Special Feature

The planning process

This three-part series on the planning process offers suggestions for successful discovery meetings, how to present a financial plan and ways to elicit feedback from clients.

Financial Planning

Discussions with clients should not be a one-way street: let them know their views are important to you

By Brent Jolly |

Having put pen to paper and presented your financial plan to your clients shouldn't mean that is the end of the consultative process. You need to go the extra mile to make sure that you solicit feedback from your clients to ensure they are on board with your recommendations, says Joanne Ferguson, president, coach and consultant with Advisor Pathways Inc. in Toronto.


"If you give the impression that ‘this is the way it is and I don't want to hear what you have to say' you risk losing your client," says Ferguson. "You want to make sure you've hit on what they are looking for."

Being able to effectively solicit feedback from your clients is a key pillar in an effective two-way communication model that will keep you and your client engaged. And that helps you build a better working relationship, says Ferguson.

This is especially important when you are presenting a large product like a financial plan. In order to set the scene for a productive feedback session, consider the following tips:

1. Let the client steer the course of the discussion
Think for a moment of an auto racing metaphor: the client is the driver of the car and you are the chassis that helps them win the race. They are the one making the decisions and you are the facilitator that works to make their choices come to life.  Giving a client a sense of security, letting them know that you respect their decisions and are flexible about making changes will go a long way to launching into a candid conversation, says Alan Middleton, executive director with the Schulich Executive Education Centre at York University in Toronto.

"You don't want to come across as telling people what to do," says Middleton. "You are informing them to help make decisions. One of the clear social trends across any economic sector is the need to feel in charge and in control of what we are doing."

Doing this, he says will make your client relish being on the pole position.

2. Work within a formalized structure
There is nothing worse that presenting your client with a complex financial document and then putting them on the spot by asking if they have any questions.

Ferguson recommends that you give your clients some space and schedule a follow up "feedback" meeting once they have had a chance to comb through your plan and digest your recommendations. This is best done in an approachable, chatty way.

In the same vein, make sure to schedule enough time for your follow up meeting.

"There's nothing worse than trying to cram everything in to only 15 minutes," Ferguson says. "Clients don't like being told what to do. And they don't like it when an advisor gives the impression that they just want their money and can't be bothered to discuss [issues] with them." 

3. Using questions
Much like a lawyer would do in gradually building a case through careful questioning, you can do the same with your clients to make sure you've hit on all the right points in your plan offering. Middleton thinks this is a great way to get clients who are unsure about what you've presented to them to come around.

"You're looking to build a mental picture with your clients – ask them questions such as, are you still doing the same job? From that you are helping your clients work in the concrete – not the abstract."

4. Engage the family unit
It is very important, Middleton says, to engage everyone in the family as part of a feedback session on a financial plan. Given that most of what your clients want to accomplish will be judged in the context of the family unit, it only makes sense to bring along your spouse and children (if they are old enough) for the meeting.

This is the final installment in a three-part series on the planning process.