How advisors can harness the power of storytelling

April 26, 2019 by Tuesday Willingale

How advisors can harness the power of storytelling by Advicent

About the author

Tuesday Willingale

Account executive

Tuesday Willingale is an account executive at Advicent, the financial planning technology provider of choice for nearly 100,000 financial professionals.

One of my all-time favorite movies is Jerry Maguire. The protagonist, played by Tom Cruise, branches off from the sports agency that employs him and struggles to build his own brand, staking his entire career on the success of his only client, a hot-shot wide receiver. In the pivotal moment of the movie, as Maguire fights to secure clients in order to begin his fledgling business, one of the most iconic movie lines is delivered: “Show me the money!”

This is an attitude that clients frequently possess, and advisors often cater to. The question of “Why should I work with you?” often sounds like, “Show me the money I will make me if I choose you as my advisor.” Invariably, most advisors go about trying to answer that question. They will show them performance history, talk in-depth about their proprietary strategy for stock selection, explain their unique asset allocation models, and build credibility around all manners of financial acumen and specialized expertise.

The close, of course, is that the advisor’s wealth of knowledge will lead to portfolio maximization and ultimately, showing their clients the money. After all, that is what the client wants – more money. The answer is yes, of course the clients want to grow and keep more money by working with an advisor, but whether they know it or not, that is not the entire answer.

Understanding client motivations

Though the line always quoted is “show me the money,” the scene leading up to the iconic line is very important to understand what “show me the money” really means to Jerry Maguire’s only client, Rod Tidwell. At the beginning of the conversation, he asked Jerry if he was listening – if he was truly listening. Rod explains how he views himself in his work and that his extended family is dependent on him. That his house is being eaten by ants and his brother’s room is flooded from a bad water mattress (that he got from a cheap endorsement deal). He wants to stay in Arizona but does not know if he will be able to, and to top it all off, he is getting harassed by other agents telling him that he is missing out on great deals. Following all of that is when Rod tells Jerry to “show me the money!”

You see, Rod does not just want money. He wants to know he has the security to provide for his extended family. He wants to be able to fix his house, or maybe buy a new one. He wants to stay in Arizona. He wants to feel secure that he chose the right agent. What he really wants is to be shown the money to make everything in his personal world possible – not just dollar signs without meaning.

These driving factors behind a client’s financial goals are crucial for an advisor to discover and understand. Why do they really want money? What are their underlying fears and concerns? How do they truly feel about the possibility of achieving, or not achieving, their financial goals?

The power of storytelling

Though important, the step of going an extra layer deep to understand the true motivations behind a client’s financial goals is just a starting point. Once a plan is created to address those financial goals and how to achieve them, presenting that plan within the framework of a clients’ personal story can launch the client-advisor relationship to the next level, and convert a higher percentage of clients and assets.

There is strong scientific evidence to back the success of communicating via stories, especially ones that involve the subjects. The part of our brains that processes numbers and figures is much different from that which handles emotions and imagination – therefore, telling the story of what the client will be able to accomplish because of the advisor’s plan will be much more engaging than just delivering a spreadsheet of recommendations.

To get deep into the weeds, a listener’s brain mirrors the speaker’s brain both spatially and temporally through a process called neuro coupling, meaning that a listener’s brain “syncs up” with the speaker’s brain. The more all-encompassing that brain activity is, the stronger the communicative quality. You can read more about neural coupling in this interesting study by the National Center for Biotechnology information here.

The implications of this “syncing” can be huge. In his book, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, Jerome Bruner lays out a hefty amount of graceful psychology suggesting the effective use of storytelling can result in listeners remembering information up to 22 times better than by just using facts and figures alone.

Incorporating storytelling into plan presentation

Once you have a clear understanding of your client and their emotional motivations, it is critical to engage those emotions while presenting the financial plan.

The first step is to use a planning tool that gives you the flexibility to make a plan that is highly relevant and customized for your client. With total control in each planning module, advisors are able to discuss qualitative life issues that drive the numbers within the plan. NaviPlan is built with this level of storytelling and customization in mind by giving advisors control over the planning process allowing them to get to the level of detail needed in an efficient manner.

The second step is to create reports and present the plan in a narrative that is catered specifically to the client’s motivations. NaviPlan offers a plethora of great-looking, highly informative client reports. With the client report editor, advisors can custom tailor reports to include exactly which information they want, and the order in which is most impactful – ensuring the client gets the highest value possible from the report. 

For more information on how NaviPlan and the client report editor can able your firm to tell an impactful story to clients, contact us >