Schwab IMPACT speaker examines how advisors can communicate effectively

Financial advisors have an increasingly challenging fight against misinformation and distraction, and they must practice effective communication to keep clients on a positive path, Ryan Sullivan, a managing director of strategic markets for Hartford Funds, said at Schwab IMPACT 2019.

“Can we agree: Being a fountain of knowledge is a good thing … being a fire hose of knowledge — not a good thing?” he asked the crowd attending his session.

That’s because a listener’s attention tends to stray after a short time. To illustrate, Sullivan told a story and asked audience members to raise their hands when they had a thought about anything other than his story. Half the audience had their hands raised within 24 seconds.

He said one simple way to help keep a client focused is with a single word: “Imagine.” Using that word helps the client’s mind continue “working with you instead of against you,” he said.

In addition, “Here’s how we use that information” is a phrase that can lower a client’s stress level, according to Sullivan. “If there’s one thing you remember from this” can be followed with a concise message to regain a client’s attention, he said.

Limiting the risk of miscommunication is also crucial, Sullivan said. “Does that make sense?” could be seen as questioning a client’s intelligence. “Am I explaining that clearly?” is an alternative that puts the responsibility on the advisor to convey information effectively, he said.

Visuals also offer an efficient way to convey information, and they benefit a client’s retention fourfold if they are reinforced by what an advisor is saying, he said.

Sullivan also outlined three ways to build authentic connections:

  • Keep it fresh: “Every advisor promises the same thing,” so it’s important for advisors to change how they present information to ensure that it doesn’t get stale for the clients or themselves.
  • Use appropriate humor: Advisors might think they can get people to trust them by looking stern and serious, but Harvard Business School research has shown appropriate humor can help gain business.
  • Follow the “Four F’s”: Advisor should discuss their firsts, faults, failures and fears to build trust. For example, they can discuss what they learned from an early-career mistake and how it helps them better serve clients now. That provides “a story arc that can be shared from client to referral,” Sullivan said.