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How Covid has made soft skills essential

This article is part of
Guide to intergenerational wealth tools

How Covid has made soft skills essential
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It is always a challenge to advise clients across generations, but when you throw no face-to-face meetings in the mix, things get even more complicated and miscommunication becomes a real possibility.

Right now, clients are particularly vulnerable with the pandemic having exacerbated people’s financial worries. This is why parents may be looking to have a conversation with their adviser about passing on wealth to help out their children.

So now more than ever it is important for advisers to hone in on their soft skills to be able to approach these conversations in the right way.

But what soft skills do advisers need to have?

Using soft skills

Soft skills are often overlooked, but being able to actively listen, show empathy and use body language to allow clients to open up are all important skills, especially when dealing with different generations during the pandemic.

According to Michael Pashley, managing director at financial planning qualification provider Practical Financial Exam, there are too many to list, but six of the most important include:

  • Actively listening.
  • Spotting vulnerability and responding appropriately.
  • Minimising filler words such as “um” and “er” to sound confident and professional.
  • Relating explanations directly to clients in both written and verbal communication.
  • Using an agenda to structure meetings.
  • Using body language to build trust.

While a soft skills gap has been around for a while, Covid has exacerbated this gap with the move to online meetings.

This is something Pashley picked up on when he decided to launch an adviser qualification to focus on the practical and soft skills involved in planning.

“The pandemic, combined with recent enhancements in our understanding of what it means to be vulnerable, has highlighted a soft skills gap,” he says.

“A combination of active listening and effective questioning techniques can help engage different parties to a discussion, giving everyone a broader understanding of everyone else’s individual viewpoints, financially, mentally, and emotionally.

“Information can then be communicated by the adviser in a way that is tailored to each individual, addressing what motivates them. For example: 'This is what we’re doing. This is how we’re going to do it. And this is how it will benefit each party to the discussion'.”

Intergenerational wealth element

Meanwhile, advising clients on intergenerational wealth can be a sensitive topic and requires an extra level of empathy and other soft skills.

For example, advisers need to listen to their client’s inheritance plan and set out how wealth can help the younger generation, but without placing too much responsibility on the client’s shoulders.

Sarah Lord, president of the Personal Finance Society, says two of the most important skills required here are that of listening and being empathetic. 

“We cannot help our clients if we do not listen to them to fully determine the situations they are facing,” says Lord.

“The other key attribute is not to be judgmental of clients, their goals and aspirations. It is not the role of the planner to judge their clients but to be the person that can show them the way to achieving their goals through personalised financial planning.”

Communication is key when advising different age groups, as Tim Morris, independent financial adviser at Russell & Co, notes: “A main challenge is to avoid giving the impression that the opinion which matters most is that of the parents purely because they are your clients and currently have the money.