One of the greatest things about financial planning is its ability to make a difference in clients’ lives. Helping someone build and maintain a financial plan can enable them to achieve their life goals and build a financially secure future. That’s something every Canadian deserves.
Given the important role financial planning plays in people’s lives, it’s not surprising that many planners are successful at forming close relationships with their clients. That sense of connection can be fundamental to achieving the best outcomes for the client.
The truth is, those who work with a planner must be willing to discuss their aspirations and ongoing challenges. They must be vulnerable, insofar as we still live in a culture where discussing money is seen as taboo. Financial planners can’t expect Canadians to take these steps before they’ve established a relationship based on trust.
Unfortunately, we know that the level of trust clients place in financial professionals isn’t as high as it should be. As part of FP Canada’s IMAGINE 2030 Benchmark survey, Canadians scored just 53 out of 100 on the Financial Trust Index, which measured the amount of trust they have with financial professionals.
Of course, trusting relationships don’t just happen. To start creating closer connections with clients, financial planners must employ a comprehensive skill set of technical proficiency combined with professional and interpersonal skills.
Professional skills such as the ability to communicate clearly, for example, play an important role in allowing planners to convey the rewards — and risks — associated with a given course of action. Teamwork makes it possible for planners to work with colleagues and professionals in other disciplines to offer better outcomes to their clients. Crucially, critical thinking enables planners to consider different scenarios, think through potential outcomes, and respond in a manner that is in the client’s best interest.
Equally critical is a planner’s ability to understand their professional responsibility to clients — and adhere to their ethical obligations. This professional skill is fundamental to serving the best interests of Canadians, which is why understanding professional obligations and how to apply them to client-specific circumstances is an imperative for financial planners.
The most successful planners know that interpersonal skills are just as important. Active listening helps clients feel affirmed and allows planners to ask useful followup questions. Empathy can strengthen existing bonds and build that all-important trusted relationship that will result in more accurate and honest information being shared with the planner.
The bottom line is that, by developing and embodying a comprehensive skill set comprising technical, professional and interpersonal skills, planners can assure clients that they are a trusted partner with the expertise to support the client in achieving their life goals. Without that level of honest connection, truly holistic financial planning becomes an impossibility.
So, what can planners do to continue to develop and hone these important skills?
First, we all have a responsibility to ensure that professional and interpersonal skills are seen as cornerstones of the profession. Just as holistic financial planning requires a planner to take an integrated approach to supporting a client’s needs, technical education needs to be learned in an integrated fashion whereby the interconnections between technical areas are understood and applied successfully. Professional skills must be layered in at all stages so that students are given the opportunity to build proficiency in these critical areas as part of their journey to professional certification. Interpersonal skills must be developed and honed through experience and mentorship.
As professionals, our learning journey does not stop at the point of certification. Professional financial planners must proactively seek opportunities to upgrade their skills. The financial planning profession is changing rapidly: client expectations are increasing, technological advances are creating new opportunities for planners to engage with and support clients in new and different ways and, of course, we are all aware that the regulatory environment is constantly evolving. Therefore, if we want to continue to grow those trusted client relationships in a dynamic and uncertain environment, planners need to invest in lifelong learning. Taking such steps can lead to better financial planning outcomes, which is as good for planners as it is for clients.
At FP Canada, we aim to strengthen skill sets by continuously assessing our educational offerings. It’s an ongoing, iterative process that always centres on the best interest of all Canadians.
We believe that new and aspiring planners should be equipped to see their clients’ full financial pictures. They should think critically, articulate value, and reach out to other professionals for help when they need it. They should also know how to put themselves in their clients’ shoes — and go above and beyond to make the people they work with feel secure.
There’s no doubt that building relationships has always been critical for financial planners. Now, the profession must create new opportunities for professionals to develop the skills they need to connect with clients. By strengthening the trust that clients place in their planners, we can create a stronger support system for all Canadians.
Tashia Batstone is president and CEO of FP Canada.