What ‘why?’ tells us about clients

There is more to asking the question why? of a client, we have also to understand the potential impact of that word on them, says Jon Dodson, Redmill Advance.


As a financial advice community, the true value that we bring to clients is the peace of mind that comes with expert planning that is personal to them and their loved ones.  At the core of this is truly knowing and understanding clients and to arrive at this point we are required to build the relationship over many months, years and decades.

Along that journey of understanding we will have asked a huge variety of questions to comprehend not only what they want their future to look like but, importantly, why.  That ‘why’ tells us more about what our clients feel, love, hate, care about, are scared of etc than maybe any other question we can ask.

But…  there’s a catch.

The question ‘why?’ has a specific and subconscious reaction when it is asked of us – neuroscientifically speaking we react as if we are being challenged, we produce stress hormones and we feel uncomfortable.

This leaves us to consider two things – naturally, we need to make sure we have built sufficient rapport with the client before we ask this potentially disruptive question.  Secondly, we need to think about occasions when asking ‘why?’ isn’t appropriate and how we can reframe it.

Specifically, we might consider that, given the known impact, this question is not appropriate for a section of clients that meet the FCA’s vulnerability criteria.  For such clients, the feeling of challenge may be considered not only damaging to the relationship but also personally upsetting.

Being able to reframe this question then is critical.

Less abrupt ways to illicit similar information from a client may be…

  • Help me to understand what it is that…
  • Tell me more about…
  • Explain to me the importance to you of…
  • What are you looking to achieve by…?
  • How will you feel when…?
  • What will that give you/allow you to do?

These are just a few examples of how we can soften the edges of our questioning approach, there are of course many more – the key is keeping the questions broad and open so that the client feels that they have the space and freedom to express themselves.  Sometimes just one of these will work, sometimes it’s a combination of two or more that will lead to that deeper comprehension.

In summary, a true understanding of a client comes when we appreciate their motivation.

Being aware of the physical impact of asking the question ‘why?’ can helps us understand when we need to reframe our approach based on the individual’s circumstances.

By Jon Dodson, Redmill Advance

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