I always enjoy being given advice, and I also enjoy advertising – as long as it’s done well. But I have never, either in my previous career as an investment adviser or now, claimed to know everything. I prefer to say, with Socrates, “I know that I know nothing.”
Hardly a day goes by when I don’t experience something new, meet new people or learn something I never knew before. That’s what life is all about. But life also includes subjects and issues on which I happen to have firmly held opinions or convictions. And one of them is investment advice – widely criticised, unpopular and vastly over-regulated though it may be. In the course of my career, I have watched and listened to many an advisory session. Many of them were good, many more of them were “middling”, and a few of them, unfortunately, were truly terrible. So what makes for a good consultation?
The customer is, of course, paramount. What does he or she want? Why are they asking for investment advice? Is it just a general requirement, or do they have a specific need? Ideally, the customer should be the one who asked for the meeting. In the very best case, adviser and customer should already know and respect each other. However – the adviser should never underestimate the situation! There are certain things you should never take for granted, no matter how well-established your relationship is, no matter how well you think you know your customer. That is what I would call a fundamental error!
In particular, the customer should be the sole focus of attention throughout the interview. They are the lynchpin; the adviser’s time belongs to them. Colleagues, other customers, mobile phones, laptops displaying unrelated content – in fact, distractions of any kind whatsoever – should have no claim on the adviser’s attention. An undisturbed conversation is the critical hygiene factor; without it, the customer will leave the meeting with a negative impression. And for this conversation to happen, a calm, well-organised atmosphere is a vital ingredient – the adviser’s calm, focused demeanour is just as important as a tidy desk. A pleasant atmosphere sets the scene for a successful consultation.
Regardless of context – retail banking or private banking – the adviser should ask as many open-ended questions as possible throughout the consultation. That’s because the customer has a specific requirement, possibly even a problem, and the adviser is there to help. Generally speaking, the more questions the adviser asks, the better the meeting goes. Because in a successful consultation, the result isn’t predetermined – in the form, for example, of a prepared product lurking in the adviser’s documentation because it’s this month’s product to push. On the contrary: Good consultations end in open outcomes, because there are still things to consider or clarify, questions the customer should sleep on, or recommendations they need to discuss with a third party.
Nor do good consultations end with a single recommendation. In the best cases, they include alternatives, or perhaps even a package of different options that are just as varied as real life. So no to black and white – the perfect outcome is full colour! In short, the best consultations are the ones that present customers with a solution that makes them happy because it resolves their problem. It turns out that customers are willing to pay a premium for dependable advice and a reputable product or portfolio that offers genuine, obvious value. And what fills advisers with a strong sense of job satisfaction as they bring the interview to a close is the fact that the customer clearly feels relieved; clearly feels satisfied and firmly convinced that they’re doing the right thing because out of all possible options, they’ve chosen the very best one. And that’s why I’ve always appreciated investment advice – because it makes it possible for people to have precisely this feeling.