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Adviser Workshop: How to remain professional when clients become friends

Adviser Workshop: How to remain professional when clients become friends

Keith Bonner (pictured), Jim Clancy and Lee Robertson explain how they draw the line when clients become close friends.

Keith Bonner

Director, Pembroke Financial Services

The amount of personal information a client knows about me tends to be guided by whether they ask, rather than me voluntarily offering it. If a question comes up, I am perfectly comfortable answering, but you do need to have boundaries.

Be genuine

It is inevitable certain clients will become personal friends, as naturally you build up trust over time, and this changes the dynamic.

I have clients who ask about my daughter for instance, and that is nice, as it can get a bit one-sided with me asking all the questions about them. It is part of our job to get to know people, what they want to achieve and what is important to them, so it is nice to have someone take a genuine interest.

This only happens over the long term or if you establish something in common, so it does not happen very often. If and when it does, it would not change our professionalism or the way we approach our interaction with them as a client.

Earn clients’ trust

Building a trusting relationship with a client means we know more about them and can tailor our advice, which can only be a good thing.

Thankfully, advisers who abuse this level of trust are increasingly rare these days, though I am not sure how to guard against that. You encounter people like that in all walks of life and it is impossible to iron it out completely.

Jim Clancy

Partner, Access Wealth Management

I build a relationship with clients, and I become so friendly with some that they ask for my advice on everything. More often than not, we will have a strong relationship with clients.

Stay professional

One long-standing client’s wife died, and I was among the close friends and family invited to the interment. A few years ago, a client died after a heart attack, and his daughter phoned me to inform me almost immediately.

I have had another client more recently who has been making some personal decisions and has sought my opinion. So we do get close to clients, but you cannot get too friendly, as it is still a business relationship at the end of the day.

It is important to always remember there is a line that should not be crossed, as ultimately that could cause problems in your business. You must keep your distance.

Never judge

I let clients tell me what they want to tell me and, if they do, I always ask if they actually want my opinion or not. You cannot take sides, and have to stay completely objective.

One of the biggest challenges we face in this profession is to not become judgemental when it comes to lifestyles, cashflows and so on. If someone says: ‘I think I’m spending too much. What do you think?’ I will often say it is not my place to comment on where or how they spend their money. It is a fine line.

Lee Robertson

Chief executive, Investment Quorum

We have a professional duty of care to our clients. But, in a relationship business like financial planning, it is perfectly normal and natural that you become close to clients over time.

Maintain objectivity

When you meet with someone regularly to discuss all aspects of their financial life, it invariably leads into gaining an understanding of their personal circumstances and dealing with difficult periods.

Pretty much every adviser at the firm has at some point in their career been invited to a client wedding, christening, funeral or bar mitzvah. This is an expected result of dealing with a client personally over an extended period of time.

However, the professional relationship can never be overridden by becoming close with a client on a personal level. It is vitally important to be able to separate yourself and approach a situation from a position of objectivity.

Use your discretion

I have been the first to be told after immediate family and medical staff that a client had a terminal illness. I helped a long-standing client with a terminal illness get out of his pension scheme and spoke extensively about what to do ahead of his passing away.

Personal friendships will always occur in this profession. But it is important to know how to go about it, and to maintain a professional distance, which all our advisers learn.

THREE TOP TIPS

  • Keith Bonner: Developing personal friendships over time is inevitable, but rare. Do not force it.
  • Jim Clancy: Building close relationships with clients is a good thing, but leave the ball in their court. If they want to confide in you, they will.
  • Lee Robertson: Close relationships are perfectly natural but you must stay objective.

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