Financial advisors are inherently fungible. By that we mean one can usually be replaced by another.

This doesn’t mean some aren’t superior to others. It’s just that few are unique, or have irreplaceable services and products.
Since all can, in theory, deliver the same offerings, it takes certain qualities for them to build exceptional practices. One quality is their ability to find sources for new, wealthier clients. Another is their ability to communicate the value they provide, especially with their services and products.

What we’ve seen in the trenches is that the latter quality is one of the most powerful. And communication comes down to an advisor’s ability to artfully frame solutions. That ability is more about virtuosity than algorithms. It’s a skill where insights into the wealthy are connected to service and product recommendations.

Artful framing means your advice will be taken and your services bought—and that you yourself will be seriously appreciated. The concept is predicated on language; in many situations, professionals fail to use language that resonates with the wealthy.

A Matter Of Language
Let’s look at one example in which some professionals failed to understand the person they were talking to.

A multi-family office once brought in a truly brilliant, internationally renowned trusts and estates lawyer to talk to a super-rich possible client (“super-rich” means having $500 million or more). The intent was for the multi-family office to manage a percentage of the client’s investable assets and for the lawyer to do the estate planning.

The client is unmarried and without kids but expects to one day have a family.

Nobody got the business. The would-be client was very antagonistic and upset at the end of the meeting.

The reason? He misunderstood a key phrase they used. They mentioned a “floating spouse provision” in his estate plan, a rather common term meaning that a contract would apply to whomever is the client’s spouse at a given time.

Yet it seems the man came away from the meeting believing the advisors were recommending that in the future he should actually take out a huge life insurance policy on his spouse and that she could literally end up floating facedown in the huge swimming pool on his estate.

A funny story, but it’s a serious subject. From both our experience and the empirical research, it is evident that many professionals from financial advisors to trusts and estate lawyers to accountants are not communicating well with their affluent clients. They are failing to artfully frame their recommendations, so they fail to show how they add value.

How can they? One very powerful solution is to employ high-net-worth psychology. 

High-Net-Worth Personalities
The wealthy are very different from one another in their attitudes toward their wealth and the challenges that having significant wealth brings. Financial advisors who understand that will be in a much better position to effectively communicate with them and understand what motivates them to take action.

The following is an overview of nine high-net-worth personalities and some of their key attributes.

Family Stewards
• These people want to use their wealth to take care of their family.
• They want to relieve their family members of financial worries.
• They want to fulfill their familial obligations.
• These types hate being involved in complex decisions.
• They are not knowledgeable about financial matters.
• They dislike discussing technical issues.
• These types see attention to financial issues as a necessary evil.
• They want personal freedom.
• They want to have a safety net if they want to or need to bail out.
Anonymous Types
• For these clients, confidentiality concerning financial matters is key.
• They are secretive about their personal financial arrangements.
• Extreme privacy is essential for their personal comfort.
• For these types, worldly success is a way of keeping score and winning.
• They desire considerable power and control over their affairs.
• They seek personal influence.
• For these types, success is a way to achieve high status.
• They want to be well-known and respected.
• They seek prestige.
• The top goal of this type of client is asset accumulation.
• They want to retain wealth and add to it.
• Their sole objective is to make money.
• These clients treat dealing with financial matters as something of a hobby.
• They derive pleasure from complexity.
• They relish the problem-solving process.
• These clients perceive legal matters to be an intellectual challenge.
• They want to be on the cutting edge of financial services and products.
• They want to employ state-of-the-art wealth management strategies and products.

An advisor who wants to frame an investment portfolio to a family steward, for example, will need to show how the portfolio relates to the client’s goals of using his or her assets to safeguard family and make sure it is taken care of. Detailed technical discussions are fine, as long as they always link back to that overriding objective. That’s going to be more important than their interest in asset allocation.

Talk about an investment portfolio will be very different for a phobic, however. Phobics do not want detailed information. They are not concerned with the mechanics of investing. Instead, they want someone else to take care of the matter for them, and they need to make difficult decisions without personally going into it.

The best way to help this kind of wealthy client is to work closely with his or her other advisors because a phobic is only reassured when their financial advisors, accountants and personal lawyers all agree on a course of action.

The table illustrates how high-net-worth personalities differ in their communication needs. By skillfully using a framework like high-net-worth psychology, financial advisors can be more certain of several outcomes, and they can be increasingly assured that wealthy clients will feel as though their goals, needs and preferences are understood. They will also likely be able to motivate their wealthy clients to take action. 
It is worthwhile to keep in mind with this psychological approach that you won’t be changing the nature or character of the financial products and services you recommend and provide. All you are doing here is changing the way you frame the language. You are explaining these financial products and services in ways that meaningfully resonate with the wealthy clients you’re talking with, and in the meantime conveying your own value and showing you are an expert.

Artful framing is critical to this task. It’s not a common skill set. Many times it must be learned and mastered as carefully as the investment management and financial planning. 

Russ Alan Prince is president of R.A. Prince & Associates.
Brett Van Bortel is director of consulting services for Invesco Consulting.