Adviser soft skills need to remain a priority: MetLife  

Matt Lippiatt

Matt Lippiatt

As the financial advice industry puts the spotlight on adviser education and technical competency with the release of the FASEA revised standards, soft skills remain a priority for clients, according to research from MetLife Australia.

The MetLife Adviser-Client Relationship Report 2018 examined attitudes to purchasing life insurance through a financial adviser, surveying consumers and small to medium enterprises (SMEs) with up to 20 employees.

The research proved what many advisers have intuitively known for some time – that soft skills, like communication and the ability to show you genuinely care, are the keys to developing and maintaining long-term trusted partnerships with clients.

The research found that the top three attributes of an adviser for both consumers and SMEs to maintain their ongoing relationship all relate to soft skills: ‘Genuinely cares about me’; ‘Speaks to me in easy to understand language’; and ‘Honest and trustworthy’.

The research also showed around 60% of all respondents rated their adviser’s overall performance as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’. This was driven by their adviser rating very highly on soft skills such as speaking in easy to understand language (65%), being honest and trustworthy (65%), genuinely caring (55%) and providing regular communications (50%).

Commenting on the research, Matt Lippiatt, MetLife Australia Head of Retail Sales, said: “At a time when trust in institutions generally is pretty low, our research shows that people still have deep trust in their adviser to care for them.  The introduction of the FASEA standards will raise the level of formal education across the industry but we mustn’t lose sight of just how much consumers and SMEs value advisers’ interpersonal skills – listening, being sensitive to a clients’ individual situation and communicating regularly and clearly,” Mr Lippiatt said.

“It’s these soft skills that empower advisers to offer their clients a personalised service, that has real value to them. Consumer expectations are increasing rapidly across most service sectors and it is no longer enough to just be technically competent. People want to have a true relationship with their adviser and it takes a certain set of skills to be able to foster and grow that partnership over time, and engender trust.”

Another key finding of the report was that ongoing communication preferences differ widely by age and client type.

Overall consumers in the 18-39 age group are more likely than other groups to prefer email (84%) or message/text (18%), while those aged 60+ are more likely to prefer face-to-face (52%) or phone call (47%) than other groups.

These results differ for the SME group, with younger clients preferring contact by phone call (53%) and older clients preferring email (80%).

When MetLife asked consumers and SMEs where their adviser had ‘added value’ and made them want to stay with them, the responses received supported the need for the soft skills and developing a partnership, including showing care, listening, providing education, being available, and receiving regular check-ins. In addition, 9 in 10 want to hear from their adviser at least every 12 months about life insurance, regardless of their circumstances changing.

However, should these soft skills be lacking, at least in the minds of their clients, the research revealed that they won’t hesitate to change advisers. This is particularly true for SMEs, with 45% having intentionally stopped using an adviser in the past, along with 26% of consumers. These clients haven’t stopped using an adviser, and still see the value of advice, they simply sought out a change. When asked about the key reasons for the change, insufficient trust, poor service, difficult to deal with, and a lack of communication were all given as reasons.

“Overall, clients who receive thoughtful communication and timely reassurance from their financial adviser are not only more loyal but more likely to refer, emphasising the importance of advisers’ soft skills in growing their client base,” Mr Lippiatt said.

“What is evident is that regular communication is essential for a successful adviser-client relationship, but this communication does not always need to be a sit-down meeting in an office. Regular check in calls, text messages, tailored newsletters or even a birthday card are all appreciated by clients. The best advisers we see are tailoring communications to clients’ individual preferences and using technology to enable them to build better engagement and rapport.”

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