talk to every client on their level, while also challenging them to grow, but this is no simple feat. I asked a prospective client who was referred to me recently a question about a topic during our first meeting: “Have you heard of ____, and do you know much about it?” He said “Yes, I know about that; I’ve read several books on it.” He even reeled off a few terms associated with my topic. Just a few minutes after I began to speak, he corrected himself and said, “OK, I misjudged my level on this, I don’t understand what you are talking about. Can you start over but don’t assume I know so much?” It’s never too late to say you don’t understand. You’ll be glad you did, and so will your advisor.
- Tell me what I’m spending too much or not enough time focusing on. Things you talk about will have different levels of importance. If you aren’t careful, you could end up leading your advisor to talk about lots of items of lesser importance while big issues go under- or un-addressed. Walking away concentrating on something minor while something very important slips through the cracks can be a costly mistake. Clarity is crucial, so this is a great question to get in the habit of asking if you have developed bad habits.
- Tell me how your best clients would _______. Possibly the most insightful question on the list, this statement could end so many different ways: react to this, manage this relationship, communicate with you, etc. Your advisor has experience with people who do things right and reap the rewards, and with people who get in their own way or even the advisor’s and who suffer because of it. Save yourself some time and avoid pain by learning from not only a great advisor, but from successful clients.
- I appreciate it when _____. When we know what works for you, we work with you better.
- Tell me what should my expectations be for ____ . This applies to so many things, not just investment returns. Examples could include how often or for what reason your advisor calls you or how quickly you should expect a response to a voicemail, who you should expect to contact you, and when you should expect a transfer to post. I find most successful people have realistic expectations on most things, but sometimes you just don’t know what to expect. And of course, there is a limit to what kind of expectations you can have for a certain fee, so your advisor will likely default to what is appropriate. If there is ever any uncertainty, just ask.
- Tell me what I could improve. Don’t ask this unless you really want to know! To get the most from your planner, and have the best chance of meeting your goals, you are going to need to be the best client you can be. If you can handle the candor, encouraging your advisor to be direct with you and not hold back is one of the best things you can do.
- Tell me specifically what you need from me and by when. Tip: the best clients are often note-takers. After your advisor summarizes what you have talked about and what you should expect from him, the best way to end any meeting is by asking for a brief summary of what specifically your advisor needs from you—and by when. If your Certified Financial Planners™ (CFP® professional) needs something from you to do his job, it’s your job to get it to him.
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