Financial advice is often compared with therapy – and the comparison is not lazy

Ben Goss

Ben Goss

A friend recently told me she had sought financial advice for the first time.

During the conversation with her adviser, she realised she had been making a lot of simplifying assumptions about her finances – and as she talked about them, she realised they did not hold water.

She also found she needed to go into details she had never discussed with friends or even with her partner. 

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She liked her new adviser, who was a friend of a trusted friend and who got to grips quickly with her circumstances and needs, but she found the whole process more unsettling than she had expected. "It’s quite exposing, isn’t it?" she said.  

In the industry, financial advice is frequently compared with therapy – and, as all experienced advisers know, the comparison is not a lazy one. There are only a handful of professions in which the first encounter involves delving so deeply into aspects of a person’s life that are rarely talked about openly.

Many people come to advice following a bereavement or other challenging life event. Many people find the first meeting is also their first confrontation with difficult realities about their own lives – the idea that their successful and rewarding career will end at some time, the need to plan so that children or other dependents can thrive without them.

Advisers become skilled at handling these tricky initial conversations and gently pushing clients to start thinking about the decisions necessary for a secure future.  

And research suggests they are navigating this more and more. A recent survey by the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment found a sharp rise in people seeking financial advice, fuelled by the cost of living crisis.

Before this latest source of economic uncertainty took hold, the pandemic had already sent a wave of people looking for help with their finances, as well as causing existing clients to contact their advisers more.   

According to the CISI, people are seeking advice at a younger age, and more women are seeking both financial advice and guidance.

This is all good news. As an industry, we understand the need for people to start saving for their futures earlier, and for women, in particular, to make robust financial plans given the persistent challenge of the gender pensions gap. 

In the post-Covid-19 world, many more of these initial conversations are happening online as advice firms retain the hybrid working models they put in place during the pandemic.

Is there therefore an opportunity to think again about best practice for new client meetings? 

Reading the room

In face-to-face meetings, part of the work of establishing a rapport is unspoken: relaxed and open body language, a tactful nudge of the tissue box across the table at the right moment in a sensitive conversation.

Some of this translates to Zoom: it seems likely that we are getting better at both giving and reading nonverbal cues on video conferencing apps all the time.