Engaging with Clients in Uncertain Times: Tips from Leading from Where You Are

Serving as a financial services relationship manager can be challenging when the business environment seems “normal”. The role becomes much more complex in today’s extraordinary environment. Commercial bankers face fragmented demand for credit, amplified with new SBA loan requests. Private bankers and mortgage lenders are experiencing unprecedented demand from borrowers. And wealth advisors are doing their best to keep investment clients calm.

Given the dynamic nature of today’s financial services business, I am sharing a set of ideas for financial services relationship managers drawn from my book, Leading from Where you Are: 7 Themes to Make a Meaningful Impact in Your Work:

Over Invest in Proactive Relationship Management

During this time of uncertainty, financial services clients are grappling with getting their arms around the environment and adapting to a interim new normal. The Covid-19 systemic shock hit hard and most clients and advisors were taken by surprise. As context, it wasn’t until March 11th that the World Health Organization labeled the newly discovered virus a pandemic. This means many of your clients, prospects and centers of influence are still reeling. They need information, want stability and rely on trust. Every business is a relationship business, and this axiom is more pertinent when the relationship involves money and emotion.

Steps you can take today:

  • Ground yourself in context – You are a subject matter expert in your discipline. As uncomfortable as the current situation may be to you personally, part of your role is to interpret this extraordinary experience and bring a framework of understanding to your client’s individual situation. This doesn’t mean minimizing the experience; rather, understanding, contextualizing and empathizing as appropriate.
  • Proactively reach out to clients and prospects – Check-in. Ask questions about family, business and their financial lives. Share information relevant to the situation – your firm’s market and economic outlook, current rates, or how you and your company are navigating the environment. Most importantly, be a comforting, engaging resource in understanding how their financial lives are affected in the current situation. You don’t get credit for responding to incoming calls, emails and texts; you add value to the relationship when you initiate outreach.
  • Remember your Centers of Influence – Attorneys, CPAs and other professional advisors are as hungry for information, context and outlook as are clients and prospects. Make a point of engaging or rekindling relationships with your COI network now, when they need you and your firm’s insights.

Practice the Art of Inquiry

Asking engaging questions of your clients and prospects helps discover what matters, where needs or issues exist and how best to address them. Authentic curiosity and practicing the Art of Inquiry create the pathway to develop understanding, build meaningful relationships and expand knowledge which helps raise your comfort with difficult conversations.

Steps you can take today:

  • Build a repertoire of open-ended, purposeful questions to guide conversations based on today’s environment – Questions should be clear and authentic. How are you and your family holding up is a groundbreaker, but deeper questions like how is this situation impacting your business model or how has market volatility affected your investing outlook can open the door to conversations your clients want to have with you at this time.
  • Listen for invitations for follow-on questions – Your client may redirect from the question you posed to discuss other topics they’re interested in exploring. Authentic inquiry is a great process for stimulating meaningful conversation.
  • Keep Emotional Intelligence Top of Mind – This Covid-19-triggered environment is different than other systemic shocks of the 21st century in that it encompasses physical health, social patterns and global economics. Staying attuned to the multidimensional nature of this event helps understand the human side of client conversations. As we practice EQ in our client relationships, we build trust, respect and equity. We earn the right to be in the relationship.

Seek Opportunities to Nurture Ideation

Nurturing ideation speaks to initiating new, actionable ideas for your clients. This may take the form of changing or restructuring services you provide, working through “if/then” conversations or identifying opportunities to save the client money. The key is recognizing the value of ideas that lead to advice, which is the most highly valued aspect of what relationship managers provide.

Steps you can take today:

  • Initiate conversations – The intent is understanding how your client’s financial life is impacted today, then, working from their story to fuel ideation and advice to better serve the relationship.
  • Listen for clues and cues – When it comes to financial advice, relationship managers can learn much from what clients and prospects don’t say directly. Listen curiously to hear subterranean concerns or needs they may not have verbalized or recognized.
  • Remember why they need you – In the advisory areas of financial services – commercial banking and wealth management in particular – the greatest value is advice. When do clients need your advice? Today, tomorrow and beyond!

The Covid-19 event has presented your clients with uninvited changes in their financial priorities. It also presents you with opportunity to be of tremendous value helping them navigate this journey right now.

For more information about Leading from Where you Are: 7 Themes to Make A Meaningful Impact in Your Work, visit www.davecoffaro.com.

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