Finding Your Inner Coach

As your clients approach retirement, they may need guidance on more than their investments.

By Ray Sclafani

May 1, 2007 – With the baby boomers approaching retirement, 21% of advisors now position themselves as “retirement coaches,” according to a Rydex Advisor-Benchmarking survey conducted in November 2006. These numbers signal a new awareness among advisors that they need to do more than just manage investments. To build stronger client relationships, advisors are helping their clients achieve a wider range of goals. For many advisors, this can mean taking on a new role: becoming a coach.

“Being a coach means helping my clients understand what makes them happy, while visualizing a future in which they can achieve their full potential,” says Jeff Gitterman, principal and owner of Gitterman & Sacks, a top-producing office of ING Financial Advisers. “This is particularly important in the area of retirement planning,” he says, noting that many people don’t have a clear vision of what their retirement should look like.

The key to successful coaching is understanding what motivates your clients. For example, Gitterman notes that some of his clients may embrace traditional ideas of retirement, such as spending more time with family or hitting the golf course. But some clients find that a traditional retirement lifestyle isn’t enough to replace the satisfaction they got from their careers. These clients need a mentor who can help them pursue new avenues for personal fulfillment, such as heading up a professional association or volunteering.

As a coach, you serve as a facilitator for your clients’ goals and interests. Because you’re already a trusted advisor, you have the opportunity to stimulate your clients’ thought processes, so that they can unlock the wisdom they already possess. Keep in mind that coaching is not about providing answers, nor is it therapy. Rather, it’s about asking the right questions to help your clients create the kind of future they really desire.

While retirement coaching is a common need, your clients may have other needs, such as business coaching or life coaching. Whether your clients own small businesses or work for large corporations, they may want help with managing a team, implementing best practices or finding new advisors in other areas, such as tax planning or business development. On the personal side, your clients may be trying to teach their children how to manage money or strike the right balance between work and family life. With the right approach, coaching can be an integral part of creating value-added relationships with your clients.

Coaching 101

If you want to introduce a coaching element to your client relationships, remember that coaching is an ongoing process rather than a one-time event. It’s important to engage your clients in a regular dialogue about their dreams for the future. Here are some tips to help you get started.

Ask open-ended questions. For example: What do you most enjoy doing when you have a few hours to yourself? What would you attempt if you knew that it was impossible to fail?

Be a good listener. Let your clients speak with few interruptions. Listen more than you talk. Take time to find out what’s really on their minds.

Be comfortable with silence. If there’s a lull in conversation, don’t feel like you need to fill the gaps. Give your clients time to think and respond.

Avoid giving answers. Be willing to talk about the larger issues in life, but let your clients figure out the answers on their own. They know the answers on a subconscious level—they just need time to discover them.

Be action-oriented. Encourage your clients to establish timelines for implementing a plan. Ask them about their progress the next time you speak.

Dig deeper. If a client makes a statement like, “I’m bored with my job” or “I’m scared of retirement,” ask them to explain what they mean. The five famous words in coaching are “Tell me more about that!”

Become a facilitator. If a client wants to tackle a new challenge in life, ask, “How can I help you?” Perhaps you can help your client make a new connection or find a new resource.

Coaching relationships can ultimately benefit both you and your clients. You win by building stronger, deeper and more meaningful relationships. Your clients gain a partner who can help them achieve their newly clarified and articulated goals. In today’s competitive environment, you want to be the No. 1 go-to person for your clients’ needs. Whether it means being a retirement coach, a business coach or a life coach, now is the time to start engaging your clients in a deeper conversation.

Ray Sclafani is President of ClientWise LLC, an organization founded to support the financial advisory practice of the future. Delivering unique practice management strategies focused on client acquisition and retention, ClientWise provides coaching and training for leading financial advisors. For more information, e-mail or call 1-800-732-0876.

Originally published in Financial Planning, May 2007.

Copyright Ray Sclafani 2007.