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The Financial Professional's Guide to Communication: Defining Your Core

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Bob Finder asks you to answer a seemingly simple question: What do you do?
This chapter is from the book
  • A value proposition is really just meaningless jargon and babble that doesn’t do a thing for me or my clients.
  • —Financial professional’s common lament

Perhaps you agree with this quotation. And you’re confused that a book about communication skills for financial professionals would begin on a tired, worn, and seemingly insignificant subject.

It’s a grave mistake to think of your value proposition in that way. To care so little about this fundamental statement that defines what you do, how you do it, and what you bring to each client relationship is to sell yourself woefully short and to deprive your clients of the true understanding of who you are and how you can help them achieve their financial goals and objectives.

Your value proposition is central to all communications with your clients. It serves as a compass guiding all of your interactions. It is a constant reminder to your clients—their North Star—of the importance of their relationship with you, and it is a constant reminder to you—your North Star—of the duties and responsibilities you undertake to provide sound counsel and stewardship of your clients’ financial affairs.

But still you may not be convinced. You recall in the past how you willingly submitted or were coerced (or both) to develop your own value proposition or to embrace your firm’s. You struggled to infuse something unique and memorable on your own, and you struggled with the seemingly canned verbiage of the firm’s.

While you tried to carry and present your colors, few clients were moved or impressed by your efforts, and you abandoned the value proposition as a means of rallying clients around your cause and you around theirs. And you found solace in your decision by the shared perception of so many of your colleagues who also give it cursory, if any, respect.

I understand your skepticism and negativity on the subject, if not your outright dismissal of the need for a value proposition. It’s not your fault, however. The subject has been presented to you in the wrong way. I am going to change your mind.1

I have to ask you an important question, and this also is the starting point for your universal/core value proposition: What do you do?

What Do You Do?

In the space provided below, please write one sentence—only one sentence—that defines the essence of what you do.

It didn’t take you any time at all, did it? It was a reflex action. It’s engrained in your memory. And most importantly, you’re satisfied and proud of what it says because it captures exactly what you do for your clients.

  • It’s simple.
  • It’s repeatable.
  • It’s understandable.

Or, would you like to take another shot at it?

Suppose every day when you go to your office and swipe your identification badge or scan your finger- or retina-print in the biometric door lock to gain entry to the building, you’re greeted by a voice through the intercom asking you to state why you’ve come to work? Your response must be a single sentence, and it must convey the essence of what you are there to do. What is your response?

And by the way, your response should be the same as everyone in your firm, large or small, from the chief executive or managing partner to the newest entry-level associate or member of the support staff. You’re all there for a common purpose. Please, reread your response. Do you think the indicator light will turn green and allow you to enter?

Let’s make it easier. What do you tell your kids or your parents when they ask you what you do for a living?

Did you write the same response in each of the three boxes? You should have.

Why would the responses be any different? They shouldn’t.

Now please, consider the one sentence that captures the essence of what all financial professionals do:

Compare that to what you wrote and to what I’ve heard from so many financial professionals—responses such as: “I help my clients live the one life they have.” “I take the mystery out of investments.” “I ask people a lot of questions and explain how financial things work.” “I help clients sleep at night.” “I help people plan for a secure retirement.” “I’m my clients’ financial go-to guy.” “I help my clients achieve their goals and dreams.” “I watch out for my clients.” “I’m a financial quarterback.” [I hate that one.]

The number of these one-liners that financial professionals proffer is seemingly endless. And few financial professionals are excited about adopting a colleague’s similar description even though they’re not very satisfied with their own. But what disturbs me most about these statements is the injustice they do to the well-intentioned financial professionals who utter them. Financial professionals, like you, who stand for so much more.

The difficulty we have in defining our role in the most basic and fundamental way is that someone, somewhere told us we had to come up with our own unique definition of what we do. They were wrong. Downright wrong.

As financial professionals we share a common purpose and that cannot be better said than “We help clients build, manage, protect, and transition wealth.”

Now you’re thinking, “What would be achieved if thousands of financial professionals just like me adopted such a simple statement? We would all sound the same.” Except for those who held onto their clever individuality, you know the “I’m your financial quarterback-types.” That’s the point.

Consider: A prospective client asks you, “What do you do?”

Response I—“I’m a financial quarterback.”

Response II—“I help a select group of individuals, families, businesses, and institutions to build, manage, protect, and transition wealth.”

Is there anything to argue about here?

But is that it? Hardly. That is the essence of the core/universal value proposition that I ask you to consider. It’s the first of four key elements. The second element is to define the term “wealth.”

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