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The Three Types of Clients

Long-time advisor and author Chris White says understanding the common traits among these client types can help you better advise them.

As you well know, being a wealth management advisor is a demanding job. It involves far more than a knowledge of the markets and various investment products. You have to be good with clients — the people stuff. That means knowing how to build strong and lasting personal relationships with all kinds of people. Relationships based on trust, mutual respect, careful listening and a clear understanding of the other person’s needs and goals.

This may sound straightforward enough to do but, in reality, it requires a deep and sophisticated understanding of human psychology. Such knowledge will help you deeply empathize and connect with your clients, anticipate their questions and address their concerns.     

In the course of my career as a wealth advisor, I’ve discovered that there are three principal types of clients you’re likely to meet: The Fixer, The Survivor, and The Protector.

The Fixer is a client who is very results-oriented and business-like in their interpersonal dealings with you. Their goal is to win at everything they do, including investing. Under normal, everyday circumstances, Fixers can be charming, charismatic and stimulating to be around. They often attract other people to them. Many CEOs are Fixers because of their “can do” attitude and focus on getting things done.

That said, when market conditions deteriorate, watch out. The Fixer client can undergo a rapid personality change, morphing into a controlling and argumentative person who may become abusive with you, blaming you for a plunging stock market.

If you find yourself dealing with a Fixer under these circumstances, take a few deep breaths and stay calm. Respond in a quiet, systematic way to what the Fixer is saying. Address the client’s concerns as specifically as possible, using undeniable facts to support your point of view. Your quiet confidence in such situations will help build trust with the Fixer, and reinforce your professional credibility with your client.

Survivor clients are quite different from Fixers. While Fixers tend to have intense, “hard-charging” personalities, Survivors tend to be idealistic and sometimes naïve or unrealistic in their approach to investing. They’re often mission-driven, focused on causes, ideals or goals beyond themselves. This can sometimes get in the way of them making sound, financially beneficial decisions about investing.

If you’re dealing with a Survivor client when the markets go into freefall, he or she may insist on hanging on to a certain stock, even when you think they should sell it. A Survivor is also likely to greet stock market adversities with a certain grim determination and say “I’ll get through this somehow. I know I will.” 

While such resolve is evidence of their general steadiness as investors, such sentiments sometimes cause Survivors to dig in their heels and resist logical advice about how to curb stock market losses in down markets.

If you see this happening, you may need to nudge the Survivor client in new directions, offering them investment alternatives and suggesting ways they can minimize their market exposure in a bear market.

Lastly, there are Protectors. Protector clients tend to think more about others than themselves when talking with you about investments and financial planning.

If you have a Protector as a client, you’ll know it. Under normal, everyday circumstances, they’ll talk expansively about how they want to use their wealth to benefit others — including spouses, partners, children and grandchildren — or to benefit specific missions or causes.

Despite their generosity toward others however, Protectors are the most risk-averse of all the client personality types. Unlike Fixers and Survivors, Protectors don’t think they have the power to control events or to take action to address worsening market conditions. Thus, as situations become high stakes, they tend to show vulnerability. And, in worst-case situations, they can become victims of what they perceive to be happening around them.

For these reasons, if you work with a Protector client in high-stakes circumstances you’ll need to calm their fears, help them take charge of their situation, explore options and plot courses of action to help them ride out circumstances of extreme market volatility.

In the weeks ahead, I’ll have more to say about each of these investor types. For now, suffice it to say that assessing the specific type of client you’re working with is key to being optimally effective with that client. Different strategies are typically required in dealing with different client personality types.

Fixers, Survivors, and Protectors are the three predominant client personality types you’re likely to encounter in your work as a wealth advisor. Being prepared to deal effectively with each personality type will ensure that you’re able to forge and sustain long-term working relationships with many kinds of people, under many kinds of circumstances.

Chris White (www.chriswhiteauthor.com) is a long-time wealth advisor and author of Working with the Emotional Investor: Financial Psychology for Wealth Managers. (Praeger, 2016)  

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