How to Uncover Your Clients' Needs through Storytelling
Episode 807th September 2022 • Human-centric Investing Podcast • Hartford Funds
00:00:00 00:23:06

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How do you respond when clients confide in you? Tim Owings, PhD, shares actionable steps for building openness and communication through storytelling.


John Diehl [:

our training as financial professionals, we're supposed to do, like, the dragnet thing, right?

Just the facts and nothing but the facts. But oftentimes I think it's the stories that people tell

us that actually reveal more information than maybe any other thing that happens in our


Julie Genjac [:

spoke with Tim Owens how he said be the sponge, soak up those stories, take it in. And I

just thought that was such an interesting analogy and frankly, one that I haven't heard in

our industry. So I'm really curious to hear more about how he advises that we be the

sponge and continue to really deepen those relationships with clients and and help

understand what issues are most top of mind for them and help give them the advice that

they're looking for.

John Diehl [:

our conversation with Tim Owings. Hi, I'm John.

Julie Genjac [:

John Diehl [00:01:12] We're the hosts of the Hartford Funds Human Centric Investing


Julie Genjac [:

hear their best ideas for how you can transform your relationships with your clients.

John Diehl [:

Julie Genjac [00:01:29] Tim Owens, Ph.D. and CFP is the founder of T.L. Owens and

Associates LLC and is the author of Cadence of Care with more than 40 years of

experience as an ordained minister and financial professional. Tim teaches financial

professionals how stories from their lives and the lives of their clients can transform their

relationships in their practice. Tim, we're delighted to have you here with us today to talk

about how to uncover your clients needs through storytelling. So, Tim, maybe to kick us off

today, I know oftentimes when John and I are speaking with financial professionals across

the country, there are often trying to sharpen their skills on asking great questions. And I

know each of us have been pulled aside many times through the years and said, What are

some of your favorite questions to ask clients? I'm just constantly trying to get better. It's

such an art. You know, Tim, maybe we could start there and you could share with us some

of your guidance at a high level on helping financial professionals continue to hone this

skill and and how they can continue to raise the bar of of questioning, but in such a

thoughtful and profound way so that their relationships with their clients continue to

deepen over time.

Tim Owings [:

podcast today. Thank you for the invitation. Julie, your question about questions is at the

very core of being an effective financial professional. And let me let me answer that

question with the story. For years, I would go when I was with with Morgan Stanley, I

would go up to the training center and purchase and speak to new advisors. Normally was

the last day of their training. They were getting ready to go back to their branches in

various parts of the country and begin building their financial services business. And prior

to my introduction, they would do some role play to you. I know you like to do role play and

that how important role play is and it can be very effective and we may get to that in this

podcast today. But inevitably a trainer would call a new financial professional up to the

front and role play something. And this would be the scene where at a cocktail party or a

Chamber of Commerce meeting. And I meet you and we meet each other. And after

exchanging names, I say, tell me what you do. And the financial professional would

answer the trainer who's in role. I am a financial advisor with Morgan Stanley and the

person that she or he is saying that to glazes over and says, Excuse me, I need to get

back to the punch bowl. What I suggest to do advisors do is that when they meet someone

for the first time and inevitably the question bubbles up, Tell me what you do for a living.

You say, Let me tell you a story. About six months ago, I began working with a couple and

as I was working with them, I discovered that they had a special needs child and that

changed everything about our conversation, particularly financial planning. Now, already

I've told that person, I'm a financial planner, I'm a financial professional without saying

what firm I work with or or any of that. But I answered it in the form of a story. How do we

get and invite our prospects and clients to tell us more about themselves? The easy way

that most financial professionals use is to stick with the money questions. I have said for

years to financial professionals that the best way to get in a meeting with a potential client

is to disarm them with the answers you give to their questions. Particularly, What do I need

to bring to a first meeting? And I've always said, just bring yourself. You don't need my

statements. No, we don't. We don't need your statements. Just just bring yourself. And

what I would then do is when they would come to the first meeting, I would say our goal

today is to get to know each other, get to know whether we have a fit for each other. And if

we get to some money questions, we we may do that. But the most important part of this

meeting is that both of us sense that there is a fit for us to work together. John and Julie,

one of the roadblocks that financial professionals face all the time is meeting the

expectations of the public, exactly where the public thinks we're going to meet them, which

is the money question. We must disarm that question and get the other person to talk

more about themselves. Why? Because their story is going to tell you so much about how

they handle and have handled their money. And when you look at the statement, you then

look at the statement through the lens of the stories you've already heard about them. So

how do you get that? How do you get them to do that? Number one, disarm them

regarding the money questions. Don't start with money. Ask them to talk about their life,

where they grew up. Tell me about your parents. Are they still living? Do you have brothers

and sisters? You mentioned that you went to Penn State. What did you major in at Penn

State? Tell me about that. How did you meet your spouse if they're married and get them

to talk about themselves? Leaving the money questions of first job. How did you get that

job? Tell me about that. That work that you did. Was it rewarding? And they'll tell you

about that. And with they're telling you the story, their stories, you're learning about their

personality. And that personality is the person that you're going to manage as well as the

money that person brings to you. So in a roundabout way, that's how I get into it. I get

them to talk more about themselves, and sometimes with a sensitive topic, I'll say, Would

you be comfortable telling me more about your mom or your dad or your special needs

brother? Would you be comfortable telling me more about that? Invariably, those sensitive

topics have financial planning and investment implications.

John Diehl [:

known one another for years now, I have often heard you say it's more about listening for

the story the client wants to tell you than it is about getting the story we're often looking for.

What's the difference?

Tim Owings [:

professionals. And let me be clear, I have that same challenge that I'm going to address

right now. Tim Owings has this problem. All of us do. We have so much we want to tell

why we've got market history and investment ideas and and and asset allocation

recommendations and risk management. We got all this all this information flying around

our brains that we want to share with people. And we think we're impressive when we

share it. So my goal in a quiet conversation is for them to be talking more than I am. Edgar

Shine. Emeritus Professor at MIT. One of my favorite books. Humble Inquirer. If you

haven't read it, you've got to get it and read it. The power of asking rather than telling. We

must get the client to talk more than we do. Happiest person in the room is the person

doing the talking. So continue to ask questions. Get them to fully explore and answer. For

example, they might say, When I've got this, my first job, I was working with someone that

was very difficult to work with. And after a couple of years, I realized I just couldn't stay

there. Well, it's not that you want to revisit their pain, but you can come back to that and

say, before we go on, if you'd be comfortable sharing it. What was it about that person that

made it so difficult that made her or him so difficult to work with? Get them to tell you that.

Why you're learning as much about this person in a holistic way as you can. You want a

360 degree view of all of your clients. Unfortunately, because we have schedules to keep

and more appointments to make and places to go and more conversations to have. We

can jump to that to the quantifiable parts of the relationship and ignore the qualitative parts

of the relationship that make the relationship sticky and meaningful for the client and for


John Diehl [:

especially with the client that I haven't been working with for years? What happens if I try

to go there and the client says, Not so fast that I can't go there? Thanks. How do you

transition out of that if you hit a dead end?

Tim Owings [:

both in pastoral settings and then during my years in the financial services industry. When

someone feels uncomfortable going there on a topic that it could be about parents, could

be about children. I've had clients when ask about one of their children, say, Tim, I just

can't go there. Sometime I'll tell you about that. But I just can't do that today. Sometimes

they never tell me about it. My response? Is to validate their feelings if they feel that's a

topic that they're just not comfortable dealing with right now. I affirm that. I say, Joyce. I

completely understand that that that topic is is difficult and we can go somewhere else. I

just wanted you to know that what matters to you and your family matters to me. And if we

never talk about it, it's okay. But at some point, maybe we will. But let's just go on. So you

validate their feelings. You give them an opportunity to revisit it if they choose to. And then

you move on.

Julie Genjac [:

to know the client and sort of the human that you'll be managing in addition to the money

or the resources or the financial plan. I mean, I think you're right. Those are obviously two

such separate and distinct topics and entities. I'm curious. Maybe I'll go to the opposite

end of the spectrum for that client. That really does open up and very much confides in the

financial professional. You know what? What does that response process look like to be

respectful and thoughtful? You know, for example, I had a financial professional share with

me a few years ago that he was working with a new couple of his clients had just sort of

started the introductory meeting process and they share. He asked about children and

they they they both teared up a bit and shared with them that they were in the process of

adopting a child and hadn't told him. It's not their family, not their friends. I mean, he was

literally the first person and said, I froze because I wasn't expecting that level of openness.

Obviously, such a major life event. And he said, I don't honestly even remember how I

responded, but I'm confident it wasn't probably the best way to respond. So will you share

with us maybe some ideas or tactics? I'm on that end of the spectrum when when the

floodgates of information do open. And maybe these are very important life or personal

updates that are being shared from a from a clients perspective occasionally.

Tim Owings [:

about this. Occasionally, a client, as you just noted, will go to a let me call it a more

emotion laden topic, as with this couple that was about to just suddenly have a family,

adopt a child, that was emotional. And I think you said that the financial professional

mentioned that the couple teared up a little bit and and then confided to him that he was

the first person that they had shared that with. When that happens. Be prepared to just

pause a moment and put that warm, not grin, but a little warm smile and nod on your face

and just pause and you can look at both of them and say something like this. This is

obviously a very emotional moment in your life, and I can't tell you how much you honor

me in sharing that with me today. Frankly, it's going to help us do the planning we need to

do now that we've got a little one coming up. Coming in to the family. It's important that I

know that and that you shared it with me right up front. Tells me that our relationship is

going to go to some very good places. So what you do there is you affirm their emotions.

When people have teared up and even become very emotional about talking about the

death of a parent or a spouse, which happens in the business, you're going to have those

conversations with people, let them get their emotions out. And don't be too quick with the

tissue. You know, don't be too quick. Let them get it out and let them know that their

emotions and their feelings matter and that you will honor those feelings and those

emotions by simply receiving them. Part of what we do truly in relationships with others is

we we have what I call a bit of a sponge factor in our souls. We absorb what other people

are sharing with us. We take it in. We don't overreact. We simply acknowledge and

validate. And that creates a wonderful bonding moment between any individuals. It

happens between spouses and friends. Has nothing to do with a client relationship. Learn

to absorb the feelings of another person and validate them and let them say and feel

whatever they need to feel. It's okay. It's okay to do that.

John Diehl [:

some horrible opinions about me. But here's my question. No joke.

Tim Owings [:

John Diehl [00:16:44] Well, we all we all love the Cinderella scenario, right? Where the

glass slipper fits and off we go and client and professional or live happily ever after. But

this idea of storytelling and eliciting the stories from from our clients, do you ever come out

of one of those initial sessions and say, we're just not going to be a good fit? Because one

of the things we hear from financial professionals, especially successful professionals, is

probably the hardest thing they need to do is fire clients where, you know, it's not a

productive relationship. Maybe they've been there with them for some time. But I guess my

question to you is, have you ever been in those kind of situations where after sharing

some stories, after starting to get to know someone, you look at it and say this, we're

probably not going to be a good match. And how did you handle that?

Tim Owings [:

I vividly remember a couple that came to see us, oh, about three years, four. I stepped out

of the business into this new role, but they came and met with all of my two partners and I,

the three of us met with this couple and we got into the story aspects of getting to know

them. And it it did drift over into real estate that they owned. And therefore, one case we

talked about that a little bit, but during that meeting, it was it was not a way where to me

with my training and background in ministry, but it was it was almost painfully aware with

my partners when we reviewed that meeting after after they left and almost without even

going through particular moments in that, in that get acquainted meeting my partners

before I said it said to me, I don't think we want to work with these people. And I said, Tell

me why? Tell me, because I'm feeling some of that too. Why? And one of my partners

looked at me and he said, Tim, they can't even get along with each other. What makes you

think they're going to get along with us? And after that meeting, when we circled back to

them, we sent an email from all three of us saying, We thank you for your time. We believe

there are issues in your relationship and your financial landscape that at this point need to

be worked out between the two of you before. The kind of help that we could bring you will

be effective. We never heard another word from them, so it's not easy. But I find that being

frank at the very beginning is better because you've got nothing to lose. If they don't, they

say, Well, I just don't want to work with somebody who's that candid. Okay.

John Diehl [:

practical tips around this whole topic of storytelling, but you often recommend that advisors

pause for a few minutes after the conclusion of the meeting and you tell them to write a

couple of things down. What would you tell financial professionals that they need to be

thinking about and perhaps document as soon as that that last meeting ends?

Tim Owings [:

Paper of Hartford Funds is people forget data, they remember stories. We can always

replicate the data we have the data stored on every firm has huge storage capacity and all

the data stored for the relationship from its very beginning. What the system cannot store

is our feelings, our interactions and what we experienced in the presence of that other

person. So what I recommend is that when the meeting is over, give yourself a little margin

before you go to the next thing, whether it's to get a cup of coffee or go to lunch or to it to

the next visit and a client visit and jot down in the notes for that meeting what you

remembered from the story or stories that they told, particularly the poignant moments.

And then when you follow up at the end of the day and I recommend every financial

professional does this at the end of the day, send a brief email to the folks that you met

with that day, the clients you met with, prospects you met with. Thank you for being with

with me or with my partners and and me today. It was good to get back together and do

that review. What I most remember about our meeting, however, was that story you told

me about the sale of your first house and the and what you're facing now and transitioning

to retirement and perhaps selling the house you're in. When you do that, the client,

remember, says, you can really hurt me. Those folks think they heard me today. And that

connects with them. And that's exactly what you have to do and why stories are so

effective that create connections.

Julie Genjac [:

sharing such actionable ideas and thoughts on how to uncover your clients needs through

storytelling. For those with us today and wish to learn more about Tim's ideas and

strategies, please visit Hertford funds dot com slash stories or please secure a copy of

Tim's book Cadence of Care if you so choose or visit his website at Tim Owings dot com.

And that's Tim. O with wings dot com. Thank you again, Tim, for being here and sharing

such wonderful ideas and actionable tips. We truly appreciate your time today.

Tim Owings [:

Julie Genjac [00:22:38] Thanks for listening to the Hartford Funds Human Centric

Investing podcast. If you'd like to tune in for more episodes, don't forget to subscribe

wherever you get your podcasts and follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter or YouTube.

John Diehl [:

transforming client relationships, email us. Guest booking at Hartford Funds dot com. We'd

love to hear from you.

Julie Genjac [: