Advice needed on retirement income strategies, report finds

The more you know about your clients, the better your chances of building lasting relationships. That’s why you should always be in “client discovery mode,” says Larry Distillio, assistant vice-president, practice management, at Mackenzie Investments in Toronto.

This approach involves more than completing the know-your-client questionnaire and having a discussion about your clients’ objectives and risk tolerance, Distillio says. Rather, client discovery is an ongoing process through which you learn about your clients’ changing circumstances and expectations. It should last throughout your relationship with them, Distillio says, enabling you to get to know your clients inside out, and giving you the opportunity to be there for them when you are needed.

You should use each client meeting to “re-discover” your clients, Distillio says. For example, you might ask: “What’s changed in your life since we last met?” Or “What’s your top concern right now regarding your financial well-being?” Both of these questions could lead to new information about your clients —information you might not have discovered otherwise.

You also can find opportunities for additional business if a client’s circumstances change — for example, if the client is getting married or planning to save for a child’s education. Or, you might find that a client does not feel in control of his or her financial situation, giving you the opportunity to say something like: “What if I could show you a way to change what you’re thinking?”

Says Distillio: “Because you’re tapping into their emotions, they feel understood.”

Some clients do not open up readily, says Darris Cameron, president of Financial Value Inc. in Calgary.

“They are often quiet or nervous in the beginning,” Cameron says. “We spend a lot of time talking to clients and educating them. This opens the door to making them comfortable over time, he says, allowing them to share more and putting them in a better position to make decisions.

Here are some ways to use the discovery process to deepen client relationships.

> Vary your questions
Distillio suggests that you ask clients questions under various categories to learn as much as you can about your clients and their circumstances, such as:
What’s important to you?
Who else do you rely on for advice?
Who else do you have to take care of?
What do you expect from me?

These types of questions will help you get more than the standard information relating to issues such as a client’s income, goals and risk tolerance.

Clients often do not articulate their fears and worries. You must be able to recognize when they are holding back and try to get them to open up to you.

“The challenge is to engage clients so that they can articulate both their goals and their fears,” Distillio says. By asking questions, you will give them the opportunity to tell you what is on their mind — you will not only learn more about them but help them deal with issues that they do not talk about freely.

> Listen and acknowledge
Going through the discovery process with clients requires that you listen to their story and acknowledging what they tell you without jumping to conclusions. You may pitch in occasionally by saying “tell me more,” Distillio says. Or you may wish to share stories they can relate to.