There is no magic formula when it comes to educating clients. The basic rule: Keep things simple.

High-net-worth individuals with at least $1 million in investable assets rank transparency and simplicity as their top priorities when dealing with advisors, according to a recent survey by Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management and Capgemini.

Clients want "fundamental changes" in how they're served by advisors. In particular, they want advisors to have a better grasp of their emotional and intellectual needs, according to the 14th annual World Wealth Report.

As advisors, we are in essence educators. We should be modifying our presentations to match the client's level of knowledge.  Clients are more apt to follow a plan if they understand it. One effective technique is to be interactive with clients.  For example, a client could be given a budget template in the form of an Excel document and asked to input the spending data. They can then see how their bottom line changes over the course of a year when changes are made. 

Asking clients what information is most important to them, and then designing a report that reflects those interests, demonstrates an advisor's willingness to go the extra mile. It also shows the advisor is listening.

To illustrate a point, sometimes you need to think outside the box, be creative and be willing to expend the time and effort to really drive the point home and ensure the client understands. Each client is unique and each of their financial situations will be unique as well. But the purpose of any presentation should be to enlighten the client in any way possible. Quite often, a simple 20-page report is a more powerful educational tool than a 100-page report that no one ends up reading.

Taking the time to explain a report to clients provides further clarity. Explaining what each category represents, how numbers were calculated and highlighting the pertinent "bottom line" can avoid any confusion.  This type of hand-holding has an enormous impact on the level of trust that can be built between an advisor and a client, not to mention the bond that's created by seeing a plan to fruition. 

The world we live in is changing, the financial landscape has undergone a metamorphosis and the mindset of investors has evolved based on this new paradigm.  Advisors can't afford to remain passive in such a dynamic environment. Today's advisor needs to be an artist, psychologist, financial analyst, planner and life coach all rolled into one.  Fancy words like standard deviation, alpha, and Monte Carlo are not impressing investors.  It is time to put away the financial dictionary and stop trying to razzle and dazzle clients with meaningless charts.  It is time to look them square in the eyes, and ask, "What do you want to know?"  Then do whatever it takes to provide answers.  Phrases like "less is more" and "good things come in small packages" have been around a long time for a reason.

Joseph Geier and Melissa Jordan are president and client relationship manager, respectively, of Geier Financial Group, a comprehensive wealth management firm in Marriottsville, Md. Further information is available at

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