As the advisor profession has evolved, the skill set needed to best serve clients’ diverse and complex needs has expanded. Moving beyond simply managing the money has given advisors an opportunity to demonstrate their total value, including helping clients to manage stress, and recognizing this, many clients have turned to their advisors as a stabilizing force during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Counseling clients to stay calm, focus on the long-term view and consider past outcomes are commonly used strategies among advisors in turbulent times, but advisors are also turning to strategies that help address total well-being. A recent survey from Fidelity Investments found that nearly half of advisors implemented a behavioral management advice strategy to calm clients’ stress about the crisis—and the strongest adoption of this approach was among RIAs.

In my role as a practice management consultant, I often hear from advisors that they need help building out their emotional quotient (EQ) toolkit. Adopting a behavioral management strategy is one of the many ways to incorporate more empathy into your client-advisor relationships and focus on total well-being.

What Is Behavioral Management
In simplest terms, behavioral management strategies aim to influence or guide behavior. For example, an advisor could default clients into receiving digital statements to drive digital adoption rather than starting with paper statements with an opt-out of paper option.

As an EQ tool for advisors, I like to think of it as a discovery journey to better understand the emotions driving the behaviors. The goal is not just to arrive at a solution, but to help the client arrive at a personal understanding of the motivation behind a solution or set of solutions. In other words, the advisor’s discovery with the client encourages “self-discovery.”

Putting It to Work In Your Practice
This isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach and there isn’t a specific script for client conversations. To incorporate behavioral management strategies into your practice, I encourage advisors to:

• Try it outside the office. The old adage that you have to walk before you run is true for this scenario, too. It’s not just a shift in actions and words—it’s a shift in mindset. Try on this new mindset in your personal life to get in the habit of leading with empathy and curiosity.

• Challenge your assumptions. You’re an expert in your field, but this isn’t about the mechanics. Put aside your knowledge of the solutions to focus on the needs. And be aware of how your own biases are influencing your conversations with clients. For example, you might assume a client is fearful of the market volatility and economic challenges created by the pandemic, but the client might actually be feeling the impact of isolation more acutely. This is why it’s important to focus on the individual and put yourself in their shoes.

• Be curious. To better understand what’s driving decisions and uncover clients’ needs, ask more open-ended questions don’t try to lead with diagnostics. One simple way to invite deeper conversation is to ask “what” and “how” questions instead of “why” questions. “How” and “what” focus on reflection and can help surface underlying emotions and motivations to get a more holistic view, while “why” jumps right to the diagnosis.

• Think creatively about solutions. Advisors with high EQ have a broader understanding of what solutions they can offer clients beyond just finances. For example, a client who is struggling with isolation during the pandemic might benefit from being invited to a virtual trivia night or receiving a care package to let them know you’re thinking of them. Advisors might also want to consider how to connect their clients to other resources. For example, an advisor might partner with a counselor in their network to host a webinar on helping explain the pandemic’s impact on children, or partner with an unemployment specialist to help clients who may have lost their job due to the crisis.

Why It Matters
We’ve heard from many advisors that what makes our current crisis unique from others is the deep emotional impact. Clients are less worried about their money than they are about their well-being and feeling isolated. Leveraging a behavioral management strategy can help advisors address their clients’ emotional needs as well as their financial needs—not just during times of crisis, but throughout the life of the relationship.

Anand Sekhar is vice president of practice management and consulting at Fidelity Institutional.