Building Trust and Growing the Financial Planner-Client Relationship

Trust is at the center of a healthy, productive financial planner-client relationship. But how do you actually build that trust? And how do you maintain that connection as the account grows and the client’s needs evolve?

This is one of those aspects of financial planning that’s hard to learn from a textbook. It’s often something you just continue to learn as you grow your practice and develop long-term relationships with various clients.

But there are some basic steps to follow. Understanding this progression can help you grow trust and serve your clients well from that initial meeting going forward.

Step 1: Starting the client relationship

The initial step in a trust-based client relationship happens before someone becomes your client! A discovery session is your first chance to evaluate a potential client to see whether a professional relationship would be a good fit — for both of you.

Not every planner is right for every client. Every financial professional has a unique approach and set of skills that they bring to the table. And those assets offer significant benefits for some clients, but not others.

So before you sign all the papers to bring on a new client, take the time to have a thorough, open discussion about their needs. Be honest about whether you’re the right person to help them — do you have the expertise or niche knowledge that really supports them? If not, you’ll never be able to build a level of trust that allows you to serve them well. 

However, if your skills fit their needs well, you can move on to the next phase: bringing the client into your practice.

Step 2: Onboarding your new client

Now it’s time to onboard your client into your practice. The exact process varies for each planner and firm, but the basics are the same. The idea is to walk clients through their financial planning goals and develop a plan. In my firm, onboarding consists of six meetings:

  • Initial meeting
  • Cash flow meeting 
  • Retirement planning
  • Insurance details and estate planning
  • Investment options
  • Additional financial goals (college planning, long-term healthcare needs, etc.)

Every meeting is a chance to get more details about your client’s needs and formulate a plan to support them.

Onboarding is a crucial step and not something to rush through. If you don’t take enough time to listen to the client and understand their needs, you’ll have a hard time serving them well. This foundation is a crucial part of building trust with your clients.

Step 3: Going into maintenance mode

Once you’ve fully onboarded your client and gotten things up and running, you can shift into maintenance mode. At this point, your client should have a comprehensive plan incorporating everything they discussed during the onboarding meetings.

They’ve got their insurance and estate planning taken care of, and they’re moving forward with their budget and retirement contributions. Everything is going smoothly, and you’ve built a solid client relationship that can coast for a while.

Step 4: Reacting when life happens

But then something happens — someone loses a job, there’s a medical emergency, the market tanks, there’s a global pandemic, etc. And maintenance mode isn’t enough anymore.

You need to be there to help your client react. Now’s the time to jump back in with your financial planning expertise to help your client redirect their financial plan. Maybe that means helping them redefine their goals or change projected timelines. Or maybe they need to make significant changes to their budget or investments.

No matter what your client needs, this is another chance for you to support them and build another layer of trust. 

You can also grow your network online or attend a meeting at your local FPA chapter. Short, informal interactions count too, so don’t be afraid to start a conversation with a coworker or someone in your CFP® course.

Step 5: Continuing the cycle

Once you’ve helped your client work through that unexpected circumstance or life event, things can return to maintenance mode. And you just keep checking in and helping your client stay on track — until the next life event happens. And then the cycle starts again. Each time you help a client react to something unexpected and then return to a “status quo” financial state, the relationship evolves.

The client lifecycle is all about building trust

Building trust with your financial planning clients is a process. Start by ensuring you’re a good fit for the client’s needs, and then just be there for your clients as the relationship evolves and life happens. Once you’ve onboarded a client, the rest of your professional relationship will probably cycle between maintenance mode and reacting-when-life-happens mode. 

If you’re a part of Amplified Planning CORE, you’ve seen this cycle happen with every single featured client. At some point, something happened that changed their financial plan. And sometimes it happened before we even completed onboarding. But the point isn’t when those “life happens” moments occur, it’s how you help your clients respond to them.

If you want to see exactly what a good response looks like, join AP CORE. In this unique training program, you’ll get to watch videos of real-life client meetings and see how financial planners build and maintain trusting relationships with their clients. You’ll get critical real-world insights you can apply in your own practice. Get all the details and sign up for Amplified Planning CORE today!