Soft skills are not hard to learn

Soft skills are not hard to learn

Professional development and CPD are now inextricably linked to keeping up-to-date with technical knowledge. But in terms of our wider professional development, there must remain a key focus on improving soft skills.

Arguably, as financial planning has evolved to become a discreet professional service in its own right the softer skills that are required to truly engage with clients, and draw out their innermost life ambitions and goals, are more important than ever.

Some people believe that soft skills only come with experience and cannot be learned, but I beg to differ.

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Let's be clear about what we mean by soft skills. They are typically those that involve our emotional intelligence and the way we relate to others. Examples include listening and questioning techniques, presenting and engaging with audiences. Sales training still has a place, but it must recognise that times have changed: today advisers are just an arms-length from product and solution providers, and there is a clear understanding that client suitability and outcomes are central to advisory businesses.

I recently read a blog suggesting that advisers who have been in business for many years already have adequate soft skills "that may just need brushing up after a recent focus on qualifications”. Our blogger pointed the finger at new entrants, who he suggested: "had taken the exams, but didn’t yet have the accompanying life experience/skills”.

The reality is that advisers working in today's profession – irrespective of age – need skills necessary to communicate effectively with their chosen client type/segment in a way that suits the client.

Times change. Social media and Skype were not around 20 years ago, and they require a very different skillset as part of a wider portfolio of communications. Previously learned skills remain useful, but they must be kept relevant to the modern environment.

Incidentally, the blogger in question suggested that advisers have an average age of 58. However, the reality in today's post-Retail Distribution Review world is that the average age is aligned with other professions at mid-40s. 

On that note, advisers of a certain age really need to be open-minded about soft skills. But results from our own events show a distinct polarisation in the scores from 10/10 to 1/10, with the lowest scores tending to come from the more mature members that sit back with their arms folded.

One of the hardest things for small firms is being able to identify where they need to brush up on soft skills. The same 360 degree appraisal processes are not there as they are in large firms.

Probably the best way to find out is to ask those that matter: your clients. Feedback as part of a regular survey can easily include this information, and it can be especially insightful.

At least one small firm I know of has taken this a step further and invited a handful of clients to form an advisory board for the firm. The advisory board is then consulted first about ideas, proposed changes and new initiatives.