Turning the conversation upside down: start listening to bring purpose to the client relationship


Magazine article

You need a reasonably profound connection with clients in order to better understand their individual interest. Knowing the client’s personal motivation and ideas leads to an improved service by the advisor or intermediary. However, over the years most of the client talks have been reduced to the presentation of numbers, graphs and other technical information. Often, this information is shared as a one-way street and rarely an actual exchange takes place. In today’s ever changing environment, this approach to client meetings has been proven to be contra productive. Clients are complaining that advisors don’t ask the right questions and aren’t interested in their needs, visions and ideas.

To maintain and deepen the customer relationship the narrative needs to change. For one, values and the personal vision of a client should become key elements in the dialogue. Often the client-advisor discussions are driven by the client’s commitment to make a positive difference in the world. Hence, the issues of philanthropic engagement, sustainable investments, social-entrepreneurial investments or responsible business strategies are topics which should be part of the regular conversation with a client, especially because they enable a more personal exchange.

The business case

Mutual personal understanding is a key component for a long lasting successful client relationship. Bringing the clients back in the centre of attention as opposed to their potential assets under management leads to a lasting connection, even over generations. When enriching the dialogue by taking a more personal approach, benefits can be expected and consequently measured over a three to five year time horizon.

Some of the most important outcomes of a value based client relationship are:

  • Leading to a better understanding of the personal value proposition and the needs of the client
  • Building mutual trust which benefits the client relationship and the potential for long term business relations
  • Providing an opportunity to engage different generations and align their diverse interests while building on family traditions
  • Obtaining awareness about the client’s perception of money
  • Demonstrating the competence of a holistic approach; social, political and economic thinking. An approach that has the potential to meet client interests and demands on a very individual level

This different approach to the advisor-client relationship can also be extrapolated to prospective clients.

Learning more about the client motivation and ideas also leads to enhanced business potential. Understanding the client’s concerns and needs is conducive to developing new income streams. The key benefits are:

  • Maintaining clients and improve existing client relationships
  • Discovering substantial cross-selling potential as discussion reveals the opportunity to provide different in-house services
  • Increasing share-of-wallet
  • Referrals within the client’s peer group and business partners
  • Facilitating client acquisition which can lead to new assets over time
  • Donating within a strategic giving plan actually reduces the outflow of funds as donations are split over time.

Exploring client needs by listening carefully

It is seldom seen that financial institutions ask their clients what they want to engage with, or invest in. Often the institution has a readymade trendy product, which some initiative based on corporate marketing strategy and the financial structuring department came up with. Such vehicles then sit on the shelf and need to be sold. Therefore client advisors are not even in the position to inquire about the ideas of clients, but rather end up selling in-house products or investment structures from close by business partners.

Meanwhile, client interest have actually shifted towards philanthropy and responsible investments. This is mostly not explicitly expressed to the advisor or intermediary. Wealthy individuals from all age ranges are utilising their fortune and business practices to make a positive difference for society or the environment. It is a much discussed topic. Most advisors don’t quite yet understand their clients in this respect. So what are the possibilities of changing the paradigm within the conversation?

Basically it is about listening to the client, an art that seems to have been forgotten in the financial industry. To start the conversation, an open common sense question helps to break the ice. How do you perceive the development in socially-responsible investments in the past years? What is your understanding of the Social Development Goals? Have you thought about investing differently, reflecting your personal values? What experiences have you had in terms of philanthropy engagement? Would you like to start your own charitable endeavour? Are you aware of entrepreneurial driven investments which combine social and financial returns? Rest assured, these are all very common sense questions.

In this way, the client can be truly in the spotlight. It is vital to understand the story clients tell and to encourage further sharing. Personal values and purpose as well the mid to long-term vision of the client then take centre stage. A lot of answers will contain surprising new information about the person or the family. This will benefit the depth of the relationship.

Vision and values: What drives the client?

A purpose driven approach seems to be far more rewarding in the long-run and also financially sound. It certainly increases happiness, as much as the personal fulfilment and contentment in a broader sense.

We all have values and most of us have visions or ideas about the future; our future. Unfortunately in today’s environment, we take little time to reflect upon them. Re-introducing reflection in client conversations can ensure a different level of engagement, seeing the dialogue becomes more personal.

Knowing more about client needs and expectations as well as their personal passion helps to design tailor made solutions. Another outcome could be the realisation that different clients share a similar vision and could therefore be introduced to each other.

Understanding the spectrum of opportunities

Today’s philanthropy has an array of options for donations or engaging, but many clients simply do not know these options. Others are already proficient in their giving practices and wish to expand their activities. Often they are keen to enlarge their knowledge base to understand more about measuring impact, their opportunities in professional giving, collaboration with peers or engaging with existing initiatives in the social or environmental field.

Wealthy individuals need to understand they have the choice to become engaged on various levels which would reflect their personal interest and ambitions. They can define their individual path to become active in a holistic way, while looking at the whole spectrum of opportunities,

A case for philanthropic engagement

Philanthropic engagement is a valid opportunity to make a difference. It is often a starting point during emergencies, but also consists of projects or innovative processes which support people and communities in need. Direct engagement with projects also provides important learnings and can lead to further personalised activities, whether the approach is traditionally philanthropic more entrepreneurial by participating actively in specific projects.


In short: it is all about personal relationships. We need to change the attitude towards the conversation. In order to make this happen, we need to be asking the right questions and listen carefully to the answers. Purpose, values and vision are central drivers for client engagements. Through these discussions, trust can flourish within the relationship and becomes the key to a long and rewarding relationship.

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This article is tagged under:

  • Government, legal and tax issues
  • Impact measurement
  • International giving
  • Next generation philanthropy
  • Philanthropy Advice
  • Philanthropy stats & trends