Helping Clients Understand Themselves – Beliefs Are Not Truths

Helping clients to better understand their relationship to their wealth is a key role for a financial planner.

We not only need to understand their objectives and motivations, we should also help them uncover new objectives that they did not realise were achievable. To dare them to dream.

A common issue we face when speaking with clients is that of ‘Permission’. It comes up when we are helping clients to increase their range of options in life. I blogged about this back in May 2013.

So what can we financial planners do to help clients increase their range of options when setting objectives?

Self-Limiting Beliefs

Each person’s world view is made up of their collected experiences and their reactions to them. These create values, which influence experiences, which create new reactions. Round the cycle we go from the moment we are born.

This creates a belief system which inevitably informs our choices and options. These very beliefs, however, may be limiting our options.

Here are a few examples of self-limiting beliefs:

  • I can’t do X because of Y
  • I won’t be happy until I have enough money
  • I don’t have enough resources (a tactic to give ourselves permission to remain stuck)
  • I have too many responsibilities to have fun
  • Earning money is hard work
  • I’m expected to … (by whom?)
  • It’s just the way things are (collective assumption)
  • Options only increase with wealth

The key point here is that beliefs are not truths.

It is easy to get caught up in allowing our beliefs to define us. They shape our thinking and our actions but can prevent us from seeing opportunities and can discourage us from even trying at all.

It is difficult to change one’s beliefs and fixed ideas. There is frequently a time lag between changes in thinking and actual changes in our emotional state. Even when we recognise that something isn’t logical or rational, there will be an internal forceful debate between our rational and irrational thoughts over a period of time.

This is where an experienced financial planner can help the client to identify and maybe challenge their beliefs in order to allow new options.


Generating More Options

The process of generating more options is really about being creative, using lateral thinking to break out of from the limitations of the current world view.

For example it is typically the case that the first idea we come up with to a question is going to be based on existing thinking (here’s a suggestion – when trying to come up with new solutions, write down all your ideas as fast as possible, then set that list aside and start again).

Here are a few ideas when helping clients to consider their financial future:

  • Questions should be open in order to explore more ideas: “What else …”
  • Use brainstorming – the process of creating ideas without limitations and without judging them
  • Get all the ideas out before considering their merits
  • Use questions that suspend limits-based thinking: “If there were no limits on … what would you do then?”
  • Use questions that break the rules: “What if you didn’t need to …”

You are aiming to create and list as many options as possible with as little evaluation and judgment as possible. Only once such a list is created should you then evaluate them for suitability and feasibility.

And if the client dismisses an idea, test whether this is because it contradicts one of their self-limiting beliefs.


Understanding a client’s objectives and creating a financial plan to help achieve them is high quality financial planning and ensures a solid and loyal client base.

Help a client to understand themselves better and uncover dreams they never knew were possible and clients will love you forever, tell all their friends and stick with you for life!


Postscript – Coaching Skills For Advisers courses

In the blog from May 2013 I advocated greater training for soft skills for advisers. I took this seriously and we (that is highly experienced coach Jan Bowen-Nielsen) have been running courses for advisers to use coaching skills, with the objective of really helping clients to understand themselves better. Only once clients have really clear objectives and motivations can we put a financial plan in place.

Indeed, never mind the ‘planning vs product’ debate (which is a non debate in my view – they are both important, but planning must come first). Seeking client motivations and even helping them to understand themselves better comes before either the planning or the product stage.

If you’re interested in these courses you can:

  1. Come and see me talk about this whole issue at the IFP conference
  2. Contact me on Twitter (@ovationchris)
  3. Email and mention ‘Coaching skills for advisers’ (courses open to non threesixty clients)

One thought on “Helping Clients Understand Themselves – Beliefs Are Not Truths

  • Hello Chris

    “We not only need to understand their objectives and motivations, we should also help them uncover new objectives that they did not realise were achievable.” I agree with this completely; I would only add to it that we should also help them uncover objectives that they did not even realise they had.

    This whole topic of client objectives is close to my heart. Having done my fair share of file checks, I have seen some really good objectives and some really bad objectives. And by good and bad I mean the way they were interpreted and recorded by the adviser.

    We all know that clients’ objectives should be recorded in as much detail as possible. But I’m sure we all also know that clients’ objectives aren’t always exactly very detailed or specific.

    Whenever I see a new client, I start the meeting by asking ‘What is it that you would like to achieve from this meeting? What are your objectives?’ And the most common answer is something on the lines of (if not exactly) wanting ‘a financial healthcheck’.

    Of course, there is nothing wrong with that if that is what they are after. Clients come to us because they aren’t sure what they should be doing. And if they don’t know what they should be doing, how could they tell us what it is?

    Now.. As much as there’s nothing wrong with that objective, it would probably be safe to say that a file/suitability report that had ‘a financial healthcheck’ as the client’s only objective wouldn’t fare too well and it would very easily (and probably rightly) be considered as lacking in KYC.

    So, as you say, it is absolutely our job to educate the clients and help them to uncover the objectives they didn’t know they had or could achieve (and not just for the benefit of the file checker!).

    However, some advisers take the ‘uncovering’ of objectives to extremes and end up putting words in the clients’ mouths which doesn’t really help anyone.

    For example, I don’t think you would be able to convince me that a client came to you and told you they wanted ‘to invest a lump sum of money in a way that would utilise their full 2015/16 tax-efficient ISA allowance, with any balance of that lump sum being invested in a UT and then transferred to the ISA under bed&ISA in future tax years and for all of this to be done on a platform where they would have access to thousands of funds and dozens of DFM portfolios and where various tools and calculators would be available and…..’ Well, I hope you get the gist.

    The fact that we can look at our clients’ position objectively, without our emotions and any self-limiting beliefs getting in the way is hugely important. We just need to find the right balance of listening, telling and then discussing together with the client.

    …..I seem to have written an essay. It’s too late and I forget if I even made the point I intended to make, sorry.

    Anyway… Great article, Chris.


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