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Financial Advisors: Ask a Question. Change a Life.

By ClientWise | May 31, 2012

Powerful questioning – the ability to ask questions that reveal information necessary to provide maximum benefit for the client in the coaching relationship – is one of the International Coach Federation (ICF) Professional core competencies.

While most financial advisors aren’t professional coaches, that ability to ask powerful questions is the quality that differentiates the most successful financial advisors. At ClientWise, we’ve observed that top-performing advisors possess that ability to ask a question that elicits a response along these lines from their client: “Wow! That’s a great question. Nobody’s asked me that before.”

The “Squatter” Entrepreneur

The story about Eric Simons, a 20-year-old entrepreneur who squatted at the AOL offices in Palo Alto, CA for two months, is illustrative of the potential impact of powerful questioning.

Fresh out of high school in 2011, Simons he landed at AOL as part of Imagine K12, a new Silicon Valley incubator and mentorship program that is focused entirely on education. When the mentorship program ended, Simons noticed his AOL building badge still took him through security.

"I couldn't afford to live anywhere," Simons recalled. "I started living out of AOL's headquarters.”

So Simons hung around AOL, and pounded away for 12-16 hours daily on his budding start-up, ClassConnect, a tool for teachers that uses crowdsourcing to build class lesson plans. He also took up residence in the AOL headquarters, eating the company’s food, sleeping on one of the company couches and working out and showering at the company gym. He had become the
quintessential tireless young entrepreneur, using every resource at his disposal in fascinating and innovative ways.

One Question Turned It All Around

Simons wasn’t always so driven. Just two years earlier, as a junior in high school, he was a listless and indifferent student. He says, “As a student, I was your worst nightmare!”  Nothing motivated him – he didn’t care about his grades or homework and wasn’t able to stay focused.

Then, Linda Bennett, Eric’s perceptive and empathetic chemistry teacher, pulled him aside and asked Eric a question that changed his life.

“What would make you interested in learning what I’m teaching?”

Eric was completely stumped. Nobody had ever bothered to ask him how he wanted to learn. After a few moments he replied, “Let’s get everyone working together on computers. I’ll even build the software for us to use.”

The seeds of ClassConnect were born.

The Power of Questions

What was so powerful about Linda Bennett’s question, that propelled Eric Simons out of his lethargy, and into his current, super-energized state?

  • Her question didn’t judge Eric, and was completely focused on asking him what he wanted to achieve.
  • It was a question based on curiosity, and did not allow her to anticipate or predict what Eric might say.
  • The question was completely open-ended, and compelled Eric to be thoughtful in his response.
  • Linda Bennett trusted that Eric could create his own solution, and invited him to do so.

The Power of the Financial Advisor

At ClientWise, we believe that financial advisors have the capability of becoming the most trusted and valued advisor to their clients. More than any other trusted advisor (e.g. CPA, attorney, etc.), financial advisors have the sanction to engage in conversations that penetrate to a client’s deep-seated financial concerns and aspirations. 

In order to achieve this status, as the most trusted and valued advisor to your clients, powerful questions are one of the most important tools you have at your disposal.

Use them wisely.


If you have ever considered the power of coaching to energize your own financial advisory practice, we invite you to download the ClientWise Learning Tool below:


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Topics: Communication Perseverance Entrepreneurs

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