When it comes to financial and wealth planning issues, more often than not, people go to a professional they trust. They may be working with a financial planner, CPA, agent, or banker, but when trust and estate concerns arise, clients need their trusted advisor to listen to their needs and to explain things clearly. Trust and estate concerns are often technical issues, and this can lead to three common mistakes on the part of the professional:
1) Using terminology that is too technical
2) Not listening to what the client is saying
3) Failing to connect a trust and estate plan’s benefits to the value the client receives
Here are three winning techniques to help deliver information and communicate more effectively.
1. Plain language
When conveying a complex concept, speak in plain language and in an understandable format. De-emphasize the technical jargon; if it gets too technical the client will shut down. Practitioners can develop a way to convey need-to-know features by using believable stories, real life scenarios, diagrams, and case studies.
For example: advisors know the differences between a taxable retirement instrument and an IRA, but explaining the strategy of using a retirement trust can lose the client in a heartbeat. However, when the same concept is explained in simple terms, the client will listen and understand. To illustrate: consider a discussion with a client on how to protect the heir from him or herself.
“If the funds are in a properly managed qualified trust structure, your son will avoid big income tax bills and have a protected asset that provides income for years to come. If the funds are in an IRA, your son could cash it out right away, pay a huge tax penalty and then spend the funds, depleting his inheritance immediately.”
This simple explanation illustrates the benefits that are readily understandable without ever mentioning any jargon or acronyms.
When in the office, practitioners can use whiteboards and markers to draw diagrams and charts, to better illustrate a complex point. This personal attention and focus will appeal to clients. They can see the solution unfolding visually in their own terms; people buy benefits they understand. They don’t really care about the technical features or abstract concepts; they want to understand the value it brings to them specifically.
Also, assess the type of client and use specific language that resonates with them. You might use different language when speaking to an engineer compared to a small business owner or a corporate executive.
Listen carefully to what the client is saying. Everyone has different estate planning needs; some estates are very straightforward while others can be remarkably complex. The role of a trusted advisor is to listen closely, understand the underlying fears and concerns, and develop tailored solutions. Open communication means putting the information a client needs to know in the proper context of his or her circumstances and needs. Doing so leads to making an informed decision.
Sometimes a client can tell you what exactly what is needed, but, more frequently, clients don’t know what they don’t know. A practitioner can develop a guided Q&A structure to identify potential problems and hidden risks. With a complete inventory, the practitioner can explain the possible solutions. Your ability to listen compassionately to their needs first and then effectively outline strategies that will meet those needs will lead to client satisfaction. Clients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
3. Connection to Value
If a practitioner just focuses on product or service features without explaining the benefits of creating a long-term, tailored, and need-based solution, the practitioner does the client a great disservice. People work hard to earn the assets they have and they want to be sure they are managed and protected in the best possible way. Professionals can offer a comprehensive solution as a team, and communicate the benefits it delivers to the client. This encourages the client to build a team of trusted advisors with which to work. An added advantage to providing informed guidance as a team to clients is a strong foundation for more favorable reaction to fees. Professional fees can run into thousands of dollars depending on the complexity of an estate. This link of benefits to fees connects to far greater value in the long run than other options the client would consider independently.
Collaboration Is the Key
One of the best ways for non-attorney practitioners to learn and better understand the complexity of legal strategies is to collaborate with respected trust and estate attorneys. Regularly meeting as a group of like-minded specialists and sharing information, case studies and scenarios will both support and enrich each participant’s knowledge base. Each specialist in the collaborative team will be better prepared and able to provide context to help his or her clients. For instance, if a client has a special needs child, there are distinct provisions, trust structures, and a process to manage assets in a qualified plan to protect the child. What if the client wants to know about Medicare benefits and is worried about doing something that results in the child not qualifying for those benefits? By collaborating with trust and estate attorneys and learning more about this issue, the advisor is better able to lead the client and offer assurances about an optimal solution.
Like a sports team, every player in the client’s financial life has a specific role to play. When they do it well, it results in a formidable winning combination. When the issues a client has are identified and understood, non-attorney practitioners can help the client take the first step in an estate planning strategy.
What is important to a client is important to you. By helping educate and create informed consumers, clients are better able to understand their needs, solutions, and the value received. Each practitioner on the team (e.g., the financial advisor and the estate planning attorney) can provide specific and understandable guidance.