Beyond the Numbers    Financial Advisor eNewsletter

Six Questions Financial advisors Should Ask Their Clients

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How to Master the Client Discovery Meeting

The client discovery meeting is a crucial step for financial advisors to create successful and effective relationships with their clients. Yet two-thirds (64%) of clients say their financial advisors have room for improvement in the client discovery process, according to the 2019 Client Priorities Study, which included a national survey of 2,305 adults age 25+ conducted by Life Stage Insights.

Just as a doctor must make a careful and comprehensive diagnosis to design an effective treatment, a financial advisor must first understand the hopes, worries, and priorities of each client in order to create a plan that effectively addresses their clients’ most important financial goals. Discovery meetings can help seal the advisor/client relationship by establishing credibility and trust. Done right, they can create loyal client advocate relationships and grow referrals by showcasing a superior client experience.    

So what are clients seeking in a discovery meeting? Above everything, clients say their advisors should spend more time understanding their priorities and life goals—not just their financial situation. This reflects a fundamental fact: Ultimately, clients are seeking to optimize their lives, not their money. “One advisor I met with talked only about my portfolio and investment strategy,” according to a client focus group participant. “But we never talked about what I really wanted to do with my money. It was an important missing piece in our discussion.” Also at the top of the list of what clients are seeking more from their advisors during the discovery process are being better at listening (59%) and building a more personal connection (53%).


A third (35%) said their financial advisor should be better at paying attention to the needs of both spouses/partners during the discovery process. Not surprisingly, women (41%) are even more likely than men (31%) to pinpoint lack of equal attention to spouses as a problem during their interaction with their financial advisor.

Percent clients seeking more of the following in the discovery process

Source: Life Stage Insights, 2019 Client Priorities Study

Base: Currently working with a financial advisor; responded dissatisfied with discovery process

A successful client discovery meeting requires thoughtful preparation and organization. For each client, advisors should review the most important goals for the discovery meeting. It is useful to have a standard checklist to ensure fact-gathering and paperwork necessary for client onboarding are introduced. The meeting will be more productive—and clients will have proper expectations—if you share a letter or email before the meeting that describes what process clients should anticipate, and how they can best prepare.


Also important is identifying what will be top-of-mind for the client when walking into the meeting. “I gather up everything I know about the client, and identify two or three items which I know are important to them,” said one advisor we interviewed. “Addressing these topics in our meeting assures the client I’ve done my homework and am truly looking out for what matters most to them.”


The best discovery meetings and conversations are often informal, engaging, and fun. “It’s important to give the client space to open up,” said another advisor. The right setting can help. “I don’t sit behind my desk for these meetings,” she said. “Instead we talk in our sitting area. It creates the right environment for these types of discussion.” Letting the conversation flow spontaneously can also be important. “Every client has a story to tell, and you have to let them tell it,” an advisor related. “One client I met with began telling me about their philanthropic passions. That is what really helped build our relationship. I was able to introduce him to an organization later that week that proved useful to him.” Finally, follow-up with clients after the meeting can help ensure all the loops are closed and that you are on the right course for a productive relationship.


Questions Financial Advisors Should Ask Their Clients


When interviewing dozens of financial advisors regarding how they conduct client discovery meetings, it quickly becomes clear that every advisor has their own approach and best practices. However, a few themes and types of questions are common among many highly successful advisors.

1. Tell me about yourself

An open question like this is a great way to start the conversation because it gives clients room to express priorities and worries that may be top-of-mind for them, and can help you begin to frame some issues that need to be addressed in the client’s financial strategy. Small talk can often lead to bigger topics, and so it’s helpful to open the door to what is most pressing. It’s also an effective way to start building that all-important personal relationship by understanding the client’s career, family, and what they do for fun. “I build my business not just on sound financial strategies, but on helping clients know I really care about them by taking the time to talk about what’s important in their lives,” said an advisor we interviewed.


2. How do you define success?

Success means different things to different clients. Some clients will first want to talk about success in terms of money and market performance, and this is a great opportunity both to gauge your clients’ market knowledge and experience and align on some of the ways you can help them. Do they have a solid understanding and reasonable expectations of potential market strategies, returns, and risks?


This discussion can be broadened to understand both the financial and non-financial goals of your client. “Sometimes clients will begin by talking about market returns. But this is the opportunity to get to the goals and financial milestones they are trying to reach,” said an interviewed advisor. What is your client investing for? Are they hoping to pay for their children’s or grandchildren’s education? Do they want to be able to help a child start a business, or just be there for her financially if needed? Do they have philanthropic goals? What type of retirement lifestyle are they seeking to achieve?


Some clients may have not thought much about their life goals, or may not have a clear vision of what they are seeking to accomplish. Creative exercises, such as asking them to envision their ideal life in five, ten, and 25 years, can help spark an interesting and productive conversation.


3. What keeps you up at night?

While it may be more pleasant for your clients to talk about their hopes, goals, and dreams, it is critically important for advisors to identify their clients’ greatest worries and fears. Are they worried their retirement health care expenses could devour their life savings? Are they anxious about the financial security of their spouse if they pass away? Are they concerned about paying long term care expenses for a parents? Or are they nervous about living too long and running out of money? “One of the most important benefits an advisor can deliver is peace of mind,” said an advisor we talked with. “So you need to know your clients’ worst case scenarios.” This part of the conversation needs to be handled with emotional care, attention, and assurances that the client’s financial plan will address their most pressing worries.


4. Do you feel like you are on the right financial path?

This question should help you develop a fuller portrait of your client’s current financial situation, where it may be succeeding, and where it may be falling short. It is also another avenue for you to demonstrate your problem-solving capabilities and indicate ways you can help get your client back on track. This topic can open opportunities to emphasize that financial plans are rarely “one and done,” and that clients benefit from having a knowledgeable guide to stay the course during life’s unexpected events and surprises. “It’s helpful to explain that even the best financial plan will need course corrections down the road,” said one advisor, “and that our job is to try to point the client in the right direction and hold their hand when they hit obstacles.”


5. How would you describe the ideal financial advisor relationship?

Every client has some important motivation for meeting with you, and this question can help identify what your prospective client is most seeking from you, both in terms of performance and how you work together. Does your client want to be hands-on during decision-making, or want you to take the lead? How often do they want you to communicate with them? What emotional dividends, such as peace of mind, trust, or confidence, are they most seeking from your relationship?


This can also be an opportunity to inquire about their past advisor relationships—what worked well for them and what didn’t. And, this topic will provide a chance to further explain your services and how you differ from other advisors. It’s also a great way to deepen your rapport and demonstrate you want to deliver the best possible service.


6. What else should we talk about?

A catch-all question toward the end of your meeting is a great way to ensure nothing important has been missed. If everything has been covered, you can turn to next steps to further the relationship, such as setting the next meeting.



Like everything, mastering client discovery meetings takes practice. "I've learned a lot and gotten a lot better really connecting with clients in meetings," said an advisor. The key is nurturing the conversation with the right tone, questions, and true caring and interest in your clients. As another advisor related, "The most important thing is that your client walks away with and the confidence their biggest priorities and worries have been heard."

Tools to Make Client Discovery Faster, Better, and Easier

Increasingly, advisors are able to equip themselves with tools and resources that make the client discovery easier and more productive. In-depth client discovery can be time-consuming, and so tools that help advisors get to what is top-of-mind for prospects and summarize insights before the discovery meeting can give advisors a powerful edge. Our own system, Life Stage Insights, enables prospects to explore their top priorities and creates actionable next steps for advisors. Financial DNA helps identify key behavioral traits, and Touchstone Pathway identifies clients' core beliefs and goals. Other products, such as Riskalyse, focus on a specific topic like risk tolerance. The best tools are not only useful for the advisor, but also engaging, illuminating, motivating, and even fun for clients as they explore what they are seeking to achieve through financial planning.

This article is a publication of Life Stage Insights, a client discovery and engagement system for financial advisors.