It’s Time For Interpersonal Skills To Be Part Of Apprentice Schemes

Formal training for financial advisers has traditionally been technical, with any soft skills being up to the individual. It’s time that changed.

With the PFS having launched their apprenticeship programme, and the Simply Biz Adviser Academy and Old Mutual Adviser School expressing an interest in getting involved, now is the time to consider the soft skills elements of the apprenticeship programmes.

I would suggest the main two objectives must be:

  1. For apprentices to understand the importance of interpersonal skills, and
  2. To give sufficient knowledge so that apprentices are enthused to seek more learning outside of the programme

One of the most common questions on the NextGen Facebook page is along the lines of “Can anyone recommend more technical courses now that I’ve done all the CII exams.” The coaching aspect of financial planning needs to be a significant part of the training of young advisers.

Coaching For Financial Planners

One way of summarising these skills could be the question “Who is the most important person in the room?”. Although technical knowledge is important, it is to be used sparingly in the meeting room. The client is the most important person in the room, not the adviser, and the focus must be on them and them only.

Technical knowledge is to be used only when necessary or required by the client. In many cases, it is not needed with clients at all. Understanding this should be paramount in training young advisers.

Objective in using Interpersonal Skills

An effective and compliant financial plan needs:

  • to have real objectives
  • to demonstrate the ‘know your client’ requirement

Financial planning is very simple. Work out what you want from life, then spend your money on that.

The trouble is, working out what you want from life is not as easy as it might at first seem. For example, one thing we are not able to do is to challenge our own assumptions. To understand what we want from the future, we need a third party to challenge us. In this way advisers can really help the client, and have clear objectives at which to aim our financial planning.

So now let’s look at two points at which Interpersonal Skills are so essential.

Early meetings (inc fact finding/know your customer)

The first few meetings are about getting to know the client and building trust in order to gain real clarity over the life objectives, and therefore the financial objectives. In many (although not all) circumstances, it will also include an element of helping the client to understand themselves better.

Financial advisers should therefore have:

  • a clear intention to listen and observe
  • questioning skills. Not just open/closed, but good questions and bad questions (multiple questions in one, pre judging, and so on)
  • listening skills (is this the least trained area in the entire professional arena?!)
  • an understanding of when to coach and when not to coach
  • an understanding of what constitutes an objective
  • how to draw out hard facts during a discussion, and knowing which facts can be left to the post meeting email (aka why factfind questionnaires have no place in a client meeting)

Constructing a plan and delivering it to the client

The suitability letter needs to include clear objectives. Note that “You want to consolidate your pensions and take advantage of our model investment portfolios” is NOT an objective!

In constructing a plan and delivering it to the client, advisers need to have:

  • ability to link the technical knowledge to the client real needs and objectives
  • communication skills to not only get across complicated issues, but to make those issues relevant and real to clients
  • progress checking skills, to ensure that advisers do not bamboozle the clients with their knowledge

Conclusion

There is a misconception that advisers need to complete a factfind. This is not the rule. They need to demonstrate that they know their customer.

Information can be gained outside of a meeting room. The basic hard facts will come out in discussion, and the rest can be gained later by email or telephone call.

Awareness of this (for compliance departments as well as apprentices!) is key to helping the next generation of advisers understand that their technical knowledge is not the how the client gains most value.

Quiver Management run courses on interpersonal skills, and Smart Training Academy are running First Meeting training courses

4 Comments
  1. Profile photo of Phil Melville
    Phil Melville 4 months ago

    I have to admit that I throughly dislike the need to dress up things ie. interpersonal skills, when there are quite ordinary existing words which meet the needs of every activity.
    How else are you going to make a living if you don’t/cant understand the client and if you are not there to help the client what else are you there for ?
    This obsession wth gentrifying our job is clearly not helping anyone otherwise why does the vocabulary change almost daily . Phrases such as ” client centric ” are so silly as what other way is there of organising a business which relies on the public for its existence.
    Each of us is selling something all of the time be it within our relationships , our communities ,and our occupations. Selling is just communicating effectively and for some of you to try and make it seem a slightly sordid way of doing things is disingenuous to say the least.
    I find that in every facet of my work I make a huge effort to make sure my message is communicated to the best of my ability which is what selling is all about.
    I also find it extraordinary that any adviser would want to liken himself to a lawyer or accountant whose communication skills are almost universally bad.

  2. Profile photo of Jan Bowen-Nielsen
    Jan Bowen-Nielsen 4 months ago

    I agree completely Chris.
    This is not just a challenge for financial advisers and planners. Most other professionals e.g. consultants, solicitors, accountants etc., should have this as part of their training. The interpersonal skills should be regarded as an essential part of their professional training, as important as their technical skills. And when qualified, they should also make the soft skills a key part of their continuous professional development.

  3. Profile photo of Phil Melville
    Phil Melville 4 months ago

    The most difficult part of our job is getting and holding someones attention for long enough to tell your story – always has been and always will be no matter what you call yourself.
    It is time to abandon the politically correct vocabulary and train people to sell both themselves and whatever they think they have to offer the public….
    Happily still in print are many,many excellent sales books, tapes and manuals from days gone by which will help you to get your house in order and build an effective sales presentation for your services or products.
    Clearly there has been a successful campaign by vested interests ( selling their own products ) to persuade advisers that having certificates will create a flow of business but if you cannot get anyone to stop and listen they will never know how clever you are.
    Selling done properly is a very honorable process and is practiced in every aspect of our lives so dont let yourself be persuaded that there is something tacky about improving your sales ability.

    • Profile photo of Jan Bowen-Nielsen
      Jan Bowen-Nielsen 4 months ago

      Hi Phil.
      I fully appreciate that the interpersonal skills will help ‘sell’ the adviser and what they have to offer. But what I’m taking from Chris’ article is not that this is about selling, but rather about having a clear intent to understand and help the client.

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