Seminars and motivational books will never win you clients – just be more human

There was a Scott Adams Dogbert cartoon doing the rounds on Twitter the other day. Dogbert is talking to his financial adviser, who is telling him: “We can handle your investments so you can retire and live off the earnings. Just sign this paper and hand over all your money to total strangers and relax!”

In the last frame, the adviser adds: “We’ll need to know what your tolerance to risk is.” To which Dogbert replies: “I just maxed out.”

Amusing? Of course; it was a cartoon. But, oh so true.

Advisers really do need to realise what it is like to be sitting on the other side of their desk. You may think you are doing a good job, but what are you doing to make your client think that too?

First of all you need to realise that, for a client, handing money to someone to invest on your behalf is a scary prospect. It’s particularly scary if you don’t know the person you are handing it to from Adam, and you’ve either resorted to finding a name on a website or followed the recommendation of a dodgy-looking bloke down the pub, because asking around is the only way you could think of to find someone.

If you’ve heard the Woody Allen joke that a financial adviser is someone who takes all your money and invests it until it is gone, then you’ll appreciate that the very idea of appointing someone to counsel you on your financial affairs will probably have many of your potential clients reaching for the gin bottle.

Contrary to what many in the business might think, financial advisers – with the exception of those with very wealthy clients – aren’t like family doctors or even lawyers, where there may be a longstanding relationship born of multiple transactions over the years. The first time many people will meet a financial adviser is when they need help with deciding what to do with their modest pension pot.

So, how are you, the advisers, instilling confidence into terrified clients? Amazingly, many of you seem to think the way is not only to read catchpenny motivational books, watch podcasts and attend seminars about growing your business, but to boast about it on social media afterwards.

Imagine how you would feel if you found your dentist tweeting that he’d found a great book entitled How to stop your hands shaking while drilling, or Fifty ways to see more patients in a day and max out income? Alarm bells would be ringing, I’m sure.

We’ve all heard George Bernard Shaw’s maxim that “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”. There’s a whole industry out there sucking in the gullible with promises of growing their business, gaining “networking skills”, improving social media reach and any number of other gobbledegook ideas.

I’m not talking about hard skills, like mastering a computer program or acquainting yourself with the tax rules on overseas investments. I mean motivational mush like ‘increase your client list in seven days, ‘why marketing my way really works’, and ‘the truth about Twitter’.

So, those who have failed to hold down a full time job, or run a private client business successful enough to take up the whole of their working day, are somehow qualified to give lectures on the subject and write books about it? As young people used to say: LMAO.

It reminds me of the journalists, back in the days before the internet, who extolled the virtues of getting out of the City and ‘teleworking’ – when the only subject they ever got commissions for, once they’d made the move to their pastoral paradise, was ‘how to make a career teleworking’. In short, they – and the proposition that being out of reach and out of touch didn’t matter – were rubbish.

If you need to read marketing and motivational mind-marshmallow by someone who was fired from their last job, or never had a job other than writing books about how to do yours, you need to take a hard look at yourself.

As Oscar Wilde said: “Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” Have confidence in yourself and your skills. You really don’t need instruction about how to do the best for your client and to make a go of your job. You don’t need to learn networking skills or social media marketing (the very words make my heart sink). You need to be an honest human being with a modicum of personality. If you aren’t the first and you don’t have the second, you are in the wrong job.