How do you show up for your financial planning clients? Specifically, how do you interact with your “problem” clients — the ones who tend to show up late for meetings, skip phone calls, and never send you the documents you request? 

Your first instinct may be to get serious and practice some “tough love.” It’s an approach that many financial planners use, but I don’t think it’s the right one. Yes, it’s frustrating when you feel like your clients aren’t engaged with the process. Or when you feel like they’re not as motivated as they should be to follow the plan.

So what is the right approach? How should you interact with those clients who aren’t really showing up for you (and themselves) in the process? It’s all a matter of changing your perspective to prioritize the human aspect of financial planning over the business side. 

1. Remember That Clients Are People First

How do you really see your clients? Are they simply appointments on your schedule or numbers in your client roster? Of course not! But even if you think you take a human-first approach with your clients, be honest with yourself for a minute.

Have you ever wanted to let a client go because you felt like they weren’t as invested in the process as you wanted? Or have you reminded them about “following through on their commitment” or “keeping their priorities straight” because you felt like it was your role? Have you considered dropping a client who made a decision without consulting you or who went against your advice?

It’s tempting to just view your clients from the business perspective. But they aren’t robots — they have thoughts and feelings and lives that don’t go perfectly all the time. And they’re not children who need to be scolded or held accountable by you. 

They’re people who deserve compassion, respect, and kindness. And if you can approach them from that perspective, you can give them the support they need — even if they don’t always show up for themselves.

2. Focus on the Underlying Issues

When something doesn’t go as planned with a client, do you try to find out why? This doesn’t mean you have to pry into their personal business or ask invasive questions. But you can take an approach that focuses on them first:

  • If they are late to a call: Instead of, “You need to be more committed if you want to manage your finances well,” try, “Is everything OK? Would it be better for you if we rescheduled for another time?”
  • If they don’t send you the paperwork you requested: Instead of, “I’m still waiting on those documents,” try, “What can I do to make this process easier for you?”
  • If they consistently fail to follow their financial plan: Instead of, “You need to do what you agreed to,” try, “Is this financial goal still a priority for you?”

A people-first approach cares focuses on what your clients truly need, even when it means changing the financial plan.

3. Assume the Best of Your Clients

Finally, remember the concept of unconditional positive regard. Give your clients the benefit of the doubt, especially when you’re getting to know them. There may be times when you need to stop working with a client because it’s just not a good fit. But don’t make that decision lightly. Be patient and assume the best of them whenever possible.

What’s your perspective on your clients?

When we go through financial planning school, everything we learn centers on an ideal client. They show up to all the meetings on time, they always send over the documents we ask for, and they are really motivated to follow the plans we create. 

But that isn’t reality all the time. Clients are people — they make mistakes, lose perspective, get busy, and deal with personal challenges. And sometimes, that means they aren’t as invested in their financial plan as we’d like them to be. They skip calls or show up late to meetings. They forget to forward important paperwork. They make mistakes.

But getting frustrated and launching into a lecture about priorities and discipline isn’t the right approach. Your clients are, first and foremost, people — they deserve respect and kindness by default. So show up for them with compassion and empathy.

If you want to see what this kind of planner-client relationship looks like in practice, join Amplified Planning CORE. You’ll get to watch real-life client meetings with expert planners, discuss various planning strategies, and participate in hands-on training exercises. Plus, you can earn CFP® Board Standard Pathway and continuing education hours! Find out more about Amplified Planning CORE and join today!