Advisors: What’s Your Why—and Why It’s Important

Mar 22, 2018


One of the biggest questions that you’ll be asked soon (if not already) is some form of “what is your why”? And you better have an answer for why you do what you do.

I was reminded of this recently when I sat down with an advisor who started the conversation with why he got into the planning business. He said his father was a serial entrepreneur who went from boom to bust and back multiple times during the advisor’s childhood. He said he never knew from one day to the next if they would have enough to eat or if they were going to move to a big new house/apartment—never knowing each day if they were rich or poor. His father never had a plan. The advisor vowed that it wouldn’t happen to him and he wanted to share his experience with everyone.

As I sat in the meeting, I could feel the advisor’s conviction. I could see the frustration and determination. I knew his why and that he would be passionate about helping his clients and setting up their plans.

On the bus

As I reflected on that conversation, I was reminded of one that was just the opposite. About 10 years ago, I was on a hotel shuttle to an airport. The shuttle had to make a few stops at sister hotels so I got comfortable with my mobile device in the back of the bus, and waited patiently for the airport stop. At the last hotel, several brokers/advisors from a captive broker/dealer and advisory firm got on the shuttle fresh out of a training session. For the next 10 minutes, I seriously debated quitting the industry as I listened to them.

They were obviously pumped up from the training and full of energy after sitting all day, but as an observer, it was depressing to hear. Here’s what I overheard:

  • They discussed sales quotas and how certain products paid more
  • Bragged that they would beat any competitive situations as their product lineup was far superior
  • Fresh off this great sales training they could overcome most, if not all objections, and they could not wait to get back to their respective offices to try out the training in real life
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How do you answer?

Sure, it probably was some youthful boasting by some guys newer to the industry and maybe many, if not all of them, washed out in late 2008 or early 2009. However, it seemed that their only answer to the why question was how much they would make—not the client. Their why seemed to be about them, but for the advisor, whose father was the entrepreneur, it was all about the client.

As Raef Lee and I were putting the final changes on “The Next Wave of Advice Management,” we were bombarded with ideas and examples of how the business is moving from an advisor-centric to a client-centric planning model. Our discussions kept coming back to how clients are valuing planning more and are looking for transparency into the process. At the same time, they are looking for trust in the relationship. Personally, I can’t think of a better way to show a client that they can trust you than to show them your why (why you do what you do). What gets you up in the morning, excited to do what you do, is what they’re looking for as they evaluate their advisors.

Look in the mirror

When the first advisor told me his story, I felt an immediate bond. The story was authentic, but now it’s also his brand. He has to live up to it every day and to show the same empathy to all clients and prospects. But since it’s his passion, it’s easy for him. You can’t fake it. Is your why part of your brand?

Maybe it’s time for an exercise. (If you have to, look in a mirror and answer these questions.)

  • Can you clearly articulate why you’re in the business?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • Tell yourself a success story.
  • What’s important to you in the client relationship?

The next time you meet with a prospect, see if you can incorporate some of the answers to these questions. An authentic why in your conversation, especially in the first few meetings, can deepen the relationship and get you closer to helping them meet their goals. This is what is going to set you apart; this is what makes you unique.

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John Anderson

John Anderson

John Anderson is the creator and lead author of Practically Speaking blog and Managing Director of Practice Management Solutions for the SEI Advisor Network.

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