In Focus: Vulnerability  

How the pandemic has shaped advisers' soft skills

  • To understand why soft skills may be needed now more than ever.
  • To ascertain what skills are important in an adviser/client relationship.
  • To be able to build on and develop soft skills.
How the pandemic has shaped advisers' soft skills
Photo: Anna Shvets via Pexels

Within the space of a year, a shift in working practices expected to play out over the next decade has emerged all at once.

The move towards more flexible working arrangements, greater use of technology and a more integrated approach to home and professional life has accelerated sharply, as the pandemic forced the world to embrace what might otherwise have been a slow development.

But while the way in which clients, advisers and providers adapted might demonstrate remarkable resilience, it also opened up greater potential for vulnerabilities: isolation, fear, anxiety, health and financial worries. 

So while intermediaries evolved to make the practice of giving advice remotely as streamlined and stress-free as possible, the need to employ those soft skills in a new way has intensified.

How easy is it to pick up on body language when you're 50 miles away and behind a computer screen, for example? 

Covid-19 has not only enhanced our technical capabilities but also honed our focus on relational and behavioural qualities, as Cleona Lira, chartered financial planner and founder of Conscious Money, states: "It seems there is more of a sharper awareness of the need for soft skills more recently.

"Remote work, isolation and taking away many simple and important forms of interaction such as work banter or drinking coffee with work colleagues has taken some toll on our collective mental health."

Are soft skills important?

Do not overlook soft skills: this is a key message, according to Keith Richards, chief executive of the Personal Finance Society. 

He says: “It is not what you know, it’s the way that you use it; it is not what you say, it’s the way that you say it.

"It is not what you do, it’s the way that you do it, which is critical to good consumer outcomes in line with regulatory and professional standards."

Siobhan Barrow, head of intermediary distribution at Scottish Widows, says: "It’s impossible to overlook soft skills – they’re a key part of an adviser’s role and crucial to feeling confident in conversations with clients who are experiencing a life-changing event."

Yet sometimes, people do seem to miss the importance of these attributes.

Michael Pashley, group training and knowledge manager for The SimplyBiz Group, says training has not always gone far enough when it comes to soft skills.

Pashley says: "Many qualifications providers and firms place a far higher emphasis on technical knowledge than the practical application of that knowledge, for which soft skills are essential within a financial planning context.

"People don’t know what they don’t know; it can be much easier to spot – and acknowledge - a gap in technical knowledge than it is to realise 'I could be explaining this better', 'I could enhance the way I record client objectives', or 'I could make my suitability report clearer'."