Anthony recently took part in a coaching webinar for advisers who are looking to add coaching to their services. The webinar was organised by the Personal Financial Society (PFS) Financial Planning Practitioner Panel, of which Anthony is an active member.
What does ‘coaching’ mean to you and your business?
I see coaching as a way of helping our clients and team members explore life issues through conversation and listening. Done well, it enables an individual to articulate what matters most to them, build a plan to achieve longer term success and then regular contact to help them stick to their plan.
How did you get the experience and confidence to start?
I was inspired by a presentation by fellow financial planner, Chris Budd, at the Personal Finance Society (PFS) Festival of Financial Planning in 2018. After researching my options, I signed up for the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) to sit their Foundation Course. A two-day introduction course was followed by a series of practice coaching sessions and ongoing assessment. I was lucky to have an excellent mentor, Nick Howell, during the process.
I am also very fortunate that my fiancé’s mother, Jackie, is a professional coach and author. Jackie kindly volunteered as a coachee; someone I could work with to test my new skills and learn from my mistakes. Jackie also helped me enormously with my development and provided plenty of honest feedback on how I could improve!
Have you found any aspects of coaching difficult?
Yes, concentration is a big one. It’s something I’ve had to work really hard on to improve. Being totally present for an hour or more, while actively listening is both difficult and tiring. I’ve been surprised at the discipline it requires.
It’s very easy to lose focus; the mind has a tendency to wonder off. Jackie refers to it as ‘Whose head are you in? My head or your head?’. During the practice sessions, I would often start well, I was in Jackie’s head, but she could identify when I had lost focus and was back in my head. Classic examples of losing focus are leading the conversation rather than asking questions and listening, offering my thoughts on the matter and slipping back into advising.
I also noticed that within the First Wealth adviser team, there was a tendency to see coaching as a big new thing and there was a sense of ‘where do we start?’. The thought of introducing coaching was somehow overwhelming. In reality, our financial planners were already using their coaching skills in client meetings. Common questions would be; what are your life goals, what is your current situation, what options are available to you, how do we move forward? I can imagine these conversations in financial planning offices all over the UK today!
My advice for anyone who is thinking about adding coaching to their planning service; make a start. It adds huge value to your meetings
Why do you continue to do it and what is the value to you, your clients and your business?
I believe that coaching is the future of our profession.
Financial planning fails when clients don’t take ownership of their plan. In order to own the plan, goals need to be decided by the client, and the plan needs to be realistic enough and sufficiently flexible to enable people can stick to it. Initial and ongoing coaching helps with engagement and ultimately with long term success.
Spending time with your clients and helping establish what matters to them helps earn trust. It’s also hugely rewarding and enjoyable.
Coaching skills are a great differentiator for proper financial planners. Our customer research has suggested that entrepreneurial clients in particular value the coaching side of the relationship. It’s an area that set to grow and grow, so it’s important that we continue to improve our skills.
How do you prepare clients for the coaching conversation?
We try to frame the conversation in advance, so clients know what to expect before our meeting. This approach also helps remove the clients who aren’t interested in an in-depth planning conversation; for example, they may only want to focus on a particular aspect of their finances.
We’ve also built our Life Goals tool to help frame the client conversation. We ask clients to complete Life Goals before our first meeting. We then introduce the questions into the meeting and build on the answers the client has already provided. This gives us a framework to expand on; tell me more about this particular Life Goal, what does good look like, what if anything is going to stop you, for example.
We’ve also seen the importance of focusing on individual Life Goals when we’re working with a couple. Two people can have entirely different views of the future. As advisers, we try to identify individual goals and those that can be worked towards together as a couple. Sometimes these goals don’t naturally align, which can be a challenge!
Before launching Life Goals, I tested it at home with my fiancé Petra. I’m embarrassed to say that it was the first proper in-depth conversation we had about money. The exercise showed that our financial goals are very different, which at times had caused friction. Getting everything out in the open was hugely important. At least we can now understand each other!
A successful coaching session should facilitate meaningful conversations.
What environment works best?
The large majority of our coaching sessions take place in the office and it works just fine. I’ve also had several conversations over Zoom and that also works fine. I’m not overly precious about the environment and live by the mantra of ‘don’t let perfect get in the way of good’.
The most important thing is to take time to clear my head before a meeting. We’re all busy and this is sometimes hard to do, but it’s so important. It’s too easy to jump off a phone call or an internal meeting and then straight into an important conversation with a client. You can find yourself thinking about something else and not focusing on the person in front of you. It’s unfair and ineffective.
Heading out for a quick walk around the block also works well (subject to the weather!). Leaving the office provides a sense of freedom of body and mind and helps facilitate good conversation.
What are the questions that work best for you/ your client?
- What are the things that matter most in your life?
- What aspects of your life are you most happy with now?
- What aspects of your life would you change if you could?
- What are you going to regret not doing in your life?
How can you develop your coaching skills?
I highly recommend the EMCC Foundation Course, it taught me a huge amount. The EMCC website also has loads of brilliant resources and provides free access to their back catalogue of newsletters.
Coaching: what’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned so far?
That coaching will change the financial planning profession for the better. Like many things in life, the most worthwhile pursuits and ambitions aren’t necessarily easy but that shouldn’t stop us from pursuing them.
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