The types of questions advisors ask can influence how much clients share and how comfortable they are, an expert said on Tuesday at FP Canada’s 2022 Financial Planning Conference.
Meghaan Lurtz, senior research associate at Kitces.com, said that understanding the psychological effects of your queries can be invaluable. Kitces.com is a U.S.-based financial planning blog founded by financial planner Michael Kitces.
Lurtz said advisors can cause clients unintended anxiety by asking closed, targeted questions to which it seems like there’s a right answer (e.g., loaded yes or no queries) rather than asking for their opinion more openly. Also, asking too many questions at once or in a row could lead to confusion or the feeling of being interrogated.
Following the pandemic, remember that “no one is the same as they were two years ago,” Lurtz said. Advisors have an opportunity to “make that [crisis] mean something” by really exploring why new prospects are approaching planners or how existing clients’ values and priorities have changed.
Throughout the client journey, from the discovery phase to keeping relationships “fresh,” Lurtz said advisors should get familiar with the four different types of questions: projective, scaling, swing and implied.
For getting to know prospects, open and projective questions that seek insight into their experience with advisors are most useful, she said. Advisors should send an agenda to help prospects prepare, and pace conversations to be lighter at the start.
“They’re likely coming to you with a problem they’ve had for a while,” Lurtz said, so find out why they’re seeking help and build proper expectations.
Follow-up meetings should also include projective questions but they can be more targeted, asking about clients’ concerns, relationship with money and who they make financial decisions with.
The challenge is “not all people will answer all questions,” Lurtz said, so reading body language and assessing how appropriate queries are for each person is important.
Scaling questions, which ask for a rating between one and 10, are the “Swiss Army Knife” of questions, she said. However, they can be particularly helpful when identifying goals and presenting draft financial plans.
When “you’re dreaming with the client” and discussing future goals, you can ask how they feel about their plan on a scale to understand if they’re ready to move ahead or need time to reflect.
Scaling is also useful when revisiting a plan and checking whether clients are on track.
“People are horrible future forecasters,” Lurtz said, and often underestimate how much they’ve changed, so it can be useful to remind clients of their milestones and past priorities.
Swing and implied questions delve deeper into clients’ opinions and dreams. Swing questions are closed, allowing clients to say no. For example: “Would you be willing to work on this?” Implied questions, on the other hand, are suggestive and exploratory, such as: “I wonder what you would do with this inheritance?”
With longer-term clients, it’s important to ask what’s possible now that wasn’t before (e.g., before they even had a planner), Lurtz said. Brainstorming like this “can change relationships with clients,” as you “choose to learn about them again and again.”
At all times, Lurtz said, advisors should be curious, seek clarification by taking breaks between sets of queries, and accept criticism or pushback.
When people open up about “negative things,” she said, “they want you to know how they really feel and where they’re at. They’re showing you they trust you, not that you’ve done anything wrong.”