A recent report by the Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA), for example, reveals that 88 per cent of Australians expect their investments to be responsible and ethical. This is an example of a collective values-based expectation.

In a broader sense, we suggest that increasingly what Australians also want is financial plans that help them achieve goals that are in line with their personal values. Understanding those values is therefore key to helping them achieve their goals. The trouble is… if you ask clients to articulate what those personal values are, they might struggle. Give them a blank sheet of paper and ask them to write them down, and you may get a blank sheet of paper back. This should not be surprising, we might all struggle.

Values reflect our life priorities and represent the things that are most important to us.

Psychologist Susan Blackburn describes it well when she says: “Values are often referred to as our personal guiding principles. While we may have a variety of goals that are specific to a situation, like getting a job or a promotion, running a marathon, or travelling to Europe, our values are not specific to any one situation.”

Helping clients understand their own values will also help them understand why they have the goals they have. So, how do you go about it?

Uncovering client values

Visual tools can help you and your clients gain a better understanding of their values. This aid could be an electronic values tool that is part of your financial planning software. You could set a task for your client to complete a short values exercise.

In our system, for example, the client logs into their secure client portal and clicks on an assigned task where 49 values “playing cards” come up on the screen. They select 15 values that resonate most with them and then reduce them down to seven, which is more manageable.

Once they are happy that these are their key values, they can rank them into their own priority order by dragging-and-dropping them. For each value they can add a short sentence in their own words about what that value means to them. For example, if they choose a Value like “Integrity” in relation to family, they should define it in their own words. Something like: “Integrity – We do what we say we will.”

If you ask your client’s partner to go through the same exercise you will usually find that they have some common values, which is good, and they will have some different values which is also good. Often their common values are ranked in a different priority order. This is great for them to discuss and perhaps come up with a final list of seven to 10 agreed values. Some people discuss these with, and get input from, their kids.

How does this help you?

A values tool can help your clients walk through a process that is both enjoyable and valuable. It is also a structured and repeatable process that becomes part of how you work with your clients. Knowing their own values also helps your clients hold themselves accountable to themselves, as well as to you.

Research in the US conducted by Aon and Money Management Institute showed that “the difference in satisfaction is particularly stark in a comparison between clients who feel their values are reflected and those who feel they are not” and clients of advisers who initiate a values-based discussion are likely to recommend them to a friend or colleague.

An RIA Investor Opinion Survey (2020) of 1,000 Canadian investors found 75 per cent wanted their adviser to inform them about investments that aligned with their values.

Build a sound strategy, starting with the client’s own unique values, and you will be able to create a financial plan that actually inspires them to achieve their goals. The strategies and products required to achieve their goals should fall more easily into place.

Helping clients determine, articulate, and actively use their values in their day-to-day lives will also deepen their relationship with you. Setting and achieving goals in line with those values, will help them understand your worth and is a solid step to turning them into a long-term client.

Dr Michael Topper, director, AstuteWheel.

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