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How do well-intentioned financial professionals combat negative perception?

You’ve seen the ads for financial advisers. They tell you, “Customers are our most important asset” or “We care about your future.” Based on its marketing messages, one would think the industry is filled with professionals whose sole purpose is to make your life better.

Yet, according to the latest Deloitte research, precious few Americans trust the financial services industry. Only 20 percent of consumers believe banks to be highly trustworthy, and only 15 percent highly trust mutual funds, investment advisers/brokers or financial advisers.

So how do well-intentioned financial professionals combat negative public perception? Full disclosure, my father was an old school banker, my brother is a former stockbroker, and I know several financial planners. There are plenty of honest professionals out there. But in many cases, the language they use and the way their organizations are structured work against them.

Here are four ways bankers shoot themselves in the foot, and tips for changing their perception.

1. They talk about products instead of plans.

Financial professionals are trained to talk about “products.” But the general public doesn’t think of financial offerings as products. When average people, or even the average wealthy person, hears the word product we think about a box of detergent. If a financial adviser says, “I have three products to show you,” it creates a distance between them and their client. When I advise senior level finance leaders, one of the first things I tell them is to ban the word product from their institution. Products are commodities. What clients are actually seeking is “guidance and insight.” A more compelling way to talk to a client is, “Let’s discuss a plan to meet your priorities.”

2. They ask money questions instead of life questions.

When a financial adviser starts by asking about the client’s net worth, the client quickly concludes the banker is only interested in his or her money. David Greene, managing partner of Greene Consulting, a firm that works with financial professionals to elevate the client experience, says, “You need to redesign the conversation you have with your clients.” Clients are more than a balance sheet. Greene’s team trains wealth advisers to first understand, “what the money is designed to help you accomplish.”

3. They explain when they should be inquiring.

Finance people often assume it’s their job to “educate the client.” That may be true, but it’s a horrible way to start what should be a trusting relationship. Instead of telling clients what you think they should know, ask them what they actually want to accomplish. Greene’s team teaches advisers, “Ask the client to rank order their life goals. What’s more important – private college or retiring early?” Helping a client prioritize goals is a valuable service. It’s the foundation for a true relationship.

4. The leaders focus on bank objectives instead of customer objectives.

When a financial services firm tells its people, focus on the client, but the senior leadership spends all its time talking about increasing assets under management, the rank and file quickly get the message: Hitting the number for our boss is what matters most. The client experience takes a back seat. When I work with senior leaders, we ensure client impact is the cornerstone of the leadership narrative. It can seem like a subtle shift, but which banker would you choose? The one whose boss just told her to grab more of your money? Or the one whose boss tells her that her purpose is to help you manage your money in a way that improves your life?