How to Work With Challenging Financial Planning Clients

Sometimes, the hardest part of being a financial planner isn’t researching an investment opportunity or figuring out how to help a client with a complicated financial situation. Sometimes the challenge lies in the clients themselves.

Every client is unique, of course. But there are certain types of financial planning clients that every planner deals with occasionally. These client “tropes” are fairly common — bring up any one of them with a group of CFP® professionals, and everyone will probably have a similar story.

So let’s take a look at some of the most common types of challenging clients and figure out how to work with them effectively.  

Challenging Client #1: The Questioner

Every financial planning client asks questions occasionally. It’s a good thing — questions show that they’re engaged in the conversation and open to advice.

But The Questioner takes things to a whole new level. Every meeting becomes an investigation filled with so many questions that it’s impossible to keep up.

Usually, The Questioner ends up completely lost in the weeds (of their own making). Meetings become tedious, and you feel like you can’t make any progress because the conversation just revolves around an endless number of questions.

How to help The Questioner

The challenge with this type of client is making sure they feel heard while also guiding them toward a productive discussion that’s not just focused on all their questions. Try this:

  • Answer as many questions as you can (or that you feel are useful to discuss right away).
  • Suggest following up with more answers on another call or sending an email with in-depth information.
  • If you can’t answer all their questions (or don’t feel like now is the best time to), offer to contact an expert and get back to them with answers.
  • Ask if they would like you to send some additional resources they can use to find out more.

This approach gives you a chance to answer some questions without getting completely off on a tangent.

Challenging Client #2: The Shiny Object Chaser

Next up, we have those clients who can never seem to stick to their plans. You work with them to create a detailed financial road map, and the next time you meet, they bring up a completely different idea that totally derails their plan. 

(We’ve seen a prime example of this recently with Amplified Planning CORE clients Austin & Lindsay. Every meeting was an uncharted adventure. Subscribe to AP CORE if you want to see first-hand how to manage those conversations.)

How to help The Shiny Object Chaser

When you have someone who loves chasing after every new idea that comes along, it can be tough to keep them on track. Here are some things to try:

  • Listen to their ideas so they feel heard.
  • Take the time to discuss all the potential outcomes/implications of taking each new idea.
  • Clarify how following this new path would impact their existing financial plan — go into detail so you’re not just talking about hypothetical effects.
  • Reiterate how important it is to “stay the course” when it comes to financial planning. Consistency is what gets results.
  • Understand that they may be right on some of their ideas.

With this type of client, you might try adjusting their plan (as far as you’re comfortable with), especially the first couple of times they come back with a new idea. 

If it’s clear that this will be an ongoing issue, however, you might want to suggest that they find a financial planner who’s more comfortable with constant changes.

Challenging Client #3: The “Outside-the-Box” Thinker

Let’s focus on perhaps one of the most challenging types of client — the one who always thinks outside the box. This is the client who never has a typical viewpoint. They always see things their own way — and their way is probably only shared by a small contingent of other “outside-the-box” thinkers.

It can be difficult to provide financial advice to this type of client. For example, they may feel more comfortable keeping large amounts of cash at home instead of having traditional bank accounts. They may not feel comfortable investing in the stock market. They may feel overly anxious about a specific aspect of politics or culture and worry about how it might affect their finances.

How to help The Outside-the-Box Thinker

So, if you have a client who is skeptical about most of the typical aspects of financial planning, what should you do? You can’t question their sanity or just tell them to “get over” their concerns. Try some of these tactics:

  • Remember your goal: You want to give them the knowledge and confidence they need to manage their money well.
  • Start by validating their underlying concern. You may not agree with all the details of their beliefs/fears, but you can probably find common ground somewhere. For example, if they “can’t trust” the stock market, you can probably agree that investing in stocks comes with some level of fear and uncertainty.
  • Consider how their fears impact their plan. Can you make a simple change that helps them feel more confident? It might be best to just do it so you don’t have to fight about it.
  • If what they want isn’t a simple change, then you have a chance to reframe the conversation. For example, if they are worried about investing, you might offer a few low-risk options that they may feel better about.
  • Another option is to provide them with resources to use outside of meetings. Sending some articles or podcasts might allow them to get an alternative point of view from the content they usually consume.

When it comes to sensitive topics (e.g., politics or religion), maintain a neutral stance. Channel your inner Switzerland to avoid stoking a client’s fears.

(Another AP CORE client, Barbie, dealt with her share of fear and anxiety. Subscribe to AP CORE to see how her financial planner helped her navigate these tense conversations.)

Get a Real-Life Look at Client Relations

Being an effective financial planner requires exceptional interpersonal skills, especially when it comes to working with challenging clients. Most financial planners will work with a Questioner, Shiny Object Chaser, or Out-of-the-Box Thinker at some point in their careers. When you’re working with a client who tests your patience or derails every conversation, remember to be patient and seek to educate without judgment.

Want to practice making financial plans for clients with unconventional situations? You can do that when you subscribe to Amplified Planning CORE. You’ll also get to watch videos of client meetings and see how an experienced financial planner handles those difficult conversations. Learn more about Amplified Planning subscriptions and join today!