An Inconvenient Truth (Opportunity) for Financial Advisors
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An Inconvenient Truth (Opportunity) for Financial Advisors

By Matt Oechsli | @mattoechsli

Wouldn’t it be nice to be immersed in a career that the American public ranked in the top quintile for ethics and integrity? The Gallup organization has been studying this for decades and the top 5 professions ranked “very high” to “high” have been consistent. As you can see below, for nearly the past two decades (2002 to 2018)…

Very High / High Ethics & Integrity 2018
1. Nurses 84%
2. Medical Doctors 67%
3. Pharmacists 66%
4. High School Teachers 60%
5. Police Officers 54%

What we found interesting, aside from police officers ranking higher than accountants (42%), was the consistency of these rankings. The only profession to have a significant change was clergy, dropping from a high of 56% in 2008 to 37% in 2018.

Professions that were ranked as “low” to“very low” also had a similar level of consistency since 2002, with every ranking holding their place in ethics & integrity hierarchy. See the bottom quintile below …

Very Low / Low Ethics & Integrity 2018
1. Members of Congress 8%
2. Car Salespeople 8%
3. Telemarketers 9%
4. Advertising Practitioners 13%
5. Stockbrokers 14%

Now before you get all bent out of shape with Gallup about these rankings, there’s a real silver lining for financial advisors. First and foremost, please don’t be defensive. I get it, you’re a financial advisor not a “stockbroker.” However, the public has had a tendency to lump all these professional labels (financial advisor, investment advisor, wealth advisor, financial planner) into one of two buckets; stockbroker or insurance agent (last ranking in 2015 at 11%). Which is far from what you’d like to hear, but does provide you with an opportunity to stand out from public perception.  

Let’s face it, we all expect our nurse to be full of compassion and have our best health care interests at heart. We appreciate the high-level professionalism, but because it’s expected, most people aren’t overly “wowed.” Conversely, we do remember that nurse who, for whatever reason, was too curt, didn’t listen, wasn’t helpful – who basically failed to meet our expectations. Not only do we remember, we tend to pass on our negative experience to family and friends.

Of all the low-ranked professions, stockbroker (financial advisor) is the only one who has ongoing personal interactions with his or her clientele, which in turn forms the basis of their relationship. As we all know, relationships can run the gamut of excellent to poor. More on this later.   

Members of Congress only return to their communities from Washington to raise money and votes. For a host of reasons, they rarely develop personal relationships with their constituents. Advertising practitioners hide behind the products and services they’re being paid to promote and the mediums from which they purchase ads and telemarketers don’t dare reveal their identities. It’s no wonder the American public questions the ethics and integrity of professionals working in these fields.

So let’s focus on stockbrokers from the public perception. Granted, the expectations are low and not much is required to exceed them. However, to really move the needle, to elevate your “trust” ranking within your community to that of a nurse – a major effort is required.  The depth and breadth of a financial advisor’s individual client relationships will determine whether they’re considered a stockbroker who’s trust is tenuous regarding investment buy-sell advice, or a financial professional who’s trusted to provide advice and counsel to all aspects of their client family’s financial affairs. Incidentally, the latter is what our research has been telling us – the affluent want a financial professional who can oversee everything and bring it all together for them. All of which requires trust.

And when it comes to developing and managing client relationships, this slap in the face by Gallup is just one of the many reasons financial advisors need to make it a priority to develop an “emotional connection” with every client. Not only does this transform the prototypical client/advisor relationship, it also ensures that they’ve thoroughly rebranded their professional relationship. Remember, being a first class professional who has established an emotional connection with their clients is a financial advisor with a book of “ideal” clients. And this is what turns the Gallup findings upside down; bottom to top of the class.  

Over the years we’ve witnessed many stockbrokers succeed in making this transition. It occurs one client at a time, one COI at a time, over time. In other words, it requires a full-fledged long term commitment. Done properly, the benefits are off the chart! 

Back to the silver lining, financial professionals who’ve made this transition stand out like a huge north star in their community. Because they’re the polar opposite of public perception, they become magnetic and people come to them as word-of-mouth-influence does its magic on their behalf.

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