How to Disagree With a Financial Planning Client

We’ve talked before about what to do when a client goes against your advice or makes financial decisions without asking your opinion first. But what about face-to-face disagreements? How should you react when a client comes to you with an idea that you completely disagree with?

Learning how to disagree with a client isn’t something that’s covered in most financial planning courses. It’s a skill that comes with time and experience. 

But that doesn’t mean you just have to muddle through until you become a senior planner. There are some rules and best practices to follow. And all of them are based on having the right mindset: our job is to serve our clients well.

That doesn’t mean we have to go along with everything they say or pretend we agree with a terrible plan. But it does mean that we should default to a position of grace and humility.

Have the right perspective

You’ve worked hard to earn your CFP® credentials, and you probably have a lot more knowledge than your client. But know your limits. You’re not perfect, your advice isn’t always 100% right, and you aren’t responsible for making your client’s decisions for them.

People have the right to make (what you believe to be) bad decisions.

Honestly, I’ve had clients make decisions I disagreed with. I’ve given them my opinion and watched them go in a completely different direction. And sometimes, it’s clear that I was right. But other times, those decisions I disagreed with turned out really well! 

At the end of the day, your client knows more about their life than you do. And sometimes, that means that they can make better decisions than you can. So it’s important to maintain a humble attitude and choose to trust your clients.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can never put your foot down. You also need to know your limits in terms of where you draw the line. There may be extreme situations where a client has a plan that’s obviously doomed. And in that case, it’s important to clearly and firmly disagree. 

For example, if a client is overspending to the point that they’re putting their entire financial future in jeopardy, you can absolutely tell them that you disagree. Just be as tactful and compassionate as possible. 

Ask curious questions

One of the best ways to navigate conversations with clients is to be curious. Come to each meeting with an open mind and a willingness to listen to their ideas — even the ones that come out of left field.

Instead of instantly shooting down harebrained ideas, approach your clients with curiosity.

Ask questions! “Tell me more about this.” “What initiated this idea?” And then listen to their answers.

We all get impractical ideas sometimes. But usually, you can talk through things enough to get to the underlying root of that idea. And when you understand that foundational belief or desire, it’s easier to help your client find a more practical way to honor it. You might be able to present some different solutions that still connect with your client’s core idea.

Document everything

Sometimes, it might not be possible to come up with a stellar solution that you and your client both agree with. And in that case, it’s OK to present your concerns to them. Just make sure to do it in a non-judgmental way. It’s the difference between, “This is a terrible idea that will make you lose money,” and “I’m concerned about your level of risk because your cash is already stretched thin.”

Try walking your clients through your thought process to help them see their idea from a CFP® point of view. Be as objective as possible — the idea is to give them more information so they have a better perspective on the entire issue. With a deeper understanding of things, they might be able to accept a different solution.

But sometimes, you can use all these approaches to no avail. Your client might choose to go ahead with their plan despite your disagreement. When that happens, don’t forget to record everything in your notes or CRM software. For compliance reasons, you want to have documentation that shows you didn’t agree with the client’s plan.

Commit to disagreeing well

You’re never going to have a perfect client relationship where clients always follow your advice without question. But remember, your job is to help guide your clients and empower them to make the best possible financial decisions.

And sometimes that means your clients will disagree with you. When that happens, your job isn’t to go along with whatever they say, but neither is it to just shut down the conversation with a self-righteous “no.” Instead, ask questions. Be open-minded. Try to find the underlying mindset that contributed to the client’s decision, and see if you can gently redirect them. And if you can’t, make sure to document your disagreement for compliance.

Like many aspects of financial planning, disagreeing (well) with clients comes with practice. But you can learn a lot from watching other planners interact with their clients. 

And that’s exactly what you can do in Amplified Planning. As a member, you’ll watch real client meetings and get “play-by-play” commentary from the planner so you can understand their approach. 

Best of all? You can earn CFP® Board Standard Pathway experience hours or CE hours for each month’s course. Get all the details about the Amplified Planning membership and join today!