Focusing on wellbeing strengthens the adviser-client relationship

Throughout Australia, more employers are implementing wellbeing initiatives in the workplace as the benefits become increasingly clear.

Research by PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia (PwC) found that for every $1 invested in mental health initiatives, there’s an average return on investment (ROI) of $2.30, as productivity increases and compensation claims fall. 

However, employers aren’t the only people that can play a role in supporting the wellbeing of workers, nor are they the only parties that have a financial interest in doing so. Financial advisers have a shared interest in supporting the broader wellbeing of their clients and are well-placed to do so. 

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Superannuation fund advisers are often at the forefront of the fund’s relationships with members, providing a unique opportunity to identify issues and offer a friendly ear or guidance on where to find more substantial help if needed.

In this way, advisers have the potential not only to help their clients but also their business. Looking beyond the numbers and understanding the holistic goals and needs of their client is key to establishing a relationship of trust — the most important asset for financial advisers who want to attract and retain clients over the long term. 

So how can advisers assist with client wellbeing and strengthen client relationships? 

Look beyond the numbers

Quite often adviser-client relationships continue over many years. Journeying with a client and their family in often uncertain circumstances is a privileged position to be in.

During this time, advisers have an opportunity to come to understand not just their client’s financial goals but also what the individual wants to achieve in their life more broadly. 

Getting to know your clients and forming a trusting relationship with them is not something that should be rushed. Building trust is about demonstrating trustworthiness, which is best done over time and through incremental activities. However, with conscious attention and effort, advisers can create the environment in which trust can build more easily and quickly.  

Advisers who want to build high trust relationships should get to know their clients’ goals beyond purely financial goals. It helps to understand your clients’ personal preferences, their strengths and weaknesses. For instance, consider how they learn — are they visual learners? Are they people who like to absorb a lot of data, go away, reflect on it and come back with a formulated view? These are the sorts of insights that can make a high-trusting relationship very quickly. 

Similar to a manager in the workplace, an adviser who views their service to a member from the perspective of holistic goals, and gets to know that individual’s talents, strengths and capabilities, is better able to recognise when that person is having a good day, or perhaps not doing so well, in which case they can start a conversation about what the issue or concern may be.

As an adviser, if you do not feel comfortable or confident to engage in a conversation with your client who may be struggling with mental health challenges, then SuperFriend recommends building your skills through its mental health and wellbeing training - aimed at building your understanding of how to support a person to seek appropriate help.

Focus on connection

The SuperFriend report Indicators of a Thriving Workplace shows that a key factor in supporting wellbeing in the workplace is connectedness. Something as simple as people greeting each other in morning in a friendly way helps to create an environment of strong interpersonal and social support, trust and fairness, and inclusiveness. 

Other examples include sensitivity to the needs of those who have children or others to take care of, encouraging employees to identify ways to improve the workplace, and creating a feeling of a community at work where people support each other beyond just getting the work done. 

Similarly, for advisers it’s important to develop a connection with your client on a personal level to build a relationship that goes beyond financial advice.

Don’t start with the numbers

In most cases, starting with the numbers is not going to be the best avenue to develop a high trust relationship, especially with a new client. Generally, people will be more relaxed if you make some friendly conversation with them first, before they are asked to divulge their important financial information.

Even as the relationship matures, be careful not to dive straight into the finances at each client meeting. Ask how the person is and listen actively to the response. In this way, advisers can demonstrate care for their clients and show interest in the pressures facing them, both financial and non-financial.

Be open and responsive

Each year, approximately one in five working Australians report experiencing a mental health issue, so there is a good chance that one or more of your clients will experience a mental health issue at some stage in the course of your relationship.

Whether a client is experiencing a mental health issue or is troubled by a difficult circumstance they are facing, you may have an opportunity to provide support by being open and interested in their situation and what they have to say.

Many seemingly non-financial pressures often affect and sometimes stem from a person’s financial situation, whether they be supporting young children, having relationships problems, caring for ill parents, or experiencing work stress — so it’s natural that they may come up in conversation in the context of a financial advice relationship.

If a client talks about issues beyond their financial position, don’t feel you have to steer them immediately back to the topic. This is an opportunity to show that you are open to discussing other concerns and a chance to strengthen the relationship.

If someone doesn’t seem themselves, don’t be afraid to check if they are OK. Someone who is struggling with a crisis may be agitated or withdrawn or just not behaving as they normally would. The R U OK? suicide prevention strategy provides some useful guidelines on how to start a conversation about somebody’s wellbeing and offer support.

Know your boundaries

If you are an adviser reading this, you may be thinking “Hang on, I’m not a counsellor”. That’s why it’s important to know your boundaries.

If a person appears in need of mental health support or counselling to help them through a difficult point in their life, it’s OK to refer them to someone who can help. You don’t have to take on the responsibility of solving their problems yourself. 

Gather resources

It pays to do some research so that you are prepared when a client seeks advice on an area you are not trained to help with or seems in need of support. 

Aim to have a toolkit of referral helplines and help cards to provide to your clients if they’re struggling. As well as arming them with these resources, you can encourage them to make an appointment with their general practitioner, talk to somebody they trust, or call one of the various support services that are available.

While a financial adviser’s role should center primarily around financial advice, the adviser-client relationship provides a powerful opportunity to connect with the person from a holistic perspective. Building interpersonal skills and being aware of mental health challenges and support services is a fantastic way you can make a difference.  

Working together (employers, superannuation, funds, insurers, advisers) is the best way to support mental health and wellbeing. For advisers it’s an opportunity to contribute to the cause while also taking their career to new levels by forming lasting high-trust relationships. 

Margo Lydon is the chief executive officer of SuperFriend.

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