Soft skills: an adviser's friend in the AI age

4 mins read
Categories: Empowering you

With the artificial intelligence (AI) age upon us, we look at the skills financial advisers need in order to thrive in the future and how to develop them.

We’re already seeing a new wave of advice-bots shaking up the financial industry, with some doomsayers believing they’ll take people’s jobs. But, Chris Unwin, a corporate trainer and risk advice consultant, is more optimistic, believing robots will never be able to take over the role of humans.

“AI cannot and will never be able to provide the human touch. But some advisers aren’t providing the human touch either,” he says. “That must change.”

The key for financial advisers to differentiate themselves from “cookie-cutter” technology offerings is to showcase their soft skills and ramp up their ability to offer strategic advice.

“Value-add is something that AI doesn’t provide,” says Unwin. “So, soft skills is what it’s all about and many advisers tell me that they’re crying out for such skills.”

Thinking beyond compliance

The soft skills that are critical in complementing advisers’ knowledge and technical nous is the ability to:

  • Communicate clearly and effectively on the phone and in person with clients.
  • Listen to and engage with clients, so advisers can recommend services and products they truly need.
  • Build interpersonal relationships with clients through a mix of empathy, assertiveness and a sense of humour that result in mutual trust.

Unwin, who runs soft skill workshops throughout Australia for financial advisers, says such skills have slipped off the radar in the past two decades because of an emphasis on compliance and qualifications.

He says strong communication skills include the ability to change negative industry terminology that turns off clients, especially younger people. For example, instead of offering clients ‘insurance’, Unwin recommends emphasising the need for ‘protection’. Instead of offering cover for a possible ‘disability’, tell clients why they need a ‘personal protection package’ for an ‘illness’ or an ‘accident’.

He adds that many advisers do a ‘needs analysis’ for clients, which makes them feel compelled to get financial products as part of a ‘grudge purchase’. A better approach is to do a ‘wants analysis’ that empowers clients to choose products and services that really help them.

“And all of a sudden it creates a paradigm shift in the way the clients are viewing the discussion,” Unwin says.

Creating long-lasting relationships

Unwin says having true soft skills allows advisers to concentrate on crucial business development processes, such as properly structuring their first meeting with a client. This can lay the foundation for a strong adviser-client relationship, allow the adviser to draw information as to what services the client requires, and set the tone for how the adviser will deliver his or her services down the line.

Unwin believes that if you get this approach right, rather than it being a purely transactional process, chances are a long relationship will unfold between the adviser and the client.

“But most advisers are winging it,” he says. “That’s why they don’t have predictability of outcome.”

4 ways to develop soft skills

For advisers seeking to improve and use their soft skills, Unwin offers the following tips:

  1. Invest in yourself by attending seminars and workshops that enhance soft skills (rather than just attending compliance-related courses).
  2. Outsource mundane tasks to save yourself more time for face-to-face client meetings.
  3. Cement your relationship with a new client by being proactive rather than reactive during the underwriting process.
  4. Keep in regular contact with existing clients to forge ongoing relationships. 

The beauty of the AI age, according to Unwin, is that robots will increasingly do the more mundane compliance work, leaving the best strategic work to talented advisers.

“For advisers, it should all be tailored towards creating a quality experience for the client, rather than just completing a transaction.”

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Important: This article has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial or taxation situation or needs of any particular individual. Before acting on the information, you should consider its appropriateness to your circumstances and if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. Any information used in this article is for illustrative purposes only. Chris Unwin is external and not a member of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia Group of Companies (the Group) and the content or any view expressed by Chris Unwin does not represent an endorsement, recommendation, guarantee or advice in regard to any matter. CBA, nor members of the Group accept any liability for losses or damage arising from any reliance on external parties, their products, services and material. Past performance is no guarantee of future performance.