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What Customers Really Want From Their Financial Advisers
Reliability, assurance and empathy among clients' top considerations
Customers who engage a financial advisory firm expect it to have a high standard of service, but that in turn requires a company to have an accurate insight into just what its customers want.
Customer satisfaction often depends on a range of factors, such as being treated with courtesy and respect, the staff having the ability to convey trust and confidence, and that transactions are handled efficiently and queries answered knowledgeably.
These factors are very much dependent on customer subjectivity, attitude and perception.
If an organisation does not have an accurate understanding of customer expectation during the pre-and post-sales service, then the chances of providing a high level of service are severely limited.
So it pays for financial advisory firms to be market-orientated and know accurately just what their customers expect.
TOP FACTORS THAT CUSTOMERS DESIRE IN FINANCIAL ADVISERS
Financial advisers were generally seen as being reliable, according to a poll of 204 people conducted here as part of my doctoral degree programme last year.
In fact, reliability was ranked the most important factor customers want in a financial advisory firm. These firms are there to help customers plan their financial future, so people expect an adviser to be reliable.
Assurance was ranked the second most important factor in service standards.
This pertains to an adviser's knowledge, courtesy and ability to convey trust and confidence to customers. Advisers are expected to be attentive regardless of a customer's age and educational level.
So they should focus on improving "soft skills" such as listening better and reading the body language of their customers in order to provide more accurate recommendations.
Empathy was ranked the third most important factor in the poll. Advisers are expected to provide personal attention, care and understanding to customers' needs.
This finding appears to reinforce suggestions that advisory firms must train their advisers in interpersonal skills, such as how to communicate better with customers.
The least important factor in service quality ranked in the poll was responsiveness, or the willingness of advisers to help customers and provide services.
While it ranked below other criteria, it remains essential with advisers expected to be willing to help customers and provide prompt services to meet their requirements.
The poll shows that responding quickly is one of the key drivers of service quality, so advisory firms must ensure that their employees are responsive towards customers' concerns and queries.
Given the role advisory firms have in planning for a person's financial future, it is expected that most customers prefer to have personalised services that can build a good long-term relationship. This would both gain trust and inspire customer satisfaction.
The poll also noted that customers have become particularly negative on the tangibles of financial advisory firms, such as luxury office renovations or the latest equipment.
This is an interesting anomaly and possibly due to the advancement in technology - innovations like robo-advisers, customised apps and other electronic means of doing business - making tangibles less relevant to customers.
Customers are, in fact, more concerned over the professional handling and care of their financial affairs by advisers rather than the sophistication or impressive ambience of the advisory firm.
CHOOSING A QUALIFIED FINANCIAL ADVISER
Three distinct terms were identified in the poll when it came to choosing an adviser.
The top criterion was professionalism. Singapore customers are comfortable working with financial advisers who possess professional qualifications, educational attainment and knowledge on financial matters.
It was also noted that adhering to a professional code of ethics is also highly important to customers, as it reflects an adviser's trustworthiness.
Customers also believe that financial advisers must continually undertake formal and professional training.
The price a customer pays was seen as the second most important criterion when choosing an adviser. The financial advisory industry is complicated in nature, so price includes not only fees but also commissions.
Consequently, the customer uses several criteria to determine how much he is willing to pay.
The poll suggests that transparency, value for money and suitability are of prime importance. Customers want to know the exact amount to outlay or the percentage of the compensation.
The poll also shows the quality of advice is the third most important criterion when choosing an adviser.
Customers who receive quality advice are more likely to trust the adviser more and to associate satisfaction with his or her services.
The quality of advice plays an important role in assisting an individual to plan for financial security. Customers also found that the financial advice they received was unbiased, was of a good standard, met regulatory obligations and, most importantly, met their expectations.
All this shows that if financial advisory firms are able to meet the expectations of their customers, they will create a trusting relationship and instil confidence.
Firms can improve service quality if they understand which factors to focus on and which to avoid. At the same time, they cannot focus only on one factor and ignore the rest.
These are critical issues when customers are considering engaging the services of a financial adviser.
Not only is it important for advisory firms to provide stellar service quality, but understanding customers' perception and expectations are also necessary.
Grandtag Financial Group
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 29, 2019, with the headline 'What customers really want from their financial advisers'.