From all the calls, discussions and comments that I hear from Financial Planners, by far the most common thing I hear is “How do I engage my clients?” And it makes sense, because as Planners/Advisors, you guys are so in touch with your clients and want them to do and BE the best they can. It’s altruism at its most dignified.
Naturally, what is on top of most successful financial planners/advisors’ minds is to find creative solutions to ensure that engagement is created at the outset of the plan. Most financial planners know that the 60-page tome that is the Financial Plan document is rarely “used”, and may actually prevent clients from engaging with the material because it is so dense and goes right over their heads. (Of course there are some clients that might enjoy the lengthy analyses, but they are few and far between.)
So what do the most successful Financial Planners do to engage their clients?
Instantly Engage Your Clients With This…
Let’s borrow from best practices and look at what other people in the financial planning industry do. The truth is that the financial plan document is a reference document, while most of the things done in the relationship with your client is spelled out in an executive summary. In fact, the shorter it is, the clearer it is, and has a better chance to not overwhelm clients. It’s by this realization that most successful financial planners opt to condense their financial plan document into the key areas of focus or actions to be carried out.
So it’s a spreadsheet, really; a list of sorts, a recipe. That’s the first good step in achieving quality engagement.
Reaching for the next level of Engagement
This is nothing new. Most successful Financial Planners already know to do this and you probably already are. So what is the next level of engagement?
As you are in touch with your clients, you already intuitively know that some clients still don’t “get” the list of words or the pages of text, even if it is only a page or two. They just aren’t the right brain types, and if we go by that system, we are potentially neglecting and overwhelming half of our clients.
Think different. Show Visually.
The established model that works is to create a list. But a list is static and stale. You lose half of your client’s attention span already by using words alone. What you need to do is introduce visuals (but in the most appropriate way, which I’ll talk about a few paragraphs down.)
Let’s borrow established mental models and constructs that are visuals from existing practices. Let’s use something we all have used in the past.
If you have ever traveled to London or Paris or Shanghai or Tokyo, you’ll know how difficult it is to navigate without the use of recognizable visuals. In fact, you rely on them at every step: on the train, on the platform and even before going into the station. Why are maps so powerful? It’s because they engage us by using an already established mental model in our minds. The simplify things to the most basic levels of what we need to know at the time, which are relations between stops (aka the subway lines), and identifying transfer stations; they are visual representations of the actual locations at a single-glance.
Here’s the definition from Wikipedia: “A map is a symbolic depiction highlighting relationships between elements of some space, such as objects, regions, and themes.”
So can a map help you in engaging your clients? You bet it can! A map is how you find your way, to help you “symbolically” and visually show the complexities of the financial plan document. It helps in relating objects (your action items) in space (on a piece of paper) and ties it together through highlighting the relations (time or time horizons).
As I mentioned above, what makes maps so compelling is how they show the right information to accompany the text. It’s not just showing visuals, but HOW you show them that makes all the difference. Otherwise, as you’ve surely experienced before, trying to find your way around a foreign city can be frustrating (and it’s not your fault!!
Best Way to Engagement Your Clients…All on One Page
The best way to engage and be relevant to clients is to show their objectives and time horizons in context. And the best way to do this is through what is commonly known as an Infographic. Again, let’s go to Wikipedia for the definition:
“Information graphics or infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present complex information quickly and clearly.”
You’ve probably seen these before as they are becoming more popular and people/businesses are increasingly using info graphics to convey their messages in concise ways. They’re also best used when the information is COMPLEX and needs to be presented QUICKLY and CLEARLY. That’s the key: disseminating all the information into something that’s easy to understand and clear to clients will assist the process of the implementation of the Financial Plan.