Use of coaching

By: Alasdair Walker
Managing Director
Handford, Aitkenhead and Walker Ltd

Having recently undertaken a business coaching certification, Alasdair Walker found one of the benefits was an opportunity to reflect on his interaction with clients, particularly in the first meeting. Alasdair talks about a resulting change of approach mixing coaching skills with fact find.

Much has been written about the first meeting, the first ever time you meet a client. Current thinking suggests this should be a meeting full of big ideas. Your opportunity to wow clients by giving them the space to think about their long-term goals, and what is really important to them.

My historical approach to a fact find, know your customer, or discovery meeting started with an apology and a bit of dry humour, “We’ve had the big ideas talk, now this is the procedural, facts-and-figures bit of our discussion. We’ve talked about big ideas and we’ll soon be talking about ways forward, but today we need detail.”

Why did I take a business coaching course? I didn’t plan to offer business coaching to my clients, and still don’t, but I recognised there was a shared skillset and wanted to expand my listening and reflection skills.

The GROW model of coaching suggests breaking a coaching session into four areas: Goals, Reality, Options and Way forward. It looks a lot like a typical initial Financial Planning exercise. Fact finding definitely fits reality. Adopting a few of the other coaching modalities could improve this meeting.

When we’re sitting down and capturing the necessary facts and doing the compliance, we’re actually asking a client, often for the first time in their adult lives, to divulge in detail an area of their lives that they wouldn’t talk to their spouse, friends, or priest about.

I had really never given it any thought until that point. We don’t talk about money. Especially not in detail. Yet here I am asking somebody I may have spoken to for all of a couple of hours before this point to lay bare their innermost financial workings.

My traditional fact find meeting exchange may have looked like this:

Adviser: “What do you have in savings?”

Client: “Well, after a decade of hard slog, we have £200,000”

Adviser: Notes down £200,000 on fact find document. “Great, and what about ISAs?”

Client: “Oh…we never really understood ISAs, so we just kept the money in premium bonds, it’s really nice receiving a little cheque through the post.

Adviser: “OK, no ISAs… next question…”

If we open our ears, we’re being given actionable, important information by the client. “After a decade of hard slog” is worth exploring. These little nuggets of free information are thrown out by clients at surprisingly regular intervals in these meetings. We need to listen for them.

“You have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion” is good advice. I would add “and one fact find document” to the end of that sentence.

There is a growing body of work on great questions for financial planning sessions. George Kinder, for example. The question that has most helped me with these meetings is brilliantly straightforward, “Talk to me about that”.

This is an invitation to share, to expand, to give you more crucial information. It also allows the client to lead the conversation never pushing them to give up more than they are comfortable with. Now the conversation, looks like this:

Adviser: “What do you have in savings?”

Client: “Well, after a decade of hard slog, we have £200,000”

Adviser: “Talk to me about that…”

Client: “It’s been really hard work, we’ve made sacrifices over the past ten years to get this money saved, and we’re really proud of having done so, but we don’t really know how to make it work for the long-term.”

Adviser: “That’s really interesting. Talk to me about what you mean by for the long-term.”

Client: “Well, both our parents died in their early seventies, and we’d really like to have the space to enjoy our retirements whilst we have our health. We made a decision a decade ago that we’d do whatever it takes to give ourselves that option…”

This takes us to a different level. It’s simply the result of pausing, listening, and asking open questions to invite further expansion. It’s still important to note down facts, but that shouldn’t preclude a wider discussion.

A big challenge I wasn’t expecting from the coaching course, was the requirement to write reflective notes after each session. Reflective note writing is defined as:

… an analytical practice in which the writer describes a real or imaginary scene, event, interaction, passing thought, memory, form, adding a personal reflection on the meaning of the item or incident, thought, feeling, emotion, or situation in his or her life. Many reflective writers keep in mind questions, such as “What did I notice?”, “How has this changed me?” or “What might I have done differently?”
Thus, the focus is on writing that is not merely descriptive. The writer revisits the scene to note details and emotions, reflect on meaning, examine what went well or revealed a need for additional learning, and relate what transpired to the rest of life.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reflective_writing

I am now convinced that this is an area that, if focused on, could help improve client meetings further. We need our procedural notes, and facts and figures, but perhaps give yourself a paragraph or two to write reflectively about the meeting, “How did it go? Did you achieve what you wanted to? What went well? What could have gone better?”

Applying this approach to meeting notes is a form of self-coaching, and will cement any learning undertaken within the meeting.

Some suggestions

  • “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak” Epictetus.
  • Finding facts is fine. Asking the small question “Talk to me more about that” leads you to collect more and more meaningful information.
  • Adding reflective notes to your meeting notes helps you improve. Ask yourself “What might have I done differently?” to help with constant improvement.

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